New England road trips are something that I look forward to as the fall months start getting closer and closer. In recent years I’ve made it a point to explore various parts of New England, and this year I checked off the White Mountains from my (never-ending) fall bucket list.
With scenic byways, tons of hiking trails to choose from, and beautiful landscapes, it’s no wonder that people travel from all over to enjoy outdoor adventures in the White Mountain National Forest.
If you are planning a trip to New Hampshire and are looking for travel inspiration, we cover 20 incredible things to see & do in the White Mountains!
This travel itinerary includes viewpoints, natural wonders, and unique attractions that you don’t want to miss.
Does that sound like something you’re up for?! Let’s dive in!
Where Are The White Mountains Located?
The White Mountains are located in northern New Hampshire bordering Maine to the east and Vermont to the west.
If you’re planning a longer New England road trip, you can easily combine a visit to Stowe and Burlington cities in Vermont on the same trip or head out to the coast and explore Acadia National Park. We usually try to squeeze in a few different locations on our New England trips to make the most of it (especially if you’re flying out there).
White Mountain National Forest is a rugged, wild region with very few towns in between. Here you won’t find many mega-resorts or Main Streets full of stores, and bougie spots. Think more along the lines of small mountain towns, mom and pop shops, and boutique old-timey hotels.
How Many Days Do You Need?
White Mountain National Forest spans across 750,000 acres of public land (about a quarter of the state) so that’s a lot of ground to cover! The byways that surround the White Mountains travel in a loop so you can drive the entire region or focus on one area at a time.
If you plan to drive the entire loop, give yourself a week to do it as there will be many amazing attractions and trails along the way. If you can only designate a few days, I suggest that you spend your time exploring one area like the Franconia Notch State Park, Crawford Notch State Park, or Kancamagus Highway.
Best Time To Visit?
White Mountain National Forest stays accessible year-round as there are several ski resorts throughout the area.
Summer and fall are popular times to visit the White Mountains for outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and sightseeing.
We personally love to travel to New England for fall road trips so we typically try to time our trips around the peak fall colors which take place in September and October. While this region is stunning all year round, fall colors just add that extra WOW factor to this already beautiful landscape!
If you’re planning to visit White Mountains in the fall, we suggest using a Fall Foliage Prediction Map to time the changing of the leaves. We’ve been using prediction maps like this to plan our fall trips for several years now and they are quite accurate.
For winter enthusiasts, some of the most popular ski resorts in the White Mountains include:
Where To Stay?
The lodging options within White Mountains include hotels, inns, private rentals, and camping.
The biggest towns with the most hotel options are:
Hotels In Lincoln
Lincoln town is where you’ll want to stay if you plan to drive the Kancamagus Highway or visit Franconia Notch State Park. Here are some of the most popular hotel choices in Lincoln:
- InnSeason Resorts Pollard Brook – Each suite of this resort is spacious and features contemporary décor and upgrades that will make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. Other noteworthy features include multiple pools on-site, a sauna room, a game room, and various sports courts to keep the whole family entertained.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites – this is a modern hotel immersed in the beauty of the great outdoors. Standard rooms and larger suites for families are available at the hotel. After an exciting day exploring the mountains, come back to the hotel for a relaxing swim in the indoor pool.
- The Notch Hostel – this hostel is an excellent choice for travelers interested in enjoying the beauty of the White Mountains and the surrounding attractions without spending a fortune. The Notch Hostel offers shared and private rooms with shared kitchens and several spacious communal areas.
Hotels In Franconia
If you plan to travel north or west after the White Mountains, be sure to check out these hotels in Franconia:
- Sugar Hill Inn – Sugar Hill Inn is a boutique hotel that’s situated in a restored 18th-century farmhouse. This lovely hotel goes above and beyond to welcome guests with complimentary snacks, bathrobes, and breakfast.
- Franconia Inn – Franconia Inn is housed in a gorgeous, restored Colonial-style mansion with an eclectic charm. On the premises take advantage of horseback riding, an onsite bike shop, pool, and hot tub.
Hotels In Conway
Conway is a great stopping point for those en route to the coast after White Mountain National Forest. North Conway is a decent size town and has a few of the standard chain hotels:
- Residence Inn by Marriott North Conway – this is an excellent choice for a stay in North Conway, less than 5 miles from the Kancamagus Highway east entrance. Each room in this hotel comes equipped with a coffee machine, fridge, stovetop, and dishwasher. The hotel helps guests start their day off right with a continental breakfast.
- Comfort Inn & Suites – Comfort Inn & Suites is a hotel with spacious suites that are perfect for families. This hotel features excellent amenities that include free high-speed internet, a heated pool, and an exercise room.
Things To Do In The White Mountains
White Mountain National Forest offers many unique attractions from mountain peaks to glacier-carved gorges, waterfalls, and serene wilderness trails.
Here are some of the top things to see & do while visiting the White Mountains in New Hampshire!
1. Explore Flume Gorge
Looking to kick off your trip with a little bit of adventure? Start your visit by exploring Flume Gorge, an 800 feet long natural chasm that consists of narrow walkways, stairs, waterfalls, and a river that flows through it.
Flume Gorge is a unique geological attraction and one of the most popular things to see within White Mountain National Forest. The trail that leads through this glacier-carved chasm passes covered bridges, giant boulders, and even the Wolf Den Cave where visitors can crawl in and through to the other side.
Although the trail is only 2 miles long, be sure to set aside a couple of hours for this interesting stop. As a highly popular attraction, you can expect it to be crowded and might need to wait around a bit as the lines move, especially if you plan to stop for photography.
Tickets for Flume Gorge cost $18 and can be purchased on the New Hampshire State Parks website or in person. Reserving tickets online will secure the best time spots, especially in the busy tourist seasons like summer and fall. After exploring the gorge be sure to stop by the visitor center that offers a gift shop, different exhibits, and a food court.
Location: Flume Gorge
2. Drive Up The Mount Washington Auto Road
If you’re looking to enjoy a bit of scenery of the White Mountains from your car’s window, consider driving up the Mount Washington Auto Road. This auto road begins by Highway 16 and travels for 8 miles up a windy mountain highway to the summit of Mount Washington.
From the peak, you can enjoy 360 views overlooking the surrounding White Mountain National Forest and New Hampshire.
The Mt. Washington State Park summit sits at 6288 feet in elevation and holds the record for the highest wind ever observed in the world at 231 miles per hour. The weather at the top can be quite chilly and windy so be sure to bring a jacket and warm clothing.
Do note that driving the Mount Washington Auto Road is not free. It cost us $65 to drive up this scenic road which was one of the priciest attractions that we did on our trip to the White Mountains.
Also keep in mind that the auto road entry closes at 4 pm sharp so it’s best to come early and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the drive, stop for a few photos, and check out the visitor center at the summit. Visitors are not allowed to stay at the Mt. Washington State Park past 4:45 pm and will be followed out by an escort car after closing hours.
Location: Mt Washington Auto Road
3. Take The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Taking the Mount Washington Cog Railway is a great way to enjoy the stunning mountain views if you don’t want to do the driving yourself. This historic train travels for 3 miles up to the summit of Mount Washington allowing you to sit back, relax and just marvel at the surrounding scenery.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway runs year-round but fall is an especially popular time to head on this exciting ride. If this is on your bucket list, be sure to reserve the tickets and pick your seats online well ahead of time as they do get sold out.
Currently, it costs $72 per person to take the Mount Washington Cog Railway which is a bit expensive, but will leave you with a memory of a lifetime!
The ascend to the peak takes about an hour, plus you will have some time to explore the visitor center and stop by the Tip Top House. As one of the oldest and steepest mountain cogs in the world, this is a must-do activity when visiting the White Mountain National Forest!
Location: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
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4. Drive The Kancamagus Highway
Kancamagus Highway is a picturesque 35-mile-long byway that stretches across the White Mountains. Fall is an especially popular time to drive this byway when the trees in the White Mountain National Forest change colors from lush greens to a sea of yellows, oranges, and reds.
With lots of stunning overlooks, ample opportunities to pull over, easy day hikes, and beautiful waterfalls, Kancamagus Highway is considered to be one of the best byways in New Hampshire. Although the route itself is only 35 miles long, it provides visitors with an abundance of options for sightseeing, hiking, recreational activities, and wildlife sightings.
Along this byway, you can experience dramatic and rugged mountain landscapes including some of the highest peaks in the state. Kancamagus Highway reaches nearly 3000 feet at its highest point and offers plenty of overlooks to enjoy panoramic views along the way.
You can start driving Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln town to the West or Conway town to the East. This is a paved two-way highway so you can start your road trip in either city and turn around at any point if needed.
Location: Kancamagus Pass
Read More: Driving Kancamagus Highway In New Hampshire
5. Hike To Diana’s Baths
Visiting Diana’s Baths is the perfect quick outdoor adventure and one of the most popular attractions to visit along Highway 302 in North Conway. This short and fairly flat 1.3-mile-long trail leads to a set of stunning rocky cascades, pools, rock ledges, and a waterfall with a total drop of 75 feet.
To reach Diana’s Baths you can park in the large visitor lot off West Side Road. From there follow the wide path that leads directly to the waterfalls. This is an easily accessible, highly visited trail so we suggest going early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.
For a century since 1863, Diana’s Baths marked the location of a family-owned and operated sawmill. Now visitors can see the remnants of the mill after the land was sold to the U.S. Forest Service and turned into a public trail.
Location: Diana’s Baths
6. Visit Rocky Gorge Scenic Area
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area consists of walking paths and a bridge that overlooks the deeply carved Swift River and its cascading pools. Keep in mind that jumping or swimming in this section of the river is not allowed due to unpredictable currents and underwater rock tunnels that can trap you in.
After visiting Rocky Gorge be sure to keep going past the bridge to explore Falls Pond as well. Once you reach the pond you can enjoy views from a platform that offers serene sights of the shoreline.
Location: Rocky Gorge Scenic Area
7. Stop By Hancock Overlook
Hancock Overlook is a hairpin turn in the road that looks like a perfect U-shape from up top. This is a very popular stop for photography, especially in the fall.
There is a designated visitor parking lot next to the highway where you can pull over to enjoy vistas of the surrounding mountains. You can also learn about the history of how traveling and hiking developed in the White Mountain National Forest from the information signs.
In the early days of the White Mountain National Forest settlement, outdoor recreational activities like hiking and camping were off-limits to most people. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that trails were established and a footpath was built to Mt Washington to guide adventurers and explorers to the summit.
By the late 1800s, the White Mountains experienced an increase in tourism as places became more accessible and easier to reach. Now the White Mountain National Forest includes over 750,000 acres of wilderness and receives around 6 million visitors a year.
Location: Hancock Overlook
8. Watch a Sunset From Artists Bluff Viewpoint
If you’re considering going on some wilderness hikes, be sure to put Artist’s Bluff Lookout Trail on top of your list! This short, yet epic hike goes to a viewpoint that overlooks Echo Lake and the stunning scenery of White Mountains from up top.
In the past few years, Artist’s Bluff Lookout has become a popular location for photography and enjoying sunsets. With the picture-perfect Echo Lake framed by mountain peaks and a windy road, outdoor settings don’t get better than this!
The Artist’s Bluff Lookout Trail is just 1.5 miles long and goes in a loop for a change of scenery. The hike does gain 430 feet in elevation so give yourself plenty of time for the climb, especially if you’re coming to watch the sunset.
Location: Artist’s Bluff Lookout
9. Ride The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
If you’re looking for a great way to spend a few hours, consider riding the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to the top of Cannon Mountain for spectacular panoramic views of the White Mountains.
Once at the summit you can hang out on the outdoor deck or grab lunch & drinks at Cafe 4080 that’s located next to the air tram.
The peak of Cannon Mountain also provides access to interesting hiking trails. During our visit, we walked to the top of the Observation Tower and hiked the Rim Trail that goes along the edge of a cliff with stunner views all around!
To ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway online reservations are highly recommended. We showed up for walk-in tickets and had to wait around for an hour until the next available space on the air tram.
Location: Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
10. Have a Picnic At Lower Falls
Lower Falls is a very popular attraction within the White Mountain National Forest. This recreation site allows easy access to the Swift River and has an observation platform overlooking the cascading Lower Falls.
Although adventurers have been paving their way through the White Mountains for centuries, travel to Lower Falls wasn’t possible until 1959. Now it’s one of the most visited stops in White Mountains attracting people to explore one of the nearby trails, jump in for a swim in the water, or enjoy a relaxing picnic.
Location: Lower Falls
11. Get Cozy In a Cabin
As a prime outdoor destination in New Hampshire, White Mountain National Forest is a nature lover’s paradise. But if you want to spend days relaxing in a cozy rental with your feet up on the couch, that’s ok too – it’s your vacation after all!
From boutique rentals to luxury vacation homes, there are plenty of great accommodations to choose from in the White Mountains. Here are some of the best cabin rentals in the area:
- NewLog Cabin – vaulted ceilings and exposed pinewood walls are a significant draw to the NewLog Cabin, a beautiful rental that sleeps 4. This charming cabin is situated next to the river offering the perfect place to unwind and relax for couples and smaller families.
- Classic Log Home – this cozy home has a lovely porch seating with a hammock surrounded by a sprawling private 6.5-acre property. This Classic Log Home borders White Mountain National Forest and other attractions such as waterfalls, ponds, and tennis courts can be reached within a 5-minute walk.
- Romantic Log Cabin – this two-bedroom home has cozy amenities that include pellet and gas stoves, a fire pit, and a hot tub situated on the front porch. This property is located on a quiet, wooded property in Jackson close to restaurants, golf courses, and ski resorts.
12. Explore Sabbaday Falls
Sabbaday Falls is one of the most scenic attractions within the White Mountains and quite the rewarding stop that requires somewhat little work.
Sabbaday Falls consists of three different falls, pools, wooden rails, granite steps, and viewing platforms. This gorge has been in the making for over 10,000 years as glacier water melted and carried rocks and boulders down the river carving out the deep canyon that we can see here today.
Sabbaday Falls earns its name after “Sunday” – the rest day. While for early settlers surviving in the White Mountains took a lot of work, families would often take the Sunday off chores to enjoy a stroll to this waterfall.
Now visitors can easily access Sabbaday Falls from the parking lot through a 0.7-mile out-and-back trail that leads directly to this waterfall. Sabbaday Falls can be quite the busy attraction but if you wait around, you can enjoy the waterfall with minimal crowds.
Location: Sabbaday Falls
13. Marvel At The Pemigewasset Overlook
Pemigewasset Overlook is one of the most popular viewpoints within White Mountain National Forest that offers incredible views of the mountains and Pemigewasset river valley.
There is a large parking lot the Pemigewasset Overlook where you can pull over to stretch your legs and use the restroom. Here you can also enjoy a rest break at a scenic gazebo and read about the geology and makeup of the White Mountains.
Location: Pemigewasset Overlook
14. Explore Historic Covered Bridges
The White Mountains are home to several historic covered bridges that make a wonderful setting for photography. Some of the most notable bridges in this area include:
- Flume Covered Bridge. This is a bridge that was built in 1886 and is one of the oldest left in New Hampshire. The Flume Covered Bridge is located within Flume Gorge so you will need to pay the $18 entrance fee if you plan to visit it.
- Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge. The Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge is also situated within the Flume Gorge near a deep basin. Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge marks the location of where the State’s Largest Sentinel Pine used to stand.
- Albany Covered Bridge. Albany Covered Bridge was built in 1859 by local farmers to safely transport goods and people across the Swift River. This bridge spans across the river providing excellent views along its pathway.
- Clark’s Covered Bridge. Clark’s Covered Bridge is located closer to Lincoln town and covers railroad tracks that cross the Pemigewasset River. This bridge is the world’s last Howe Truss covered bridge that is still in use today.
15. Enjoy an Afternoon At Echo Lake
Echo Lake is a beautiful mountain lake that is popular in the summer for fun water activities like swimming, fishing, boating, and picnicking.
In the busy travel months, it’s advisable to book an Echo Lake Parking Day Pass ahead of time if you plan to spend the afternoon hanging out at the lakeshore. In the fall, some of the amenities start closing in preparation for winter and we were able to visit Echo Lake without needing a reservation.
Echo Lake consists of 39 acres and is framed by the surrounding mountain peaks. In the fall this is a great spot to come for a leisure walk along the lake and enjoy colorful fall foliage that is often reflected in the lake’s calm waters.
Location: Echo Lake Beach
16. Go On The White Mountains Seven Birches Winery Tour
For something a bit different, consider going on the Seven Birches Winery Tour. Seven Birches is a local winery that makes, ferments, ages, and bottles their wines in the White Mountains using locally sourced fruit.
On this tour, you can learn more about the wine-making process in the White Mountains from knowledgeable and passionate guides and get a full tour of the wine production room. You will also get to taste a few young wines in the process along with a few older ready wines.
17. Observe Unique Geological Features At The Basin
The Basin is a glacier pothole created over 25,000 years ago that consists of a 30-foot-wide basin with a deep pool and a waterfall at the center of it.
The Basin looks like nature’s slip-and-slide where the water flows down whirlpooling along the granite rock walls before plummeting in the deep pool below it. If you have the time, this is a quick stop that you can visit within 30 minutes!
Location: The Basin
18. See Unique Rock Formations At The Old Man Of The Mountain
Old Man of the Mountain is a plaza that overlooks Cannon Cliff and a rock ledge that resembles a face when standing at a specific spot. This rock formation has attracted visitors to the White Mountains since the 1800s for its unique characteristics that look like a human profile with a forehead, brow, nose, lips, and chin.
Unfortunately, part of the stone broke off in 2003 so the profile is now missing some of the essential features that made it look like a human face. Since then, The Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza was built in the rock’s honor. A viewing area has been set up with metal rods that can recreate what the cliff face used to look like.
This is a quick and interesting stop to see especially if you like history and quirky attractions. From here you can also check out Profile Lake that’s a less-crowded lake known for excellent fly fishing and kayaking opportunities.
Location: Old Man of the Mountain
19. Enjoy Drinks At Moat Mountain Brewing Company
After a long day of outdoor adventures, stop by Moat Mountain Brewing Company for a delicious dinner and a beer. This brewery and restaurant is located in a historic building in North Conway with lots of seating, comfort food, and specialty beers & lagers.
Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co menu offers a variety of food items but their specialties are smoked meats. If you can’t choose what to order, go with the Combo Platter that has a little bit of everything – pulled pork, smoked chicken, and beef brisket. For a mountain restaurant, their menu is pretty extensive so there is something to choose from for everyone!
Location: Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co.
20. Hike At Crawford Notch State Park
Crawford Notch State Park is a beautiful mountain pass on the North-East section of the White Mountain National Forest. This New Hampshire State Park can be easily reached by traveling down Highway 302 and offers a variety of interesting attractions, historical sites, hiking trails, camping and waterfalls.
If you’re looking for relatively easy day hikes, consider tackling the 3.1 mile long Mount Willard Trail that leads to a stunning viewpoint from the top. Arethusa Falls is another popular day hike that leads to a 150 feet tall waterfall.
With unforgettable scenery, incredible hiking trails and unique geological features, White Mountain National Forest is one of the best places in New Hampshire to enjoy fall colors and endless outdoor adventures.
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