Late October is really too late to be hiking in the White Mountains — and way too early to be skiing — but it’s a good time to some beautiful fall color.
Here’s a circuit I recommend:
The entire drive takes just over 2 hours, but you can stretch it out as long as you like. Below is my ideal itinerary, which takes the better part of a day.
I’m usually staying in Waterville Valley, NH, so I start this circuit on the
east west [edit note: thanks, Mom!] side of the loop. A couple of exits south of Lincoln, NH (“C”) on the map above is Mad River Coffee Roasters (Exit 28 off of I-93), where they roast their own delicious coffee beans. My current favorite is the light roast, Morning Mayhem. I always get one of their delicious egg and bacon bagel sandwiches.
Heading North, the highway gets narrower and the mountains grow taller as you enter Franconia Notch State Park. If you’re ready for a stop, the Flume Gorge (May to October; $13 for adults) is well worth a visit. A two-mile boardwalk (lots of stairs!) takes you past the sheer granite walls of the Gorge and a series of dramatic waterfalls. There’s also classic covered bridge.
A little further up the highway are a a series of attractive paths, including the Pemi Trail, the Cascade Brook Trail, and the Basin-Cascades Trail, winding past a tangle of clear, rocky, icy-cold New Hampshire streams. There’s also a paved bike path that runs North-South through the Park. Accessible via pedestrian underpass from a parking area (sign) is a huge glacial pothole called “The Basin,” described by Henry David Thoreau as a “remarkable curiosity” and some other guy as a bath “fit for the ablutions of a goddess.” That *might* be overselling it just a tad.
After the exit for the Cannon tramway, you leave the state park and, shortly thereafter, should see exit 35 for Route 3. Route 3 will curve around to the east and intersect with 302 shortly before Bretton Woods. You’ll pass a parking area where you can pull over and take a picture of the historic Mount Washington Hotel — or you could drive up to the hotel and check out what I hear is a very nice state-of-the-art spa. If you do, be sure to tell me how it is. I also take gift certificates.
Winding around on Route 302, you’ll soon head through another dramatic mountain pass, Crawford Notch. It was one of the earliest roads through the Whites; the Crawford family also laid out some of the earliest (and still heavily used) trails to the summits of the Presidentials, including the eponymous Crawford Path to the summit of Mt. Washington.
As you head through North Conway, stop and get a beer sampler at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, a brewpub with a creative menu and a convivial bar. A little further down the road in Conway is the Tuckerman Brewing Company, makers of one of my all-time favorite beers, Tuckerman Pale Ale. They do brewery tours Saturdays at 3pm.
Leaving Conway, head back east on Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway. The Kanc has some stunning scenic overlooks, as well as a few easy (and not so easy) trails departing from trailheads on the side of the highway. Stop at the Albany Covered Bridge, close to where the road leaves Conway, or check out the crowd-pleasing Sabbaday Falls Trail, which doesn’t take long, and which leads to a rather nice waterfall. If you’re looking for an easy (though not terribly interesting) trail, park at the Lincoln Woods Visitors’ Center and stroll along the Lincoln Woods Trail. It’s almost completely flat, as it follows the path of an old logging railroad, and runs along the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River.
Wend your way back to Lincoln, a small ski town with a few shops of the type you’d expect in a small ski town. Keep going just past the on-ramp for 93 to North Woodstock. This is the home of the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery. Again, I recommend the beer sampler to start with. Why agonize over a decision when you can easily try them all? Their large menu is also speckled with items made with their beer, whether it’s the pulled pork braised in Loon Golden Ale, the BBQ sauce made with Pig’s Ear Brown Ale, or even the balsamic vinaigrette made with their Oatmeal Stout. Maybe you can win friends with salad.