Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for Fall Foliage – White Mountains, New Hampshire
There is something magical that happens as the leaves turn their colors, each showcasing a different hue that together makes stunning views. The northeast is full of small towns with so much going on at all times of the year and we had not yet gone for the fall foliage despite living in this part of the country. For those that live in areas that do not have season changes, this trip would be the perfect way to experience that. Since there are so many areas in New England to go “leaf peeping” – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and upstate New York all have plenty of opportunities, we did not have time to see it all. In fact, all we had was a long weekend. After researching, the White Mountains of New Hampshire has something the others did not – the Kancamangus Highway.
Know before you go
This trip is going to require a car both to reach the destination and for getting around. Nearby airports are a bit slim, the closest being Portland, Maine about a two hour drive away. There are trains and buses that you can also string together but all will still require you to have a car to get to the White Mountains.
Peak foliage changes each year but generally the time to visit for this event is early October. Keep an eye on this fall foliage tracker to help plan the right time so you do not get there too soon or miss it altogether. Peak foliage generally only spans two weeks so the window of opportunity is short.
Because the peak season is so short, expect it to be crowded. Book accommodations in advance as they do fill up and can get quite expensive. This is often an annual pilgrimage for people in the New England area. It is less crowded during the week than on weekends but if you are like us, we only had the weekend to work with. Start the days early helps cut out a big chunk of people sleeping in on vacation.
Where to stay?
There are several towns around this are you can establish as your home base. I would suggest choosing the towns of North Woodstock / Lincoln or Conway as they are on either side of the Kancamangus Highway. We stayed in the North Woodstock / Lincoln area at an Airbnb that was centrally located to the with access to the all the destinations of interest. Most of our stops for this trip were on the western side of the the Kancamangus Highway but there is plenty do to on the Conway side as well.
What is there to do?
Drive the Kancamangus Highway
The biggest and more popular fall activity in the White Mountains is driving on the Kancamangus Highway / Kancamangus Scenic Byway / “The Kanc”. This highway is the spot for fall foliage viewing and often named one of the best in the country. It is 34.5 miles of beautiful views including overlooks, trails, and stops of all sorts that benefits from the almost 3,000 ft elevation. Driving this is definitely a highlight of fall foliage seekers in this destination. While driving from one end in Lincoln to the other end in Conway takes under an hour, driving The Kanc can take an entire day or more. There are well over a dozen must-do stops along the way and far more if you count all the possibilities. We only had one day to complete the drive and while we did not do every stop, we did the entire drive while fitting in 14 stops including a mix of view points and trails including Champney Falls and The Boulder Loop Trail. Make sure to bring your camera – the scenery here is stunning. Read all the details about planning your drive on the Kancamangus Highway here!
Climb the Mountains
There are many hiking opportunities in the White Mountains of varying difficulty that all offer incredible views of the valley and all those beautiful trees. There are two popular areas to focus on. The first is Franconia Notch State Park for the #1 rated trail on AllTrails – Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail. This difficult trail summits three peaks for a truly exceptional view from the top. The second is the Presidential Range of Mt Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, and Eisenhower located in Mt Washington Sate Park. There are tons of trails in this area depending on what you want to see and do. There is also a very short 1.5 mile trail called Artist Bluff that is extremely popular due to the short distance and the incredible view of the valley. This one wis very popular for sunrise and is noted to have long lines during the day to get that perfect photo. Don’t worry – if hiking to the top is not your thing, you can take the gondola at Loon Mountain.
All Abroad the Fall Foliage Train
For a more relaxing way to see the fall foliage, hop abroad one of the fall foliage trains! There are several in the area:
- Mt Washington Cog Railway (here) – A three hour round trip journey to the summit of Mt Washington. The views from here are incredible. Tickets start at $49 per person.
- Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train (here) – How about a two hour ride with 5 course meal through the beautiful fall foliage? This dinner trail goes through the White Mountains offering seasons meals. Tickets start at $95 per person.
- Conway Scenic Railroad (here) – This trail ride offers several different experiences to chose from ranging from 1 hour to 5 hours in duration. The shorter excursions tarts at $20 per person and the longest excursion starts at $69.
There are two gorges in the area that are available to explore. The first and more popular is the Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch State Park which offers are two mile trail through the gorge to see the river, covered bridges, boulder caves, and waterfalls. The second is the Lost River Gorge located right outside of North Woodstock that offers a one mile trail for similar scenery. Both have a fee for admission and require reservations online ahead of time to ensure entry.
Enjoy the Downtown Areas
The downtown areas of Lincoln, North Woodstock, and Conway all have so much going on. Make sure to take some time to walk the downtown areas and enjoy the shops.
Have Yourself a Merry Beer Christmas
After all, you are int he land of the New England IPA. The craft brew scene in this and the surrounding areas are great. Also, if you do not have time to try them all, stop in a craft beer store and have the chance to sample a wide variety of New England craft beers. Here are a few local to the White Mountains that are worth the stop.
- Ledge Brewing Company
- Tuckerman Brewing
- Dam Brewhouse
- Iron Furnace Brewing
- Twin Barns Brewing
- Woodstock Inn Brewery
Where to eat?
There is a fun food scene in the White Mountains that offers a casual environment with tons of great dining. Do not miss breakfast at a sugar shack! Sugar shacks are famous for their perfect pancakes topped with the best maple syrup – a must do when visiting this region.
|Woodstock Pie and |
|White Mountain Bagel|
Black Mountain Burger
The Common Man
Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers
Table and Tonic
|Polly’s Pancake Parlor|
Vintage Baking Company
White Mountain Cider Co
This itinerary makes for a great long weekend – the power of a three day weekend is strong and just by using one PTO day! Mix and match the days to make the trip that works for you. Many itineraries string this destinations with other nearby areas in Maine, new Hampshire,Vermont, and Massachusetts to make the ultimate fall foliage road trip so if you have the time to extend, this is how to spend your time at the White Mountains.
Here is how to experience the best of the White Mountains in New Hampshire in three days!
|Day 0||Evening||Arrive in The White Mountains, NH|
|Day 1||Day||Drive the Kancamangus Highway|
|Evening||Explore one of the nearby towns|
|Day 2||Day||Choose a hiking trail to summit |
one of the mountain peaks such as
Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail
Fall foliage train ride and
Gondola to Loon Mountain
|Day 3||Day||Sunrise hike to Artist Bluff |
Breakfast at a sugar shack
Visit one of the Gorges
– Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch State Park
– Lost River Gorge