Scenic drive in New Hampshire to admire the fall foliage

There are many routes for a scenic drive in New Hampshire over Lake Winnipesaukee, the Connecticut River, plus a bunch of trips through the White Mountain area. But the longtime favorite to see New Hampshire fall foliage for both locals and travelers remains the 34-mile path between Lincoln and Conway on Route 112.

This scenic drive in New Hampshire will take you only about one hour to complete. But you’d skip one of the most colorful scenic routes in the north-east, and many would say the US for fall foliage.

The scenic Route 112, better known as the Kancamagus Highway, is the only road that passes directly east and west through the White Mountain National Forest. This is a dramatic road that reveals the magnificence of one of New Hampshire’s most beloved scenic spots. From this road, your scenic vistas include the wilderness and the highest peaks of the presidential range.

You are very likely to face a lot of traffic on this scenic drive in New Hampshire during the summer and fall foliage months. But if the weather is clear who cares if you’re a little late, this isn’t a rush drive anyway!

You’ll find plenty of places to stop for a while to enjoy the views and take a lot of beautiful photos if the weather is good. Be careful on your scenic byways though: the White Mountains are notorious for producing their own weather, particularly in the presidential range, where many of the peaks are above the woods. Mount Washington is shrouded in cloud cover 53% of the time.

Then what are you going to see on this scenic drive in New Hampshire?

lincoln autumn scenic drive in new hampshire
Scenic drive in New Hampshire: Fall foliage on the Kancamagus scenic byway near Lincoln

1. Lincoln

Lincoln is situated at the western end of the drive, where Interstate 93 meets Route 112. Lincoln and the nearby Cannon Mountain areas are full of gift shops and specialty shops, including the Clarks Trading Post. A side trip for more foliage drives will take you to The Flume, a gorge carved during the glacial ages with a covered bridge and walking paths.

Lincoln is your starting point on this scenic drive to see New Hampshire fall foliage, and as you head east to Kancamagus Pass, you’re going to climb 2,860 feet in the first 10 miles.

2. Loon Mountain

Just east of Lincoln you’ll find Loon Mountain, the winter ski area, and a summer and fall foliage playground on this scenic byway in New Hampshire.

Here, you can go on a side trip with the gondola all the way to the summit for some stunning views, and to explore the Glacial Caves and the summit observation tower. A local favorite, a hike in Loon can bring out your spirit of adventure!

scenic drive in new hampshire pemigewasset lake
Scenic drive in New Hampshire: fall foliage at Pemigewasset Lake. Photo by Ken Gallager, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Pemigewasset

Continuing east on the two-lane highway, you can reach the Pemigewasset wilderness area of the driveway. The parking lot entrance to the Lincoln Woods Trail is near the Hancock Campground. This famous and simple trail makes a perfect trip to see Newhampshire fall foliage on the Pemigewasset River, plus all the wildlife that inhabits the area.

scenic drive in new hampshire sandwich range
Take a break from your scenic drive in New Hampshire to admire the views on the Sandwich Range

4. The Sandwich Range

As you head out to the Sandwich Range Wilderness Area, your scenic drive in New Hampshire will have interesting turns and views across the Kancamagus Pass. You’ll find plenty of scenic landscapes with imposing mountain ranges, particularly during the vibrant fall foliage season.

5. Greeley Ponds

The Greeley Ponds Scenic Area is another side excursion along this stretch of the route. Located about a mile from the highway and about 9 miles east of Lincoln, this is a lovely spot for a stop on your scenic drive in New Hampshire. During your break, you should have a picnic lunch and admire the view of the two lakes and towering cliffs.

new hampshire fall foliage hike
Take a break from New Hampshire scenic drives and go on a hike

6. Swift River Valley

Continuing east, you will reach the Swift River Valley area. This area is full of scenic stops and walks through the forest providing spectacular views of the valley and the mountains to enjoy New Hampshire fall foliage. The trail offering the best views is the Mount Potash hike, but at 4 miles long it takes a few hours to fully appreciate it.

Take the Lovequist Loop Trail for a shorter and easier hike to the Rocky Gorge Scenic area. It’s about an hour’s walk around the Falls Pond and offers fishing and a wonderful window to the beauty of the natural plants and vegetation of the area. You’ll cross the gorge of the Swift River over a rustic footbridge on this scenic drive in New Hampshire.

scenic drive in new hampshire mount chocorua
Cabin on the way to Mount Chocorua spotted during my scenic drive in New Hampshire

7. The Boulder Loop Trail

After you return to your car, drive for a short distance east to the Covered Bridge and the road to the Boulder Loop Trail. If you’ve saved your resources for just one hike, this is it! It can take you anywhere from 2-4 hours on a 3-mile round trip, but you’ll get amazing photo opportunities for Mount Chocorua and the Swift River Valley. The hike itself is mostly a gradual climb with some steps. This is one of the most popular hikes during the New Hampshire fall foliage season, and also the one I recommend the most.

scenic drive in new hampshire north conway
Admiring fall foliage in North Conway during a scenic drive in New Hampshire

8. North Conway

The last section of the Kancamagus Highway scenic drive to see New Hampshire fall foliage takes you to the east end of the drive, where Route 112 meets Route 16 in Conway and then to North Conway. If you still have time, go for a drive around North Conway where you’ll find outlet centers and the North Conway Scenic railroad.

The White Mountain National Forest NH is a major travel destination because they offer beautiful scenery, fantastic hiking trails, and easy access to them. In the New Hampshire fall foliage season, just throw in the wonderful vivid colors of leaves and you’ve got some of the best scenic drives in New England!

About the author

cristina popescu guest post writer on the travel bunny blog

Cristina Popescu is a Romanian blogger who has been traveling since 2008. She has visited 100+ countries across all the continents and accumulated firsthand knowledge about beautiful travel destinations. There is nothing she won’t try at least once in a lifetime and she wishes to encourage others to get out and see the world, too.

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