The White Mountains have long been known for natural splendor, cultural richness, historical charm and stimulating recreation—as well as some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. The White Mountains Trail, designated a National Scenic Byway, encompasses all these aspects over the course of its 100-mile route. The Trail is a loop tour that winds through sections of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and past many of the region’s most popular attractions. It can be driven in a day or can be the object of an entire vacation’s worth of relaxation, exploration, and discovery.
Parts of the Trail have been used by travelers for centuries. In the early 19th century, the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and landscape painter Thomas Cole, among others, drew attention to the White Mountains. In short order, visitors in search of wilderness adventure and glorious scenery began to arrive in significant numbers. Many vistas we admire today along—and near—the White Mountains Trail are little changed since then. Since many visitors enter the region on I-93, we’ll begin this tour a bit south of where the Trail actually begins. The route boasts some spectacular mountain vistas, which are just a hint of things to come.
Mile 1-5: North Woodstock to Franconia Notch
Set your odometer to 0.0 at this point. The White Mountains Trail begins at the White Mountains Visitor Center in North Woodstock and travels in a 100 mile loop around the mountains. At the Visitor Center, stop in for information, exhibits, and meet the friendly moose and bear. Once you leave the Visitor Center, at the lights at the end of the driveway, turn left onto Rte. 112W. Just up the road (.8) you’ll reach;the first crossroads, in the center of North Woodstock.
SIDE TRIP: If you continue up Rte. 112W, you’ll find Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, a natural wonder that has drawn visitors since the 1900s. Tour the fascinating gorge on boardwalks, or explore the caves.
CONTINUE THE TOUR: by turning north onto Rte. 3 at the lights, where you’ll see the village of North Woodstock. The town center is great for strolling & restaurants, and has a great General Store and Sugar House. On this route you’ll pass some of the White Mountains’ most popular family attractions, including Clark’s Trading Post (2.0) with its trained bears, antique Americana and steam trains; and Whale’s Tale Water Park (3.8) an award-winning water park, recently named “Best in Class Water Park in America.” Farther north, you encounter the Indian Head Profile (4.7) on Mt. Pemigewasset which is seen on the western (left) side of Rte. 3, and a tower on the right where you can get a 360 degree view.
Mile 5-12: Franconia Notch
Driving north into Franconia Notch State Park, you’ll come to The Flume Gorge & Visitor Center (5.5), an area with a natural 800-foot chasm with waterfalls, covered bridges, a scenic pool, glacial boulders and The Wolf ’s Den Cave. Even if you don’t go through the gorge, stop at the informative visitor center to see the displays, the free movie, and get a cup of coffee at the cafe. Heading north on Rte. 3, the road soon joins I-93/Franconia Notch Parkway, which takes you through the spectacular scenery of 6,440-acre Franconia Notch State Park along a route framed by the towering peaks of the Kinsman range on the left and the Franconia range on the right. A “Notch” is the pass between two mountain ranges.
Up the road from the Flume Gorge is the Basin (7.1), a deep glacial pothole at the foot of a waterfall; Boise Rock (9.5), which is ideal for viewing Cannon Cliff; and the former site of the Old Man of the Mountain natural stone profile (10.5). Turn off at Exit 34B for a ride on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway (10.8) with spectacular views of the high peaks from the top. Here you’ll also find the Old Man of the Mountain Museum which examines the history and destruction of the famous natural stone profile, and The New England Ski Museum, which offers a look at our skiing heritage. For a refreshing dip and a great view, turn off at Exit 34C (11.5) to Echo Lake Beach. A right hand turn off the exit brings you instead to the Hugh J. Gallen scenic overlook bridge—also known as Sunset Bridge for its colorful views. Traveling north again on I-93, bear right at Exit 35 onto Rte. 3
SIDE TRIP: you may choose to continue north on I-93 to the villages of Franconia and Sugar Hill, known for their beautiful mountain views. You may also visit Littleton, birthplace of Eleanor H. Porter, author of Pollyanna; the town boasts a charming classic New England Main Street, shopping and numerous restaurants.
TO CONTINUE THE TOUR: continue on Rte. 3 North to Twin Mountain.
Mile 12-24: Franconia Notch to Twin Mountain
At Exit 35 (12.5), bear right on Rte. 3N. If you’ve brought your bicycles, parking for the Franconia Notch bike path is on the right (13.6); the path runs 9 miles to the Flume and back. Just up the road is the Mt. Cleveland Overlook (16.9). Next is the Beaver Brook Rest Area and trails (19.1), and through the mountainous village of Twin Mountain (22.0) which, along with Bretton Woods, Fabyan and Marshfield, comprise the town of Carroll.
SIDE TRIP: At the traffic light (23.4), a left turn will take you to the village of Bethlehem, known for its cottage architecture. Straight ahead on Rte. 3 brings you to Jefferson and Whitefield where you will find the family attraction Santa’s Village. Santa’s was created in the Christmas spirit with themed rides, shows and festivities in a beautiful forest and garden setting. There is a train to ride, deer to pet and Santa and his elves to visit.
TO CONTINUE THE TOUR: turn right onto Rte. 302E. The next few miles take you past hiking trailheads, and one of our legendary grand hotels.
Mile 24-30: Route 302 thru the Bretton Woods and Mount Washington areas
You’ll first encounter the entrance to the Zealand Campground and trailhead (25.6); the Lower Falls of the Ammonoosuc River (access parking, 25.8); a major moose wallow (26.6) on the right; and Cherry Mountain Road on the left (26.9). The Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods area was first settled by Abel Crawford in 1792. Crawford, “the father of White Mountains tourism,” was also responsible for building the first path to the summit of Mt. Washington, which is still in use today.
Just off Rte. 302 in Bretton Woods is the Mt. Washington Cog Railway (base road entrance 27.8), the world’s very first mountain climbing cog railway. When the Cog Railway was first proposed, the New Hampshire legislature was so doubtful it could be completed that they gave the builder the right to build a “railway to the moon!” Today you can ride the Cog to the top of 6,288-foot Mt. Washington, as well as see “Old Peppersass,” the world’s first mountain climbing locomotive which reached the summit on July 3, 1869.
The tradition of hospitality begun by Abel Crawford culminated in the building, in 1902, of one of the grandest hotels of all: the Mount Washington Hotel (28.6) Next to the entrance bridge is an overlook that rewards you with an iconic postcard view. The Mount Washington Hotel holds a special place in history. In 1944, the World Monetary Conference met at the hotel and the “gold exchange standard” was established with the U.S. dollar chosen as the backbone to international exchange. Two other Grand Hotels can be seen in the mountains: the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, and The Balsams Grand Hotel in Dixville Notch.
Mile 30-49: Route 302 thru Crawford Notch to Bartlett
From Bretton Woods, continue on Rte. 302 through Crawford Notch and Crawford Notch Sate Park. Along the way are several scenic stops: the Mt. Eisenhower Wayside Park (30.2), Mt. Clinton trailhead (31.7), the former site of the Crawford House hotel (31.8), and the Crawford Depot (31.9). The Depot is an Appalachian Mountain Club-run facility offering
hiking information and a view across the road to Saco Lake, headwaters of the Saco River. You are now at the entrance to Crawford Notch State Park, 6 miles of rugged beauty in a mountain pass. Above the road is a natural rock formation known as Elephant Head (32.1). Slow down and pull off (32.7) into the viewpoint for the Flume (32.7) and Silver (32.8)
Cascades, just two of the waterfalls along this stretch of the trail.
Two miles farther is the site of the historic Willey Slide (34.6), where the Willey family of seven and two hired men died in an 1826 landslide. Information about the State Park, restrooms and picnic sites are available at the Visitor Center. You’re likely to see hikers as the Appalachian Trail is close by (35.7); as are Dry River Campground, with its views of Frankenstein Cliff (37.5); parking for Arethusa Falls trail (38.0) leading to one of the highest waterfalls in New Hampshire; Bemis Bridge trailhead (40.2); and Nancy Brook Bridge (40.6).
At the turn of the 20th century, logging threatened to decimate the White Mountains region. Congressman John Wingate Weeks, of Lancaster, sponsored the Weeks Act, resulting in the creation of the White Mountain National Forest in 1912. Today you can visit sites of now abandoned logging towns that flourished at the turn of the century, including Livermore on the Sawyer River Road (42.4). The next section of the Trail takes you through the Mount Washington Valley, which begins in Bartlett Village (46.1). A summer resort since the early 1800’s, the Valley became a winter resort in the 1930s. Today there are 5 downhill ski areas, miles of cross-country trails and so many things to see and do that vacationers come year round. The Valley is known for a wealth of outlet shopping—over 100 stores.
SIDE TRIP/SHORT CUT: In Bartlett Village, you can turn right onto Bear Notch Road (46.4), which connects with the Kancamagus Highway at (76.5). There are several scenic turnoffs along the road (which is open spring to late fall), including one overlook that offers extraordinary views of Crawford Notch.
TO CONTINUE THE TOUR: and to experience the full White Mountains Trail, continue on Rte. 302 past Bear Notch Road east to Glen, where it joins Rte. 16 south through North Conway and Conway.
Mile 49-53: Route 302: Bartlett thru Glen
Before reaching Glen on your right is Attitash Mountain Resort (49.0), a ski resort and summer recreation attraction. Loaded with mountains of fun, Attitash offers an alpine slide, a mountain coaster, zipline, scenic chairlift ride, mountain biking, bungee trampoline, and lots more. Just past Attitash, on Rte. 302 is the Bartlett Covered Bridge (50.8) with its unusual shop, and the junction with Rte. 16 (52.6).
SIDE TRIP: Just north of the junction of Rte. 302 and 16 in Glen are three much loved attractions, and villages well worth the trip. First, just up the road is Story Land a family favorite. Here you’ll explore the wonderful world of childhood with all sorts of rides, activities and shows. It’s a perennial favorite with something new every year. Past Story Land is also the place for a pleasant side trip off the Trail to the pretty village of Jackson, with its good restaurants, golf, skiing in the winter and a covered bridge called the Honeymoon Bridge. Built in 1878 it spans the Ellis River and is still used for daily traffic. Wildcat Mountain is a ski area which offers a scenic gondola ride to the summit in the summer for incredible views of Mount Washington and Tuckerman’s Raine. It also offers a thrilling ZipRider trip down the mountain. There are trails to a waterfall and picnic spots at the base.
Or you may choose to drive the eight mile Mt.Washington Auto Road to the summit, an amazing mountain experience offering spectacular 360˚ views on a clear day. First opened in 1861, more than 45,000 cars now make the trip to the top of New England every summer. If you’d rather not drive yourself, regularly scheduled Shuttle vans are available. At the
summit are a cafeteria, a gift shop, a small museum, and a post office, as well as the Mount Washington Observatory. This Auto Road is America’s oldest manmade attraction.
Mile 53-64: North Conway and Conway
Back on Rte. 16 at the intersection with Rte. 302, head south to one of the most famous viewpoints in the state: the Intervale Scenic Vista (56.2), a state welcome Center with a stunning scenic overlook of Mt. Washington. Continuing south, Rte. 16 passes through the popular resort town and shopping mecca, North Conway, home of the historic Conway Scenic Railroad (58.2) and its beautifully restored Victorian station, which was built in 1874. You can chose from scenic round-trip train rides of varying duration to Conway, Bartlett, or north through the dramatic landscape of Crawford Notch. Just off Rte. 16, Cranmore Mountain Resort (58.8) has been entertaining families for over 75 years. With skiing, a mountain coaster, giant swing, an aerial adventure course and more, Cranmore really is North Conway's playground.
Continue on Rte. 16 through the village and past the outlet shops. South of North Conway Village, Rte. 16 climbs Pine Hill. A pullout on the right (61.4) affords a wonderful view of the Saco River, Cathedral and White Horse Ledges (west of North Conway) and Mt. Washington.
A bit farther on (62.8) is a side road to the Saco Covered Bridge; the bridge can be seen from Rte. 16 (63.4). At the junction of Routes 16 and 113 (63.6), bear right and go through the lights south through Conway Village, past the Conway Village Information Center (64.1), and over the railroad tracks. Turn right at the light onto Rte. 112, the Kancamagus Highway (64.4).
Mile 64-100: The Kancamagus Highway; Conway to Lincoln
One of the most spectacular sections of the White Mountains Trail is the Kancamagus highway (a National Scenic Byway). “The Kanc” runs for 34.5 miles from Conway in the east to Lincoln in the west, traversing the White Mountain National Forest, crossing the flank of Mt. Kancamagus, and climbing to nearly 3,000 feet and providing dramatic views on the way. Along its length are hiking trails, federallydesignated Scenic Areas, and numerous stunning overlooks. For more information about the highway, stop at the Saco Ranger Station (64.5).
The highway was named for an early Indian Chief of the Penacook Confederacy, Kancamagus, who tried to keep the peace between his people and the settlers, with little success. In the early 1690’s the Confederacy tribes scattered, and Kancamagus and his followers moved on, either to northern New Hampshire or Canada. Passaconaway, grandfather of Kancamagus united more than 17 central New England Indian tribes into the Penacook Confederacy in 1627; the rich flat land 12 miles from Conway is named for him. This community was first settled about 1790. Today the Russell-Colbath House is the only remaining 19th century homestead in the area, and is open as an historic home and US Forest Service Information Center.
There are campgrounds along the Kancamagus, including one by the Albany Covered Bridge (70.6), which also has displays about building covered bridges; wonderful places to swim such as Frog Rock Swimming Hole (66.6), Lower Falls Scenic Area (71.3) and Rocky Gorge (73.1), and waterfalls to visit, such as Champney Falls (75.0), and Sabbaday Falls (79.9). At the Russell-Colbath House Historic Site (77.1), see how 19th century settlers lived, and explore the Rail n’ River nature trail. Just past the historic site is a major moose wallow (77.7), followed by Jigger Johnson Campground (78.7), Sabbaday Falls, the Sugar Hill scenic overlook (81.9), and Lily Pond (83.8).