New Hampshire

Driving the Kancamagus This Fall? Read This First!

The mega-popular foliage route is worth experiencing, but there are ways to make your drive better.

By Jim Salge

Aug 29 2023


The Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is one of the country’s most stunning foliage drives.

Photo Credit : Jim Salge

It’s possible to love something just a little too much. Last year, peak foliage, nice weather, and a three-day weekend led to a perfect storm on Route 112 through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, better known as the Kancamagus Highway. Heavy traffic turned what is usually a leisurely hour-long drive between Conway and Lincoln into a multi-hour ordeal, so this year, it’s smart to plan ahead!

The route is justifiably popular. With low elevations at each end, it climbs to nearly 3,000 feet, with gorgeous views around every turn, and scenic overlooks every couple of miles. But best of all, deep within the White Mountain National Forest, there are almost no other signs of civilization. It’s truly something special.

A fantastic foliage photo op at Falls Pond.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

So it comes as no surprise that “The Kanc” tops foliage drive lists year after year, including in Yankee. Other publications like Reader’s Digest, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe have also given it similar love, with numerous travel blogs and social media outlets amplifying the route all the more. Even ChatGPT suggested The Kanc when we asked it for the best foliage drive in northern New England. The word is more than out.

At times, it’s simply too much for the two-lane road. Once you start climbing the winding route, there are no gas stations for 32 miles, cell service disappears, and there’s nowhere to turn (the only intersection is an even steeper road through Bear Notch that closes in late October). There are parking lots along The Kanc for hikers and swimmers, but the bathroom options are nothing more than forest service pit toilets. Add leaf-peepers to the normal flow of east-west traffic and you arrive at the frustrating gridlockscenario of last October. 

Stunning scenes like this one make The Kanc an essential New England foliage experience.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

It can be challenging, but we’d never suggest you skip the Kanc altogether. If you find yourself in northern New Hampshire this year, dreaming of a White Mountains foliage drive, here’s what can help make your experience better.


While some of the parking lots at popular trailheads fill at first light, the traffic is typically light before 10 AM. By hitting the road early, not only do you beat the rush, but you get some of the best light for foliage, and have the best chance to see wildlife like moose and bears. Additionally, crisp, cool fall mornings almost always bring fog to the valley, rivers, and ponds, and morning mist is great for foliage photos! 

Getting an early start gives you the best chance to spot a moose.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

Go Midweek!

By Monday afternoon of last year’s long weekend, The Kanc was moving freely once more. And it remained that way until the following Saturday morning. Peak foliage lasts for up to a week at any given location, but with all of the elevation along this route, you can find peak color over a few weeks. It may not be easy to travel during off-times between work and school schedules, but if you can, it will make a world of difference.

Go Elsewhere! 

One of the most interesting things to come out of last year’s Kanc traffic coverage was just how many people chimed in to say “I was in _____ and there was NO traffic.” Pinkham Notch, Dixville Notch, Evans Notch, Waterville Valley, Bethlehem, Tamworth, Gorham, Littleton, and Lancaster are all great New Hampshire destinations for leaf-peepers to stop, eat, shop, hike, and view the leaves – with far less traffic. Crawford Notch sees some, and Franconia Notch also sees a good amount, but nowhere experienced anything like the Kanc in 2022. Amazingly, Route 112 continues west of Lincoln for many scenic miles out to beautiful Bath, NH with barely a car on it. During peak times, it can be ideal to just steer the car somewhere else and see where it takes you! We have many suggested foliage road trip routes beyond the Kanc, so you’re sure to see a beautiful show this year, no matter where you end up.

Have you ever driven the Kancamagus Highway during foliage season?

See More:

How the Kancamagus Highway Got Its Name and How to Pronounce It

4 Favorite Quiet Fall Foliage Drives in New England

14 Favorite Fall Drives in New England