New Hampshire

Scenic Summer Drive in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

Soak up the grandeur of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, in and out of the car.

By Ian Aldrich

May 30 2023

Scenic Drive in the White Mountains of New Hampshire 3

Franconia Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

Photo Credit : Frederick Bloy

In a region flush with photo shoot–worthy drives, the 100-mile loop that tracks Routes 302 and 112 through the western White Mountains rises above the rest. It is northern New Hampshire condensed into one single charm offensive: downtown North Conway, the Kancamagus Highway, and not one but two major notches. You go up. You go down. And you stop. Frequently.

Options for a starting point are as varied as the terrain, but you can’t go wrong launching from the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, one of the last of the state’s grand resorts, whose setting has drawn travelers since before the internal combustion engine. From here, briefly travel west on Routes 3 and 302 toward Interstate 93, a highway in name only: Its northern reaches blaze through some of the prettiest scenery in the Northeast, taking you past Cannon Mountain, Mount Lincoln, Echo Lake, and the Flume Gorge.

Avalanche Falls at the Flume Gorge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
Avalanche Falls at the Flume Gorge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
Photo Credit : Alana Ranney

Take Exit 32 for the mountain town of Lincoln, which will tempt you to linger at shops such as Clark’s Trading Post, Lahout’s, and the Mountain Wanderer, a treasure trove of outdoor-adventure books and maps. But it will be hard to resist the call of the Kancamagus Highway, a 32-mile journey and a true New England celebrity road.

Located just east of the town center, the “Kanc” follows the Pemigewasset River and through the White Mountain National Forest. You navigate hairpin turns along its first 11 miles before reaching height of land and an expansive scenic outlook that takes in the Osceola Range, Mount Tremont, Sugar Hill, and the famed Pemigewasset Wilderness. The long descent leads to a second scenic turnoff with views that extend deep into Maine.

Zeb's General Store in North Conway, New Hampshire
Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, New Hampshire
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming

Soon you’ll reach Route 16, which heads north to North Conway. Like the Kanc itself, North Conway is a tourist magnet, but if you can be patient and weather some vacation traffic, it’s worth the time. On its outskirts are the outlets, but its center is home to small shops, cafés, and an expansive green that is prime real estate for picnicking or Frisbee throwing.

Farther north on 16 lies the mountain-rimmed resort town of Jackson, whose village caters to hikers, photographers, and lunchtime crowds in pursuit of the hefty homemade sandwiches served up at the J-Town Deli. Return south briefly on 16 to head west on Route 302. The road meanders past Attitash Mountain, whose ski terrain is reoriented to summertime recreation, before climbing again through Crawford Notch. Eventually the red roof of the Omni Mount Washington will come into focus—and if it’s your home for the night, an even grander journey into the mountains can soon begin.

White Mountains of New Hampshire Scenic Drive Map
White Mountains Scenic Drive Map
Photo Credit : Nate Padavick

Yankee‘s Favorite Places to Stop Along the Way

Omni Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods: Built on a palatial scale overlooking the Presidential Range, the resort’s 903-foot-long wraparound veranda offers an unmatched perch for unwinding with drinks and gazing at mountain views.

Franconia Notch State Park, Franconia/Lincoln: Two superb lakes, the Flume Gorge, hiking trails, and even an aerial tramway all shine in this 6,692-acre natural showcase.

The Mountain Wanderer, Lincoln: Count on the expertise of shop owner Steve Smith, the longtime editor of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide, to direct you to some of the most under-the-radar hikes in the region.

Lahout’s Country Clothing & Ski Shop, Lincoln: Herbert Lahout emigrated from Lebanon in 1898, opening his first dry-goods store 22 years later. He probably wouldn’t recognize his early roots in this ski shop, which evolved to become America’s oldest, serving Bode Miller and other local Olympians in the shadow of the White Mountains.

Clark’s Trading Post, Lincoln: The summer fun at Clark’s includes Water Blaster Boats, the Old Man Climbing Tower, and five museums to explore. But the signature attraction is the dancing bear show, which has awed visitors since Clark’s opened in 1928.

Settlers Green, North Conway: With 60-plus stores in tax-free New Hampshire in which to bargain-hunt, Settlers Green is a shopaholic’s dream. It also has a handful of restaurants that offer fuel between retail hits.

Conway Scenic Railroad, North Conway: This longtime attraction offers delightfully old-fashioned train rides. Two family-friendly “valley” routes head north to either Conway (11 miles) or Bartlett (21 miles), while the longer “notch” route heads to the mountains and Crawford Notch.

Zeb’s General Store, North Conway: A gift shop with a little bit of everything. Maneuver your way around antique fixtures, indulge at the candy counter, and browse a sprawling collection of New England–made specialty foods.

Frontside Coffee Roasters, North Conway: Look out at the Moat Mountains while munching on a bagel or breakfast sandwich and enjoying a fresh-brewed coffee or espresso made from house-roasted beans.

Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., North Conway: Moat Mountain’s beers can be found all over North Conway, but the Smokehouse is hands down the best spot for enjoying one with nachos, sandwiches, pizza, and burgers, as well as meat and seafood entrées.

Story Land, Glen: Against a beautiful White Mountains backdrop, Story Land aims its attractions and rides toward the under-12 set, making the storybook-themed park a favorite “staycation” destination for many New England families.

J-Town Deli,Jackson: This classic country store offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which can be eaten in the store or taken to go. Check out the variety of gifts, trinkets, and local souvenirs, too.

The Notchland Inn, Hart’s Location: The Notchland’s comfy front parlor still bears the Arts and Crafts handprint of its designer, Gustav Stickley, aka the Ralph Lauren of the turn of the 20th century. New England craft beer, wine, or a favorite cocktail? Order up and sip away, as tunes from yesteryear play softly in the background.