New England is one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially in the fall when the trees start to change color into warm oranges and yellows. One of the top ways to enjoy the beauty is to go on a Kancamagus Highway fall road trip!
Running from east to west through the northern part of New Hampshire, this highway is frequented in the fall because it brings visitors directly through the foliage. Along the way, there are many viewpoints, waterfalls, covered bridges, and more that make the drive even more enjoyable.
Kancamagus Highway is truly an unmissable sight on any New England fall road trip! Trust me, whether you’re returning visitor to New Hampshire or this is your first time, you’ll want to drive Kancamagus Highway in the fall.
In this post, you will find every information you could possibly need to make your trip unforgettable, including tips for when to visit, what to expect, and where to find the best viewpoints. Let’s get into it!
*Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*
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Table of Contents
Useful Info for Visiting Kancamagus Highway in the Fall
Before driving this highway, there are some things you should know. Get a breakdown of essential facets of the drive before you start your trip below!
Where is Kancamagus Highway located
As briefly mentioned, the Kancamagus Highway is located in northern New Hampshire, and it runs from east to west.
The beginning of the Kancamagus Highway fall foliage drive is in Conway, New Hampshire, and starts at Route 16. Then, the drive continues and eventually ends in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Since it’s a two-way road connecting Conway and Lincoln, it means you can drive it in any direction.
The majority of the drive is through the breathtaking White Mountain National Forest which is a truly stunning sight with the colorful fall foliage.
How to get to Kancamagus Highway
There are a few ways to get to Kancamagus Highway but each one includes driving so having your own car is a must. In case you’re living nearby, you can bring your own car but if you’re coming from far away, you will have to rent a car.
If you’re coming from anywhere in the US other than New England, then you will want to fly to the Portland Airport (PWM) in Maine. From there, it’s a 50-mile (80 km) drive to the beginning of the highway, which takes just a little over an hour.
For international visitors, Boston Logan Airport is the closest international airport which is a 130-mile (210 km) drive from Conway, NH.
As I mentioned before, you can begin the drive either at Conway or Lincoln so no matter which town you go to first, you’ll be able to see all attractions all the same.
How long does it take to drive the Kancamagus Highway
The whole highway is 34.5 miles (55.5 km) long so technically you can complete the whole drive in 45 minutes without stopping.
However, the whole reason for going on the Kancamagus Highway fall foliage drive is to see the stunning scenery so it doesn’t make sense just to drive through without stopping. Depending on how many attractions you want to see, you can budget anywhere between 3 and 6 hours but you can easily spend the whole day on the highway.
Another thing you have to factor in is the traffic. Kancamagus Highway is super popular during fall so as you can imagine, it gets quite crowded. Although it’s a 2-way road, it has only one lane per side so traffic jams are highly likely.
Therefore I would recommend setting aside at least half a day for visiting but if you have one full day, it’s even better.
In case you finish with the drive earlier, you can still include some more attractions nearby! You can refer to the end of this article for ideas.
Best time to visit Kancamagus Highway in the fall
As you may expect, the fall foliage timing is a bit different every year, especially in New England. Kancamagus Highway usually experiences the peak fall colors during the first two weeks in October so generally speaking, this is the best time to visit if you want to see the colorful foliage.
For more accurate and detailed planning, it’s a good idea to check out the New England Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
This is updated regularly and shows where the foliage is currently at its best and where it is expected to peak in the coming week. I found that this map is pretty accurate but do keep in mind that conditions can always change and affect the timing.
If you have the time to be flexible with your highway drive, then be sure to pay close attention to the foliage in New Hampshire for the given year that you would like to do the road trip. That way, you can ensure that you’re seeing the colors at their brightest before they start to all fall off the trees!
Other things you need to pay attention to are the national holidays in the US, specifically Columbus day. The holiday is also called Indigenous Peoples’ Day and it takes place on the second Monday of October which usually coincides with the peak fall foliage at Kancamagus Highway.
We accidentally visited on the weekend before Columbus day and let me tell you, it was a living hell. Accommodation prices were crazy high, all the restaurants were booked up days in advance so we had to get food at the McDonald’s drive-through 3 days in a row, and on Sunday, we got stuck on the highway in a 3-hour traffic jam.
Long story short, if you can avoid visiting this weekend, do it! However, if this is the only time you can do the Kancamagus Highway fall foliage drive it’s still better than not going at all. Just make sure to manage your expectations, budget lots of extra time, and make restaurant reservations far in advance.
Where to stay near Kancamagus Highway
Although you can drive through the highway in a few hours, it’s actually best to spend at least 1-2 nights nearby so you can fully experience the area.
You can stay at either Conway or Lincoln, or in case these are all booked up, you can choose any of the other small towns in the area. Since you’ll be with a car you will be able to move around freely anyways so it truly doesn’t matter that much!
If you’re thinking about Conway or Lincoln, I would personally recommend Lincoln. It’s a slightly bigger town with more accommodation and restaurants, and you’ll also find more attractions nearby.
If you decide to stay at a hotel in either of the towns, here are a few different great places to spend the night, depending on your budget.
Where to stay in Lincoln, NH
LUXURY – RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain
Located in close proximity to Loon Mountain, RiverWalk Resort features a restaurant, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool. The one-bedroom suite can accommodate up to 8 people which is amazing for families or bigger groups.
Rooms at this recently renovated resort are equipped with a microwave, a refrigerator, and coffee-making facilities. Breakfast is included in the rate and the property features a swimming pool and spa.
BUDGET – Riverbank Motel and Cabins
Located on the banks of the Pemigewasset River, this pleasant motel consists of simple yet comfortable studio rooms with basic kitchen facilities. Guests have access to an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tub, fitness center, tennis courts, and a games room.
Where to stay in North Conway, NH
LUXURY – White Mountain Hotel and Resort
Set within the natural beauty of Hale’s Location, this elegant North Conway resort features a year-round heated outdoor pool and hot tub overlooking the mountains. Daily full breakfast is included and high-speed internet access along with two dining options with Ledges Restaurant and Tullamore Tavern are also provided.
MID-RANGE – Home2 Suites By Hilton North Conway, NH
Located in North Conway, Home2 Suites By Hilton North Conway, NH provides accommodations with a fitness center, free private parking, a shared lounge, and barbecue facilities. With free WiFi, this 3-star hotel offers a 24-hour front desk and a business center.
BUDGET – Colonial Motel
Just a 10-minute walk from the village of North Conway, the Colonial Motel features an outdoor swimming pool and a picnic area. Rooms at the family-run Colonial have simple furnishings and carpeted floors. Some feature a covered porch while others have a large spa bath.
Tips for Driving the Kancamagus Highway
Download an offline map on your phone
If you’re planning on doing the Kancamagus Highway fall foliage drive, then you’ll want to download a map of the route on your phone before you begin.
That’s because the cell service throughout the drive is very hit-or-miss, and it’s better to be prepared. You can also purchase a map at a small local shop if needed.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get lost since it’s a pretty straightforward route but it can still give you a piece of mind having an offline map with you in case anything happens.
As a bonus, you can also mark all the interesting viewpoints on the map so you can ensure you’re not missing out on anything, even if you have zero cell service.
There are many great apps out there that allow you to download maps for offline use, I personally use Google Maps and it always works perfectly.
TOP TIP: If you scroll down to the end of the article, you’ll find a custom map I created just for you!
Bring snacks and drinks
There aren’t any spots to pull off and purchase food along the highway. So, be sure to stock up on your favorite road trip snacks and drinks before you begin the drive. You could even pack a fun picnic to enjoy at one of the viewpoints!
Get gas before you start
Similar to food, there are no gas stations along the highway either. Don’t start the drive if your tank is low! Be sure to fill up before you begin the drive to ensure you’re full before traveling on the Kancamagus Highway.
Start your day early
If you plan on driving the Kancamagus Highway in the fall (which is definitely the busiest time of year), start your day early. I can’t stress this enough!
Parking can be hard to come by the later in the day that you start. Plus, starting in the early morning allows you to avoid crowds and be one with nature at many of the viewpoints along the way.
Watch for wildlife
Lastly, wildlife can be found along the highway, so drive carefully and be alert. If you do come across any wildlife along the drive, be sure to keep your distance and be respectful. They live in this area, so this is their home!
Some popular wildlife that you can find along this drive includes deer, moose, and sometimes even bears.
Best Stops on the Kancamagus Highway Scenic Drive
While there are many Kancamagus Highway stops, you can find some of the best can’t-miss places below. Be sure to add these to your road trip itinerary!
Loon Mountain Resort
First up on this list of Kancamagus Highway attractions is the Loon Mountain Resort, which is also one of the best places to stay in Lincoln. It’s known for being home to some of New England’s best skiing and snowboarding trails, featuring three different mountain peaks.
While skiing and snowboarding won’t be happening yet in the fall, it’s still worth visiting this resort. During autumn, visitors can enjoy the longest sky ride in the entire state via a gondola as they are brought up the mountain. From the gondola, the views of the mountains are breathtaking, especially with the fall colors.
Other fun things to do during the fall include participating in yoga on top of the mountain, playing disc golf, hiking, having fun at the bike park, or even just biking on trails.
For a breathtaking view of the mountains along a Kancamagus fall road trip, stop by Hancock Overlook. This is one of the most photographed spots along the highway, and it’s often what you’ll see photos of if searching for information about the highway online.
The view here is of the Osceola Range, and it’s a switchback with a hairpin turn on the highway. This is also where the Mt Hancock trail begins.
If you want to have a picnic, this is a great spot to do it because there is a pavilion with a picnic spot at Hancock Overlook. Due to its popularity, this is one of the areas where it can be hard to find parking if you begin too late in the day.
Pemigewasset Overlook is one of the most beautiful stops you can make while driving Kancamagus Highway in the fall. The viewpoint looks out to the forest and the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Similar to the Hancock Overlook, you can also see the Osceola Mountains here, and there’s a pavilion where you can learn more about what you’re looking at. The pavilion is covered, and there are benches scattered around where you can sit and think while enjoying the view.
This is arguably one of the better overlooks because it’s right near the highway’s highest point, giving visitors an even better vantage point of the surrounding area! Verified parking proof is also needed to stop by here.
CL Graham Wangan Overlook
Another one of the things to do on the Kancamagus Highway is to stop at the CL Graham Wangan Overlook. This area used to be a lumber camp and is located about halfway through the highway, not far from Pemigewasset Overlook, and right below the summit.
From this overlook, enjoy views looking out to the Swift River Watershed. Signs are also here so you can understand what you are looking at. The parking area here is huge, but it can still be hard to find parking during the busy season, so again, get here early!
Notably, this is one of the top spots to catch the sunset in New Hampshire, too. The colors of the sky become purple and pink, which looks beautiful against the fall foliage.
Sugar Hill Scenic Vista
From Sugar Hill Scenic Vista, look out and take in the scenery of Sugar Hill, Owl Cliff, Bear Mountain, and more. In the fall, this is one of the most colorful spots along the Kancamagus Highway in the fall. It’s about halfway through the highway drive.
In addition to enjoying the intense fall colors, there is a spot to sit and a gazebo where you can relax. Displays are on-site so you can interpret what you’re looking at, and there are often some great wildflowers within view, too.
Obviously, this list of Kancamagus Highway attractions would not be complete without including at least one waterfall, and Sabbaday Falls is one of the most stunning. While it is one of the state’s most popular waterfalls, it’s a must-visit on the highway.
To get to the falls, take a 15-minute easy walk from the parking lot with barely any elevation. The walk is about 0.7 miles (1.1 km) long, and it’s on an out-and-back trail. It’s also reasonably accessible with its gravel path.
This area also has a spot for picnics in addition to bathrooms. Note that you can’t swim in the falls for safety reasons, but it’s a tranquil and gorgeous place to take some photos along the highway, especially with its 45-foot drop!
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area
This is another area that features a small but beautiful waterfall right off the Kancamagus Highway. There is a bridge that allows visitors to look out to the beautiful river and gorge and even a trail that goes all the way around the pond.
The Rocky Gorge Scenic Area is accessible and is just a short walk from the parking lot. For some of the best photos, stop directly on top of the bridge and look out; this is one of the best views of the entire scenic area.
Be sure to also spend time walking a bit further past the footbridge to check out the scenic Falls Pond which is surrounded by the forest. It’s beautiful in the fall when the colors of the trees reflect off the water!
While many of the spots along Kancamagus Highway with water aren’t open for swimming, the Lower Falls is an area where you can actually cool off! While the weather is cooler in the fall months, it’s still a great spot to dip your toes in if you want to.
This is also arguably one of the most popular and busy spots along the entire drive. It closes in mid-October, and there are spots to picnic, swim, and even cook because there are grills. If you do decide to dip your toes in, keep in mind that the rocks can get pretty slick.
One of the great things about Lower Falls is that it has been very well maintained and was even recently updated with a few renovations. In addition, it’s relatively accessible.
Albany Covered Bridge
When it comes to things to do on the Kancamagus Highway, don’t forget to stop by the Albany Covered Bridge. There are tons of great covered bridges throughout the northeast, and people travel from all over the country just to see them in person.
This bridge was built back in the 1800s and had to be rebuilt after being flooded by a storm. It’s incredibly picturesque, especially if you stop at one of the ends for a photo. Be sure to watch for cars if you do this, though.
If you happen to visit and the bridge is closed for cars (it often closes towards the beginning of the winter season), don’t worry; it’s often still open for those passing by on foot.
Restrooms are available near the bridge, and there is a 7-foot, 9-inch height restriction, so be careful if you are visiting with a van.
Other Great Attractions around Kancamagus Highway
Now that you know some of the best Kancamagus Highway stops, here are some other attractions if you have the time to visit them during your New England fall road trip.
Flume Gorge is located near Franconia Notch State Park and features granite walls and a beautiful gorge. There’s a trail that leads into the gorge right along the rushing river, and it’s absolutely breathtaking with its tall walls!
You can walk the 2-mile (3.2 km) long loop trail in around 1.5-2 hours and it’s suitable for all fitness levels. However, there are some uphill sections and lots of stairs so having proper hiking shoes will be an advantage.
Online reservations cost $18 while buying on-site is $21. In the fall season, tickets sell out pretty quickly and typically they don’t accept walk-ins so it’s best to arrive with a reservation.
Artist’s Bluff Lookout
The Artist’s Bluff Lookout is one of the most stunning viewpoints you’ll come across in the whole of New Hampshire!
If this wouldn’t be enough, you’ll be pleased to hear that you only need to tackle a super short, 0.5-mile (0.8 km) long trail to get to the viewpoint. It’s fairly steep though but even if you’re not in the best shape, it’s still doable within 15 minutes.
From the lookout, you can enjoy the sweeping views over Echo Lake, Franconia Notch, and Cannon Mountain.
If you’re up for a more active day, you can turn this into a longer hike by adding on the Bald Mountain trail too. This moderate trail has around 200 feet of elevation gain and takes just under 2 hours to hike fully.
Since Echo Lake is located right next to the Artist’s Bluff Lookout, these two can be easily visited on the same day. Echo Lake has a swimming area, picnic spots, and many trails.
While this place is very popular during the summer months for swimming, it truly becomes an oasis in the fall when you’ll mostly just find other leaf-peepers enjoying the beauty.
Swift River Covered Bridge & Saco River Covered Bridge
The Swift River Covered Bridge and Saco River Covered Bridge are located in Conway, New Hampshire, and are a super easy addition to any Kancamagus Highway fall foliage drive.
The covered bridges were built in the 19th century with the purpose of providing an easy way for locals to get from one side of town to the other but they have been restored multiple times over the years due to floods and other river issues over the years.
Luckily, they have been very well protected and maintained and are incredibly picturesque today.
Conway Scenic Railroad
Many people don’t know that there are multiple different train rides throughout New Hampshire, and one of them is at the end of the Kancamagus Highway. So, consider enjoying a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad which has an old-fashioned style.
The best time to enjoy one of these train rides is in the fall because you can look out and see the scenic White Mountains colored with bright reds, yellows, and oranges. They even do a fun “Pumpkin Patch Express” in the fall, which can be fun for the entire family.
The railroad has several different trains, ranging from the Sawyer River Excursion to the Conway Valley Train. Each has a different price, and train ride times range between 1 hour to 5.5 hours. Pricing is around $100 or less, depending on the train booked.
Bartlett Covered Bridge
For another excellent bridge stop when doing this fall road trip, swing by the Bartlett Covered Bridge. As the name suggests, this bridge is located in Bartlett and is one of the beautiful red bridges that the state is home to.
This bridge was built in the 1930s and was rebuilt and renovated quite a few times over the years, but is now waiting to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What makes it so unique is that it’s also now home to a gift shop – how cool is that?
Jackson NH (Pumpkin People & Honeymoon Covered Bridge)
Last but not least is the beautiful town of Jackson, New Hampshire. This town comes to life in the wintertime but is filled with mostly locals in the fall season.
Every year in the fall, Jackson is home to the Pumpkin People. The town puts on an event where you can go on a self-guided tour throughout the town to look for scarecrows and pumpkin heads.
Each is decorated in a charming way, and most can be driven to. They are mostly located outside of local businesses.
Another one of the beautiful places to visit in the fall in Jackson is the Honeymoon Covered Bridge. This bright red bridge is made of wood and crosses the Ellis River.
It’s very beautiful in the fall as it’s surrounded by the colored forest. Plus, it actually has a pedestrian walkway, unlike many other bridges in the state.
Map of the Best Kancamagus Highway Attractions
Below you can find a customized map that includes all the locations mentioned in this Kancamagus Highway guide.
If you open up this post on your phone and you click on the bracket in the upper right corner of the map, it will open up in your Google Maps app so you can always have it with you. Super convenient, right?
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