When I was researching what to see and do on our New England trip, I kept reading about the Kancamagus Highway. The Kancamagus Highway is a 35-mile-long highway that goes through the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, between the towns of Lincoln and Conway. On the Lincoln side of the highway, you’ll find more touristy-type places. Towards the east, you’ll find attractions like the Conway scenic railroad.
Many people said it was a must-do, so we decided to add it to our itinerary. It’s absolutely full of picturesque views and was in fact the first national scenic byway in the northeastern United States. The road is open year-round.
While we were there in July, the road wasn’t too busy. I’ve heard that in the fall, with all the leaf-peepers, the roads can sometimes be almost bumper-to-bumper, but I imagine it’s worth it.
While it was very scenic when we were there over the summer, I’m sure in the fall, it’s absolutely incredible. Portions of the highway go through the White Mountain National Forest and those hairpin turns come up quickly, so you need to pay attention. While we were driving through, it suddenly became very foggy, lasting for quite a few miles. It was white-knuckle driving for a bit, but we soon drove out of the fog. One thing to note is that if you stop and park within the forest, you are required to display a recreation pass. You can buy a day pass very inexpensively. Driving the Kanc was really scenic and beautiful. We saw a lot of signs for “moose crossing” throughout Maine and were hoping to see a real moose on the Kanc, but weren’t so lucky this trip. Maybe next time!
Here are the best places to stop along the Kancamagus Highway.
Woodstock, New Hampshire, is a very small town on one edge of the Kancamagus Highway. We decided to stay in Woodstock to start our New Hampshire adventure because the town is a central location for all there is to see and do in the area.
When researching where to stay in the area, we chose the Woodstock Inn Brewery because it looked like it offered a lot on one property: a restaurant, a bar, a brewery, and lodging! We arrived to discover the place was as good as it looked online. It’s really an excellent place to stay if you’re exploring the area. The Woodstock Inn Brewery is an old-fashioned inn with one main building that houses the restaurant, bar, brewery, and some guest rooms.
One highlight of the Woodstock Inn that I have to mention is the super tasty food. We stayed here two nights and ate every single meal here. It’s that good. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant is huge and there’s also a beautiful outdoor dining area that we enjoyed in the mornings. The breakfast, which is included with your room, was especially excellent. My mom had the crab benedict one morning and it was outstanding. One night at the bar, we had nachos and fajitas. Another night we tried the burgers and other sandwiches. It was all seriously good.
Another fun thing about staying here is that they have live music inside the bar and also outside on the patio. It’s so nice to be able to have dinner and drinks, plus enjoy live music all at the same location. Anytime I don’t have to drive is a bonus.
Our guest rooms were located in another building right across the parking lot from the main building. And the accommodations were great. Our rooms were really homey — a lot of wood paneling and outdoorsy-type decor that fit into the wilderness theme. One thing that blew us away about the rooms were the bathtubs and showers. These bathtubs were unbelievable! I think they were designed more for the skiing season so that skiers can really warm up after a day on the slopes. The bathtubs have three different sprayers, so if you turn them all on, you’ll be sprayed from three different faucets. Plus the tubs are ultra-deep, deluxe soaking tubs. Definitely a highlight for us and something I could get used to at home.
If you want to go skiing in New Hampshire this winter, see how to ski New Hampshire like a local.
Another town we enjoyed was Franconia. We drove over to Franconia and stopped at the Franconia Notch State Park.
The park is beautiful and has a lot to see and do. We enjoyed hiking and taking the aerial tram up the mountain. If we had more time, we would’ve enjoyed renting bikes to ride around the park. Also, make sure you take in the views of Echo Lake. This little lake, surrounded by mountains, is completely unexpected and looks like a painting. It’s absolutely gorgeous. We spent quite a bit of time here hiking and exploring. The park is quite spectacular.
For more hiking locations, check out the most picturesque hikes in New Hampshire.
The town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, is where the Kancamagus Highway officially begins. Lincoln is very close to where we stayed in Woodstock, so we drove through town quite a bit. There are multiple restaurants to stop in and grab a bite. We enjoyed Mexican food at El Charro one night for drinks and appetizers. Also recommended to us was the Gypsy Cafe, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check it out. Like Woodstock and most towns in the area, Lincoln is also a ski town, so in the winter months, it’s packed with skiers. We noticed a lot of ski shops around town.
Alpine Adventures in Lincoln is the sort of place where you can do extreme adventures. Here they offer things like zip-lining and off-roading. If you’re looking for thrills in the mountains, you’ll find them here. Keep in mind that Alpine Adventures is extremely busy, so you do need to make reservations online. Also, some of the off-roading tours meet at their property in Woodstock, New Hampshire, so make sure you know where you’re going.
As far as zip lines go, they have multiple zip-lining options, from the beginner’s course to the expert’s. The Treetop Canopy Tour is the beginner zip line course where you’ll explore from above for 2 hours. You’ll zip along on lines up to 1,000 feet long. For this tour, you must be no taller than 6 feet, 5 inches, and weigh in between 50 and 240 pounds. The Skyrider Tour is a little more intense in that the zip lines are up to 1,600 feet long and up to 250 feet above the forest. This tour also lasts about 2 hours and you must be no taller than 6 feet, 5 inches, and weigh from 70–240 pounds.
If you’d like to go off-roading, they have over 300 acres of private land for you to explore in their motorized vehicles. You’ll get trained on how to handle the off-road vehicle and then you’ll be ready to get out on the trails with your guide for the 90-minute tour. They pride themselves on safety and fun.
Also in Lincoln, we were surprised to see so many things to do at Loon Mountain Resort. I was confused at first because I thought you had to stay at the resort in order to take part in all the activities, but you don’t. In fact, the hotel and Loon Mountain Resort are no longer affiliated, so there’s no need to worry if the activities are for guests only — they’re for everyone! At Loon Mountain, you can choose from things like disc golf, rock climbing, and the fabulous gondola skyride. The gondola skyride is New Hampshire’s longest scenic gondola skyride to the summit of Loon Peak and to check out the fabulous views. On top of the mountain, they even have yoga classes, so you can practice while taking in the glorious mountain views.
4. Sugar Hill
Another must-stop along the Kanc is the town of Sugar Hill, if for no other reason than to visit Polly’s Pancake Parlor. Polly’s has been serving up scrumptious pancakes and other breakfast fares since the 1930s — that’s over 80 years! They are as popular as ever, so be prepared to wait. Although they don’t take reservations, they do let you call ahead to put your name on the seating list. It will be worth it.
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area was one of our favorite stops on the Kanc. Rocky Gorge was made by the Swift River that wore through what used to be solid rock. Today the area is full of gigantic rocks and waterfalls. We walked out on the rocks and over the footbridge for some serene meditation. It was awesome!
For more charming small towns like Albany, check out these must-visit quaint towns in New Hampshire.
The town of Conway, New Hampshire, is located at the east end of the Kancamagus Highway and is home to quite a few things to see and do. The most famous thing to do here is to ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad. The Conway station is actually on the National Register of Historic Places, so it’s a very cool, old railroad and building. The Conway Scenic Railroad has multiple train options depending on what type of ride you’re looking for. Some are more scenic rides, like the Mountaineer and the Conway Valley. The Bartlett Excursion is more of an authentic, historical ride. The rides are between about an hour in length to about 5 hours. Prices start at around $35 and you can purchase tickets for all rides online at Conway Scenic Railroad.
After you plan your trip along the Kancamagus Highway, be sure to check out the best stops during a New Hampshire fall foliage road trip.