No region of the United States is more famous for its stunning displays of fall foliage than New England. New Hampshire's Kancamagus Scenic Byway, a 34.5-mile section of Route 112 running through the White Mountain National Forest, is renowned for its autumn leaf spectacular, making it one of the top road trips to drive during the fall leaf-viewing season.
As a National Scenic Byway, the "Kanc," as the locals call it, remains unspoiled by homes or service stations, allowing visitors to watch the maple, beech and birch trees burst into color without distraction.
When to Go
Prime viewing begins during the second week of September at high elevations, peaking along the rest of the route during the first two weeks of October. Set aside approximately three hours to enjoy one of the most popular fall foliage road trips in the world.
Where to Drive
Traditionally, leaf-peepers take the route west from Conway, NH, at the junction of highways 112 and 16, to Lincoln, NH, at the junction of Interstate 93 and Highway 112. At the Saco Ranger Station, near Route 16 in Conway, and at the White Mountains Gateway Visitors Center, in Lincoln, you can pick up trail maps highlighting key stops at the various scenic overlooks, picnic areas, hiking trails and historic sites along the route. Rangers at the Saco Ranger Station also offer expertise on camping and hiking.
What to See and Do
Step back in time by stopping at the Russell-Colbath Homestead. Built in the 1800s, this restored farmhouse, now a museum, is all that remains of the former farming and old logging community of Passaconaway, NH. The historic house sits 13 miles west of the Kancamagus Highway, in Conway.
As you continue along the highway, ascending 2,860 feet up the Kancamagus Pass, to the highest point of the highway, stop to appreciate the views at various scenic lookouts. The Sugar Hill, Pemigewasset and Hancock overlooks make for nice photo ops, as well as Falls Pond and Rocky Gorge. Another scenic highlight is a short and easy hike of less than half a mile to see the picturesque Sabbaday Falls, a popular stop on the highway.
Road-trippers might want to plan to hop out of their cars for a bit after they descend the highway into Lincoln - at the end of the route. At the Loon Mountain Ski Resort, the Franconia Notch Bike Tour (running until the first week of October) offers a chance for drivers to work their legs at a relatively easy pace while in the midst of the scenic fall foliage. You don't have to be an expert biker to take this self-guided tour; a shuttle bus will bring you to the start of the tour at Echo Lake, where the relaxed downhill ride to Loon Mountain begins. As you ride along, stop and gaze at New Hampshire's natural wonders, including the Flume Gorge and the former site of the Old Man of the Mountain.
If you're passing through Lincoln at the end of September, consider participating in the New Hampshire Highland Games, the largest Scottish cultural event in the northeastern United States. Activities include whiskey tasting, dancing, music and traditional athletic competitions.
Before heading home from Lincoln, make the obligatory stop at Clark's Trading Post, where the Clark family has welcomed visitors for more than 70 years. Florence and Ed Clark opened Ed Clark's Eskimo Sled Dog Ranch in 1928. Their plan was to attract White Mountains visitors with their pure-bred Eskimo sled dogs and goods from the far north, as well as souvenirs, tonic and maple candy. After the Clarks purchased a black bear in 1931, visitors began to take notice of this growing attraction as the couple trained their animals to entertain passers-by. If circus-like animal acts aren't your cup of tea, you can still pick up authentic New England souvenirs, including maple syrup and stoneware.