It’s no secret that New Hampshire is home some of the most spectacular fall foliage leaf peeping scenery in America. But have you heard of the captivating Kancamagus Highway road trip between Lincoln and Conway, NH?
The stunning 35 mile long Kancamagus Highway cuts straight through the heart of White Mountain National Forest and it is up there with the very best places to visit on a bucket list New England fall foliage road trip.
So what exactly are the best stops on the Kancamagus Highway?
In this comprehensive guide, we are going to show you 13 of the very best places to stop along the Kancamagus Highway with first time visitor tips and top rated places to stay at both sides of the gorgeous NH-112 route.
Let’s take a look at the top Kancamagus Highway attractions!
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Our Kancamagus Highway Experience
We first drove the Kancamagus Highway as part of an extensive New England road trip in the fall of 2020. The scenic byway was one of our most anticipated stops and it did not disappoint.
It took us around 6 hours to drive 35 miles because we stopped at every overlook, hiked around some of the smaller trails and took hundreds of photos.
We enjoyed our drive through the White Mountains so much that we had no choice but to include the Kancamagus Highway in our popular guide to the 30 best road trips in the USA.
In 2023, we will be heading back to New Hampshire and driving the awesome Kancamagus Highway again during the fall foliage season.
What Is The Kancamagus Scenic Highway?
The Kancamagus Highway is a staggeringly scenic drive through the photogenic White Mountains in central New Hampshire.
It is also known as Kancamagus Scenic Byway or just The Kanc, and the name is correctly pronounced Kan-kah-mah-gus.
The Kancamagus Highway is most famous for appearing on magazine front covers as a pin up for New England fall foliage drives. Picture twisting roads surrounded by vibrant leaves and views over distant rolling hills to get an idea about what you can expect.
Is the Kancamagus Highway Worth It?
Yes! The Kancamagus Highway is definitely worth driving, especially if you plan to visit central New Hampshire in fall when the colors are magnificent.
In truth, even if you were to drive straight through the Kancamagus Highway without stopping once, it would still be worth it because the scenery is magical.
What Are The Best Things To Do Along The Kancamagus Highway?
Hiking to waterfalls in spring and summer, leap peeping in fall and skiing in winter make the Kancamagus Highway a year round tourist destination. However, the spectacular Kancamagus Highway fall foliage display is by far its biggest draw each year.
If you drive the Kancamagus Highway in fall you will be blown away by natural beauty with covered bridges, waterfalls and endless rolling hills engulfed in radiant red, burnt orange, golden yellow and emerald green leaves.
Where Is The Kancamagus Highway?
The Kancamagus Highway stretches 35 miles through central New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest from Conway NH to Lincoln NH.
To the north you can visit Mt Washington and to the south you can explore Lake Winnipesaukee. The areas around both Lincoln and Conway are extremely popular tourist spots in the northeast US.
Where Does The Kancamagus Highway Begin And End?
Let’s take a look at the two ends of the 35 mile long Kancamagus Highway:
- Conway NH – The intersection of Route 112 and Route 16 (east side)
- Lincoln NH – The intersection of Interstate 93 and Route 3 (west side)
It doesn’t matter which way you drive the Kancamagus Highway. You will be able to stop at every attraction and see the best scenery on offer no matter which side you start or end.
We started in Lincoln when we drove the Kancamagus Highway, but we will be starting from Conway when we are back in 2023.
How Long Does It Take To Do The Kancamagus Highway?
It would take around 45 minutes if you were to drive straight through the Kancamagus Highway from Lincoln to Conway, New Hampshire.
However, we recommend making several stops along the Kancamagus Highway to experience the natural attractions. Plan to spend half a day so you have enough time to see at least some of the best sights along the Kancamagus Highway.
Fall is a very busy time to drive the Kancamagus Highway with many people traveling to New England to see the fall leaves changing color. It is a good idea to allow yourself extra time due to congestion if visiting the area during peak season.
Kancamagus Highway Map
Here is a map of the best Kancamagus Highway stops and attractions to help you get to know the area before visiting.
- Red icons – Best Kancamagus Highway attractions
Click or touch to activate the map, zoom in and out, scroll around and look for the icons. Having a better understanding of the region will help when you arrive.
Best Stops Along The Kancamagus Highway
Okay, so we have hyped up the Kancamagus Highway, but what is there to actually do and see along the scenic drive?
Let’s take a look at the 13 best things to do on the Kancamagus Highway ordered from west to east.
1. Loon Mountain
Loon Mountain is the place to stay in winter if you are visiting the area to ski. It is also where you need to grab a great breakfast and fill up with gas before beginning your Kancamagus Highway road trip.
But we can also highly recommend The Common Man for dinner if you do this route in reverse. Just be sure to book dinner reservations in advance during peak season.
Are you into mountain biking? Outside of winter, Loon Mountain resort transforms into a downhill and cross country mountain biking adventure playground.
Once you are all stocked up in Loon Mountain, it’s time to begin hitting the best Kancamagus Highway attractions.
2. Lincoln Woods Trailhead
After just a few minutes of driving from Loon Mountain as you head east on the Kancamagus Highway, you will reach Lincoln Woods Trailhead, which is the gateway to Pemigewasset Wilderness area.
A visitor center, ample parking and restrooms can be found at the trailhead. Backcountry hikers can study popular routes for venturing out into the heart of White Mountains National Forest.
Lincoln Woods is the first of many hikes you can enjoy along the Kancamagus Highway. Our suggestion is to read about them in this guide and choose one or two of your favorites.
If you decide to try this one, follow Lincoln Woods Trail for around 2.7 miles as far as Franconia Falls and Black Pond. You can choose to hike further but most people turn around at Franconia Falls.
The easy trail follows an old logging train track, climbing very gradually before reaching the scenic waterfall. Follow the exact same route back to the parking lot.
Franconia Falls is a longer round trip hike that can take anywhere between 2-4 hours. Only hike this trail if you have plenty of time spare to see more of the Kancamagus Highway attractions.
3. Hancock Overlook
Continuing east on the Kancamagus Highway you will reach Otter Rocks, which is a lovely picnic spot if you decide to bring breakfast along in the car.
Just after crossing South Fork Hancock Branch, you can hike or cross country ski a 7 mile roundtrip trail to Greeley Ponds.
But the next major stop on your Kancamagus Highway road trip is Hancock Overlook. You can’t miss this one because it is located on an extremely tight U bend with a small road side parking lot.
You will likely find one or two people flying drones overhead here to capture the U bend from above with Kancamagus Highway fall foliage colors radiating from the trees. We put our drone up here but had high wind warnings so we saved it for later in the day.
If you have plenty of time to experience the Kancamagus Highway, you can hike a moderately difficult 9 mile roundtrip trail to two 4,000 ft + peaks called Mount Hancock and South Hancock from this parking lot.
The trail is mainly flat and easy but it does have a steep final ascent. Parking can be a challenge here so arrive early if you plan to hike this trail.
4. Pemigewasset Overlook
Leave Hancock Overlook and continue driving east. Before long you will arrive at the summit of Kancamagus Pass, which is the highest point on the Kancamagus Highway.
Just before the Kancamagus Pass summit you can pull over into Pemigewasset Overlook, which opens up views over rolling hills including Mount Osceola.
We flew our drone here and took a photo of the Kancamagus Highway cutting through vibrant fall foliage. Pemigewasset Overlook is one of the best viewpoints on the entire Kancamagus scenic byway.
If it is raining (which is does regularly in this area during fall!) you can still enjoy the views from a large wooden pavilion shelter.
Need a hand planning your New England fall road trip?
Our popular 40+ page New England Fall Road Trip Guidebook includes the 10 best places to visit, 8 example itineraries ranging from 5-14 days and an extensive interactive map to help you plan a successful leaf-peeping vacation.
5. CL Graham Wangan Overlook
Your next stop is just 1 minute or 0.2 miles away once you officially cross over the summit of Kancamagus Pass and begin your gradual descent.
CL Graham Wangan Overlook is also among the best Kancamagus Highway viewpoints, so you should make time to stop here.
At the previous overlook you were looking west over the Pemigewasset River. Now you are looking east at the Swift River and endless miles of rolling hills covered in colorful trees.
Remember all of these Kancamagus Highway overlooks are right on the roadside and they are accessible for everyone.
6. Sugar Hill Overlook
The last major overlook on your Kancamagus Highway fall foliage road trip through the spectacular White Mountains is called Sugar Hill.
By now you are losing significant elevation. Views to the east are fantastic but don’t miss the parking lot for Sugar Hill Scenic Vista.
You will find another wooden pavilion and likely even more drones flying in the air here because Sugar Hill Overlook is so close to the Swift River.
This is the final spot you can gaze across miles of colorful forest leaves from an elevated vantage point. So get all the photos you need here before continuing to descend further.
7. Sabbaday Falls
Sabbaday Falls is one of the most visited waterfalls in New Hampshire and arguably the most popular stop along the Kancamagus Highway road trip.
Parking can be challenging at Sabbaday Falls trailhead. But once you are parked it is just a very easy 15 minute walk along a flat gravel track to reach Sabbaday Falls.
Those with older family members or disabilities can enjoy the falls from the bottom. Meanwhile, others in the group can climb a steep stone staircase with wooden rails and a boardwalk to see the falls from a higher vantage point.
The waterfall is a 45 ft series of cascades crashing through a narrow flume and it is a very picturesque scene but it will be busy. Sabbaday Falls is one of the best Kancamagus Highway waterfalls, so plan to stop here if waterfalls are your priority.
8. Russell-Colbath House
One of our personal favorite stops along the Kancamagus Highway is Russell-Colbath House and Barn.
There’s not much to do here, but the timber frame barn is incredibly photogenic against a backdrop of emerald green trees.
Next door to the barn is Russell-Colbath house, which was built in 1832 and is the only original structure remaining from the old town of Passaconaway.
You can also find an interpretive 0.5 mile hike called Rail ‘n River Trail behind the historic buildings. This is a great hike for younger kids because it leads to the Swift River and contains educational information boards explaining logging in the area.
Simply park up, walk around the buildings and take a break from epic viewpoints for a moment!
9. Champney Falls and Mount Chocorua
Champney Falls and Mount Chocorua is one of the best Kancamagus Highway hikes. So if you are planning to take on a handful of trails during your drive, this is a great one to add to your list.
The waterfall at Champney Falls is an attractive 70 ft cascade, which is much better to see in spring or after recent rainfall in summer. Expect the water to be very low if you drive the Kancamagus Highway in fall.
Mt Chocorua has some of the best 360 panoramic views in the entire region and many choose to include a spur trail to Middle Sister of The Three Sisters.
The final section to summit Mt Chocorua is a light scramble but otherwise it’s a very nice moderate and easy to follow hike.
Parking can be a problem and the trails are always busy so an early start is strongly recommended. It might be worth spending very little time elsewhere and arriving here before 8.00am if this hike will be the main part of your day.
Also consider it is 35 minutes from Lincoln and only 15 minutes from Conway to reach Champney Falls trailhead.
10. Rocky Gorge Scenic Area and Falls Pond
Rocky Gorge is one of the most popular and best Kancamagus Highway stops, particularly in fall when the leaves are brightest.
The Swift River narrows and cuts through flumes with wide open rocky surfaces to explore on each side. This is the perfect for teen kids to get out for a mini adventure.
A wooden bridge crosses the river and provides the classic view up and down stream with leaves illuminating the river flanks.
After crossing the bridge, follow short forest trails to Falls Pond and beautiful reflection photographs. Falls Pond is one of our favorite Kancamagus Highway fall foliage spots.
11. Lower Falls
Lower Falls is an extremely popular recreational area with plenty of parking, bathrooms and picnic benches. It is the perfect place to swim in a large natural pool in the river, sunbathe, relax and eat lunch.
The trade off with driving the Kancamagus Highway in fall is shallower water levels.
Lower Falls is the perfect example of a low running river later in the season, but it is still incredibly pretty with bright contrasting colors in the surrounding trees.
Note that swimming at Lower Falls is dangerous after heavy rainfall or when the current is strong.
12. Albany Covered Bridge
Hiking and photography are our two favorite things to do when we travel. The Kancamagus Highway delivers on both and it doesn’t get much better for photographers than Albany Covered Bridge.
Covered bridges are famous in New Hampshire, Vermont and all of New England for that matter. Albany covered bridge is stunning and one of our personal favorites. See more covered bridges in Vermont here.
Originally built in 1858, the gorgeous Albany Covered Bridge has required several restorations and repairs but it remains one of the best Kancamagus Highway attractions.
Walk across the bridge, make your way down to the river edge to get a close up angled view and be sure to send your drone up if you have one.
Plenty of parking spots are available but don’t forget you can actually drive across the bridge. Just note it has a clearance of 7ft 9in so please don’t try it in a tall camper!
The penultimate Kancamagus Highway hike we recommend begins in the same parking lot and is called Boulder Loop Trail. This is a 2.8 mile moderately difficulty loop trail with 900 ft elevation gain and wonderful summit views.
If you have a little more time or decide to stay a night in Conway before getting up for an early morning hike, take on South Moat Mountain just 4 miles from Conway.
13. Conway (North Conway)
After all that action, you have only driven 35 miles! Depending on how many trails you hiked and stops you made it could be 3 hours or 10 hours since you left Lincoln.
Now, once you reach the end of the Kancamagus Highway you will find yourself in Conway. Take Main Street and turn onto Washington Street to cross Saco Covered Bridge and Swift River Covered Bridge.
Head back to White Mountain Highway and continue until you reach North Conway. Technically, this is not a part of the Kancamagus Highway, but it is the place to end your road trip and spend an evening.
Here are some things you can do in North Conway:
- Tax free shopping – Major tax free clothing retail outlet.
- Conway Scenic Railroad – Incredibly beautiful old fashioned train rides through mountains and forest.
- Diana’s Baths – Half mile hike to a series of small waterfalls.
- Cathedral Ledge Lookout – Short drive or hike up 700 ft tall Cathedral Ledge for stunning views over Saco River valley.
Kancamagus Highway Fall Foliage
The Kancamagus Scenic Byway is a beautiful place to drive through during spring, summer and even winter. However, vibrant autumnal colors are at the heart of the Kancamagus Highway’s fame and it is easy to fall in love with this part of New Hampshire during the peak fall season.
From the beginning to the end of a Kancamagus Highway fall foliage road trip you will be blown away by warm earthy colors illuminating the road side, hiking trails, rivers and ponds.
When planning our second New England fall road trip route for 2023, we had the Kancamagus Highway down as one of our top destinations.
Don’t forget your camera and remember drones are only allowed at certain points along the route. Look out for no drone signs on notice boards.
When Do The Fall Colors Turn On Kancamagus Highway?
You can expect the colors to begin turning on the Kancamagus Highway around the middle of September, but plan to visit during the first week of October for a better chance of seeing peak fall colors.
Each year is slightly different and it can hard to predict exactly where to be on which day. But if you aim for those first 10 days in October you stand the best chance of hitting it right on the money.
Kancamagus Highway Road Trip Tips
Here are some of our top tips for driving the Kancamagus Highway in fall:
- There are no gas stations between Lincoln and Conway. Fill up at whichever side you begin the road trip.
- Cell service is non existent on The Kancamagus Highway so download any maps you need and make any reservations for dinner or hotels before starting.
- You will find no restaurants along the scenic byway so eat breakfast before beginning. Bring a packed lunch if you plan to take on any longer hikes.
- Recreation passes are required to park in any parking lot. The one off cost is US $3 per vehicle and they can be purchased at ranger stations or whichever parking lot you use first.
- Take bug spray and sunscreen in summer if you plan to hike a lot.
- Even if it rains during the Kancamagus Highway fall foliage season the colors are still stunning and remember the rain can create unique photography opportunities.
Kancamagus Highway Hotels
Most visitors to the Kancamagus Highway choose to spend a night in either Lincoln or Conway, before or after the drive. There are no hotels directly on the Kancamagus Highway.
The first time we drove the Kancamagus Highway we spent a night in Loon Mountain, woke up early and got on the road so we could beat the crowds.
Here are the top rated hotels near Kancamagus Highway:
Lincoln / Loon Mountain Hotels
Kancamagus Highway Camping
If you would prefer to spend a night camping along the road itself, you can choose between 6 Kancamagus Highway campgrounds.
Campgrounds on the Kancamagus Highway from west to east (Lincoln to Conway):
- Covered Bridge Campground
- Blackberry Crossing Campground
- Jigger Johnson Campground
- Passaconaway Campground
- Big Rock Campground
- Hancock Campground
What Is There To Do Nearby?
There are so many things you can do on both sides of the Kancamagus Highway and in the immediate areas around this popular road trip.
Near Lincoln NH in Franconia Notch State Park, hiking to Echo Lake Overlook at the summit of Artists Bluff trail and walking around the stunning Flume Gorge are two of the most famous New Hampshire fall foliage stops.
Mt Washington is also close by. You can hike, drive or take a cog train to the summit but take care in fall when the weather is incredibly unpredictable.
If you want to get a little more off the beaten path, try hiking in Crawford Notch State Park instead.
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- Bridges – 7 beautiful Covered Bridges in Vermont
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We hope this guide to the best Kancamagus Highway attractions helps with planning your fall foliage road trip!
Please let us know if you need any help planning your visit to New England in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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