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LEFT: Kancamagus Highway. Photo by @heyomayo. RIGHT: Lincoln, NH. Photo by @roadmapsandsnaps

Reconnecting with the road.

You won’t find cell reception, restaurants, gas stations, or other amenities along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire. Zero.The Kancamagus Highway runs between the small train towns of Lincoln and Conway and in the fall puts on the best show of golden yellow and fiery red foliage in the whole country. Flocks of us descend every year for the fabled autumnal display. But you know what comes with a reputation like that?  Crowds. And if crowds aren’t on your “favorites” list, this region has something else to offer. . . so visit this summer.
While leaf peepers are trudging through the snow snapping selfies and balancing lattes behind a backdrop of yellow oaks, you’re going to be cooling off in waterfalls, camping in a national forest, and feeling the warm wind on your face from the seat of your bike until you find exactly the right spot and pull over for an impromptu picnic beneath a shady tree. 

 

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LEFT: Conway, NH. Photo by @wickedwitch1989 RIGHT: View from the highway. Photo by @nwmoore19
Carving through the 700,000 acres of protected, pristine trees of the White Mountains, ” the Kanc” has led free-spirited travelers to trails, waterfalls, and overlooks since 1959. This year it’s your turn to be one of them.Find yourself with this 34.5 mile stretch of road under your toes and you’ll have no choice but to surrender to nature, but you’ll be a better person for it. This highway has a lesson to teach, and it’s a class you don’t want to miss. We recommend you show up and bring an apple. (It will be an excellent snack later.)Grab your gear, a buddy, and unplug. Time for a respite from the headlines and maybe even a meal you can enjoy without first posting it on Instagram! Here’s a chance to reconnect with the nature along one of the great American two lane roads. Pick up a map at the Ranger Station and let’s go!
NOTE: No matter if you begin in Lincoln or Conway, expect to lose those last few reception bars after the first two miles.  Just nature’s way of removing distraction making it easier to focus on the mighty peaks of the White Mountains on your right and the rushing crystal waters of the Swift River on your left.

Hiking

You’re going to want to take your time on this highway. Plenty to see, so you are encouraged to pull off and explore when whenever the spirit moves you.  Start off by researching some trails along the way that are appropriate for your skill level. You’ve got 16 trails to choose from and they all snake through the White Mountain National Forest, offering incredible views of mountains, waterfalls, and more mountains. Don’t miss the Albany Covered Bridge and Boulder Loop Trail. Walk across the wood planks of this 1858 bridge and take your fishing pole. . . the Swift River below is full of mature trout and it’s a moderate/easy 2.8 mile round trip hike to get to them and back. Mount Chocorua Piper Trail is another great hike. The UNH Trail sends you up a 2,500 foot mountainside with incredible views, passing stands of specimen hardwoods all the way up. Oh, and poison ivy . . . lots of it . . . so don’t forget:  “Leaves of three, leave them be!

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LEFT: Hiking trail in the White Mountains. Photo via @alethiawilliamsphotography. MIDDLE: Mount Chocrua trail header. Photo via @dirtbag_luxury. RIGHT: River view of the Albany Covered Bridge. Photo via @lifeofaspectator.
Need a post-hike refresher? When was the last time you took a swim in a clear mountain pool? We can suggest a few . . .

Waterfalls

If you’re traveling from Conway towards Lincoln, there are many spots within the first 10 miles to pull off and wade into the cool waters of the Lower Falls.  Sabbaday Falls, less than a half mile from the highway, is a great stop, with warm, flat granite rocks perfect for a post-dip sunbath. For a bigger challenge before reaching the prize of a great swim, try hiking up to the 70-foot cascade of Champney Falls.  Just give yourself time – it’s good three hours there and back. The Rock Gorge is out there too, but please don’t try to swim in it.

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LEFT: Rocky Gorge at sunset. Photo by @tscolors. MIDDLE: The Basin. Photo by @amanda_jane. RIGHT: Champney Falls. Photo by @ajb_.

Toward the end of the day, how about heading for higher ground and watching a mountain sunset?

 Overlooks

Should you want to enjoy some food and a view, unpack a picnic at one of the scenic overlooks like Pemigewasset or Hancock and sit among the panoramas of  Mount Osceola and the Scar Ridge. And try not to miss the views at the Kancamguas Pass. At 2,860 feet, it’s the highest point of the highway. Raise a glass to the untouched wonder around you. It’s a beautiful thing.

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LEFT: Kancamagus Highway at night. Photo by @danspace77. RIGHT: Plenty of place to take in the mountainous views. Photo by @motorcyclingadventures.

If you aren’t ready to head back to civilization just yet, even with nightfall approaching, pull off the highway and pitch a tent at one of the campgrounds inside the White Mountain National Forest. Make a fire, roast some marshmallows, and enjoy the silence. With the closest light source more than 30 miles away, you better believe the stars will be on full display. So this year don’t wait for the fall colors or fight the like-minded hordes . . . travel the Kanc this summer and revive your soul in peace!

What road restored your soul? Share it with us in the comments below.

Grab one of our Antique Archaeology Back Road Crew tees for your own two lane adventure:

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8 Comments

8 thoughts on “Kancamagus Highway: The Most Quiet Stretch of Road in New England”

  1. william howard

    I use to live in Barre Vermont, and every summer would travel over to N. H. and visit alot of the towns that were mentioned in the article. In Conway N. H. is a great steam and diesel tourist railroad. The station has been restored and it is a great place to introduce kids to what railroading use to be like. Also near by in Mount Washington, and there you will find the world’s first cog railroad. It goes right up the mount to the very top, where there is a weather station.
    Near Lincoln N. H. you wiil find Clark’s Trading Post. They use to put on live shows with bears, and everyone enjoyed it. Great place to stop and spend some time. Also don’t forget to track down the “Man in the Mountain”. I now live in the North Woods of Wiscobsin and miss all of these great places.

  2. KGray

    I live in NH and feel very thankful to live in such an amazingly beautiful place. You are surrounded by nature The end of my road turns into a dirt walking trail/snowmobile trail. There are so many hidden wonders to explore if you just open your eyes and get out to experience the life outside your door. There’s no place I’d rather be (Just came to site to buy my dad a Father’s Day present & saw something about NH, I had to post)

  3. Kenneth P. Skeen

    Awesome article of the beauty so many miss. Life goes so very fast and we MUST stop and smell the roses! Got American Pickers on Discovery here in Medford, Or. now. Can watch old shows again and again! Keep on pickin’!

  4. Liz Robitaille

    This was my father’s most favorite place in NE. He shared his love of the White Mountains with his family and friends. I love the White Mountains of NH and the Green Mountains of VT. A beautiful ride
    Indeed!

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