WHITE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST REGION
The White Mountains span about a quarter of the Granite State, famous as part of the Appalachian Trail and the home of Mt. Washington—the highest peak in the Northeast at 6,288 feet above sea level. Naturally, you’ll want to take a drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road and grab your “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker, or take a ride on the cog railway, but those are far from the only attractions in the region. The classic hike in Franconia Notch State Park is the 2.6-mile Basin Cascade trail, which kicks off with a natural 10-foot waterfall and spurs off to the Pemigewasset River. Crawford Notch State Park features nearly 6,000 acres to explore, including streams, mountain views, and the highest waterfall in the state, Arethusa Falls. Foliage seekers can choose from a wide variety of routes, including the 100-mile Pinkham Notch Loop, starting in Gorham and ending in Jefferson, with terrific views of the Presidential Mountains and the opportunity to cross the historic Honeymoon Bridge on the Ellis River. For an up-close nature view, the Jackson Scenic Loop is a five-mile journey accessible by bike, on foot, or by car.
Kancamagus Scenic Byway, aka "The Kanc," warrants special mention: a 34.5-mile American Scenic Byway along Route 112 in northern New Hampshire that’s gorgeous any time of the year, but truly earns a place on any foliage aficionado’s bucket list. Cutting through the White Mountain National Forest, views span not only the mountains but sights such as the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls, and Rocky Gorge. Pemigewasset Overlook is a must-see at sunset, providing views of the Pemigewasset wilderness. Adding to the natural feel, the byway itself is free of gas stations, restaurants, and other businesses—which are restricted to the town of Lincoln on the west and Conway on the east. For leaf peepers, the foliage show generally starts in mid-September, peaking in early October—and the Conway Scenic Railroad provides some of the best views around if you’d like someone else to do the driving for a while.
Where to Stay
Twin Mountain/Mt. Washington KOA is one of the closest RV campgrounds to Mt. Washington, with a family-friendly vibe and lots of activities. Cannon Mountain RV Park, located on the north shore of Echo Lake in Franconia Notch State Park, has seven RV sites—with three-way hookups available from the end of May to mid-October. In Crawford Notch, Dry River Campground is a peaceful, tucked-away secret in a woodland setting. The Kancamagus Highway provides six campgrounds for those who want to immerse themselves in the White Mountain National Forest experience. From west to east, they include Hancock, Big Rock, Passaconaway, Jigger Johnson, Blackberry Crossing, and Covered Bridge Campground.
Located in the southwest corner of the state, Monadnock State Park is one of New Hampshire’s most visited state parks—and Mount Monadnock is touted as the second most-climbed mountain in the world. Thanks to its accessibility and suitability for even novice hikers, about 125,000 people make the trek each year—outpaced only by Japan’s Mount Fuji. Beyond the mountain itself, about 4,000 miles of hiking trails weave through the park. To the east, a side trip to Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park is worthwhile for the climb up the fire tower as well. Nearby Sheldrick Forest Preserve, operated by the Nature Conservancy, offers a glimpse into the past with its 150-foot-tall trees and abundant wildlife. To take it all in, leaf peepers will want to cruise the 80-mile Monadnock Loop, starting and ending in the town of Keene—a charming stop in its own right.
Where to Stay
Gilson Pond Campground in Monadnock State Park is the state’s newest, although there are only four RV-suitable sites—so be forewarned that reservations get snapped up quickly. Other options convenient to the loop include Greenfield State Park, Seven Maples Campground in Hancock, and Ashuelot River Campground and Swanzey Lake Camping Area in Swansey.
Although New Hampshire only features 18 miles of shoreline, the area packs a lot of punch. Hampton Beach is a traditional family beach with plenty of activities and events as well as white sand and surf. The historic port city of Portsmouth features ample charm, cobblestone streets, shopping and dining, and historical sites. Nature lovers will want to put Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Odiorne Point State Park on their list, for the beautiful views and numerous hiking trails through forest and along ponds and salt marshes. The go-to foliage drive in this region is the American Independence Byway, 21 miles starting in Exeter Center, with a spur off to Hampton on the coast. (Note that the foliage peaks a little later in this area of the state, due to the relatively warmer coastal climate.) There’s lots of history along the way, since this area was settled in the early 1600s. In addition to colonial-era homes and the American Independence Museum, sweeping ocean views, fresh seafood, and apple orchards are among the main attractions.
Where to Stay
Top-rated campgrounds in this region include Hampton Beach State Park RV Campground (the only option directly on the water), as well as Sea Coast Camping and RV Resort in North Hampton and Tidewater Campground in Hampton, both of which are a quick drive to the beach.
The third-largest lake in New England, Lake Winnipesaukee offers 72 square miles of pure watersports enjoyment, dotted with 258 islands. Just to the northwest, Squam Lake is a more serene option that is most famous as the centerpiece of the film “On Golden Pond.” To the southwest, avid peak-baggers can summit Gunstock, Belknap and Piper Mountains in a single day. The loop around Lake Winnipesaukee is worth all of the 115 clicks on the odometer, particularly when the seasonal colors are in full flair against the water. But don’t limit your perspective to being behind the windshield! Other options include taking in the views from the M/S Mount Washington or Winnipesaukee Belle or the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center’s pontoon boat, the eagle-eye perspectives from the Gunstock zipline and chairlift rides, or a ride on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad.
Where to Stay
Dozens of campgrounds are available throughout the area. On Lake Winnipesaukee, popular options include Roberts Knoll Campground in Alton, Long Island Bridge Campground in Moultonborough, and Paugus Bay Campground in Laconia. Owls Landing Campground and Ames Brook Campground are among the options closest to Squam Lake.