Conway, NH — The leaves are turning even as you read this, and your cameras ready to go. But where to enjoy this foliage season? The New Hampshire Fall Foliage Report says color is well-established and will peak this week in the White Mountains, after a later start than usual. Here are some suggestions for anyone interested in finding foliage. Try any or all of these 10 locations, sure to satisfy even the most demanding leaf-peeper.
While this list is in no way all-inclusive, it does cover some of the most popular destinations for those craving that rush of fall color. Most of the places on our list are accessible by car, but we’ve included a few moderate hikes for the more adventurous foliage folks.
1. Intervale Scenic Vista
Who doesn’t know about this overlook? Made famous by members of the 19th-century White Mountain School of Art and painted by the likes of Benjamin Champney and Thomas Cole, the vista has changed little since their time.
A state rest area, this historic locale offers nearly untouched views of Mount Washington and the floodplain along the Saco River. In addition to fabulous views, the vista offers ample parking, and the small rest area is slated for a complete overhaul within the next year. No matter how many times you’ve been to the vista, its view during foliage is still exceptional.
For the few who might still be unfamiliar with this landmark, look for the vista on Route 16, north of North Conway Village, just past the 1785 Inn. You can’t miss it.
2. Mount Willard
Starting from the Crawford Notch depot on Route 302, a former carriage road climbs this mountain to end at ledges offering what is arguably one of the most spectacular views in the region. Just over three miles round-trip, the Mount Willard Trail allows hikers to gaze all the way down Crawford Notch from the top. While there is plenty of room at the ledge to take it all in, be cautious, since the drop is more than 1,000 feet.
To find the depot, follow Route 302 past Bartlett and into Crawford Notch. Look for the depot on the west side of Route 302, opposite Saco Lake.
3. Kancamagus Highway
The 35-mile stretch of road from Conway to Lincoln is a sure thing for beautiful autumn views. The Kanc, as it is called, skirts Mount Kancamagus and climbs to nearly 3,000 feet in elevation at the Kancamagus Pass, offering a look at the Osceola Range, Mount Hancock, and more. Drivers have the opportunity to pull off at any number of overlooks and scenic areas along the route for an unhurried look at some of the region’s finest scenery.
Also dotting the landscape along the Kanc are various swimming, camping, and picnic areas, including Lower Falls Picnic Area, Sabbaday Falls Picnic Area, and Jigger Johnson Campground. Make sure to stop in at the Saco Ranger Station on the Conway end of your ride for more information about this spectacular route – and keep an eye out for moose!
4. North-South Local Road
While drivers have yet to travel this brand-new road during foliage season, it looks like some great views are on the way. Traveling from Route 302 near Wal-Mart up to Mechanic Street in North Conway Village, the road offers peeks at Puddin Pond, with plenty of hillsides in the background just waiting to change color.
5. Black Cap Trail
Traveling north on Route 16, just past the Intervale Scenic Vista, you’ll turn onto Hurricane Mountain Road and head straight up the mountainous, narrow road. Be warned! Hurricane Mountain Road is not appropriate for large vehicles like RVs, and oncoming traffic will seem impossibly close. Near the top of the road, look for the Black Cap trailhead and its parking lot on your right.
This moderately easy trail runs just over a mile to the summit, rewarding hikers with outstanding scenery, including a birds-eye view of North Conway Village.
6. First Church of Christ Congregational Park
This perennial favorite, also known as the Peace Park, offers one of the easiest views around, right on Route 16 towards the south end of North Conway Village. Near the Depot Road intersection, on the opposite side of the street, you’ll see a small park overlooking foliage so vibrant, it stops traffic – literally. The Peace Park is a regular destination for tour buses, and cars are likely to slow to a crawl or a complete halt to get a good look at this scenic spot. For a better view, park at the nearby municipal lot and spend a few leisurely minutes at this popular location.
7. Square Ledge Trail
Travel north on Route 16 until you reach the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, north of Jackson toward Gorham. Across the street from the visitors center, go to the Lost Pond Trail and walk over the bridge. Approximately 50 feet after the bridge, you’ll see a small sign marking the Square Ledge Trail. Ed Bulens, information volunteer at the visitors center, says the hike should take about a half-hour up and a half-hour down.
“About the last 80 yards or so, it gets steep, but it’s such a short distance that you don’t really mind,” says Bulens. “It’s amazing because you come out onto this big ledge, and it immediately hits you, it’s so awesome.”
The unbeatable views include Huntington Ravine, Tuckerman Ravine, up to Gorham and down to Glen, with spectacular foliage throughout. The views from Square Ledge are frequently seen on postcards of the White Mountains.
8. Evans Notch
Criss-crossing back and forth over the New Hampshire-Maine border, Route 113 gives drivers a long look at Evans Notch and the surrounding countryside, from East Conway to Route 2 just west of Bethel, Maine. This road less traveled meanders through North Fryeburg, Stow, and North Chatham on its tranquil journey toward Evans Notch, where you are surrounded by foliage, rather than viewing it from a distance.
On your drive, be sure to stop at nearby Basin Pond for fishing and picnicking in unbeatable surroundings, or camp at Cold River Campground. Several family-friendly hikes course through Evans Notch as well, so plan ahead to get the most out of this lovely area.
9. Bear Notch Road
Traveling north through Bartlett Village, take a left at the Four Corners and head up Bear Notch Road. The Bartlett Experimental Forest contributes to this winding drive’s unanimous appeal, as do the scenic overlooks along the way. Travel through Bear Notch, spend some time enjoying the foliage along the way, and you’ll find yourself ending at the Kancamagus Highway, which you can take back to Conway or over to Lincoln. This road is open from spring to late fall, by the way.
10. White Mountain Trail
The mother of all scenic tours, this 100-mile loop is a National Scenic Byway traveling through varied portions of the White Mountain National Forest. See wetlands, woodlands, mountains and rivers, and even the Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia.
Because the White Mountain Trail is a loop, you can begin and end at any spot that suits you. The drive can be done in one day, but with so much to see, visitors may want to make an extended trip out of it. For do-it-all leaf-peepers, this trail also incorporates several of the individual spots listed earlier on.
Starting from the Intervale Scenic Vista on Route 16, the trail moves south through North Conway Village, to the lights in Conway. Bear right, and travel through Conway Village to the right-hand turn for Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway. Follow the Kanc for about 35 miles to the White Mountain Visitors Center, Route 112 in North Woodstock. From there, take Route 3 north, which soon joins I-93 to travel through Franconia Notch. Continue on Route 3 when it bears away from I-93 at exit 35, and drive to Twin Mountain.
Once in Twin Mountain, turn right at the lights onto Route 302 east, and get a look at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods. Route 302 keeps going through Crawford Notch to Bartlett Village, then through Glen, and finally, back to Intervale and the scenic vista.
Of course, this loop is just as beautiful in reverse. There are also numerous attractions along the entire trail that the family will have a hard time resisting. Give yourself plenty of time for this trip.
For more information about the White Mountain Trail, contact White Mountain Attractions at (800)346-3687 or visit www.whitemtn.org.
Before seeking out foliage on any one of the hikes mentioned here, make sure you’re properly prepared for a day in the woods and check the weather before you go. For more information about hiking in the White Mountains, call the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitors Center at 466-2721. To keep up on the latest foliage reports, dial (800) 258-3608, New Hampshire’s foliage hotline, or visit www.visitnh.gov. Want to know what’s going on for leaf peepers visiting western Maine? Call (888) 624-6345 or visit www.mainefoliage.com.
Originally published in The Conway Daily Sun, Conway, NH.