The Kancamagus Highway is one of the most scenic drives in New Hampshire. And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hitting the road, including the best stops along the way.
When looking for things to do in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll hear about the Kancamagus Highway. This scenic drive, which winds through the White Mountains, is famous for its beautiful views, especially during fall foliage, and offers visitors a low effort way to see some amazing scenery.
Watch our fall road trip through the White Mountains, including driving the Kancamagus Highway!
As lovers of scenic drives, we instantly added the highway to our must-do list while in New Hampshire. And the drive far exceeded our expectations! We expected a drive with a few scenic pullouts and great fall foliage, but what really surprised us about the Kancamagus Highway is how much there was to see and do along the way, including gorgeous mountain views, quick roadside stops, colorful foliage, trails, and beautiful waterfalls.
And in this guide we’re sharing all of our tips to drive the Kancamagus Highway, plus the best stops to make along the way and how the heck to pronounce its name!
Looking for more things to do in New England? Check out our other guides and vlogs!
- The BEST things to do in the White Mountains in New Hampshire
- How to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
- 7 Day Vermont Road Trip Itinerary
- The best things to do in Acadia National Park (+ Itinerary options!)
- How to Backpack the Cutler Coast in Maine
- The BEST things to do in Portland, Maine
- Watch all of our New England Vlogs
- About the Kancamagus Highway
- Where to start the Kancamagus Highway
- When to drive the Kancamagus Highway
- What kind of vehicles are allowed?
- How long do you need to drive the Kancamagus Highway?
- Additional things to know before driving the Kancamagus Highway
- The Best Stops on the Kancamagus Highway
- Where to eat before or after driving the Kancamagus Highway
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
About the Kancamagus Highway
The Kancamagus Highway (pronounced Kanc-ah-mah-gus), also known as “the Kanc” for short, is a 34.5 mile stretch of Route 112 that connects the towns of Lincoln and Conway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
The road is named after Chief Kancamagus, who was the last sagamore (chief) of the Pennacook Native Americans and was known as the “Fearless One.” The highway originally started as two separate, unconnected roads, one from Lincoln and one from Conway, but starting in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to connect them, which took 25 years.
While it originally started as two separate, unconnected roads, with one road from Lincoln and one road from Conway, in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) started working to connect the two roads, which took 25 years to complete.
Today the road is driven by over 800,000 people a year and features many overlooks, trails, and sights to check out as you drive up to a high point of 2,855 feet.
Where to start the Kancamagus Highway
You can start the Kancamagus Highway in either Lincoln or Conway, New Hampshire, both of which are small towns surrounded by the White Mountains in the north-central part of the state.
You can drive the highway in either direction and if you start in Lincoln, which is what we did, you’ll reach the mountainous overlooks early on, while starting in Conway will bring you to waterfalls and roadside stops first.
The direction you complete the drive will likely depend on where you’re staying or coming from beforehand. If you need any suggestions of places to stay, check out our guide to the White Mountains!
When to drive the Kancamagus Highway
The White Mountains offer activities and adventure 365 days out of the year and the Kancamagus Highway is no exception! The road is open year-round and here is what you can expect in each season.
Note: For this guide, we’re mostly focusing on our experience visiting in the fall, but many of these stops will be open year-round as well!
With snow covered mountains to admire (and hike!), plus the Loon Mountain Ski Resort right at the beginning of the western side of the highway, there are plenty of winter activities to enjoy on the Kanc! While the road is open in the winter, minus Bear Notch Road, which goes to Bartlett, the highway can close at times due to winter storms, so make sure to check conditions in advance.
Springtime can bring some snow to the White Mountains, as well as mud once the snow melts, and while the trees may still be coming back to life, this is a great time to visit if you want to beat the summer and fall crowds.
Summertime on the Kanc means lush, green trees, lots of swimming holes to enjoy, and fully accessible trails. With summer vacations the crowds may be a bit higher at times, but the amount of activity options will be endless.
Fall is hands down the busiest time to visit the Kanc, as the highway is known for its incredible fall foliage and people come from ALL over the United States to see it! In the fall, the highway is covered in an assortment of reds, oranges, and yellows, making everything just extra beautiful and interesting to look at (in our opinion).
Fall foliage varies from year to year, but the first couple weeks of October tend to have the best colors. We found this website to be helpful to find out about the current conditions!
Because of when the peak foliage typically is, plus being a holiday weekend, the busiest weekend on the Kanc is said to be the second weekend in October. We visited the Thursday before this weekend and while busy, it wasn’t too bad, but we saw photos of packed parking lots and lines of cars the days afterwards. Which leads us to our next point…
Start early (& go on a weekday)!
We cannot stress this enough, start your drive EARLY! We started our drive right before sunrise and made it to the Hancock Overlook for sunrise. It was not only magical, but we also hardly saw anyone else! As the morning went on, places became busier and busier and the parking lots started to fill up by 10 AM or so.
Going on a weekday is also better, especially during the fall when more people are at work or school during the week. We drove the Kanc on a Thursday and think that helped make the crowds more bearable.
What kind of vehicles are allowed?
The Kancamagus Highway is fully paved and is great for any vehicle, including RVs and trailers. The road can be steep, but there is only one hairpin turn (near the Hancock Overlook).
One important thing to know though is that not all parking lots offer parking for RVs larger than a van (our 22.5 foot Sprinter Van was fine!), so we suggest driving a regular vehicle if you can, otherwise you may have to skip some stops.
How long do you need to drive the Kancamagus Highway?
The drive along the Kancamagus Highway takes just under an hour without stops, but to get the full experience you’ll want to have at least half a day to visit most of these stops and shorter hikes (we were on the road about 6 hours).
If you want to do any longer hikes along the road, we suggest dedicating a full day (or more!) to the Kanc. There is a good chance that while visiting the White Mountains you’ll find yourself on the Kanc a couple times, so you’ll ideally have multiple chances to explore and visit anything you missed the first time!
Additional things to know before driving the Kancamagus Highway
Driving the Kanc is free, but some overlooks and trailheads have a $5 per car day use fee. The America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 per year, does cover this parking fee though, so make sure to bring it along if you have one (we HIGHLY recommend it)!
Dogs are allowed
Kona was allowed at all of the stops we made along the Kancamagus Highway, so your furry friend will get to enjoy the drive with you! But please make sure to keep them on a leash.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for places to stay before or after driving the Kancamagus Highway, check out our guide to the White Mountains, which lists options in both the Lincoln and the Conway areas.
We had very spotty (or nonexistent) cell service on the drive, so make sure to download offline Google Maps and AllTrails maps so you can navigate the road and any trails without service.
Get gas and snacks ahead of time
There are no services along the Kanc, so make sure to have enough gas and pack food and water for your adventure!
We were SO excited to drone the Kancamagus Highway and had seen epic drone shots of it for years. However, when researching drone laws in advance like we do before anytime we fly, we learned that drones are NOT allowed within a ¼ mile of the Kancamagus Highway.
Which means that launching it from an overlook is NOT allowed (despite what photos you may see online). There are many signs telling you this along the road.
According to the Forest Service, drones are allowed in the White Mountain National Forest “as long as the landing of the drone does not occur within 1/4 miles of a Forest Protection Area, alpine zone, or area otherwise listed in Exhibit B of Forest Order R9-22-19-01.” The prohibited area includes the Kancamagus Highway unfortunately, but if you’re able to get over 1/4 of a mile from the road and into a safe area noted in the link above, you can fly it.
The Best Stops on the Kancamagus Highway
Watch our fall road trip through the White Mountains, including driving the Kancamagus Highway!
There are many trails and things to see along the Kancamagus Highway and below we’re sharing what we think are the best stops to make during your drive!
This list focuses more on shorter hikes and roadside attractions that are easier to check out if you plan to drive the entire road in one day. To learn of longer hikes in the White Mountains, check out our guide to the White Mountains.
As we mentioned earlier, you can do the drive in either direction, but this list will be written in order from starting in Lincoln, as that is the direction we drove.
Lincoln Woods Trail
The Lincoln Woods Trail is one of the first stops on the Kancamagus Highway, when coming from Lincoln, and is an entrance point into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
You can hike the entire 9.8 mile (roundtrip) trail, which is relatively flat and takes you by the river and through the forest or the shorter Franconia Falls Trail (6.8 miles roundtrip). However, a popular option for those short on time is to just stop here and visit the suspension bridge that is right by the trailhead.
One of the easiest (and best) attractions along the Kancamagus Highway are all of the overlooks! For about 7 miles you’ll come across 4 major overlooks: the Hancock Overlook, Pemigewasset Overlook, CL Graham Wangan Overlook, and Sugar Hill Overlook. You can see a photo of the view from each one above!
While these overlooks are close together (it felt like we were constantly stopping at one), each one faces a different direction and offers a different perspective than the others. So we highly recommend stopping at each one! They are all very quick and do not require more than just a short walk from your car.
Tip: We highly recommend sunrise from the Hancock Overlook!
Between the CL Graham Wangan Overlook and Sugar Hill Overlook is Lily Pond, which is a natural pond just off the side of the highway. Unlike the overlooks, it does not have a parking lot, so you’ll need to park on the side of the road.
Just a quick walk through some trees and brush will take you to the pond (this can be a bit muddy if it has rained) and once you get to the pond, you’ll have a great mountain backdrop, plus foliage. And if you’re lucky or arrive very early, you may even see a moose (we were not lucky).
This is a very quick stop, as we couldn’t really find much of an area to sit and enjoy the views, but it makes for some nice photos!
Our favorite stop along the Kancamagus Highway was Sabbaday Falls! Before stopping here, we just thought it was going to be a short hike to a medium sized waterfall, but once arriving, we were in AWE of what we saw!
This 0.7 mile hike takes you on a wide trail in the forest before you reach the lower pool, which is crystal clear. We walked down onto some rocks to check this out further and looked to our right and noticed a gorge with a rushing waterfall through it. We couldn’t believe it!
From the lower pool there are boardwalks and stairs to continue along the gorge, where you can get different views of the rushing water, see the top of the waterfall before it curves and goes down the gorge, and walk over a bridge. The whole experience reminded us a little bit of a smaller version of the Flume Gorge. We LOVED this stop, it packs so much beauty into such a quick and easy hike!
The Russell-Colbath House is a 19th century farmhouse that has been restored to its original setting and during the summer and fall months, they offer living history programs with interpreters where you can learn about the history of the area, the families who lived here, what life was like in the 1800s, and see artifacts.
The house was not open during our visit, but you could walk around the outside. Make sure to call the Saco Ranger District in advance if you’d like to visit here!
Champney Falls was another big highlight for us along the Kanc! At 3 miles roundtrip, it’s a bit longer than the other stops, but definitely worth it. The trail is relatively flat as it goes through the forest and along a brook before you reach a junction.
We suggest going to the left and after a short climb, you’ll reach the bottom tier of Champney Falls. But despite the trail being named after these falls, the real gem, in our opinion, is Pitcher Falls.
Pitcher Falls can be very easy to miss. To get to the falls, you will want to cross the rocks at the bottom of Champney Falls (you can see the spot for this on the AllTrails map) and you’ll soon reach a cool rock nook, where Pitcher Falls flows down the side of a cliff. It’s super unique!
Once back on the trail, it gets pretty steep, but you’ll get to see more of Champney Falls as it flows down rocks, before reaching the top of the falls. The top isn’t super crazy impressive, BUT if you look out the gap in the trees you’ll have a great view of the White Mountains.
You will continue this loop back to the main trail and if you have more time, you can continue on to Mount Chocorua, which is 7.4 miles and has 2,244 feet of elevation gain.
Rocky Gorge is a quick roadside stop, which was carved by glaciers and is a narrow gorge, with water rushing through it. You can view this gorge from the rocks along the Swift River if the water level is low, as well as from a bridge. Fun fact: visitors used to walk across a log back in the late 1800s before this bridge was here!
If you want to add onto this stop, you can hike the short and flat 1.1 mile Lovequist Loop.
Lower Falls is another quick stop, with views of the Swift River as it flows over granite rocks, creating small waterfalls and swimming holes. This is a popular spot to swim in the summer, but during our visit in the fall, we just admired the views from dry rocks and viewing areas.
Albany Covered Bridge
New England is famous for its beautiful covered bridges, which were created back in the 19th century to protect the beams and timbers from the harsh New England weather. While they still serve that purpose, they now also make for great photo opportunities!
One of the final stops along the Kanc is the Albany Covered Bridge, which was first constructed in 1858. You can drive across this if in a regular sized vehicle or walk across it as well!
Boulder Loop Trail
The final stop we suggest visiting while driving the Kancamagus Highway is the Boulder Loop Trail. This 2.8 mile (roundtrip) hike starts on the other side of the Albany Covered Bridge and while steep, gaining 912 feet of elevation, you’ll be treated to a beautiful open view of the White Mountains at the top!
Where to eat before or after driving the Kancamagus Highway
If you’re looking for a bite to eat before or after driving the Kanc, here are some suggestions in the areas to the west and east of the road!
Western side of the Kanc
The Coffee Pot Restaurant (Littleton)
Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)
Polly’s Pancake Parlor (Franconia): This is said to be THE PLACE to get breakfast in the White Mountains. We weren’t able to squeeze it in, but it’s high on our list for next time.
Rek-Lis Brewing Company (Bethlehem)
Black Mtn. Burger Co. (Lincoln)
The Common Man (Lincoln)
White Mountain Bagel Co (Lincoln)
Eastern side of the Kanc
Cheese Louise (Conway): We LOVED their grilled cheeses and it’s located right on the Kanc, so it’s an easy stop!
Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers (North Conway): These burgers are SOLID! We loved the Wicked Hangry, as well as the herb fries with Wicked truffle sauce.
Flatbread Company (North Conway)
Peach’s Restaurant (North Conway)
Frontside Coffee Roasters (North Conway)
Looking for more things to do near the Kancamagus Highway? Check out our guide to the White Mountains, which includes all of the best things to do, including short and long hikes, paid attractions, state parks, and MORE!
Ready to drive the Kancamagus Highway?
Pin this guide to help plan your adventure!