Kara United States 1 Comment

The Kancamagus Highway is one of New Hampshire’s most scenic drives, as it travels past rolling mountains, lush pine forests, and cascading waterfalls. Along the way are opportunities to complete several short hikes, in addition to quick overlooks to gaze over gorgeous mountain views.

This drive is the perfect way to experience the beauty of the White Mountains in a low effort way. Driving the highway is easy-going, for it follows a wide paved road. It is best driven in the fall when the leaves transform into their autumn glory.

Overview of the Kancamagus Highway

The winding 34-mile-long Kancamagus Highway connects Lincoln and Conway, New Hampshire, both of which are popular towns within the heart of the White Mountains.

You can drive the Kancamagus Highway in either direction. We drove it from Conway to Lincoln. By beginning in Conway, you will reach waterfalls and longer hiking stops early on, while starting in Lincoln will lead you to the mountainous overlooks first.

There are over two dozen stops on the Kancamagus Highway, making this an activity that you can spend multiple days exploring. But for most visitors, spending the better part of a day is all you need to experience this scenic route. For us, the Kancamagus Highway needed to fit inside a travel day that included a commute from Camden, ME to Lincoln, NH. Due to this, we were interested in seeing only the best stops along the Highway.

Best Stops on the Kancamagus Highway

These stops are in order from Conway to Lincoln, NH.

Cheese Louise

Estimated Time: 30 Minutes

At the start of the Kancamagus Highway in Conway sits Cheese Louise, an artisan grilled cheese shack. Cheese Louise offers yummy grab and go meals that will fuel a day of exploration on the Kancamagus Highway. They serve multiple varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as some salad options. Everything we ate here was fresh and delicious!

Albany Covered Bridge and Boulder Loop Hike

Estimated Time: 10 minutes for bridge and 2 hours for the hike

The Albany Covered Bridge, originally constructed in 1858, is a picturesque covered bridge typical of those found throughout New England, designed to shield trusses and decks from the elements. A brief but worthwhile visit, the bridge accommodates regular-sized vehicles, allowing both driving and walking through its interior.

Albany Covered Bridge

The trailhead to the Boulder Loop Hike sits just to the east of the Albany Covered Bridge. We were excited to do this hike as we thought that we could get great views over the White Mountains from the trail. However, it ended up being an unexciting walk in the woods for 3.5 miles. There is a small mountain that you climb, however we could not see much through the forest.

It is possible that this hike would be better in the fall as a place to immerse oneself in New Hampshire’s beautiful autumn foliage. But otherwise, I do not recommend taking the time to hike this trail. Viewpoints further along the Kancamagus Highway beat those that we saw on this hike.

Boulder Loop Hike

Boulder Loop Hike

Lower Falls

Estimated Time: 10 minutes, unless you swim

Lower Falls provides a scenic view of small waterfalls cascading over granite rocks. During the summer, it becomes a popular swimming spot, filled with children playing in the falls. If you are seeking a quiet and tranquil experience, it might be best to skip this stop unless you’re interested in swimming.

Lower Falls, Kancamagus Highway

Rocky Gorge

Estimated Time: 15 minutes

Rocky Gorge is a picturesque stop along the Kancamagus Highway. The Swift River flows through a narrow flume, creating a charming small waterfall. Visitors can walk onto the rocks when the water level is low, and there’s a bridge for great views. Additionally, visitors can cross the bridge and follow a short path to reach Falls Pond.

Rocky Gorge, Kancamagus Highway

Champney Falls

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Champney Falls, considered by some as a top experience and by others as a walk in the woods, unfortunately didn’t fit into our schedule. The falls are reached by a 3-mile round-trip hike, attracting those seeking a more immersive nature experience.

Champney Falls

Champney Falls | Scott Conner/shutterstock.com

Sabbaday Falls

Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Sabbaday Falls is the most popular stop along the Kancamagus Highway, and for good reason! To reach the Falls there is a short 0.7 round trip hike along a wide gravel path. Boardwalks travel next to the rushing waterfall, granting visitors a close look into the gorge and crystal-clear pools. This trail is possible for people of all ages and fitness levels, and it is a short stop altogether.

Sabbaday Falls, Kancamagus Highway

Overlooks along the Kancamagus Highway

There are four major overlooks along the Kancamagus Highway, each providing scenic views over forested mountains. Here are photos from each of the four overlooks.

Sugar Hill Overlook

Sugar Hill Overlook
CL Graham Wangan Overlook

CL Graham Wangan Overlook

Pemigewasset Overlook

Pemigewasset Overlook

Hancock Overlook

Hancock Overlook

Best Time to Drive the Kancamagus Highway

The best time to drive the Kancamagus Highway is undoubtedly in the fall when the forests become an assortment of reds, yellows, and oranges. New Hampshire’s leaves usually change in early to mid-October. Due to this, the Highway becomes extremely popular on Columbus Day weekend. If visiting around this time, make sure to start your day early and go on a weekday to avoid the holiday rush.

We drove the Kancamagus Highway in the first week of August, and we were able to enjoy lush green forests and fully accessible trails, but the wow factor of the autumn foliage was missing. From our experience, crowds are minimal in the summertime.

Kancamagus Highway Fall

Kancamagus Highway in autumn | YuziS/shutterstock.com

How Much Time Do You Need?

How much time you need to drive the Kancamagus Highway comes down to how many stops you make along the way. If you plan to stop at only the most common overlooks and falls, you can drive the Highway in two to three hours.

Each hike you complete (such as Boulder Loop Hike and Champney Falls) adds an additional 2 hours. Thus, adding on these trails makes it easy to spend a full day exploring the Kancamagus Highway.

Tips for Driving the Kancamagus Highway

There are no gas stations along the Kancamagus Highway, so make sure to fill up the tank in either Lincoln or Conway.

Bring cash to pay for a parking pass. Parking along the Kancamagus Highway costs $5 per vehicle per day. Visitors pay by putting cash inside an envelope at one of the parking lots along the Kancamagus Highway, so make sure you bring a $5 bill. You only have to pay at one parking lot.

Dogs are welcome on White Mountain National Forest hiking trails, but they must be leashed.

Drones are not allowed within ¼ mile of the Kancamagus Highway.

For more information about the Kancamagus Highway, visit the official website.

Is the Kancamagus Highway Worth it?

The Kancamagus Highway is a wonderful way to experience New Hampshire’s outdoors in a low-effort way. Many of the stops are scenic and visitors can see cascading falls, distant mountain ranges, and rocky gorges. However, I do not think that this Kancamagus Highway is a must, especially for those with limited time in New Hampshire. We found that we enjoyed exploring Franconia Notch State Park more than stopping along the Kancamagus Highway’s sights.

Since a lot of the drive is through the trees, driving the Kancamagus Highway in the fall would make this experience much more worthwhile. But if you are visiting New Hampshire in the summer, then spending your time on longer hikes and outdoor activities may be a better way to experience New Hampshire.

Where to Stay near the Kancamagus Highway


Lincoln is a convenient place to stay during a trip to the White Mountains, since this small town is located only 10 minutes from Franconia Notch State Park, and it sits on the western end of the Kancamagus Highway. Sadly, there is not much to see or do in Lincoln, and it is not the prettiest area to wander.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn and it provided a standard and comfortable hotel experience. Its proximity to many of Lincoln’s restaurants was convenient for our stay.

Other highly rated hotels include the Lincoln Log Cabins (stay in your own private cabin with a view of the mountains), InnSeason Resorts Pollard Brook (a resort with one- and two-bedroom suites, making this a great pick for families), and Launchpoint Lodge (a beautiful property that is adult-only).

North Conway

On the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway lies the town of North Conway. Similar to Lincoln, this is a great place for outdoor activities. The Saco River provides popular swim spots, Echo Lake State Park has beautiful hiking, and a local ski resort on Mount Cranmore makes North Conway a major winter ski town. North Conway itself is a small area with a handful of restaurants, antique stores, and good accommodations. Though we did not visit this town, North Conway appears like a more welcoming and exciting town to wander than Lincoln.

Properties that get good reviews include CoHo: Conway Hostel (great for budget travelers), Adventure Suites (each room has a theme, such as a Wine Cellar, a Love Shack, a Haunted Castle, and a Dragon’s Lair), Buttonwood Inn on Mount Surprise (a small inn that gets exceptional reviews), and White Mountain Retreat (a beautiful three-bedroom house with a forest setting, just outside of Conway).

If you have any other questions about driving the Kancamagus Highway, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to New England

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Don’t miss our article about the best things to do in Franconia Notch State Park and how to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Acadia National Park Travel Guide for important travel information, sample itineraries, and how to plan your visit. For a list of must-have experiences, read our article Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park. Go off the beaten path and explore Isle au Haut.

NEW ENGLAND ROAD TRIP: Visit Cape Cod, coastal Maine, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and more in this 12 Day New England Road Trip Itinerary.

CAPE COD: With 2 days on Cape Cod, learn how to visit Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown, and Falmouth.

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide and our New Hampshire Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

Top 10 Stops Along the Kancamagus Highway


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Comments 1

  1. Avatar for Jim Sanuk
    Jim Sanuk

    In the fall during apple picking time there is a chance you might see a truck selling apples on the conway side. The trip either way is a great day trip.

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