We recently spent a Summer housesitting in New Hampshire and absolutely fell in love with the White Mountain National Forest. Located in the northern portion of NH, the White Mountains make for a great day trip or a lovely weekend getaway. It has all of the elements that make for a perfect rambling road trip: beautiful landscapes, great road conditions, and lovely little towns chock full of character and charm. We’ve put together this road trip planner for the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire to help you plan your own perfect getaway!
How to Plan Your White Mountain National Forest Road Trip
We’ve put together our road trip planner to the White Mountain National Forest as a day trip loop from the state capital of Concord. You can easily break this up into a multi-day trip by camping in the White Mountains or by staying in one of the towns outside of the forest itself like Lincoln or Conway, NH.
Beginning from Concord, head North on Interstate 93 and travel about 60 miles to the town of Lincoln, NH (exit 32). While I normally avoid the interstate at all costs the only other alternative is to take a combination of HWY 3 & 3A North and it’s going to add about 15 miles to the trip as well as an additional hour of driving.
Once you’ve reached Lincoln you have two choices, you can follow the loop as outlined here, or you can reverse the loop. Either way, the route circles through Lincoln. For our trip to the White Mountain National Forest We decided to enter the National Forest on HWY 112 East (aka the Kancamagus Highway). We did this for two reasons. First of all, we’re impatient and wanted to get right into the forest, but second of all we wanted to time it out so that we’d end up in the Conway area for a late lunch. The distance between the two is about 35 miles so if you look on a map the trip is only supposed to take an hour or so. In reality there are quite a few spots where you’re going to want to stop for photos as well as take some short hikes. You can easily spend all day on just this stretch if you choose to hike, but otherwise I’d plan on it taking 2 hours or even longer if there are a lot of moose and tourists out and about.
Once you make it to Conway you’ll find a quaint town that had quite a few options for both places to stay as well as places to eat. From Conway you’ll want to head North on NH 16 and connect to Highway 302. You’ll continue on HWY 302 as it loops through Bartlett, NH and then through the lovely Crawford Notch State Park. As you continue on 302, you’ll come to the intersection of HWY 302 and HWY3. From here, take HWY 3 South and it will connect you to I-93 South. If you go South for about 13 miles, you’ll see Exit 34 which will give you the opportunity to get off the Interstate and back onto Highway 3 South. If you do so, you’ll have some lovely views for a couple of miles and can even stop in and visit Franconia Notch State Park. From there you can continue on HWY 3 South back into Lincoln, NH or you can jump back on I-93 and make your way back South to Concord.
Overall the total trip takes about 4.5 hours of driving time so for most travelers it’s highly recommended to divide the trip into two days to have the time to enjoy all the attractions. If you’re up for one long day, you can do the trip in about 8 -12 hours depending on how much time you spend on each activity. Here’s a map of what our route looked like. If you want to see what’s in store on your trip continue reading for our photo tour of our White Mountain Road Trip.
Photo Tour of our White Mountain Road Trip
Now that you’ve seen what the route looks like and how long the trip will take, here’s a photo tour of what the trip itself looks like :-) The drive up the interstate is relatively uneventful but the scenery does make the drive go by pretty quickly. Once you arrive in Lincoln, NH keep an eye out for the White Mountains visitors center which is located on the South side of HWY 112 immediately after you exit off the Interstate. They had a ton of great information as well as maps of the whole area. Once you do that continue on HWY 112 and you’ll make your way right into the National Forest.
Once you enter the forest you’ll see a beautiful bridge spanning the Pemigewasset River on the North side of the road. If you’d like, you can stop off at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center in order to get access to the Lincoln Woods Trail.
We continued along the Kancamagus Highway making sure to stop and just take it all in as often as possible! :-)
One of the things we didn’t realize you could do while visiting the White Mountains until we got there was swim in the Lower Falls Swimming area which is located near the Eastern end of the forest on 112. While we are normally ready for almost everything thanks to our Essential Road Trip Packing List, we completely forgot to bring swimsuits (or a change of clothes), so we were left to stare at the river and imagine how refreshing it must be. :-(
From here we continued on HWY 112 East until we found ourselves in Conway, NH. It was a charming little town with a great Main St, containing lots of cute little stores and one of our favorite things, old time ice cream shoppes! There’s also a pretty cool scenic train ride and of course leave it to us to find a classic car!
Conveniently, we also found another one of our favorite things while in Conway: craft beer! Lauren and I made a lunch stop at Sea Dog Brewing and enjoyed a bite and a brew.
After our time in Conway, we continued our loop along HWY 302 and were faced with a tough decision. If you head North on HWY 16 where it splits off from HWY 302 you can drive the famous Mount Washington Auto Road. Unfortunately if you do choose this route, it adds about 2.5 hours to the total trip time. For us that was a deal breaker, but it also a great reason to return for another adventure :-)
We continued to ramble on along HWY 302 and eventually found our way into Crawford Notch State Park. The stunning views continued and we were thrilled to see that there were several lovely waterfalls that you could easily access without a long hike.
From here we continued until we hit HWY 3 South and passed the site of the former Old Man in the Mountain on Cannon Mountain. HWY 3 also takes you right along the entrance to Franconia Notch State Park where you can ride an aerial tramway or hike the Flume Gorge.
For us this is where our trip ended and we made our way back towards Concord, NH.
Where to Stay when Visiting the White Mountain National Forest
Here are some lovely places to stay when you plan your visit to the White Mountains National Forest. I’ve made sure to note which ones are pet friendly in case you’re traveling with your furry family.
Hotels in Lincoln, NH
- South Mountain Resort
- Luxury Resort – Free Wifi, Indoor Pool, Spa
- Wilderness Inn Bed and Breakfast
- Cozy B&B – Free Breakfast, Free WiFi
- Express Inn & Suites
- Economy Hotel – Pet Friendly, Indoor Pool
Hotels in Conway, NH
- White Mountain Hotel and Resort
- Luxury Resort, Spa, Heated Pool and Hot Tub
- Cranmore Inn B&B
- B&B, Free Breakfast Free WiFi
- Hampton Inn
- Pet Friendly, Free Breakfast, Free Wifi
Camping in the White Mountain National Forest
Other Resources for your Visit to the White Mountains