Franconia Notch State Park, located between the Franconia and Kinsman mountain ranges, is an easily accessible park with a wide range of attractions. Saved by a 1927 campaign by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Franconia Notch protects over 6,000 acres of wilderness and was once home to the iconic Old Man of the Mountain.
The Basin makes for a nice leisurely first stop when visiting the Notch, thanks to the short walking path that leads you around the area. The Pemigewasset River flows all the way down through the Notch and at the Basin, the river cascades and swirls through a large glacial pothole. This is a great place to bring the kids because it takes just a few minutes to get to the best part, the pothole itself. The Basin is also a stop on the awesome paved bike path that threads all the way up through the Notch.
Lonesome Lake is a great example of an easy and rewarding hike in Franconia Notch. Leaving from the Lafayette Campground, it's about 1.6 miles to the lake and though the larger half is fairly steep, the terrain levels out as the trail gets closer to the lake. The Lonesome Lake Trail is one of the most popular in the Notch and parking spaces can fill up quickly, so make sure to get there early. That said, when I went, the parking lot was completely full, but the trail itself was not very crowded. The walk to the lake is a nice walk in the woods, and the trail around the lake is a good way to cool down after the hike. The view is actually significantly different from part way around the lake, so I would suggest at least checking out the start of the Around Lonesome Lake Trail.
The hike up Mount Pemigewasset is around the same distance as the hike to Lonesome Lake at 1.8 miles, but the hike is somewhat more difficult due to the elevation change. That said, if you're looking for an easy day hike with a mountaintop view, this is a good choice. The big rock ledge at the top of the mountain is a perfect place to cool down and enjoy the view after the hike. Crowds weren't a problem at all for me on Mount Pemigewasset, but going early in the day is still a good idea to avoid the heat. Also, the trail leaves from the Flume Gorge parking lot, which can get crowded later in the day.
Probably the best mountain view in Franconia Notch is from the top of Cannon Mountain. There are a lot of ways to get up the mountain. There are several hiking trails, and though I've never hiked up Cannon Mountain, I've hiked down it to Lonesome Lake via the Kinsman Ridge trail. Some people hike up via Kinsman Ridge trail, leaving from the tramway parking lot, but I've read that section of the trail is a difficult hike on rough terrain. I'd only suggest hiking up Cannon Mountain if you're looking for a challenging hike and have plenty of time, and while the hike down to Lonesome Lake was fun, it was very steep and rocky.
This time around, I took the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram up and down. I took the tram mostly because I didn't have time left in the day for another hike, but since it really did take so little time to get up and down, I can see the tram being a great way for families with kids to experience the top of the mountain. From the tram station, there's a short (a couple hundred yards, slightly uphill) walk to a fire tower. Some people just enjoy the view from the tram station and there's definitely plenty to see from there, but the fire tower is a much more dramatic perspective and I think it's not to be missed.
The Flume Gorge
The Flume Gorge is one of the most well-known attractions in Franconia Notch. That said, it can get fairly crowded, particularly during the busy leaf peeping season. A great time to visit the Flume is early in the spring before most schools get out. For more details about visiting the Flume, click here to read a post I wrote about a visit to the Flume earlier this year!
There are many other places to visit in Franconia Notch, and a few more hikes that I've heard good things about - including the Falling Waters trail. The great thing about Franconia Notch is that pretty much everything is easy to find right there on the same road and along the bike path. Definitely check out a map and read up about things if you're planning a visit.
Tom Howe is a third year Div II at Hampshire College concentrating in graphic design. he lives in Goshen, NH and grew up in Anchorage, AK. He likes hiking, biking and cross country skiing, and just generally being outside.