Ultimate Driving Guide through Franconia Notch State Park

This is meant to be the ultimate guide for all travelers passing through Franconia Notch State Park on I-93 South and I-93 North. This blog highlights the most popular attractions, my favorite places, and help ease the planning process of road trips. After all, you are on vacation! So, sit back, relax, and be inspired for your upcoming trip to the White Mountains!

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Radio Station Recommendations:

No trip is complete without some rad tunes! Here are some local stations that should be static free throughout your Notch adventure: 104.7 The Point and 105.7 The River; these are both wonderful and eclectic independent radio stations.  

Exit 32: Lincoln

lincoln

Lincoln is a small, tourist town located just a few miles south of the state park. Many of the local businesses and residents exemplify the warm, friendly charm for which New England is famous. As soon as you make a left off of the highway, the White Mountain Visitor Center is ready to welcome you, and the staff are prepared to answer your questions, and suggest some exciting and scenic nearby attractions! There is also a 24/7 Price Chopper, Purple Tomato Farmers Market, post office, Rite Aid, movie theater, glorious library with free wifi/ computer access, and all other town necessities. http://www.visitwhitemountains.com/

The following are my favorite places to go before or after a long day of hiking:

Half Baked and Fully Brewed: I loved starting my mornings with a great cup of freshly brewed coffee, beautifully prepared baked goods, or a delicious breakfast sandwich. I personally love their lox selection, muffins, and omelet sandwiches.

One Love Brewery: This is tied for my favorite restaurant in town because of the friendly staff, lovely atmosphere, great adult beverage selection, and mouth watering food. I fell in love with the Beer belly Burger, Poutine, and Chicken and Waffles.

The Common Man: This homey, warm, and comfortable restaurant/bar experience is my other favorite spot in town. I personally spent most of my nights reading, playing table games, listening to live music, and eating at this New England chain. My parents could not speak more highly of this dining location and we loved the Lobster Corn Chowder, Uncommon Salad, New England Pot Roast, Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae, and the Uncommon Coffee.

Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery: This location is a local favorite and has a wonderful selection of home brewed beers. I really enjoyed spending sunny afternoons eating on their porch and I was captivated by their meatloaf.

For lodging, The Notch Hostel can provide a cheaper; more community focused nights rest and AT hikers keep an eye out for Chet’s place!

Fall on the "Kanc" with my family
Fall on the “Kanc” with my family

If you were to continue driving through Lincoln, you would shortly be entering the White Mountain National Forest. This Congressionally-designated wilderness contains approximately 148,000 acres, including breathtaking hikes, campground, and numerous historic sites. The Kancamagus Byway, one of America’s most beautiful scenic byways, will give you year ‘round access to many of the sites previously mentioned and breathtaking scenic overlooks. With so much to choose from, a trusty map like, Exploring New Hampshire’s White Mountains by The Wilderness Map Company, can be very helpful. My favorite places to stop are Lincoln Woods, The Pemigewasset Overlook, and Lower Falls Scenic Area.

Franconia Notch State Park is located between exits 34A-C.

The Speed Limit is 45 throughout the entire park! Please be aware of this reasonable, well thought out safety precaution and take advantage of the many turnoffs along the road. We encourage all visitors to roll down their windows, relax, don’t hit a moose, and enjoy the scenery!

Exit 34A: The Flume Gorge

flume

Flume Gorge & Visitor Center: A trip into the Flume begins and ends at the Flume Visitor Center. Guests can choose to walk through the Gorge only or do a two mile scenic loop. This loop will not only highlight the famous waterfall, but you’ll also see covered bridges, overlooks, geologic features, a boulder field, and plant identification signs. If you’re feeling brave, you can even look into the Wolf’s Den! The Visitor center offers interpretive displays, artifacts, local brochures, a food court, gift shop, and a must see video. The scent of Balsam Fir seems to captivate the senses along many trails in the park. If you love it as much as I do, especially because it reminds me of Christmas, then make sure to purchase some Balsam Fir incense at the gift shop!  If interested, there is a price package that includes a trip to The Flume as well as a ride up the Aerial Tram.

Liberty Springs Trailhead is a direct, steep and rocky route to Mt. Liberty, Mt. Flume, the AT, and the Franconia Ridge. This 2.6mi trail intersects with the Flume Slide Trail at .6mi. Flume Slide is a very dangerous and difficult trail when wet,  and should not be attempted when coming down the mountain. The Liberty Springs tentsite is located 3.4 miles from the trailhead. For $8 a night, this designated camping location has seven single platforms, three double platforms, composting outhouse, bear box, access to the spring, and dishwashing area.

Top: Views from Mt. Pemigewassit Bottom:The Multi-use Recreation Path
Top: Views from Mt. Pemigewasset
Bottom:The Multi-use Recreation Path

Mt. Pemigewasset’s summit gives you the best mountain views, with the shortest hiking time at 1.7mi, an average of a 3hr round trip. Don’t let that fool you though; it is still a moderate hike with a little over a thousand ft. elevation gain. Sturdy shoes, water, and a map are recommended. You can access this trail through the bike path located in the far right lot of The Flume parking area.

The Multi-Use Recreational Path is an 8.8mi paved road that runs throughout the entire park and ends at the Skookumchuck Trailhead on Rt.3. This path welcomes bikers, hikers, and is stroller and wheelchair friendly. There are also picnic tables and turnoffs along the way. Bikes are available to rent at the Cannon Mtn. Aerial Tram and, if desired, a shuttle is available through Sport Thoma. Please call 603-745-8151 for more information, prices, and pickup times. Please always stay on the right side of the path and pass with caution.

The Basin

the basin

The Basin is a beautiful, glacial made pothole that is in the midst of other peaceful, yet powerful water features. This attraction can be accessed from the bike path, pemi trail, and by car. There are pit toilets and picnic areas at both north and southbound parking areas. It is truly one of my favorite places to put up my hammock, soak my feet in the cold water, and contemplate life. Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), on his first trip to the White Mountains in September of 1839 stood here, as you will, and watched the water cascade into the granite bowl and whirlpool around its walls. He would later write in his journal, “This pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.”

Basin Cascades trail can be accessed through the Basin. It will be trail leading up through the woods before the second bridge. Basin Cascades will take you 1.1mi to Cascade Brook Trail. This connecting trail can be taken for another 1.3mi to Lonesome Lake and is a section of the AT! These are two of my favorite trails in the park. This is because you can marvel at many beautiful waterfalls, rock hop over a few river crossings, and get fabulous, far off views of the mountains. If 1.1mi seems a little too intimidating, it is definitely worth the short walk to the first cascade.

The Pemi Trail does run through the Basin. From here, you can take a very gradual 2mi hike north to Lafayette Campground or go south 1.6mi, connecting to the bike path, to go to the Flume! Because this trail does run along the Pemigewasset River, it can be occasionally muddy.

Trailhead Parking/Lafayette Place Campground

Top left: Falling Waters Trail Bottom: Views from Mt. Lafayette
Top left: Falling Waters Trail
Bottom: Views from Mt. Lafayette

This parking lot will give you access to:

Falling Waters is a direct, steep, difficult route to Little Haystack Mountain and the Franconia Ridge Trail. This 3.2mi beautiful hike will take you about 3 hours to reach the summit. Along the way, your senses will be stimulated as you experience rushing river waters, invigorating scents of fir and spruce, and eye widening, vibrant colors of mosses, lichens, and other vegetation. The exposed granite can be quite slippery so please be cautious of your footing and resist the urge to venture off trail.  At 2.8mi, a short, one way trail leads you to the base of Shining Rock with westerly views.

For waterfall enthusiasts, there is no need to ascend up the entire mountain! The three waterfalls that can be viewed from this trail are as follows:

Stairs Falls at .9mi

Swiftwater Falls at 1mi

Cloudland Falls at 1.4mi

Old Bridle Path is a more gradual, but still steep, rocky trail to the top of Mt. Lafayette. Along the 2.7 mile ascent you will be awed by mountainous overlooks and sub-alpine forest. At 3mi you will reach the AMC Greenleaf Hut. This hut normally provides snacks, water, and shelter for hikers. Overnight accommodations can be reserved at www.outdoors.org/lodging. One more steep, very rocky mile will bring you to the summit of Mt. Lafayette, the fifth highest peak in New England. The views here are breathtaking. You will be able to see Cannon Mt., Echo Lake, Lonesome Lake, far off valleys, and mountain ranges in neighboring states. Conditions at the top of the Mtn. can be 10 degrees colder and windier.

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These two trails, including the Franconia Ridge, are commonly hiked as an 8.9 mi, 6-7hr loop. This all day hike covers three 4,000 footers: Mt. Lafayette, Lincoln and Little haystacks, ascends thousands of feet in elevation, scrambling, and is quite strenuous. However, the views on top of the ridge are well worth the effort. We recommend ascending falling waters because it is the steeper trail and involves a more detailed attention to footing. Please always be prepared with your 10 essentials and very sturdy, closed toes shoes. This loop, or hiking on the ridge, should not be attempted when severe weather is present. For, there is a high risk of wind, and lightning related injuries.

To reach the other hiking trails, Lafayette Campground, and Hiking Information Center please walk through the underpass to the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot.

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Hiker Information Center is located at the entrance of Lafayette Place Campground. This historic log cabin contains many display maps, updated weather information, general hiking tips, and interpretive panels. In the summer and early fall, one can find interpretive rangers staffing the cabin and providing hikers with guidance and directions. Please visit this cabin for a more detailed explanation on the hikes mentioned in this blog.  

The Pemi is a family friendly, gradual trail that runs parallel to the Pemigewasset River. This 5.6 mi path can be found almost throughout the entire park and goes to most of the major attractions. The halfway point can be found running through the campground. From here, you take hike 2mi south to the Basin or north to Profile Lake/Old Man Museum.

Lonesome Lake Trail can be accessed through the campground parking lot. Please check out my previous blog for an in-depth description of the hike and AMC video: http://blog.nhstateparks.org/lonesome-lake-trail-a-guide-to-one-of-franconia-notch-state-parks-most-cherished-hikes/

Hi-Cannon, Cannon, and Kinsman Ridge Trails can also be accessed through the Lonesome Lake trailhead parking lot.  

Campground Store can be found by walking over the bride behind the hiker information cabin. The camp store has food, beverages, ICE CREAM, camping essentials, souvenirs, restrooms, and coin operated showers.  For camping reservations and information please visit our ReserveAmerica page. My favorite campsites are the ones located along the Pemigewasset River. In the summer and early fall, look out for family friendly Interpretive Ranger Programs happening in the campground!

Boise Rock

boise

Boise Rock turn off highlights a very large glacial erratic**, the true hero in a short, but thrilling tale of one man’s fight for survival amidst a frightful and deadly snowstorm. This area also has a pit toilet, picnic tables, and an exceptional view of Cannon Cliffs. Boise Rock is only accessible from the northbound side of the highway.

* Hint: inspired a scene from a Star Wars movie.

**Glacial erratics are stones and rocks that were transported by a glacier, and then left behind after the glacier melted.

For more information, check out Ranger Vicky’s blog: http://blog.nhstateparks.org/a-hidden-gem-in-the-notch/

Exit 34B

Greenleaf Trail is a rocky, steep, 2.7 mi hike to Greenleaf Hut. Along the way, one can take a closer look at Eagle Pass, Eagle Cliff, and the Eaglet. Despite the Eaglet, a rock formation that actually looks like a bird, the other features are all named for the Golden Eagles that once nested in that location. One writer had this to say, “No prouder position could be chosen for a habitation by this noble bird.” The last nesting eagles were reported in the 1890’s. Since the 1950’s Peregrine Falcons have been spotted on those same rocky cliffs. The trail is located before the northbound on-ramp on the right-hand side of the road.

Cannon Mtn. Tramway: The first passenger aerial tramway in North America began operation on this site in 1938. Take a scenic eight minute ride in one of two enclosed cable cars to the 4,200 foot summit of Cannon Mountain. Along the way, enjoy panoramic views of the distant valleys, mountains, Echo Lake, and black bears!  The visitor center includes a gift shop (they make their own fudge!), where-are-you-from chalkboard, Old Man information panels, brochures, and a bike rental booth. At the summit, one can enjoy another cafeteria (with great bread pudding), the highest beer tap in New Hampshire, and a short hike to the observation tower. While hiking on the summit, staying on designated paths will help you stay safe and protect fragile alpine vegetation!

Top left: Profile Lake Bottom left: Views from The Eaglet Bottom right: Ketchup the tram car
Top left: Profile Lake
Bottom left: Views from The Eaglet
Bottom right: Ketchup the tram car

Old Man Museum is a small building rife with historic artifacts, interesting geologic information, and a lovely gift shop. This is the first place that I discovered how passionate and emotional locals felt towards the Old Man, before and after his fall. This dedication can be felt by watching the video in the gift shop or by reading the comments on display from local and national newspapers. Daniel Webster once said:

“Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.” 

Profile Lake is the home to Old Man Memorial site. For more information please check out Ranger Vicky’s blog…The Lake is well-known for its brook trout and is open to fly-fishing only: http://blog.nhstateparks.org/the-old-man-of-the-mountain-an-end-is-just-a-new-beginning/

Kinsman Ridge Trail is an incredibly steep and rocky 2mi ascent to Cannon Mtn. From the summit, the ridge trail continues for many miles, encompassing the Cannonballs, North and South Kinsman Mtns. and the south bound AT. Don’t forget to stop by the tram cafeteria to refill water, use the facilities, and grab a snack!  

New England Ski Museum is located next to the Tram Visitor Center.  I really enjoyed their exhibit From the First Tracks to the Fall Line: eight thousand years of skiing. It presents a timeline of the development of skiing from its prehistoric roots up until the advent of the shaped ski in the 1990s, and includes local aspects of ski history with national implications such as several important ‘firsts’ at Cannon Mountain, and the career of area native Bode Miller. You can also check out the first tram car that was used at Cannon!

Exit 34C Echo Lake

Echo Lake: At Echo Lake Beach, visitors can enjoy the beauty of a 39-acre lake with an excellent view. The slopes of Cannon Mountain ski area drop right to the edge of the lake, and the view highlights where the Franconia Range and Kinsman Range meet, creating the notch. When I relax at this glacial made lake, I like to imagine that I’m in Fiji. Needless to say, I’ve never been. You can also rent boats, check out the beach store, and explore the creatures that call this body of water home! Keep an eye out for salamanders, ducks, and crayfish.

Top left: Views from Artist Bluff Bottom left: Echo lake viewed from the tram
Top left: Views from Artist Bluff
Bottom left: Echo lake viewed from the tram

Artist Bluff and Bald Mtn. Loop is an easier hike that provides lovely views of the Notch, Echo Beach, and Cannon Mtn. This 1.5mi loop can still be a little steep in spots, but is one of the few short hikes that can be enjoyed in the park. To access the trail, please park in the Echo Beach parking lot and cross the street. The trailhead will be a little up the road to your left.

The Bike Path does go around the lake and then travels north to the Lafayette Brook Bridge Scenic Vista, Governor Gallen Memorial Bridge, and ends at the Skookumchuck Trailhead on Rt.3.

 

I hope that this guide helps to ease the planning process for your next trip through The Notch! Enjoy the park, be safe, and explore until your heart’s content!

It's been a memorable summer! Thank you to all of the staff that helped and supported us throughout the season! I will miss this magical place.
It’s been a memorable summer! Thank you to all of the staff that helped and supported us throughout the season! I will miss this magical place.

 

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Discover Power of Parks SCA Interpreters

Discover the Power of Parks is presented by New Hampshire State Parks in collaboration with the Student Conservation Association and made possible by generous financial support from Eversource. The program offers a look into the natural world through hands-on programming. Interpretive programs focus on connecting participants with nature and building appreciation for New Hampshire's unmatched natural heritage. Programs include guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families. Programs are offered free to guests with paid park admission fee. No pre-registration is required.

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