White Mountain National Forest

Scenic Driving
White Mountains National Forest
White Mountains National Forest (Alan Copson/Photographer's Choice/Getty)

The Kancamagus National Scenic Byway traverses the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, running 34.5 east-west miles from Lincoln, New Hampshire, to Conway, New Hampshire, (see map). With the Sandwich Range Wilderness, the Mt. Chocura Scenic Area, and the Waterville Valley resort to the south, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness and the Presidential Range to the north, recreation opportunities accessible via the Kancamagus are virtually unlimited. There are numerous USFS campgrounds along the Kancamagus, too, if you want to make a pit stop.

The four-mile Patte Brook Auto Tour is a self-guided eco-tour of the eastern Forest. Numbered markers along the way highlight the area's natural history and the various ways the land has been used by humans over the centuries. You can reach the Patte Brook by turning right off of Rte. 5 about 4 miles south of Bethel, Maine.

For a dramatic view of the Presidentials and the more remote northern Forest (known as the Kilkenny section), take the Pinkham Notch scenic loop. The drive does not actually lie within the boundaries of the Forest until the last section; rather, it circumnavigates the Forest's northern section, which lies separate from the rest of the area. Starting in Berlin, New Hampshire, take Rte. 110 north to Groveton. From there, follow Rte. 3 south to Lancaster and then Rte. 2 west to Gorham. Finally, head south from Gorham down Rte. 16, which leads you into the Forest itself along the eastern side of the Great Gulf Wilderness and down to Pinkham Notch, where the AMC has a White Mountains visitor center. The drive takes approximately 1-1/2 hours to complete.

Not to be forgotten, though it can get a little touristy, is the Mt. Washington Auto Road, a privately owned toll road to the top of Mt. Washington. Drive this eight-mile stretch of what was once a carriage road and you too can say "My Car Climbed Mt. Washington." Take Rte. 16 south from Gorham, New Hampshire. Look for signs once you reach Pinkham Notch.

Woods Roads

Though the White Mountain National Forest is closed to off-road vehicles, you can enjoy scenic driving on several rustic woods roads in your car or truck. These roads are technically designated "improved light duty," which means they may or may not be paved.

Sandwich Notch Road runs from the small hamlet of Center Sandwich, New Hampshire, about a mile south of the Forest, to Rte. 49, the main road to the Waterville Valley ski resort area. The Sandwich Range Wilderness lies just northeast.

Ascending to Jefferson Notch is the Jefferson Notch Road, a steep gravel road through the western Presidentials. The head of the Caps Ridge Trail lies at Jefferson Notch, giving hikers quick access to the summit of Mount Jefferson. The southern end of Jefferson Notch Road connects up with Rte. 302 just north of Saco Lake, New Hampshire. Heading west on Rte. 2, turn left just past Bowman, New Hampshire, to meet up with Jefferson Notch Road in the north.

The Kilkenny Loop Road is a winding ramble in the remote northern section of the Forest. Along the way, you'll cross Lonesome Ridge and the Ammonoosuc River. A side road will take you to the fish hatchery on York Pond. To reach the Kilkenny Loop Road from Berlin, New Hampshire, travel north on Rte. 110 about five miles and turn left.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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