Details

  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1996)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesScenic
  • LocationNH
  • Length34.5 miles
Byway Visitor Information
National Forest Service Saco Ranger Station
Statewide Byway Partners
New Hampshire Department of Transportation
Visit New Hampshire
Located in the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Whitefield
Roland Caron Photo

Overview

The Kancamagus National Scenic Byway, also known as the Kancamagus Highway, stretches, winds, rises and falls across the White Mountain National Forest for 34.5 miles. This scenic road, with hairpin turns, climbs to nearly 3,000 feet as it winds around Mt. Kancamagus, but is still safe for RV’s. The Kancamagus, or the ‘Kanc’ to the locals, was the first National Scenic Byway designated in the Northeastern United States for its nationally significant scenic views. The fall colors during leaf peeping season, with breathtaking views of the Osceola Range in the White Mountain National Forest, are considered to be the best in the world.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

There is no better way to travel through the White Mountains in New Hampshire than by taking the Kancamagus Scenic Byway. Designated as a National Scenic Byway in 1996 for its scenic qualities, the Kancamagus Highway is one of the most scenic fall drives in the entire country, especially when the fall leaves start to turn in early September to mid-October. The Kancamagus Highway begins/ends from west to east in Lincoln New Hampshire to Conway New Hampshire. You can find information on the west end at the White Mountains Information Center and on the east end at the Saco Forest Service Ranger Station.

Experience the scenic views, and the history of the region, during every season off the year, not just when the fall color map tells you that fall leaves are at their peak. Recreational activities can be found along this drive year-round, with plenty of hiking available in the summer and skiing in the winter. The best part about this Byway is that all the hotels, resorts, towns, and shops are found at the two ends of the Byway and not in between. The road is dedicated to complete serenity with no interference from the modern-day world, it is simply just the road and nature.

The Kancamagus Highway, pronounced Kan-ka-maw-gus, was completed to through traffic in 1959. The highway first began as a road to town from Conway to Passaconaway in 1837. At that time, and for over 100 years, the early European settlers lived in this isolated valley, farming and logging along the fertile soil of the Swift River. The Historic Russell Colbath House, built in the early 1800’s is a Forest Service Historic site today with a fascinating story. In the early 1900’s the road was extended west from Passaconaway and east from Lincoln. Much of the work to build the road from Lincoln to Passaconaway was completed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp). After WWII the New Hampshire State Highway Department worked on the road when money was available. Then in 1959, the highway was opened and families began the scenic legend of the Kanc.

Of course, the European settlers were not the first to call these mountains home. The mountains and lands in this valley were names for New Hampshire’s most legendary Indians. Passaconaway (Child of the Bear) was a peace-loving chief who united over 17 Indian tribes of Central New England into the Penacook Confederacy. He died in 1669. Kancamagus (The Fearless One) was the grandson of Passaconaway. Kancamagus tried to keep peace between the Indians and the European pioneers. There are bloodlines of several tribes living among the White Mountains today.

The natural beauty of the area is second to none. The mountain ranges that this Byway runs through are so iconic and have so much history behind them. The trails that can be found along the way are all accessible for visitors to experience nature firsthand and get some of the best views in the area. The highest point along this Byway is just under 3,000 feet, and it provides some of the most scenic views in the area of the White Mountains and the White Mountain National Forest. Visitors come from all over the world during the fall, as the changing fall leaves along the highway create such spectacular sight. The Byway runs right through White Mountain National Forest. Located within the forest is the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls, and Rocky Gorge. All these places are easily accessible within the Forest through one of the many hiking and walking trails. Along the way, there are a total of 6 campgrounds that can be accessed by visitors. Any one of these campgrounds is a great place for families to set up camp and enjoy the natural wonders of the area. However, if camping is not necessarily the way you want to spend your time, there are plenty of accommodations that are available at either end of the 35-mile-long Byway.

Visitors will not be disappointed when they visit “The Kanc”, as it is abbreviated down to for easier pronunciation. The fall colors in the viewshed are simply too amazing to pass up and the opportunity for fun and enjoyment is truly limitless. There is fun for the whole family along this Byway, as it is more than just the scenic views. There are chances year-round for anyone to have a great time, with plenty of attractions along the way. Travelling along this Byway will create memories that will last a lifetime, no matter what age you are, or what season of the year.

Driving Directions

The Kancamagus Highway begins/ends from west to east in Lincoln New Hampshire to Conway New Hampshire. You can find information on the west end at the White Mountains Information Center and on the east end at the Saco Forest Service Ranger Station.

Points of Interest

  • Sabbaday Falls

    One of the most popular falls in the entire state of New Hampshire, this natural waterfall is a must see along your trip.

  • Lincoln Woods Trail

    This trailhead is considered the gateway to the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Enjoy the interpretive panels, suspension bridge, and pedestrian bridge. Take the accessible self-guided loop or enjoy the many backcountry destinations. Restrooms and potable water available.

  • Albany Covered Bridge

    Built in 1858 in the Paddleford truss style with added arches, this one-lane bridge is 120 feet long and traffic is allowed.

  • Rocky Gorge Scenic Area

    Park in the lot and access the foot bridge over the gorge. View upstream as the Swift River cascades into the gorge. Bring your camera. Also a foot path leads to Falls Pond, great for fishing, and the path is an access to the Nanamocomuck Ski Trail in the winter.

  • Boulder Loop Trail

    A 2.8 moderately challenging route that is popular for camping, hiking, and rock climbing.

Itinerary

  • Travelling through Mount Kancamagus

    Starting from Conway and heading West along NH Route 112, the Kancamagus Scenic Byway passes through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the entire area. Nature lovers will be in paradise as this Scenic Byway passes through the heart of the White Mountains almost instantly. White Mountain National Forest can be accessed from many points along the Byway, including from the beginning of this journey. Rocky Gorge Scenic Area can be found after you have been travelling on the road for about 10 miles and provides beautiful views. Right after, the history of the area can be accessed at the Passaconaway Historical Site, which honors the Native American influence in the area. As you head west from there, even more scenic landscapes can be viewed to their fullest beauty. This includes Sabbaday Falls and Mount Kancamagus, which have plenty of hiking trails and guided tours for all visitors. Heading west from there, there are even more hiking trails and beautiful woods to explore, including Discovery Trail and the Lincoln Woods. Nearing the end of the journey, you can end up in Lincoln where there is plenty of opportunity to shop, eat, and even stay the night if you spent all day travelling this beautiful Byway!

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