The Kancamagus Highway connects the towns of Lincoln and Conway, New Hampshire, and traverses the beautiful White Mountain National Forest. Located in the northern part of the state, this picturesque two-lane highway provides access to a recreation area of unspoiled natural splendor. Called the “Kanc” by locals, the road covers 34 miles and follows the course of the Swift River part of the way. It crosses Kancamagus Pass at an elevation of 2,855 feet and features some graceful hairpin turns on the eastbound ascent. This is the highest-altitude highway in the American Northeast, and it’s probably the most famous drive in the state. It’s the perfect place to get away from it all. But be prepared—gasoline isn’t available on the Kancamagus Highway and cellphone service is limited.
From dead-end to destination
What’s now a National Scenic Byway was once two dead-end dirt roads that entered the National Forest from opposite ends—one from Lincoln, one from Conway. In 1959, the two roads were joined together to connect the towns, while providing access to the whole forest. The dirt road over the mountains was hazardous until the surface was paved in 1964. Since then, it’s become a popular—and beautiful—year-round destination and is especially stunning in the fall. Foliage hunters flock to the White Mountains and Mount Kancamagus every fall, seeking out the next great vista. During September and October, every overlook displays a spectacular patchwork of color for miles. So, if you go during the leaf-looking season, expect bumper-to-bumper traffic on peak foliage weekends, since the highway is within a day’s drive for over 70 million people in the region.
White Mountain National Forest
The White Mountain National Forest is the only National Forest in New Hampshire. It covers more than 800,000 acres of mountains and valleys that were once considered uninhabitable. Here, you’ll find all the joys of the great outdoors—hiking, camping, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, and diverse forest environments. There are ample places to pull over and take in the views. You’ll even find a classic New England covered bridge, so remember to bring your camera. Many riders also choose to stop at the Russell-Colbath Historic Site for a bit of colonial history and a walk along the Forest Discovery Path.
You can access the Kancamagus Highway on the Lincoln side from Interstate 93 at exit number 32. You can also easily connect to it from U.S. Route 3 (US3) in Lincoln. Fans of the Laconia rally and races will recognize US3 as the main highway that runs past Weirs Beach.