New Hampshire Foliage Driving Tour
YOU DON’T HAVE to be a hiker to enjoy New Hampshire’s majestic White Mountains, where roads lead into the heart of New England’s most renowned peaks. Make this drive and along the way you can visit inns and eateries with broad views of Mount Washington (New England’s highest peak at 6,288 feet) and the Presidential Range. After a few hours you may come to expect mountain views at every turn, but it’s unlikely you’ll tire of them. The mountains change — cloaked with fog in early morning, often razor sharp by midday; their forms take shape around the winding roads like a well-turned tale.
Begin this tour in North Conway, take in some of the area’s best attractions, enjoy knock-your-socks-off mountain views, and sleep in New Hampshire’s prettiest towns. Most of the trip is on scenic 302, the route that will take you into Vermont for the next driving trip in Yankee Magazine‘s foliage tour.
Route 302 joins Route 16 North in North Conway, where at almost any hour of the day you’ll find traffic comparable to rush hour. The name of the game here is shopping. Take your pick of outlets; most are located in Settlers’ Green Outlet Village (more than 50 stores, including Nike Factory Store, Tommy Hilfiger, Orvis Factory Store) or spread out along Route 16 (Polo/Ralph Lauren, L.L. Bean Factory Store, Socks Galore, the Paper Factory, and many, many more).
If you tire of name brands and long to see something handmade, stop at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Then there is also Zeb’s. A little removed from the outlets, this store stocks only goods made in New England. Named after a Martha’s Vineyard sea captain, Zeb’s is a “new” general store full of toys, food, baskets, and — yes — bag balm.
Though we don’t recommend it, there are enough stores in the area to spend the entire foliage season shopping. If you find you’ve shopped till you’re about to drop, please scroll down for our suggestions for lodging in North Conway.
But when we’ve come just for shopping, our favorite excursion ends not in North Conway but a little south, away from the commotion. Eaton Center, with its idyllic setting on Crystal Lake, is just 15 minutes south on Route 153.
We reserve a room at the Inn at Crystal Lake, an 11-bedroom 1884 Victorian that is the centerpiece of the village. Relax in the evening with a walk along the lake. Just a bit to the east, in Snowville, another wonderful choice is the Snowvillage Inn. Built as a summer home in 1916, the inn has sweeping views of the Presidential Range, including Mount Washington, and a restaurant that’s recognized for its elegant country dining. (Nothing like a four-course candlelit dinner to revive you after a day of shopping.)
For those hearty travelers and nonshoppers who want some action, the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway offers round-trip train rides through some of the finest scenery in the Northeast. Choose between two Valley Excursions or the longer Notch Trip. Families will also enjoy Story Land in Glen, operated by the Morrell Family.
Though the area along Routes 16 and 302 is packed with inns, B&Bs, resorts, and motels, you’ll want to reserve ahead at this time of year. Here is a handful of good choices.
In Glen, the Bernerhof, a turreted Victorian inn, has long been known for its wonderful Swiss cuisine. But you’d never guess what luxury awaits in some of the guest rooms: hot tubs a deux under skylights or stained glass.
In Jackson: Carter Notch Inn is an elegant, late-1800s country cottage with a wraparound porch where wicker abounds and views of the Wildcat River Valley dominate. The Inn at Ellis River is an 1893 Colonial with a recent addition (20 rooms total), outside heated pool, some suites, a sauna, spectacular mountain views, and river frontage. A Victorian designed in 1902 by Stanford White for the Baldwin family (of piano fame) houses the Inn at Jackson. Here you’ll find an outdoor Jacuzzi, large rooms (many with fireplaces), and good views of the village and mountains.
On today’s itinerary you’ll be deep in the mountains, not just looking out at them. Since the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) can be overcrowded at this time of year, we suggest that you take a less-traveled scenic loop through Jackson (if you didn’t already do this last night to find your sleeping quarters). Follow Route 16 north to Route 16B and drive across a covered bridge into Jackson, a pocket-sized town. Stay right on 16B up a steep hill. This rural six-mile circuit takes you past some beautiful old hillside farmhouses and offers mountain vistas. On the right looms the Eagle Mountain House, a majestic old hotel that has been completely updated without losing its grand flavor.
As you come back into Jackson village, turn left at the community church. Don’t miss this rewarding short walk: Park your car downtown and follow the sidewalk alongside Route 16B, which winds along Jackson Falls. This stretch of the Wildcat River begs to be admired. In the low water of fall, you can pick your way among the boulders and imagine how threatening this is during spring runoff. At the Jackson Falls sign you can walk out on the wooden footbridge.
As you head south out of town, turn left after the Wildcat Inn & Tavern; this four-mile back-road loop will take you to Route 16A, which passes all the little inns in Intervale.
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.