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The Best Things To Do in the White Mountains, NH in the Fall

April 4, 2023

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The White Mountains in New Hampshire are the perfect destination for hikers or anyone who loves a scenic view. They are an incredible destination year round, offering skiing in the winter, hiking and biking in the warmer months and more outdoor recreation.

However, the fall is when the White Mountains really shine. The mountains change to a quilt of reds, oranges and yellows in the fall months and you’re sure to be left in awe. If you have not experienced a New England fall, you’ll be blown away by how vibrant and colorful the leaves really are!

I spent three weeks based in the area in September and October 2022 and completely fell in love. Keep reading to learn about some of the best hikes in the White Mountains, the best scenic views, a food guide and more.

Is there a Fee for Visiting the White Mountains?

The areas that make up the White Mountains are a mix of national forest, wilderness and state parks. When parking in White Mountain National Forest, you will need to pay a day fee of $5. You also have the option to purchase an annual pass for $30 or use the America the Beautiful Pass which covers all US National parks. Many of the trailheads have boxes where you can purchase your day passes.

Other parking areas outside of the national forest (such as state parks) may cost a different fee or be free. Be sure to pay attention to the signage and plan accordingly.

When is Peak Fall Foliage in the White Mountains?

Peak foliage tends to be in early to mid October, but it varies year to year. It’s also worth noting that the foliage colors could be completely different just a few minutes away, so there will likely be some areas in peak and others not. I think visiting anytime from late September to mid-October gives you a great chance for seeing the fall colors. However, peak foliage in 2022 was around October 5th - 12th.

An expansive view of bright orange foliage from the North and Middle Sugarloaf Peaks Trail
North and Middle Sugarloaf Peaks Trail

To stay up to date on how the foliage is changing, use the Visit New Hampshire fall foliage tracker!

How Many Days Should You Spend in the White Mountains?

How many days to spend in the White Mountains really depends on if you’re a hiker or not! There are endless amounts of trails that you could spend many days (or weeks) exploring.

If you want to see the scenic views and hike a couple of easy trails, I think 2-3 days would be a great amount of time. If you want to enjoy some of the longer day hikes in addition to seeing the best scenic views, I recommend spending 4-5 days. There are so many incredible hikes that will take you most of a day. As always, add more time if you prefer to have more downtime while traveling.

If you’re taking a New England Fall Road trip, check out my one week itinerary for New Hampshire and Vermont!

The Best Things To Do in the White Mountains

Go Hiking

The White Mountains have several incredible hiking trails. Whether you’re looking for a waterfall, a great viewpoint for fall foliage or just want to get outside, there is something for everyone!

I always recommend having the All Trails app to help navigate on a hike. With an affordable subscription to All Trails Plus, you can download the offline maps of a trail in case you use cell reception.

Here are a few of the most iconic hiking trails in the White Mountains:
Artist’s Bluff
The view of Artist's Bluff. There is a lake surrounded by mountains and colorful fall foliage.
Artist's Bluff

This trail is popular for good reason. A relatively short climb will lead you to a fantastic view of a lake framed by mountains. I highly recommend doing this trail at sunrise on a weekday. It’s very famous and the crowds are intense during the day or a sunset if you’re visiting in the fall.

I also recommend adding on Bald Mountain peak to make this trail a loop! Despite the high possibility of crowds, the trail offers gorgeous views and is worth allowing time for.

Flume Gorge
A trail next to a tall rock face in the Flume Gorge.A red covered bridge on the Flume Gorge trail.
Flume Gorge

Flume Gorge is a really neat place where you can hike through a gorge and see several waterfalls. You’ll also pass covered bridges, giant boulders and can even squeeze through a narrow slot (it’s optional).

There is a fee to hike in Flume Gorge ($18 per person) and you’ll want to make a reservation in advance.

Mount Willard
The view from Mount Willard. There is a road in the center of two mountains and the hills are covered with orange foliage.
Mount Willard

Mount Willard is a great trail to get a bird's eye view over a valley surrounded by mountains. In the fall, the views will be blanketed in yellow and orange. To reach the view, it’s a steady climb to the top. Make sure to wear proper hiking shoes as the trail can be muddy and slippery. Some hikers miss the turn at the beginning, so pay attention to your map and the signage to make sure you go the right way.

Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge
A hut along the Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge hike.Looking at the ridge trail that leads to the top of Mount Lafayette
Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail

If you’re up for a challenge, I highly recommend spending a day hiking the Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafayette Loop. The trail is 8+ miles with a lot of elevation gain, so you should have a fair bit of hiking experience before attempting.

Going counterclockwise, you’ll start on a trail that is full of waterfalls. When you reach the ridgeline, you’ll summit multiple 4,000 foot peaks and take in expansive views. Before heading down the mountain, you’ll have the chance to stop into the Greenleaf Hut for some soup or coffee.

This hike is no joke and you’ll need to be prepared. But the variety of scenery makes it one of my favorite trails to date.

Champney Falls
Lydia sitting on a large rock and looking at a small waterfall.Lydia standing and looking back at Champney Falls, a tall waterfall coming from a tall, flat rock face.
Champney Falls

Champney Falls is my favorite trail along the Kancamagus Highway. A forested hike will lead you back to a really neat waterfall where the water flows from the top of a giant rock slab. This makes a great stop on a day exploring the Kanc Highway.

There are so many more beautiful trails in the White Mountains! For more details on these trails and several others, check out my guide to the best hikes in the White Mountains.

Drive the Kancamagus Highway

Taking a scenic drive in the New Hampshire White Mountains is one of the best ways to explore the area. One of the best scenic drives in the White Mountains is the Kancamagus Highway, nicknamed “The Kanc.” The Kanc is a 35 mile stretch of road that connects the towns of Lincoln and Conway. Along the way, there are many beautiful viewpoints. In the fall, you’ll have no shortage of gorgeous foliage on this drive.

An overlook with a view of colorful fall foliage along the Kancamagus Highway
CL Graham Wangan Overlook

Things To Know About Driving the Scenic Kanc Highway:

  • There is a $5 fee for parking along the way. If you have an America the Beautiful pass, that will cover the fee.
  • Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife! I saw a moose while driving The Kanc at dusk.
  • No drones are allowed to land within a quarter mile of the road.
  • Download offline maps on Google ahead of time - there is little cell reception.
  • Allow some extra time for traffic and construction. This road and the parking lots can get really crowded during the day.
  • Please obey parking rules, stay on the trails, pack out all trash and respect others and wildlife when visiting this area.
A gorge area with a bridge that is surrounded by colorful trees and fall foliage.
Rocky Gorge

The Best Stops on the Kancamagus Highway

Here are all of the best stops to make while driving the Kancamagus. They are listed from Lincoln to Conway, or from West to East.

*The ’s indicate my favorite stops that you shouldn’t miss.

Driving the Kancamagus Highway. The road is surrounded by colorful trees.
Driving The Kanc Highway
Looking down at the Sabbaday Waterfall. The water cascades down rocks.
Sabbaday Falls
  • Lincoln Wood Suspension Bridge: Walk out onto the suspension bridge for beautiful views. Many longer trails begin here too.

  • Otter Rocks: A quick stop with river access. This is a great spot to have a picnic or enjoy mini waterfalls in the river.

  • Hancock Overlook, Panoramic Overlook & Pemigewasset:* Three overlooks that face west and are great for sunset.

  • CL Graham Wangan:* An overlook that faces east and is great for sunrise. It is probably my favorite overlook in terms of the view.

  • Lily Pond:* Park on the side of the road and make a quick stop to see a calm pond. You’ll walk a few feet through the forest to reach the pond.

  • Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook: Another beautiful overlook that faces east.

  • Sabbaday Falls:* An easy 0.7 mile trail that will lead to a unique waterfall. The water is a bright, turquoise color and it flows through a gorge that seems to make a right angle turn.

  • Bear Notch Road: A spur road has multiple overlooks to enjoy. You’ll likely find less crowds in this area.

  • Champney Falls:* It will be about a 3 mile trail to reach this unique waterfall where the water flows down from the top of a huge slab of rock.

  • Rocky Gorge:* This area has a narrow gorge area where water flows and creates a waterfall in the Swift River. There is a bridge so you can see the waterfall from above.

  • Lower Falls:* Lower Falls is another beautiful waterfall that you shouldn’t miss while driving The Kanc. It’s a short walk from the parking lot. This is a great place for a picnic and popular for swimming during the summer months (exercise caution if the water is high).

  • Albany Covered Bridge + Boulder Loop Trail: The Boulder Loop is a 3 mile moderate hike that leads to a fantastic viewpoint of the surrounding mountains. The trail is mostly shaded and tends to be less crowded than other trails in the area. The covered bridge is in the parking area and you can walk or drive through it before starting your hike.

  • Bonus: At the end of The Kanc right before you enter Conway, you can stop for a grilled cheese at Cheese Louise! This is the perfect place for lunch after spending the morning driving The Kanc.

Take the Conway Scenic Railroad

The Conway Scenic Railroad parked in front of a mountain covered in orange trees.A train track curving into a forest. Trees are closely surrounding either side of the tracks.

Take a ride on an old-fashioned train while you sit back, relax and take in the views. The Conway Scenic Railroad is a great activity for families. There are a couple different routes, but I recommend taking the Mountaineer, which will take you through Crawford Notch and the Mount Washington Valley. The journey lasts a few hours and you’ll get to admire the surrounding mountains and fall colors.

You’ll want to make a reservation in advance during peak times.

Visit the Tallest Peak in the Northeastern United States

Looking down at an expansive view of mountains from the top of Mt Washington

Mt Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 feet. As you can imagine, the views at the top on a nice day are breathtaking. There are three ways to reach the top - hiking, driving or taking the Cog Railway.

The Cog Railway offers the most unique experience. You’ll ride the steep train and climb with an average grade of 25%. It’s the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. The Cog Railway is one of the best New Hampshire White Mountains attractions, but be prepared that it’s expensive!

Driving to the top of Mt Washington is also expensive, but less than the railway! The Mount Washington Auto Road is a historic road that first opened in 1861 to the use of horse drawn carriages. It's one of America’s oldest man-made attractions.

The drive to the top is very steep at times and there are some areas with drop offs. At one point, you reach a grade of 22%. Note that you’ll need to put your car in low gear while driving back down so you don’t overheat your brakes.

Tip: Be prepared for all types of weather at the top of Mt Washington. The mountain holds the record for the fastest surface wind recorded in the Northern and Western Hemisphere at 231 mph!

If you have enough time and are able, hiking is also an incredible way to see the mountain! The shortest distance to the top is on the Tuckerman and Lion’s Head trails. This hike is 7.4 miles with 4,242 feet of elevation gain.

Visit the Profile Plaza

A pole lining up to a cliff to create a face at the Profile Plaza. The pole resembled what the Old Man of the Mountain looked like before the rocks collapsed.Several tall poles in the Profile Plaza with a mountain in the background.
Old Man in the Mountain Profile Plaza

The Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza is worth a quick stop on your New Hampshire itinerary. Up until 2003, there was a large granite rock formation on Cannon Mountain that resembled a face. It was nicknamed the “Old Man of the Mountain” and became a symbol of New Hampshire. Unfortunately, the formation collapsed and fell in 2003.

Today, they have built a nice plaza and set up a way to see what the face looked like. You can stand at a certain spot and line up a face shape on a metal pillar with the mountain. While the face may have collapsed, his spirit lives on. Visiting the plaza is one of the great free things to do in the White Mountains!

Ride the Aerial Tramway

The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway offers expansive views from a 4,080-foot summit. The cable car is the only Aerial Tramway in New Hampshire and the first in North America. On a clear day, you can see Canada and four different states!

The tramway typically runs from mid-May to mid-October and you can save money by purchasing your ticket a day in advance.

Go Mountain Biking

There are several areas of the White Mountains where you can go biking. Some of the ski resorts offer bike rentals, chairlift rides and downhill biking during the warmer months. Check out the biking options at Cranmore Mountain Resort and Loon Mountain Resort for the details. You can also find more biking options in the area in this biking the Whites guide.

The Best Restaurants in the White Mountains

If you're wondering the the best places to eat in the New Hampshire White Mountains, look no further! Here are my favorite restuarants that I enjoyed during my trip, plus a couple that I ran out of time for.

The ones with a * are the places I recommend the most.

A dish of Malai Kofta from Gypsy Cafe. The meal includes rice, vegetarian meatballs, asparagus and pita bread.
Gypsy Cafe
The outside trailer for StrEatz with a fire pit burning a fire to keep people who are waiting warm.

This stationary food trailer has a great variety of eclectic food and a lot of delicious vegetarian options. I really enjoyed the kung pao cauliflower and the mac and cheese. There can be a line, but they set up a campfire to stay warm while you wait on cooler days!

Cheese Louise*

If grilled cheese is your comfort food, you must make a stop at Cheese Louise! This quirky eatery gets creative with their sandwiches with fixings such as BBQ shredded sweet potatoes, Nashville hot chicken, pesto and more. Complete with your meal with tomato soup and a cocktail or soft drink.

Gypsy Cafe*

Gypsy Cafe is a unique restaurant in Lincoln that serves food from around the world. They also have colorful decor and great service. We loved the Malai Kofta, Falafel Plate and Egyptian Brussel Sprouts.

White Mountain Bagel Co*

Start your day at White Mountain Bagel Co to fuel for a day of hiking. They serve coffee and a great variety of bagel sandwiches. I loved the tomato melt on an Asiago bagel. There is an outdoor patio where you can sit and look for trains at the station next door.

Moon Cafe

Moon Cafe is another wonderful place in Lincoln for breakfast! You can enjoy pastries, breakfast wraps, coffees, sandwiches and more in a fun space full of space decor. I really enjoyed the Crescent Moon wrap with spinach, tomatoes, eggs, guacamole and onions.

Black Mtn. Burger

Black Mtn. Burger is a prime spot in Lincoln for a hearty meal after a long hike. They serve juicy burgers, sandwiches and more, plus have a great selection of craft beers on tap. I enjoyed the veggie brioche sandwich with a portobello mushroom and goat cheese. This spot gets crowded during peak times and they don’t take reservations. Your best bet is to call ahead and get on the waitlist.

Woodstock Inn Brewery

The Woodstock Inn Brewery is great for outdoor patio dining and New Hampshire craft beer. They have a pretty large menu with something for everyone. This place also gets crowded during peak times, so expect a wait.

Common Man

The Common Man is a homey restaurant that first opened in 1985. It has been serving the area with comforting food ever since. The same owners have a collection of restaurants throughout New Hampshire, including other Common Man restaurants, diners and more.


If you love going out for breakfast, Flapjack’s Pancake House is a must. Whether you order a stack of blueberry pancakes or a loaded breakfast sandwich, it’s unlikely you’ll leave hungry. There is often a line outside, so be prepared to wait.

Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers

If you find yourself in North Conway, Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers offers high quality burgers, milkshakes and more with a twist. They have creative burger combinations and offer multiple choices for vegetarians. The atmosphere is fun and casual, and one of the owners was a runner-up in a season of Chopped: Comfort Food Feud in 2020.

Where to Stay in the White Mountains

There are a few different towns to choose from when deciding where to stay in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Many choose to stay in North Conway, which is a larger town with some big box stores such as Walmart. Personally, I prefer and recommend staying in the Lincoln or Woodstock area instead.

There are some great hotels in Lincoln and you’re so close to great restaurants, epic hikes like the Mount Lafayette Franconia Ridge loop, Flume Gorge and the start of the Kancamagus Highway. However, you can’t go wrong with whichever area you choose.

Hotels in Lincoln:

If you want to have a kitchen and more of your own space, there are great finds on Airbnb too. I had a good experience staying at this Airbnb in the Woodstock/Thornton area.

Final Thoughts

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are an epic fall road trip destination that offer something for both serious hikers and those who just want to take in the scenic views. No matter how you explore, the White Mountains should be on your fall bucket list!

Are you ready to plan your fall road trip? Check out my 7 day itinerary for visiting New Hampshire and Vermont!

For more New England Travel Guides, check out these blogs:

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