Franconia Notch is a dramatic narrow pass ("notch") through steep, high mountain cliff walls in the White Mountains of New Hampshire near Mount Washington.
Interstate 93 comes north from Boston MA via Manchester NH and Concord NH to pass through the White Mountain National Forest and Franconia Notch State Park, passing between the towns of Lincoln NH and North Woodstock NH before entering the narrow notch itself (map).
Within the notch, the highway narrows to two lanes and the speed limit is reduced. At the northern end of the notch the highway widens again.
Most of the notch region is protected in Franconia Notch State Park, on Echo Lake Rd, Franconia NH (map), which includes such natural features as Profile Lake, The Basin and the Flume Gorge near the park's Visitor Center.
It offers a wealth of outdoor activities: Lafayette Campground, the Appalachian Mountain Club's system of trails and hikers' huts, a 9-mile paved bike path, trout fishing, swimming in the mountain lakes and rivers, a number of beautiful picnic sites, and a ski area, Cannon Mountain, with an aerial tramway (cable car) which operates winter and summer.
Flume Gorge & Visitor Center
Four miles north of North Woodstock, but still south of the Basin, is the Flume, a natural gorge or cleft in the granite.
A boardwalk has been erected along the 800-foot length of the Flume, and for an admission fee you can walk through its cool depths, the granite walls rising to 60 or 70 feet above you, mosses and plants growing precariously in niches here and there.
Signs explain how nature formed the Flume, and point out interesting sights along the way.
Near the Flume is a covered bridge thought to be one of the oldest in the state, perhaps erected as early as the 1820s.
The park Visitor Center (tel 603-745-8391) is here and, like the Flume, is open from mid-April to mid-October.
The hole is at the foot of a waterfall, and was presumably made by the action of small rocks and stones whirled around by the force of the water. It's a cool spot, good for contemplation.
Old Man of the Mountain
Above Profile Lake is the rocky cliff where the Old Man of the Mountain rock formation once peered out across the notch and the thousands of visitors who came every year to peer back.
After thousands of years in the making, the rock formation was "discovered" by white settlers at the beginning of the 19th century.
The profile was formed by several ledges of granite, and in a cubist sort of way the representation is quite striking. The face was only about 40 feet high, and it was set on a cliff 1,000 feet above the valley floor.
Its grandeur came not from its size, but rather from its fidelity (it really did look like a stylized human face in profile) and its impressive perch high in the sky, gazing out over the mountains.
For decades, the Old Man—"The Great Stone Face"— was the official symbol of the state of New Hampshire even though it was just a random rock outcrop.
The Old Man's craggy silhouette appeared so often in New Hampshire—on every highway marker, tourist brochure and official document, among hundreds of other places—that it loomed large in their imagination.
In the years before its fall, the state of New Hampshire had spent a good deal of money preserving the face from the ravages of nature, for even granite formations crumble given enough wind, rain, and ice.
But on May 3, 2003 the Old Man, victim of too many bitter winters with water penetrating his crevices, freezing, expanding and loosening his purchase on the rockface, tumbled to earth.
Now the Old Man viewing area has plaques detailing the Old Man's history. But the Great Stone Face is gone forever.
South of the Old Man along US Route 3 and to the east lies the undulant crest of Mount Liberty, which to some people resembles George Washington lying in state.
Fooey! To me, it looks like Mount Liberty. What looks like George Washington is the statue of him in Boston's Public Garden.
An impressive view of Franconia Notch and the mountains is yours if you take the 70-passenger Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway (cable car) to the summit for the fine views and for short nature walks. The tramway operates in the summer from the end of May to mid-October.
The tramway station is just off I-93, Exit 2, and US 3 north of the notch, and has its own parking lot.
In winter, Cannon Mountain is a ski area with slopes positioned to receive generous blankets of snow, and a vertical drop of 2145 feet (654 meters). More...
Canoeing, kayaking and river rafting on the Pemigewasset River ("the Pemi") are big pursuits here, as are hiking to the Appalachian Mountain Club hikers' huts in Franconia Notch State Park and the White Mountain National Forest, and camping at the National Forest campsites along the Kancamagus Highway.
In summer there's an excursion train to take you into the mountains while you dine aboard.
In winter, Loon Mountain is a major New Hampshire ski area, with its own small antique steam train just for fun. Loon is also active in summer: the cable car carries visitors to the top of the mountain for picnics, forest programs and hikes.
From I-93 Exit 32, go east into Lincoln along NH Route 112 and you'll see the town spread out on both sides of the highway.
Motels, restaurants and shopping centers are all here, and at the far end of this commercial district is the Loon Mountain resort and the beginning of the Kancamagus Highway.
North Woodstock, the town on the opposite (west) side of the Pemigewasset River, has additional lodging and dining possibilities.
North Woodstock NH
Of the twin towns of Lincoln and North Woodstock NH at the western end of the Kancamagus Highway in White Mountain National Forest, North Woodstock is the more picturesque.
Main Street in North Woodstock, on the west bank of the Pemigewasset River and the west side of I-93 (map), holds a half-dozen restaurants, from reliable old downhome Peg's Breakfast & Lunch to the quiet upscale dining room of the Woodstock Inn.
From I-93, take Exit 32 and head west along NH 112. Cross the bridge over the river, and turn right onto Main Street.
The 33-mile (53-km) portion of NH Route 112 from Lincoln to Conway is known as the Kancamagus Highway (map), ddesignated by the US Department of Transportation as the Kancamagus Scenic Byway. It boasts some of the finest scenery in New Hampshire's White Mountains, including the view from the 2855-foot (870-meter) Kancamagus Pass.
If you have your own vehicle, the drive is a must! This is White Mountains forest beauty in its purest form.
Almost the entire length of the road is within the boundaries of the White Mountains National Forest, and is therefore protected from any development more civilized than a picnic area or a campground (there are six along the road).
Hiking trails depart from the Highway, with small parking areas at the trailheads.
For full information, stop at either of the Visitor Centers at the western end of the Highway in Lincoln:
In 1829 a small settlement in a remote New Hampshire valley was incorporated as a town.
Town Square, Waterville Valley NH, with the ski slopes in the background.
A few farms, perhaps a small store, and a tiny public library—that was all there was to Waterville Valley (map).
Today the little settlement is still there, in a beautiful spot deep within the White Mountains National Forest.
Several decades ago the valley was bought entirely by a land developer who carefully planned and built a resort community.
What to See & Do
Two ski areas are handy, a golf course and lots of tennis courts await players, and hiking, bicycling, fishing, and snowshoeing are right at a visitor's doorstep.
It seems as if they've thought of everything here.
First and foremost, the valley is deep within the White Mountain National Forest, so hiking and fishing are easy to find.
For tennis, there are 18 clay courts and lessons by a professional staff.
The golf course in the valley is nine holes, and not too far away at White Mountains Country Club is an 18-hole course.
Bikes can be rented from the Golf and Tennis Club.
And then, of course, there's shopping in the town square or a ride to the top of Mount Tecumseh on the "High Country Express," the fastest gondola cablecar in the east.
Although snowshoeing, hiking, ice skating, and general taking of country-mountain air are all possible and enjoyable in Waterville Valley, most people come to ski the trails and slopes of Mount Tecumseh and Snow's Mountain. More...
Ski packages for two, three, five, or seven nights are offered, and all facilities in the valley participate. Depending on what you want, you can get a package which includes lodging, meals, lifts, lessons, even rental equipment.
Prices depend on which hotel you choose, and what options you need to do the sort of skiing you're after. Options are also offered for ski touring (trail fees, lessons, equipment, and lodging) in the packages.
North of Franconia Notch, the town of Franconia NH offers several quiet country inns away from the bustle of summer vacationers. The Frost Place, 158 Ridge Road, Franconia, NH, a farm once owned by poet Robert Frost, holds summer poetry conferences.
Frost lived here when he wrote many of his best and most famous poems to describe life on this farm and the scenery surrounding it.
The price of admission includes a 20-minute slide show in the barn behind the house. The show explains much about Frost's early life and work, and about the countryside here.
The farmhouse has been kept as faithful to the period as possible, and there are numerous interesting exhibits of Frost memorabilia, though much of the furniture is from other places. It is spare and simple, as was the rural lifestyle at the time.
The house is used for poetry readings, conferences and workshops.
Poetry Nature Trail
Behind the house in the forest is a half-mile-long poetry-nature trail. Frost's poems are mounted on plaques in sites appropriate to the things they describe.
In several places the plaques have been erected at the exact spots where Frost composed the poems.
The various trees, shrubs, and flowers along the path are marked, though only some will be in bloom when you visit.
How to Get There
To get to the Frost Place, leave Franconia on NH Route 116 South, and after exactly a mile look for a sign on the right indicating Bickford Hill Road. Then turn left onto Ridge Road, a dirt road, and the Frost Place will be up a way on your right (map).
You come to the parking lot before the house. Obey the sign and park in the lot, then walk up the road to the house.
Other Frost Sites
Two miles east of Lincoln NH along the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112; map) brings you to Loon Mountain Resort, a modern four-season resort that was founded as a ski resort but now also flourishes with outdoor mountain activities in the warmer months.
Loon's skiers' gondola (four-passenger cablecar) operates in summer and autumn as well as winter, taking visitors on the 7100-foot (2164-meter) trip to the summit, 1850 feet (564 meters) above the base.
On Loon Peak, narrow Glacial Caves have been furnished with boardwalks and stairways so you can explore them. Squeezing through narrow gaps and crawling through tunnels is part of the fun.
Aerial Forest Adventure Park
Ziplines, forest trapeze, log bridges, a logjam maze, climbing wall, bungee spider web, and for the little kids a bouncy house and other games keep everyone in the family happy on fine summer days.
East Branch & Lincoln locomotive at the resort entrance...
From a craft beer brewfest and Oktoberfest to New Hampshire's Highland Games Festival and a Monster Mud Run, Loon has special events all summer. The Loon Mountain Resort website has details of the schedules.