New Hampshire is a state that really surprised me. Sandwiched between two states with a whole list of things they’re each famous for, New Hampshire might seem like just a way to connect a visit to Vermont and Maine together. But don’t sleep on this lush and gorgeous state! There are so many beautiful rivers and waterfalls, it would take you weeks to see them all. Here’s how we recommend spending a few days in New Hampshire.
What to do in New Hampshire:
- See the Old Man of the Mountain site
- Scenic drive – Kancamagus Highway or Mount Washington Auto Road or both!
- Hike to a waterfall – Sabbaday Falls, Flume Gorge, or Crystal Cascades
- Picnic on river rocks – Rocky Gorge Scenic Area is a must-see!
- Apple cider and doughnuts
- Scenic transportation – Aerial tram, cog railway, scenic railroad… take your pick!
Where to stay
In Franconia: Sugar Hill Inn, Inn at Sunset Hill, or Franconia Inn
In Lincoln: Red Sleigh Inn, Riverwalk Resort, Bluegreen Vacations South Mountain
You’ll find dozens of beautiful condos, townhouses, and cabins in this area for rent on sites like Airbnb.com and VRBO.com.
Lafayette Place campground, Cannon Mountain RV Park, Lincoln KOA, or Fransted Family RV Park
Where We Stayed:
Fransted Family RV Park
Best Things to Do In New Hampshire with Kids
The Basin Cascades Hike – This short hike follows the river so there’s always something to look at.
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area – Lots of rocks to climb on.
Sabbaday Falls – The stairs in the waterfall loop get you right up close to the falls and it’s a pretty short hike.
Conway Scenic Railroad Museum – A historic train station building, trains parked on the tracks outside, and a museum with model trains inside…. what more could a kid want?
New Hampshire Road Trip Tips:
Plan to be out of cell service – Cell signal was not strong in this area of the state, so I would plan to download all your maps and take screenshots of entrance passes, restaurant menus, and any files or web pages that might be helpful.
Wear shoes with good grip – You’ll be walking on a lot of rocks and around a lot of water. We like to wear hiking boots so our feet stay dry in a few inches of water, but you might prefer hiking sandals that dry quickly instead.
Expect crowds, especially if the weather is nice – Franconia Notch is a very condensed state park and easily accessible from the highway. And Kancamagus Highway is a very popular area as well. If the weather is nice, everyone will be out enjoying it. And if you’re traveling while the fall foliage is on display, be prepared for even more crowds as everyone wants to do some leaf peeping.
2 Day New Hampshire Itinerary
Day 1 – Franconia Notch State Park
1 hour of driving
Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site
A long-time symbol of the state of New Hampshire, the Old Man of the Mountain was a fragile stone profile at the top of a mountain. The profile, which had been repaired multiple times over the past 100 years, finally collapsed in 2003.
A viewing area has been constructed with steel ‘profilers’ that allow you to see what this historic site used to look like. A paved path leads from the viewing platform to the parking lot, or you can cross the wooden footbridge bridge and return via part of the Pemi trail for some fun rock scrambling.
Take the half mile out and back Basin Cascade hike or make it part of a longer hike along the Pemi Trail. Either way, you’ll enjoy the Pemigewasset River as it winds and falls right alongside the path, giving you something new to look at with each new turn. This is a great hike for keeping kids engaged.
There’s also a wheelchair accessible path to the Basin.
You will not regret buying tickets to see the Flume Gorge. This 2 mile loop winds through the spectacular Flume Gorge, past other waterfalls, beside gigantic boulders, and through two covered bridges. They have previously offered a shuttle option and a smaller trail loop for those who just want to see the Flume Gorge and I would consider that on a return trip, because the hike was a little long for our young kids. Several portions of the hike were pretty steep and they got bored on the wooded trail between water elements.
Franconia Notch State Park
Flume Gorge and the Basin are just two of Franconia Notch’s beautiful spots. You might also enjoy Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Echo Lake, Boise Rock, and a number of different hikes: Falling Waters, Cloudland Falls, Artist’s Bluff, and the Pemi Trail. This is a truly beautiful area and you could spend several days viewing one stunning waterfall after another.
Day 2 – Kancamagus Highway and Mount Washington Auto Road
3 hours of driving, not counting the Mount Washington Auto Road
This is a big driving loop day, but you’ll be out of the car often to explore.
Drive the Kancamagus Highway
Take this scenic drive nice and slow, stopping at all the overlooks if you’d like. I’ll include the more prominent stops. Our top three were the CL Graham Wangam Overlook, Sabbaday Falls, and Rocky Gorge Scenic Area. The Kancamagus Highway is part of White Mountain National Forest, so all of these sites are covered with the National Park pass. If you don’t have a pass, many of these sites have a $5 parking fee.
Lincoln Woods – Nice walking bridge here and the Kancamagus Highway bridge also has a pedestrian path if you want to take a photo from there.
Sabbaday Falls – About a 15 minute walk and stairs that take you right alongside the waterfall.
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area – A short path leads to a wide rocky area perfect for picnicking, a bridge, and a small waterfall overlook.
Lower Falls – Covered picnic area, lots of rocks to climb on, and an open swimming area.
Albany Covered Bridge – Beautiful covered bridge that you can still drive through (11 foot clearance).
Conway and North Conway
If you didn’t bring a picnic lunch, stop for lunch in Conway. We recommend the gourmet grilled cheese at Cheese Louise.
Explore the town of North Conway. Browse locally handcrafted gifts at the Hand Crafter’s Barn. Wander through Zeb’s General Store. Try the seasonal coffee roasts at The Metropolitan Coffeehouse. Visit the New England Ski Museum. Pick up some treats at Bavarian Chocolate Haus. You can even take an evening moose tour at North Conway Moose Safari.
Conway Scenic Railroad Museum
A beautiful historic train station with a train museum inside. If you’re interested in a scenic train ride, go for the longest one (the Mountaineer) or skip it. The two shorter train rides are not very scenic and are more about the experience of riding a train.
Mount Washington Auto Road
After driving through North Conway, drive an additional 30 minutes to the entrance of the Mount Washington Auto Road. This is not a cheap stop at over $50 for two adults, but where else can you drive 8 miles to the top of the highest mountain in the Northeast and experience what they call ‘the world’s worst weather.’ A couple notes: It will be incredibly windy at the summit (and at most of the stops on the way up), so plan your hats/hair accordingly. It will also be significantly colder at the top, so bring an additional layer.
If you’re afraid of heights, this will not be an enjoyable experience for you. I consider myself to be nervous about heights. Being high up doesn’t scare me unless I also feel like I could fall. The road is narrow and while we were actually perfectly safe, I was a little nervous and chose to close my eyes a few times on the ride up. Interestingly, I was less nervous on the way down, even though the passenger side of the car is on the drop-off side on portions of both ascending and descending drives. More importantly, the driver should feel comfortable and confident about the drive.
You can download their app to listen to a free audio tour of the route.
If driving the Mount Washington Auto Road is not for you, you can still visit the summit of Mount Washington via the Cog Railway. You’ll need to change your route leaving Conway, because the Mount Washington Cog Railroad is on the other side of the mountain.
Extend the Trip – 3-7 Day New Hampshire Itineraries
3 Day New Hampshire Road Trip Itinerary
For a 3 day trip, I would split day 2 into two parts, doing the Kancamagus Highway and Mount Washington in separate days. Near North Conway, you’ll also find Diana’s Baths and White Mountain Cider Co.
In addition to driving the Mount Washington Auto Road, visit Crystal Cascades at Pinkham Notch, Thompson Falls, or the waterfall at Glen Ellis Scenic Area. You might also enjoy Emerald Pool swimming basin, Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center, and the antique vehicles at the Douglas A. Philbrook Red Barn Museum.
To cut down on driving, split your trip into three single night hotel stays, perhaps at Franconia Inn, Stonehurst Manor in Conway, and The Glen House by the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
5 Day New Hampshire Road Trip Itinerary
For a 4 or 5 day trip, I’d spend additional time in Franconia (for the small town feel) or Lincoln (if you like the tourist town feel), in addition to single nights in North Conway and Gorham by Mount Washington.
– Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site
– Pemi Trail
– Cannon Mountain Tramway
– The Basin
– Echo Lake Beach
– Artist’s Bluff hike
– Flume Gorge
– Boise Rock
– Falling Waters Trail
– Cloudland Falls
Option to visit Lincoln in the evening:
Café Lafayette Dinner Train
Ziplining at Alpine Adventures
Activities at Loon Mountain Resort
– Kancamagus Highway scenic drive
– Conway Scenic Railroad
– North Conway Moose Safari or Diana’s Baths
– Mount Washington Auto Road
– 1 or more of the waterfall hikes
– Emerald Pool swimming
– White Mountain Cider Co
– Arethusa Falls
– Crawford Notch State Park
– Hiking Mt. Willard
*These activities are all fairly close to the Mount Washington Cog Railway, if you end up choosing that over the auto road.
7 Day New Hampshire Road Trip Itinerary
For an even longer trip, I’d drive dip into Southern New Hampshire and do a little apple cider tour.
Visit Cider Bellies Doughnuts and an apple orchard or two. Windy Ridge Orchard, Stone Mountain Farm, and Cardigan Mountain Orchard are all within an hour drive from Lincoln. You also won’t be too far from Sculptured Rocks.