Last weekend, our family decided to take a somewhat-too-early fall day trip to go see the leaves in New Hampshire. In normal years, the first weekend of October is usually a great time to make this trip, but given that the summer of 2021 was quite wet, it appears that this year, the changing of the leaves is a bit later. If your family travels to New Hampshire in the next week or two, you should be able to see some beautiful color!
As a long day trip from the Boston area (roughly 2 hours to get up there), one of our favorite drives is between Lincoln and Conway along the Kancamagus Highway. Even if the leaves aren’t changing, as the road follows the scenic Swift River, there are lots of opportunities for sightseeing, hiking, camping, picnics, and more!
(Note: the leaf colors are also nice in Massachusetts where we live, but the leaves change earlier further north in New Hampshire or Maine – which we hoped to see as a preview. According to the Park Ranger, the Kancamgus/White Mountains area the first weekend in October had ~60% fall leaves coverage, while to get to 80-85% we would have had to effectively driven to next to the Canadian border. And maybe 30% in Southern New Hampshire. Having only moved back to New England last year, we’re still figuring the Fall timing out!)
When driving from Boston, you should plan on driving one way along I-93, and the other along NH-16 and I-95. If you have extra time consider stops in Conway/North Conway, Portsmouth, Concord, or Manchester.
Keep in mind that there aren’t lunch options along the Kancamagus, so either bring a picnic or get lunch in Lincoln, Conway, or in another town on the way.
We decided to drive from west to east. While we didn’t stop at all of these, popular stops include:
- Lincoln Woods – A long hiking option
- C.L. Graham Wangan Overlook – Nice views of the fall foliage
- Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook – Nice views of the fall foliage
- Sabbaday Falls – 10 minute walk to waterfalls, nice place for a picnic
- Russell-Colbath Historic Homestead Site – Old farmhouse turned museum
- Champney Falls – Medium length hike to some waterfalls
- Rocky Gorge Scenic Area – View of a waterfall, short walk to Falls Pond
- Lower Falls Scenic Area – River wading
- Albany Covered Bridge – A bit of history plus hiking options
Note that there will be very little cell coverage, so either know your desired stops and keep an eye on the road signs, or set up your GPS points in either Lincoln or Conway.
If you want to do some easy, but longer hiking, the Lincoln Woods Trailhead could be a great stop. I was hoping to do a short walk on the trail, but it started raining just as we arrived at Lincoln Woods, so we decided to skip it.
C.L. Graham Wangan Overlook
Fortunately, the C.L. Graham overlook had a covered area, so we were able to get out of the car and admire the trees while keeping dry.
Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook
Similarly, the Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook was another great place to enjoy the views, even if there was rain falling.
Sabbaday Falls is a great place to stop for a 10 minute hike to a waterfall, or to have a picnic. Since we had already eaten lunch near Lincoln and we didn’t bring any rain gear, we decided to skip this stop.
Russell-Colbath Historic Homestead Site
We had intended to stop at the Russell-Colbath Historic Homestead Site, but missed the turn. The boys weren’t particularly excited about turning back, so on we went.
There is a 3.1 mile hike to the Champney Falls, but with the rain, this was a no-go for us. Also be aware that if you are visiting in the fall there may not be much water flowing if the weather has been dry.
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area
By the time we reached the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, the rain was starting to let up a bit, plus the trees along the path provided some protection.
Note that at the first place you park in the White Mountain National Forest, you will need to pay a parking fee and collect a receipt to place on your dashboard.
We took a walk to the nearby Falls Pond, and then wandered some of the nearby paths.
Lower Falls Scenic Area
From here, we decided to stop by the Lower Falls Scenic Area. In the summer you will have to fight the crowds trying to wade in the river, but this time of the year it is much more relaxing.
The boys enjoyed playing around on the rocks, while Jeremy and I enjoyed the scenery.
Albany Covered Bridge
Our last stop on the Kancamagus Highway was the Albany Covered Bridge. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, over 1,000 covered bridges were built in New England. Only a couple hundred are still standing, so if a road trip takes you this direction, make sure you stop for a look.
If you have time for a hike or a quick walk through the woods, there are a few paths that start here.
And that was our day! It was too bad that we were too early for the peak fall foliage, but our family still had fun and got to see a little color.
If you travel to New Hampshire, particularly if it is still October, don’t miss a drive along the Kancamagus Highway!