New England and fall go together like pumpkin pie and whipped cream! The two are practically meant for each other! Visitors flock to the region at the first sign of the leaves changing color. The New Hampshire foliage really puts on a show in the White Mountains. It’s one of the most popular places in New England for “leaf-peepers”, an affectionate name given to those who travel to see the colorful foliage.
The White Mountains cover about a 1/4 of the state of New Hampshire, so there are plenty of colorful trees to see! If you’re wanting to experience quintessential fall in New Hampshire, head to the White Mountains!
WATCH NOW: Fall in the White Mountains NH
When Does the New Hampshire Foliage Peak?
The New Hampshire fall colors peak at roughly the same time each year – late September to mid-October. However the exact dates of peak foliage will vary as the temperatures and rain amounts for that year will affect when the trees start dropping their leaves. (Check out this New Hampshire Foliage Tracker for this season’s latest updates.) It’s fascinating how we’re essentially celebrating the death of the local foliage. In reality though, we’re celebrating the circle of life and the vibrant beauty that temporarily goes along with it.
Getting to the White Mountains NH
Well, before you can enjoy the New Hampshire fall colors in the White Mountains, you’ve got to get there! Unless you’re within driving distance, Boston (BOS) International Airport is probably your best bet for flying in from out of state or country. The journey from the Boston airport to the White Mountains takes approximately 2-3 hours. Because of how spread out the White Mountains are, you’re definitely going to want a car for your leaf-peeping getaway!
7 Ways to Enjoy the White Mountains Fall Foliage
There are so many ways to enjoy the New Hampshire foliage in the White Mountains. Want to get up high above the trees? Take a tramway or cable car up to one of many mountain summits. Prefer to stay low to the ground? Take a scenic drive or train ride and watch the leaves pass by. We’ll share with you the 7 best ways to enjoy the New Hampshire White Mountains fall foliage.
1. Drive the Kancamagus Highway
The Kancamagus Highway is a scenic byway along New Hampshire’s Route 112 connecting the towns of Lincoln and Conway. The road, which cuts right through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, opened to the public in 1959 after taking 22 years to build. The Kancamagus Highway, pronounced Kank-ah-mah-gus and often referred to as simply “The Kanc”, is one of the best places to visit in New Hampshire in the fall.
Several pull-offs along the 34.5-mile route encourage travelers to take a break from driving and take in the stunning and colorful views! There are also some great places to get out and explore along the highway, which you can read more about in our Things to Do in the White Mountains post. This drive is considered to be one of the best scenic New England fall foliage drives.
2. Hike to Artist’s Bluff & Bald Mountain
Also within the White Mountain National Forest is Franconia Notch State Park, offering a myriad of hiking trails. Artists Bluff is a 1.5-mile easy to moderate hike. The trail has a few steep portions and boulder scrambles. At about a 1/4 mile into the hike you’ll see a sign pointing left for Bald Mountain. This is a short and steep optional off-shoot leading to the summit of Bald Mountain. The final climb to the summit is quite vertical, but you will be rewarded with some seriously incredible views.
Following your detour, or simply continuing along the trail, you’ll reach Artists Bluff where views of Echo Lake, Cannon Mountain, and Franconia Notch await. For a more detailed account of this hike, including how to find the trailhead, take a look at our Best Easy Hikes in the White Mountains post. Artists Bluff is a great hike to couple with the nearby Cannon Aerial Tramway.
3. Take a Journey on the Cannon Aerial Tramway
A ride on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway takes passengers to the 4,100-ft summit of Cannon Mountain in just under 10 minutes. Once at the summit, visitors can boast that they have made it to New Hampshire’s highest lift-accessed point. Celebrate by enjoying a refreshing beer from the highest taps in the state! Time your journey to the summit right and enjoy 360-degree panoramas of spectacular New Hampshire foliage. On a clear day, the summit provides views of 4 states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York) and Canada. So, regardless of the time of year you visit, the vistas from the top are pretty spectacular.
4. Drive the Mount Washington Auto Road
Of the 250,000 visitors who drive to the summit of Mount Washington each year, tens of thousands of those visitors come specifically to see the New Hampshire fall foliage. At 6,288-ft, Mt Washington is the highest peak in the northeast, so naturally the views from the top are pretty spectacular! That is, of course, if you can see anything once at the top. The summit is covered in clouds 60% of the time.
A drive on the Mt Washington Auto Road is still pretty spectacular even if the views at the very top aren’t so much. This drive isn’t for the faint of heart, as you’ll encounter windy roads, possible limited visibility, and steep drop-offs. Of course you can always leave the driving to someone else and take a 2-hour guided van tour. Otherwise, pay the toll and make the 7.6-mile ascent yourself! The Mt Washington Auto Road is open mid-May to late October (weather permitting).
5. Glide up Loon Mountain in a Gondola
If you don’t want to share a tram car with close to 80 other people on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, take a ride in a 4-seater gondola at Loon Mountain Resort. The state’s longest scenic gondola skyride takes riders to an elevation of 2,733-ft where once again the New Hampshire fall colors will be on full display! Once at the summit of Loon Mountain climb the observation tower, explore glacial caves, and enjoy scenic views while you dine at the Summit Cafe.
6. Ride the Conway Scenic Railway
Ok, so maybe you’re scared of heights or maybe you just like trains! Either way, another great way to experience a stunning New Hampshire autumn is to take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railway. With several fall-themed train rides, in addition to their regularly scheduled trains, no doubt you will embark on the perfect leaf-peeping journey. Choose from the Valley Train to Conway (11 miles | 55-minutes) or Bartlett (21 miles | 1.75 hours) or take a journey on the Notch Train to Crawford Notch (5.5 hours). We recommended taking one of the longer train routes for maximum foliage scenery!
Seasonal trains for fall include the Pumpkin Patch Express and the annual Autumn Express (a benefit train ride supporting local charities). And new for 2019, the Conway Scenic Railway now offers the Johnny Appleseed Express. This journey includes an optional weekend stop at Densmore Orchards en route to Conway where passengers can get off the train to visit the orchard and farm stand.
7. Drive through Pinkham Notch
Pinkham Notch is located just a short drive from Mt Washington Auto Road. In fact, Mt Washington forms the bulk of the western slope of the notch. A drive through Pinkham Notch at just the right time of year will leave you speechless as the fall colors here are simply gorgeous! Be sure to stop off at Glen Ellis Falls, one of the best short hikes in the White Mountains. The hike down to the falls is short but semi-steep with a good amount of stairs. After just a 1/4-mile, you’ll be rewarded with views of a cascading 65-foot waterfall. Two different overlooks give you varied views of this popular waterfall, so be sure to check them both out. Again, you can read more about this hike in our Hikes in the White Mountains post.
How to Save Money on Fall Activities in the White Mountains
The White Mountains Attractions Value Pass allows visitors to save close to 70% on admission prices to several White Mountains attractions! The cost for 2019 Value Pass is $399 and is good for two admissions to 17 different attractions throughout the region (a $1,200 value), including the Cannon Aerial Tramway, Mount Washington Auto Road, Loon Mountain Gondola Skyride, and the Conway Scenic Railway mentioned above! Even if you don’t get to all 17 attractions, chances are you will still come out ahead! For more information on the White Mountains Attractions Value Pass and to purchase yours before they sell out for the season, click HERE!
Other New Hampshire Fall Activities
Of course admiring the beautiful fall leaves isn’t the only Fall in New England experience to be had in the White Mountains. Attend one of many fall festivals, go apple picking at Surowiec Farm, and check out the “pumpkin people” in Jackson Village. Also, don’t forget to try an amazing apple cider doughnut (also available at Surowiec Farm, pictured below) along with some fresh apple cider. Ahhh, the flavors of fall!
Where to Stay in the White Mountains
You truly need much more than just a day to experience Fall in the White Mountains, so why not stay a few nights? The town of Lincoln is the central hub of the White Mountains. It’s location is right in the middle of the many fall activities and attractions we’ve mentioned throughout this post. Check out our post about places to stay in Lincoln NH for ideas on lodging in the White Mountains. We highlight a wide array of options including luxury resorts, family-friendly accommodations, budget lodging, pet-friendly options, and cabin rentals.
Places to Eat in Lincoln, NH
And of course, you’ll need to eat (and drink) during your time in the White Mountains, so have a look at this post about places to eat in Lincoln NH. There are some great restaurants (and breweries) to choose from!
We hope you have the most wonderful time experiencing fall in the New Hampshire White Mountains!