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Highlights Of The Kancamagus Scenic Byway - A Guide For Drivers and Hikers

The Kancamagus Scenic Byway is a beautiful road and a designated scenic byway, which meanders through the White Mountain National Forest. It is often compared to roads like the Blue Ridge Parkway, but in size the "Kanc" as it is locally known, is a manageable, very enjoyable 34 miles with lots to view, see and do. The high point of the road, approximately 3,000 feet above sea level level (for comparison, Mt. Washington is 6288 feet) is Mt. Kancamagus. The highway is also known as Route 112 as you will see by road signs and maps, running from Conway to Lincoln, where it eventually intersects with interstate Route 93.

The "Kanc" is well worth a trip from many areas of New England and is visited by an estimated one million people per year. If you are staying anywhere in the White Mountains or Lakes Region, it is an absolute "must see". If you are staying in western Maine or the New Hampshire Seacoast or other areas of New Hampshire it is highly recommended and worth the ride. Use the following two links to figure out how far you are, and to get driving directions.

Directions and distance from your hotel to the Kancamagus Highway entrance in Conway - click here

Directions and distance from your hotel to the west end in Lincoln - click here

The "Kanc" is more about being out the the car than inside the car. The scenes from the road itself are worthwhile, but the roadside hikes, waterfalls, cascades and other wonders of the White Mountain National Forest, are the real rewards. Before embarking on our tour let's review a few things including; pronunciation, history, and a few things to know before you go.

Pronunciation: The highway is often mis-pronounced as "Kanc-a-mangus", where the correct pronunciation is "Kanc-a-mogus. The third syllable, "mog" rhymes with "bog".

History: The mountain and highway are named for Chief Kancamagus, meaning "fearless one." Kancamagus was the last leader of the Penacook Confederacy, a group of many northern native tribes. He was known for trying to keep peace with encroaching European setters. Kancamagus tried to keep peace between the Indians and the pioneering whites, until aggravated English harassments brought war and bloodshed. The confederacy's tribes scattered after 1691, and Kancamagus and his followers moved to other areas of New England, and some into Canada.

Things To Know: There are no gas stations or automotive services on the road. If you plan on leaving your vehicle for hiking or picnicking while on the highway you need a to pick up a parking pass at the Lincoln Visitor Center, the Ranger Station in Conway or other designated vendors. One pass covers entrance to any of the trails and the Colbath House. Daily, weekly and annual passes can be purchased at the Ranger stations. The telephone numbers are: Saco/Conway Ranger Station: 603-447-5448 Lincoln Wood Visitor Center: 603-745-3816. The rates are: $3 per day, $5 per week, $20 per year. Daily passes can be also be purchased in the parking lots, at a self serve pay station. There is a box of envelopes and you just put your money in the envelope at a little kiosk that they can the "iron ranger".

There are twists and turns along the road, but the only real "hairpin" turn is on the steep incline on Lincoln side of Mt. Kancamagus.During "leaf peeping" season, especially on Columbus Day weekend, the road can become very crowded, but during just about all other times you can move through fairly easily. Our tour will begin on in Conway and end in Lincoln. If you begin from Lincoln the stops will simply be in reverse order. There are a number of waterfalls off the "Kanc" and all around the White Mountains, so take some advice provided by the rangers. Wear sturdy, flat, rubber soled walking shoes and be careful. Rocks and water make for slippery and sometimes even dangerous terrain. Changing water levels during or after heavy rainfall can create unexpected conditions. Swim only where allowed, and never drink the water. Keep these special places beautiful by packing out everything you pack in. Stay on marked trails so the area surrounding the waterfall is not impacted. And so, let's get started:

Entering from Conway: The entrance is at the intersection of Route 16 and Route 112 in Conway. The "Kanc" is Route 112, and the entrance is well marked. At first you see a few lodgings and shops where you might want to stop, and 200 yards ahead on the right is the Saco Ranger Station. Here you can get parking permits, trail maps, ask questions and there are public bathrooms. If you set your odometer to zero as you enter the road at this point you will be able to follow the mileages below.


Stop 1: Boulder Loop Trail:
6.5 miles from Conway. Turn right and see the Albany Covered Bridge. The parking lot is on the right and the trail head is opposite the parking lot. Here you can walk across the wooden bridge, restored in 1970, and view the Swift River below. For hikers, the Boulder Loop Trail offers excellent views of the river and of Mount Chocorua to the south. The trail is considered somewhere between an easy and moderate climb, and there are steep pitches and ledges on the trail. The trail is about 4 miles long. Hiking shoes are definitely recommended. The length of time needed to hike the trail is about 3 hours round trip. All trail times are estimates - these may vary, depending on your abilities and conditions, and how much you stop to rest or admire the views.

Stop 2: Lower Falls: 7 miles from Conway. On a hot summer day, this is a lot more fun than the hotel swimming pool. It has rocks to sit on, pools to swim in, sandy beaches, picnic tables, parking and changing rooms. Any time of year, it is a great place to picnic and watch the river. You can walk the beach and venture out onto the rocks. Remember, rocks are slippery, especially when wet.

Stop 3: Rocky Gorge and Falls Pond: 8 miles west of Conway, about 26 miles east of Lincoln. This is a combination waterfall and cascade, and is also known as the Upper Falls of the Swift River (as opposed to the previously mentioned Lower Falls). The waterfall is only .1 miles from the road, so it is a popular spot because of the short walk to the falls. Rocky Gorge has picnic tables, drinking water and parking. Swimming is prohibited in the Gorge, but the cascading falls are beautiful to see and listen to. The Lovequist Loop Trail around Falls Pond is an easy walk.

Stop 4: Champney Falls: 10 miles, enter on the left. This is a 1.5 mile moderately difficult hike. on the Champney Brook Trail. It is very popular because it takes you to the summit of Mt. Chocorua.

Stop 5: Russell-Colbath Historic Site. 12 miles: This is a historic homestead with an interesting story behind it. We won't spoil it by telling you here, but there is a brochure about it at the ranger station. The Homestead is open to the public, 7 days a week. July through Columbus Day, weekends in spring and early summer to the beginning of July.

Stop 6: Hedgehog Mountain: 14 miles. This is a a moderately difficult 5-mile loop on the UNH Trail, which leads to three rocky viewpoints: Allen’s Ledge, the summit (2532 feet), and the East Ledges. For a shorter hike, Allen’s Ledge is a 2.2 mile round trip. Trail head is off highway across from Passaconaway Campground, 21 miles east of Lincoln.

Stop 7: Sabbaday Falls: At about the 15 mile point on the left, you'll find Sabbaday Falls. This is another of the most popular stops on the highway, because a short stroll up the graded Sabbaday Brook Trail takes you to a very picturesque rocky waterfall. Small children and older adults will be able to make this walk without difficulty. The round trip is only .6 miles. There is a picnic area here as well, and it is well marked by a sign.

Stop 8: Greeley Ponds: About 24 miles from Conway. A fairly easy hike on Greeley Ponds Trail takes you to a pair of pretty ponds nestled between steep mountainsides. Upper Pond is reached at 1.7 miles, Lower Pond at 2.2 miles. Note: avoid not hike the muddy Greeley Ponds X-C Trail; the hiking trail starts 0.1 mile farther east.

Stop 9: The Discovery Trail: This is an interpretive, self guided trail that discusses forest management. The tour has placards that explain about the wildlife and vegetation. It is a 1.5 mile loop. This stop is free, the visitor pass is not needed.

Stops 10: High Point Scenic Overlooks: At this point you head up toward the highest point of land, Mt. Kancamagus. You see scenic overlooks, including C.L. Graham and Pemigewasset outlooks. You will also see a sign for Hancock, wich is a parkling lot for hikers.

Stop 11: Loon Mountain: The Kancamagus Highway descends into Lincoln, home of the Loon Mountain Ski Area and several family attractions. Loon Mountain is a commercial enterprise, not part of the White Mountain National Forest. However, it is on the Kancamagus Highway, and there are some great natural outdoor activities here, so we are including it. The entrance is well marked. Loon Mountain offers a Gondola that takes near the summit for much of the year, and there you'll find an easy walking trail, an observation tower and a restaurant where you get a freshly cooked sandwich and sit inside or out on a deck overlooking the surrounding area. There are also activities there such as mountain biking, archery and other family activities. In winter this is one of the popular ski areas in the Route 93 side of the White Mountains.

There are many more trails, waterfalls and activities on the Kancamagus Highway and surrounding areas. If you would like to suggest additions to this article and other activities please contact us at: : comments@dotComcierge.com