When the maples are ablaze in red and orange, and the birches have turned to gold, almost any road in New Hampshire is worthy of a foliage tour. These are a few of our favorites, each with a prize at the end — a memorable meal or an attraction that’s especially appealing in the fall. Along the way are mountain and valley views, picture-perfect villages, natural attractions and interesting places to stop. Grab your camera, hit the road, and take advantage of New Hampshire’s most beautiful season.
Route 1: North Woodstock to Sugar Hill and Polly’s Pancake Parlor
Immerse yourself in the White Mountain National Forest as you drive west along Route 112 from North Woodstock. Lost River Gorge is worth a stop to climb past the waterfalls and through the convoluted rock formations carved by the glacial waters. Shortly after Route 112 climbs over Kinsman Notch, turn right onto Route 116 through the village of Eastman and along the valley to Franconia.
Stop to pay respects to the poet at The Frost Place and admire the foliage-framed view of the Franconia Range that inspired his work there. Route 116 continues through Franconia, where sculptures decorate Main Street. Stop at the stone iron furnace to read the signs explaining how ore from Sugar Hill mines was smelted there.
Go left on Route 117 and climb into Sugar Hill. The views of the color-splashed mountains get better and better, and it’s worth a detour onto Sunset Hill Road for the continuing views across the White Mountains. If all this fall scenery isn’t enough of a reward for your travels, treat yourself to lunch or shop at Polly’s Pancake Parlor.
Route 2: Ashland to Moultonborough and Castle in the Clouds
Lakes don’t get any lovelier than Squam, or villages more idyllic than Center Sandwich, so enjoy them both, wrapped in fall colors. Leave Ashland (after stocking up on fudge at the Common Man Company Store) on Route 3 to Holderness, on the shore of Little Squam Lake. Follow Route 113 past the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center and along the northern lake shore. Watch for the trailhead for the Old Bridle Path to the ledges on West Rattlesnake Mountain for the best views of Squam Lake in fall colors.
In Center Sandwich, browse the League of N.H. Craftsmen’s gallery, then continue on 113, following 113A in North Sandwich for beautiful views of Chocorua, Whiteface and Passaconaway from Wonalancet. Route 113A leads to Tamworth, home of the Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile tasting room and spirits shop.
Follow Route 113 through Tamworth to Route 25 and head east to Moultonborough, where a left onto Route 109 and again onto Route 171 leads you to Castle in the Clouds. Stretch your legs on a hike to a series of waterfalls, or just continue to the top to tour the opulent estate and enjoy the panorama view of Lake Winnipesaukee and the Belknap Mountains. End the day with a tour of the gardens, and perhaps a meal at the café or the Carriage House Restaurant.
Route 3: Conway to Franconia Notch and the Aerial Tramway
The Kancamagus Highway, Route 112, follows the Swift River as it drops through a series of pools at Lower Falls and again at Rocky Gorge. Past the gorge, take the seasonal Bear Notch Road, climbing to a series of scenic overlooks before dropping into Bartlett.
Turning left on Route 302, head into Franconia Notch, stopping for views of the Presidential Range over the Saco River.
The road climbs into the notch, passing the Willey House Historical Site and climbs more steeply past the long ribbon of Silver Cascade. At the head of the notch is a restored Victorian railway station and Saco Lake. The high valley widens and the Mount Washington Hotel, now the Omni Mount Washington Resort, comes into view with the mountain rising majestically behind it.
Continue to Twin Mountain, taking Route 3 through the National Forest to Echo Lake at the head of Franconia Notch. After a stop at the Old Man of the Mountain Museum in the Tram Lodge, ride the Aerial Tramway to the top of Cannon Mountain for vertigo-inducing views down into the notch and a spectacular panorama that reaches to Canada and New York on clear fall days.
Route 4: Peterborough to Walpole With a Chocolate Topping
Make a semicircle around Mt. Monadnock by following Route 101 west from Peterborough to Bond’s Corner and turning left onto Route 137 to Jaffrey. Continue circling Monadnock with a right on Route 124 through the picture-postcard village of Jaffrey Center with its historic academy building and schoolhouse. On its way to Marlborough, Route 124 passes some of the region’s finest views of Mt. Monadnock, one of them with a maple-rimmed pond as foreground.
Join Route 101 in Marlborough, past Keene and following Route 9 to Chesterfield. Stop for a short hike through Chesterfield Gorge before taking Route 63 north along Spofford Lake to Westmoreland and the picturesque settlement of Park Hill under its 1762 meeting house.
When 63 ends at Route 12, turn left, stopping at Alyson’s Orchard for apples or cider, and for one of the region’s best fall views across the Connecticut River Valley. Not far beyond Alyson’s, Walpole is a New England classic town with a bandstand in the center of its broad common and well-preserved stately buildings along the main street.
In the tiny business block opposite the library is L.A. Burdick Chocolates, a chocolate shop and café. Next door, Burdick’s Restaurant serves delectable bistro-style lunch and dinner. It’s a good idea to stop there first, before indulging in the chocolates next door.
Route 5: New London to Cornish and the Saint-Gaudens Studio
Begin in New London, following Route 103A alongside Lake Sunapee and past The Fells, the summer estate of diplomat John M. Hay and its beautiful gardens overlooking the lake. At Newbury, at the southern end of Lake Sunapee, turn right on 103, past the entrance to Mt. Sunapee State Park. During fall foliage season, the chairlift at Mt. Sunapee operates on weekends for the best views over Lake Sunapee.
Route 103 joins Route 11, continuing through Newport and along the Sugar River. Look for the two rare covered railway bridges, now part of a rail trail. Continue through Claremont’s Historic District to Route 12A and turn right to travel through river valley farms to the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, the country’s longest wooden covered bridge. Few can resist driving across it to Vermont and back again.
Route 12A continues north along the river to the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park, summer home of the sculptor and the nucleus of the Cornish Art Colony. Beautiful gardens surround the home and studio (both of which are open to visit), and are the setting for casts of Saint-Gaudens’ most famous works, including the “Standing Lincoln.” From the terrace of his studio, you can appreciate the views of Mt. Ascutney that were immortalized by Maxfield Parrish.