Truly, there are few subpar routes for New England leaf-peepers to meander this month, but there’s little argument that New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway ranks among the best foliage drives in the region, if not the country. This windy, 34½–mile stretch connecting Lincoln and Conway is a worthwhile path during any season, providing drivers with an array of rivers, hiking trails, waterfalls, swimming holes, and majestic views of the craggy White Mountains.
You’ll find no roadside amenities for most of the trip, with drivers steeped in a colorful patchwork wilderness devoid of restaurants, hotels, and — of particular note, gas stations. For those seeking a rustic experience, the Radeke Cabin (33 Kancamagus Highway, 603-447-5448, $40 per night, www.reserveamerica.com) offers 10 bunk beds, firewood, and little else, including no running water or electricity. There are also a handful of campgrounds along the way, including Jigger Johnson Campground ( $22 fee per night, contact the United States Forest Service at 800- 832-1355 for complete camping information, or visit www.fs.usda
ing-cabins/recarea/?recid=74865&actid=29), which has coin-operated showers for visitors. Cash is required for all daily fees at all area campgrounds. If you’re not in the mood to rough it, the Swift River Inn (1316 Kancamagus Highway, Albany, 603- 447-2332, www.swiftriverinn.com, rates $69-$119), is a convenient, understated, simple escape located just near the far end of the Conway side of the highway. In Lincoln, the Mountain Club on Loon (90 Loon Mountain Road, 800-229-7829, www.mtnclub.com, $129-$209 per couple, including breakfast) is at the other end of the luxury spectrum, featuring a spa and fine dining, slopeside at Loon Mountain Resort.
A picnic is the way to go, as the Kancamagus provides a number of perfect spots for a lunch break amid nature. If starting your journey in Lincoln, White Mountain Bagel (25 Main St., Lincoln, 603-745-8576, www.whitemountain
bagel.com, breakfast $2.09-$7.50) has an array of melts and cream-cheese spreads (bacon horseradish, black and green olive) to go along with its selection of bagels. If in Conway, Banners Restaurant (621 White Mountain Highway, 603-447-6993, www.bannersnh.com, breakfast entrees $4.49-$8,29) has long been a local favorite with traditional, hearty breakfast fare in additional to daily specials. Try the apple and cheddar omelet, a satisfying blend of two of the fall’s favorite flavors. Both locations offer takeout sandwich menus so you can grab a little something for the road. Dinner in Lincoln offers a number of options, but why not delve into a bit of the area’s après-ski tradition at Gordi’s Fish and Steak House (260 Main St., Lincoln, 603- 745-6635, www.gordis
fishandsteak.com, entrees $13.99-$39.99), an unassuming eatery that has gained a stellar reputation among skiers and leaf-peepers with their surf-and-turf dishes, as well as pasta and poultry. For Mexican, head to Café Noche (147 Main St., Conway, 603-447-5050,www.cafenoche.net, entrees $8.75-$13.75) in the center of Conway, which delivers generous portions of burritos, tacos, and margaritas at prices that won’t have you thinking twice about that second cerveza. Among the favorites: the chorico fajitas and the always-filling fajita burrito.
During the Day
While the Kanc provides any number of stops to get out and immerse yourself in the beauty of your surroundings, there are a few points you’ll not want to miss. The C. L. Graham Overlook (just below the summit of Kancamagus Pass) offers one of the more spectacular vistas you’ll see on the trip. One of the more popular spots for a short hike is at Sabbaday Falls (approximately 17 miles west of Conway), a half-mile stroll that leads to one of the state’s most breathtaking waterfalls. Down the road toward Conway at Lower Falls (approximately 7 miles west of Conway), the sunbathers of summer may have departed, but the rocky, rapid Swift River still provides a fabulous area for a foliage picnic with a stunning background. Be forewarned, the rocks here can get slippery so extreme caution should be used when navigating them. Also, be forewarned that because of the tight turns that define much of the highway, drivers should be aware of their surroundings and any oncoming vehicles when stopping at any point along the way.
It’s a quick drive from Lincoln to North Woodstock, where the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery (135 Main St., North Woodstock, 603- 745-3951, www.woodstockinnnh.com) serves some of New Hampshire’s most popular craft beers, brewed on site and enjoyed in the adjacent, comfortable brew pub. Across the way, spend the evening strolling the shops of North Conway Village, then stop into the Cupcakery (2757 White Mountain Highway, 603-733-5310, www.wm
cupcakery.com) for an award-winning dessert — the bakery was named best in the state in last year’s Best of New Hampshire poll by New Hampshire Magazine. Then swing by Frontside Grind (2697 White Mountain Highway, 603-356-3603, www.frontsidecoffee.com, open until 8 p.m.) for one of their house blend roasts that have made it the go-to coffee shop in the Mount Washington Valley.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at