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TRAVEL

5 great scenic drives in New Hampshire

Hiking and biking are great ways to see the state’s beauty, but you’ll cover more territory by car

The Lower Falls Recreation Site off the Kancamagus Highway.
The Lower Falls Recreation Site off the Kancamagus Highway.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff/file

Oh, Granite State, how we love thee. Your mountains, your forests, your rivers and lakes. Did you know that New Hampshire has three other nicknames? The Mother of Rivers (the state has 10,874 miles of rivers); the White Mountain State (for its scenic White Mountain Range, including the highest peak in the east); and Switzerland of America, for its beautiful mountain and forest scenery (it’s the second most forested state in the country).

Hiking and biking are great ways to see its beauty, but you’ll cover more territory by car. Here’s a suggested road map, with plenty of options, starting with New Hampshire’s most celebrated scenic byway.

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Fall foliage along the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, N.H.
Fall foliage along the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, N.H. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/file

Kancamagus Highway

There’s a lot of pretty packed into this 34.5-mile-long route through the White Mountain National Forest. It’s officially designated an American Scenic Byway, and arguably one of the best places in the country to view fall foliage (though the views are pretty year-round).

Catch Route 112 out of Conway, then roll down the windows to breathe in the woodsy smell of pine forest. You’ll follow the banks of the rambling Swift and Pemigewasset rivers, with forests and mountain views; pullouts are plentiful. Check out the 1858 Albany Covered Bridge, located across from the Blackberry Campground, and make another stop at the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, with cascades and waterfalls. Pull over at Sabbaday Falls to walk the easy 0.4-mile path to a series of cascades. Consider another hike to the Greeley Ponds Scenic Area, about a mile off the highway to two ponds, surrounded by forests.

There are six campgrounds off The Kanc, and several other hiking trails. Two of our favorites are the Boulder Loop Trail, a 2.8-mile, in-and-out climb to open ledges with mountain-to-valley views, and the Champney Falls Trail, a 3.1-mile roundtrip hike to a series of waterfalls.

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The Rim Trail on the summit of Cannon Mountain lends a great view of Franconia Notch State Park and the Parkway. Lafayette Campground is directly off the parkway in the center of the photo (grassy area).
The Rim Trail on the summit of Cannon Mountain lends a great view of Franconia Notch State Park and the Parkway. Lafayette Campground is directly off the parkway in the center of the photo (grassy area).Greg Keeler/Cannon Mountain

Franconia Notch

The Kancamagus ends in Lincoln, N.H., where you can hop on I-93 and head home (not yet!) or head north to drive the 8t-mile-long parkway through Franconia Notch. The deep cleft, slicing between the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges, is surrounded by granite walls and forested slopes. Stop at The Flume to walk over a covered bridge and into an 800-foot-high gorge filled with ferns and moss and trickling waterfalls. The Old Man of the Mountain Memorial on the shores of Profile Lake, is a must-stop, commemorating New Hampshire’s favorite icon. Echo Lake sits at the northern end of the parkway, a nice spot for a picnic or walk.

Another way to enjoy the Notch is to park the car at the Mount Pemigewasset trailhead and parking lot or The Flume visitor center and walk or bike the Franconia Notch Recreational Path. The paved road travels the length of the Notch, with access to its major sites.

Visitors stopped along the side of the road to take pictures of the fall foliage at Crawford Notch State Park last October.
Visitors stopped along the side of the road to take pictures of the fall foliage at Crawford Notch State Park last October. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

Twin Mountain to North Conway

Follow Route 3 out of the Notch and head to Twin Mountain, a modest town surrounded by the White Mountains National Forest, and a stop along the famed Appalachian Trail. It’s a popular spot with short-haul hikers, too, who can access a number of trails on the “back side” of Mount Washington, which has fewer people. The Cog Railway also leaves from here.

Follow Route 302 past Bretton Woods ski resort and the historic Omni Mount Washington Resort. We rarely go past this grand dame without stopping in for a walk around the grounds, or to grab a seat on the gracious wraparound veranda and enjoy the sweeping mountain views.

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From here, you’ll travel through Crawford Notch, with soaring mountain peaks and granite ledges. The AMC Highland Center Lodge and the next door Macomber Family Information Center, housed in a former train depot, are good places to get information on local hikes and activities. Some of our favorite hikes near the center include the Mount Willard Trail, a 3.2-mile in-and-out hike with great views, and the hike to Arethusa Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Hampshire.

Continue on Route 302 through the small towns of Bartlett, Glen, and Intervale, before reaching North Conway. The distance from Twin Mountain to North Conway is about 35 miles.

Children measured their height at Santa's Village in Jefferson, N.H.
Children measured their height at Santa's Village in Jefferson, N.H.Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe/file

Twin Mountain to Gorham

This road-less-traveled includes views of ponds, rivers, and mountains, and not much else. Follow Route 115 north out of Twin Mountain, heading toward Jefferson, the mountain town best known as the home of the family-loved Santa’s Village. If you don’t have kids in tow, skip it, and head east on Route 2 toward Gorham. You’ll have mountain views around every corner, soaring peaks and forested slopes that make you feel small.

You’ll pass the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Randolph, home to the Randolph Mountain Club, that maintains more than 100 miles of trails in the area, mostly on the lesser-traveled northern slopes of Mount Madison, Mount Adams, and Mount Jefferson in the Presidential Range. For a quick, easy jaunt, walk the half-mile or so roundtrip to Mossy Glen in Randolph, along a brook with waterfalls and a covered bridge, or take the 3.5-mile Pine Mountain loop for open mountain vistas.

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In Gorham, you’ll find food, drinks, lodging, and any other supplies you may need. The distance from Twin Mountain to Gorham is about 26 miles.

A bull moose paused while feeding in the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, in Wentworth's Location, N.H.
A bull moose paused while feeding in the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, in Wentworth's Location, N.H. Robert F. Bukaty/AP/file

Gorham to Colebrook

You’ve made it this far, you might as well keep heading north out of Gorham, following Route 16 along the historic Androscoggin River. There are several pullouts and a few interpretive signs that explain the history and importance of this waterway, one of the largest rivers in New England. For decades, the river was used to float logs downriver from the northern woods to paper mills. You’ll still see the remnants of boom piers, man-made islands used to secure and sort logs during the annual log drives.

You’ll also see great expanses of river marshes and sinewy waterways, where moose love to hang out and browse. There’s no guarantee you’ll spot one of these gangly creatures, but this is one of the better stretches for moose watching in the state.

In Errol, an outdoorsy town at the gateway to Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, turn on Route 26 heading northwest toward Colebrook. You’ll drive through the impressive Dixville Notch, a deep gorge with soaring granite ledges. Follow the road, flanked by the Mohawk River, into Colebrook.

Want to keep going? Route 3 heading north from Colebrook into the Connecticut Lakes region, and on to the Canadian border, is full of beauty spots.

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Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com