The Kancamagus Highway runs between the towns of Conway and Lincoln, through the heart of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It is designated as a National Scenic Byway and it is one of the most beautiful car journeys in New England. Running for 55 kilometres along route 112, it winds its way past covered bridges, waterfalls, hiking trails, scenic outlooks and campgrounds.
Almost the entire length of the Kancamagus Highway lies within the White Mountains National Forest. If you travel from Conway in the east, you will first follow the Swift River and the Saco Valley. Then the road starts to climb – almost 900 metres – to its highest point at Kancamagus Pass on Kancamagus Mountain. There’s a scenic lookout at the summit of the pass, Pemi Overlook, which offers pretty views of the surrounding mountain ranges. From the pass, you descend to a valley created by the Pemigewasset River. The road follows that valley all the way to the town of Lincoln, the western end of the Kancamagus Highway.
The highway first opened in 1959 and was paved in 1964. It got its name from an Indian chief of the Penacook Confederacy, Kancamagus. The Penacook Confederacy was a union of New England tribes, established in 1627 by Passaconaway, Kancamagus’ grandfather.
Highlights Along the Kancamagus Highway
There are several highlights along the way, but the section between Conway and the Kancamagus Pass is particularly scenic. There are also several places to stop and take a break or have a bit to eat. The great thing about this highway – in my opinion – is that there are no modern day comforts. There are no gas stations, no hotels, no houses and no restaurants for the entire length of the highway. The only form of accommodation that you can find along the Kancamagus Highway is basic campgrounds – one of them even has showers! Besides campgrounds there are numerous hiking trails and cold mountain streams and waterfalls. There is no concrete there; instead you will find trees, rocks and wildlife. It’s an ideal place to go to for a break from the rat race and to get back to nature. Forgive me for using a complete cliché, but it’s true.
Conway and Lincoln, at both ends of the highway, do have a vast selection of accommodation, restaurants, fast food chains and other types of entertainment.
Many a time has the highway’s name been misspelled or mispronounced. The only correct way to pronounce Kancamagus is ‘Kank-ah-MAW-gus’. It means ‘The Fearless One’.
The Kancamagus Highway is best visited from May to October. But probably the very best time to drive the road is in the fall. It’s for a reason that the Kancamagus Highway is often named as one of the greatest fall-foliage roads in New England.