A Winter Wonderland: The Kancamagus Highway and White Mountains


Photo by Nick Logel

The Kancamagus Highway(Kank-ah-mah-gus), designated an American Scenic Byway, is a 34 mile stretch of asphalt that slices through the White Mountains of central New Hampshire. A popular drive for Autumn leaf-lookers in the Fall, the Kancamagus is maintained year-round and makes for a spectacular winter journey. Best of all, during the winter months, you will enjoy the solitude and serenity that comes with the season. I only saw a handful of cars my entire time on the Highway.

Connecting the towns of Conway and Lincoln, the Kancamagus climbs to almost 3000 feet above sea level. The drive itself will satisfy any mountain driving enthusiast, as long as they can keep their eyes off the awesome mountain scenery. Cliffs and rivers are clogged with cascading ice and the air sparkles with a million tiny crystals.

Nestled in White Mountain National Forest, the highway is riddled with hiking trails, picnic areas, and scenic outlooks. During the winter months, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing are plentiful and most parking areas and trailheads are plowed and well maintained. For those interested, grab some rental gear at one of the many ski shops in the area and pick one of the many trails. They are well marked.

Whether or not you start on the east or west side of the highway, it would be worth your time to take a quick drive up I-93 and check out Franconia Notch. Just a few minutes north of Lincoln, the western terminus of the Kancamagus, the interstate narrows to a two lane road that weaves through a canyon of vertical rock (and ice in the winter).

Photo by Nick Logel

There are hiking trails on either side of I-93 and plenty of mountains for every skill level. The trail I took towards the top of Mt. Lafayette took me past beautiful waterfalls that were frozen solid and provided a technical challenge. Eventually, with waning daylight and steep ice that would require technical climbing equipment, I turned back towards the parking lot.

Photo by Nick Logel

The most important part about enjoying the winter in NH is being prepared. On the day I went, the area was experiencing particularly cold weather and my car thermometer never read over 10°F. On the flanks of Mt. Lafayette, the temperature was 5° or less. Insulated winter boots, gloves, a hat, and face and eye protection are musts. It’s also a good idea to bring extra layers and emergency equipment in event of car trouble or if you wish to hike.

Remember! Skiing is not the only winter activity in the mountains! Get outside and away from crowds at the resorts and see an entirely different side of the Granite State!