The White Mountains completely blew us away. We came to the White Mountains for a weekend trip from NYC. It is a bit of a drive for just a weekend, but completely worth it. It is so beautiful in the White Mountains and has something to do for everyone.
The White Mountains are gorgeous any time of year: summer has amazing trails and beautiful weather, winter has tons of snow and amazing ski conditions, and fall has cooler weather with some of the best places to see the changing fall leaves in the entire country. Whenever you are able to go, you will have unique conditions that will make your trip special.
We went right in between summer and fall, when it wasn’t super crowed, but wasn’t freezing cold either. We would definitely like to check it out in the winter too, when all of the beautiful mountains and pine trees are all covered in snow.
About the White Mountains
The White Mountains are located in the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire. The White Mountains contains many mountains, including Mount Washington, which is the tallest mountain in the northeast USA. Mount Washington even held the world record for the fastest wind in the world at one point. It is unsure why it is called the White Mountains, but it has been a popular destination since at least colonial times. The popular Appalachian Trail also runs through the White Mountains National Forest.
Within the White Mountains, there are several state parks that house many of the things to see. The two major state parks within the White Mountains are Franconia Notch State Park and Crawford Notch State Park. Each of these state parks have their own unique features and so much to do.
Where are the White Mountains?
The White Mountains are located mostly in New Hampshire, which a tiny sliver in Maine.
NYC to the White Mountains: 6 hours, 360 miles
Boston to the White Mountains: 2.5 hours, 160 miles
Where can I stay at the White Mountains?
There are so many options to stay in the White Mountains that I can’t include them all here.
It also really depends if you prefer a luxury stay, comfortable hotel, or tent-camping. There are all of these options and everything in between. The main towns to stay in during your trip include Conway or North Conway, Lincoln, Jackson, or Bretton Woods.
We like to use booking.com for booking our accommodations, since it is easy, stream-lined, and allows free cancellation with many properties incase we change our mind. If you’re going in a larger group and want places to sleep, but also to hang out, then AirBnb might be best for you.
We chose to go camping on our trip, which gave us a lot of flexibility (and was much cheaper than any of the hotels in the area!). We stayed at the National Forest Sugarloaf II campground, which is amazing with super secluded sites and clean bathrooms. Each night, we fell asleep under a canopy of pine trees and the sound of crickets.
Whichever lodging option you choose, I am sure you will have an amazing time.
Overview of Itinerary
The roads connecting most of the White Mountains from a rough triangle. The order you do the itinerary in will probably depend on what town you are staying in during your trip. Each item on the itinerary is numbered on the map, so you can decide the order that is best for your trip.
This is going to be a SUPER PACKED itinerary. Feel free to take away some of the options, do the activities in a different order, or do the activities over a longer period of time. We had 2 full days in the White Mountains, but definitely would have loved to spend longer on this trip.
1. Go to the top of one of the Presidential Mountains
To go to the top of one of the mountains in the Presidential Range, you have 2 options.
The first (and most common) way is to drive to the Top of Mount Washington. Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeast United States. You can drive your car to the top, take the cog railway train, or hike to the top. Driving to the top costs $39 for 1 car and driver and $14 for each additional passenger in the car. A full list of rates can be found on the Mount Washington Auto Road website.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway is a train that goes to the top of Mount Washington. The Cog Railway is the 2nd steepest railroad in the world. Adult tickets start at around $79. Tickets can be found on the Mount Washington Cog Railway website. If you’re interested in visiting the top of Mount Washington, but don’t want to dish out all the cash, you can hike to the top of Mount Washington from the AMC visitor center. The hike to the top of the Mount Washington is 7.4 miles with 4,242 feet of elevation gain.
Another option, if you want bypass the crowded Mount Washington, you can hike to the top of one of the other mountains in the Presidential Range. There are 13 mountains in the Presidential Range that you could summit.
While any of the Presidential Peaks would be great to hike, I would recommend hiking Jefferson Peak. It is one of the shortest hikes to the top of a mountain in the Presidential Range. It is 5.3 mile hike round trip via the Caps Ridge Trail. Read my Mount Jefferson Blog Post for more information about hiking Mount Jefferson and why it is so worth it!
2. Pinkham Notch Area
The Pinkham Notch Area has so much to offer no matter what you want to see while in the White Mountains.
First stop at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Visitor Center. At the AMC Visitor Center, there are many facilities including a gift store, restrooms, and cafeteria. The Appalachian Trail passes through this area, so you will see many hikers in the area here. If you are interested in a little bit of hiking also, there is absolutely gorgeous waterfall that can be accessed from the AMC Visitor Center. Cascade Falls is an amazing waterfall that can be accessed via a 0.7 mile round trip hike. Cascade Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls in the entire White Mountains. Read my Waterfalls of the White Mountains Blog Post for more information on visiting Cascade Falls and other falls in the area.
Next, Glen Ellis Falls trailhead is around 1 mile south of the AMC Visitor Center. From the parking lot, the hike to Glen Ellis Falls is about 0.4 miles roundtrip. There’s even a secret waterfall from this trailhead that you can also see while here. Check out my New Hampshire Waterfall Blog Post for alllll the details.
Jackson, New Hampshire is a cute area about 10 minutes south of Pinkham Notch Area. In Jackson you can find Jackson Falls. Jackson Falls is a more accessible waterfall, one that doesn’t even require a hike. Jackson Falls is shallower than other waterfalls in the area and in some parts is really nice for swimming in the summer. Also, while in Jackson, be sure to check out the Red Fox Bar and Grille. The Red Fox is an absolutely delicious restaurant. A friend told us that we must visit, and we are so glad we took their recommendation. There have so many delicious and unique options. We tried many foods, but one that I thought was interesting and delicious was the meatloaf and mashed carrots and turnips. It was surprisingly so good. If you plan on eating here in the evening, it would be a good idea to book a reservation since they are a local favorite.
4. Crawford Notch State Park
Crawford Notch State Park is one of the state parks within the White Mountains. If you have time, it is worthwhile to hike to Mount Willard. The trail has a gradual incline over the first half of the 3.1 mile round trip trail. At the top there is an amazing view of the entire valley. I never expected to see such a spectacular view on the east coast.
Before leaving Crawford Notch State Park, be sure to stop a Silver Falls, located right along the road on Highway 302 through the park. See my waterfalls blog post for more info.
Settle down for the night
There are plenty of places to stay in the White Mountains. Where you decide to stay really depends on your preference. With this order of activities in the itinerary, Conway or North Conway would be the best area to stay to maximize your time and avoid extra driving. However, if you stay in other areas, you can easily adapt the order of activities to best suit where you’re staying. See “Where to Stay in the White Mountains” above to get more information about your lodging options.
5. Spend some time in North Conway
North Conway was my favorite town that we visited while in the White Mountains. North Conway is a super cute town that you could spend hours in if you wish. We loved walking up and down the main street and stopping at all of the cute little shops.
Right in the middle of main street is Frontside Coffee Roasters which has many delicious options. I tried their maple cream cold brew and their salted caramel cold brew and they both were some of the best cold brew I have had. They have many sandwiches and pastries too, if you prefer food over coffee.
McKaella’s Sweet Shop, across the street from Frontside Coffee Roasters has great ice cream in many unique flavors as well.
The Muddy Moose Restaurant and Pub can also be found in North Conway, making an excellent stop for dinner. The vibes here are mountainy and lively, with giant moose heads on the wall and lots of ski décor. The food and service was great and we would recommend it if you’re looking for somewhere good to eat!
6. Drive the Kancamagus Highway
The Kancamagus Highway is Route 112 connected Conway to Lincoln. This road is so pretty, weaving down and around mountains and over a high pass at one point. Along the Kancamagus Highway, there are many stops you make. You can read my Kancamagus Highway Post for in depth information, but I will give you a quick recap here.
In order driving from east to west, you will find Lower Falls, Rocky Gorge Falls, and Sabbaday Falls. My favorite out of all these was Sabbaday Falls as it is a super unique waterfall and is iconic to the White Mountains region. All of these falls require little-to-none hiking, so they are fairly easy to access. Read more about visiting each of these waterfalls in my Waterfalls of New Hampshire Blog Post.
Along the Kancamagus Highway, there are also many viewpoints, especially close to the pass. I recommend stopping at the C.L. Graham Wangan Grounds Scenic Overlook, Pemigewasset Overlook, and the Hancock Trailhead Overlook. These 3 overlooks are within a few miles of each other, but give different views and perspectives of the White Mountains. These overlooks would be especially gorgeous in the fall when all of the leaves are turning.
If you took Kancamagus Highway from Conway, you will end up in Lincoln, which is another cute ski town in the area. In Lincoln, you can find the White Mountain Visitor Center. Here there is a lot of useful information about the White Mountains, including info on tours and local attractions. While in Lincoln, be sure to grab a cup of coffee and a pb+j cookie from Half Baked & Fully Brewed. We thought their baked goods were so delicious.
8. Franconia Notch State Park
Franconia Notch State Park is one of the other state parks in the White Mountains. To me, Franconia Notch seemed so different from other areas in the White Mountains that we’d visited. It’s so interesting that there is so much variety throughout the White Mountains.
Here you can catch a glimpse of Cannon Mountain. There is an aerial tramway to get to the top, but the best views of the mountain itself is from the bottom. You will see it while driving along the main road, but if you are interested in stopping, the Boise Rock pullover on the northbound I-93 gives a pretty good view.
There are two hikes I would recommend in Franconia Notch State Park: Artist’s Bluff/Bald Mountain and Lonesome Lake Trail.
Artist’s Bluff and Bald Mountain Hike
Artist’s Bluff is a classic spot and is seen in many advertisements of the White Mountains. While it’s not a super easy trail, the trail is short and the views are definitely gorgeous if you’re able to make it. Being that this is a classic spot, it can get super crowded, so just plan accordingly. The Artist’s Bluff trail is 1.5 miles and if you do the full loop you will also summit Bald Mountain.
Lonesome Lake Trail
The Lonesome Lake Trail is a 3.1 mile trail that takes you up to Lonesome Lake right under the Kinsman Mountains. Along the lake, you can find the Lonesome Lake Hut, which is one of the AMC huts that has lodging (must be reserved way in advance), food, and snacks (cash only). The lake is beautiful and very reflective of the surrounding mountains. The trail skirts around the entire lake and at the AMC hut there are places to sit along the lake. The trailhead here is super tiny and fills up very early, so make sure to arrive either early or later in the day if you want to find a spot.
Visiting the New Hampshire? Here’s some other posts you may like:
I hope this itinerary helps you plan a trip to the White Mountains! Do you have any questions about the White Mountains? Anything you would add to this itinerary? Let me know down below in the comments!
Thanks for Reading!