The Fearless One: The Kancamagus Highway
Backroads of New England: Your Guide to New England's
Most Superb Scenic Backroad Adventures
Excerpted from "Backroads of New England," Text © 2004
by Kim Knox Beckius. Published by Voyageur Press, Inc. 123 North Second
Street, Stillwater, MN 55082 USA 1-800-888-9653 All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.
Follow Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway, west from Conway to Lincoln.
New Hampshire's National Scenic Byway with the tongue-twister name--the
Kancamagus Highway--is New England's most superb scenic drive. You
can call it "the Kanc" for short, as locals do, and you can
revel in the pure pleasure of motoring through this thickly treed mountain
gap, as more than a million visitors do each year.
The 34-mile road cuts an east-west channel through the 800,000-acre
White Mountain National Forest. When the dense stands of leafy deciduous
trees exchange their summer greens for the dazzling shades of autumn,
they are illuminated against the immutable evergreen of their coniferous
counterparts, making this a most dramatic and beloved leaf-peeping
route. Motorcyclists relish the twists and turns as the highway climbs
to nearly 3,000 feet at the peak of Mount Kancamagus. Easily accessible
trailheads summon hikers, and rocky swimming holes, carved by erosion,
lure families craving relief from summer's swelter.
Though it maintains a legendary reputation among scenery seekers,
the Kancamagus Highway is a relatively new route, as New England scenic
byways go. Some old logging roads and town roads edged into the rugged
National Forest, which was set aside for conservation by the federal
government in 1911, but a connection between Conway and Lincoln was
not completed until 1959. The road was paved in 1964, and in 1968 it
was plowed for the first time, allowing for year-round traffic. New
Hampshire State Route 112 is named for Chief Kancamagus, "The
Fearless One." Kancamagus was the last leader of the Penacook
Confederacy, a union of more than seventeen central New England Indian
tribes, first forged by Kancamagus' grandfather, Passaconaway, in 1627.
Kancamagus tried to maintain peace between his people and encroaching
English settlers, but war and bloodshed forced the tribes to scatter,
with most retreating to northern New Hampshire and Canada.
At the Saco Ranger Station just west of Conway, you can pick up a
map and begin to plot your stops at the various well-designated scenic
overlooks, campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, and historic sites
along the Kanc. Unless you plan to drive straight through without stopping,
you'll also need to purchase a parking pass. A visitor information
center is also located on the western end of the Kanc in Lincoln, should
you decide to drive the route in reverse.
As you enter the White Mountain National Forest, you'll notice that
the highway follows the path of the Swift River, which is studded with
large boulders that create an obstacle course for the water. The river
surges as mountain snows melt in the spring, but the flow slows come
summertime. The first popular stop on the route is Covered Bridge Campground,
where you can walk across the wooden Albany Covered Bridge, built over
the Swift River in 1858 and restored in 1970. The campground's 2½-mile
Boulder Loop Trail offers hikers views of the river and of 3,475-foot
Mount Chocorua to the south. The Lower Falls Scenic Area is a popular
steamy-weather hangout for those who want to sunbathe on the rocks
or splash in the shallow pools. It's a great place to watch for whitewater
boaters when the river is raging with runoff in the spring.
The cascading Upper Falls at the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area provide a
soothing natural soundtrack for sunbathers. Swimming in this steep-walled
gorge is not permitted. The Lovequist Loop Trail around Falls Pond
is an easy and enjoyable walk in the woods.
Continue the drive west to the Passaconaway Historic Site, where a
tour of the Russell Colbath House may leave you shaking your head.
Built by sawmill operator Thomas Russell in 1832, the small home was
inherited in 1887 by his granddaughter, Ruth Priscilla, and her husband,
Thomas Alden Colbath. In 1891, Thomas left the house one day, telling
Ruth he would return "in a little while." She hung a lantern
in the window every evening-for the ensuing thirty-nine years-as she
awaited his return, but she never saw him again. Three years after
her death, you'll never guess who showed up. Thomas Colbath's claims
to the house were denied, however, and he resumed his rambling ways.
A brief, not-too-strenuous hike of less than half a mile is required
to view the narrow flume and series of picturesque waterfalls that
make up Sabbaday Falls, one of the Kanc's most popular stops.
Back on the highway, your ears may start to pop as you begin the ascent
of Mount Kancamagus. Watch for the Sugar Hill, Pemigewasset, and Hancock
Overlooks, which all provide a place to park and to appreciate the
ruggedly handsome terrain. At first glance, the mountaintops seem to
be sporting buzz cuts, but further observation will reveal the articulated
pine line of individual evergreens standing proudly atop granite summits.
Big Rock Campground is home to another old-fashioned swimming hole,
known as Upper Lady's Bath.
The Kancamagus Highway descends into Lincoln, home of the Loon Mountain
Ski Area and several family attractions. Most notable is Clark's Trading
Post and its beloved trained bears. In fact, these bears are so well
trained, and well fed, that even if they somehow managed to wander
off for "a little while," you can bet it wouldn't be forty-two
years before they returned.
Excerpted from "Backroads of New England," a coffee table
and guide book featuring directions, narrative, maps, and photography
for 30 scenic drives in New England. Text (c) 2004 by Kim Knox Beckius.
Published by Voyageur Press, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with