Thanks to its beauty and variety of local attractions, the 34.5-mile-long Kancamagus Highway is designated as an American Scenic Byway. The drive, which is part of Route 112, cuts through New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. The Kancamagus Pass is the highway’s highest point and, to situate you, it’s about 83 miles west of Portland, Maine, 93 miles east of Montpelier, Vermont, and 143 miles north of Boston.
Kancamagus Highway map
The Kancamagus Highway is known by several names, including “The Kanc” for short, as well as the Kancamagus Scenic Byway and Route 112. It’s pronounced as “Kank-ah-MAU-gus” (some say it almost rhymes with “August”). The highway runs almost 35 miles east-west through the White Mountain National Forest between the New Hampshire cities of Conway to the east and Lincoln to the west.
To start from Conway, take Route 112 northwest off Main Street just west of town. From Lincoln, the starting point is where Route 112 meets with Interstate 93, which is also where you’ll find the White Mountains Visitor Center.
Under good conditions, it takes under an hour to drive the Kancamagus Highway straight through. But if you’d like to stop and see some of the sites and admire the views, plan for at least three hours. Regardless of the length of your planned journey, you’ll want to pack these road trip necessities.
Pick up a Kancamagus Highway map at the Saco Ranger Station, just outside the city of Conway, or at the White Mountains Gateway Visitors Center in Lincoln at exit 32.
Kancamagus Highway attractions
Leaf-peeping and admiring the fall foliage are amongst the most popular activities for New Hampshire scenic drives, especially along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway. The entire region has some of the prettiest fall colors in the country: here are the best places to see New England’s fall foliage. Throughout all seasons, there are plenty of outdoor activities in the White Mountain National Forest to occupy you.
Whether you just want to pause to snap a photo or prefer getting out to explore, put these Kancamagus Highway outdoor attractions on your to-do list:
The hike to this small waterfall is one of the most popular stops along the Kancamagus Highway. The handmade wooden stairway and railings near the falls make for a great photo op. To get to the falls, it’s an easy half-mile walk from the highway. Dogs are welcomed, as long as they’re leashed. If you’re traveling with your pup, you’ll want to read this expert advice about taking your dog on a road trip.
Albany Covered Bridge
This covered bridge, originally built in 1858 and restored in 1970, crosses the Swift River. You can get to the bridge via the Covered Bridge Campground, which also has a popular three-mile-long hiking trail called the Boulder Loop.
It’s an easy hike to another bridge over the Swift River at this scenic spot. Even during droughts, water moves dramatically through the ten-foot-high gorge which you can admire from the pedestrian bridge. Falls Pond, just past the bridge, has a nice viewing area but note that the path is not as well-maintained as the one from the parking area to the bridge.
Russell-Colbath Historic Site
This historic site is open for tours from July through September. The highlight is the house built by sawmill operator Thomas Russell circa 1832. It’s now a museum and the homestead is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the house, you’ll find old photos and household items from the early- to mid-1800s as well as period-costumed staff who explain what life was like then. The site is on the western side of Jigger Johnson Campground.
Upper Lady’s Bath
Part of the Pemigewasset River, Upper Lady’s Bath is a popular swimming hole accessible via large, flat rocks (that can get a bit slippery). There’s limited parking available for the public in a signed lot near the tennis courts, but note that the parking at the Riverfront Condominiums is private property.
If you want to swim, you’ll likely find Lower Falls easier to get to, as the parking area has room for about 80 cars. While called Lower Falls, this Swift River site is better known for its swimming than for its rather small waterfalls. There’s a large, fairly shallow pool here, surrounded by flat granite rocks. It’s one of the most popular swimming spots along the Kancamagus Highway.
Kancamagus Highway hiking trails
There’s plenty of hiking trails off the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, ranging from easy and flat walks to day-long hikes. For summit views, try the five-mile roundtrip hike up Mount Hedgehog. The trail begins at the UNH Downes Brook trailhead across from the Passaconway Campground, which is about 13 miles from the Saco Ranger Station. If you’re road tripping with kids, the Forest Discovery Trail is an easy hike. The loop takes about an hour and has educational signs explaining the forest ecology.
Driving the Kancamagus Highway
Making sure you’re fueled and stocked up is essential before beginning any road trip planning—and that’s particularly important for drives through the White Mountains and for the Kancamagus Highway. Though it’s under 35 miles long, there are no gas stations, restaurants, or hotels on the Kancamagus Highway itself. Especially if you’re planning to stop for a hike, be sure you have the food and water you’ll need for the day.
If you’re driving straight through under good conditions, it takes under an hour to drive the whole Kancamagus Highway. But note that traffic can get heavy on busy days and there are many spots that will tempt you to stop and admire the scenery.
No permits are required just to drive the Kancamagus Highway, but if you want to make any stops your vehicle will need a day pass ($5). An annual pass for the White Mountain National Forest ($30) also works. You can buy a day pass at many parking areas and trailheads, as well as online and at select stops. Permits are also available at the Saco Ranger District Visitor Center in Conway, which also sells Kancamagus Highway maps, books, and other items.
While there’s plenty to see and do throughout the year, the most popular time to visit the Kancamagus Scenic Byway is during the autumn to admire New Hampshire’s fall foliage. Also popular are summer visits for swimming in various swimming holes. Winter has several cross-country ski trails to choose from as well as two ski hills at either end of the highway. If your preference is for the lighter crowds of winter road trips, check out these eight incredible winter road trips to plan right now.
Where to stay
There’s camping within the park as well as a variety of accommodation choices at either end of the Kancamagus Highway, in and near Conway and Lincoln. Book well in advance during peak periods—such as for autumn leaf peeping—and note that some hotels require a minimum stay during autumn weekends.
The Kancamagus Highway has two main ski areas, though there are several ski hills in the White Mountain National Forest. The Loon Mountain Ski Resort, near Lincoln, is accessible from the highway. It’s popular for skiing in winter, as well as for biking, hiking, ziplining, and more in summer. For where to stay, consider the Lodge at Lincoln Station, Kancamagus Lodge, Indian Head Resort, or the Nordic Inn. If you want to ski-in and ski-out, the best choice is the Mountain Club Resort & Spa.
At the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway in North Conway is the Cranmore Mountain Resort. It’s got plenty on offer including hiking, biking, and adrenaline activities like a mountain coaster, as well as winter skiing and tubing. Lodging that’s easily accessible to several outdoor pursuits includes Kearsarge Brook Condominiums and Attitash Mountain Village.
Kancamagus Highway camping
In addition to privately-owned campgrounds, there are several White Mountain National Forest campgrounds along the Kancamagus Highway such as the Jigger Johnson Campground and Passaconaway Campground. The Hancock Campground is open all year round.
Most need a reservation, generally a minimum of seven days in advance. You can make a reservation for the National Forest campgrounds via the National Recreation Reservation Service at Recreation.gov and (877) 444-6777. The cost is $25 per night.
Kancamagus Highway history
The history of the Kancamagus Highway itself is short, as the motorway was only completed in 1959 and paved in 1964. The history of the area is far longer.
The highway is named for Chief Kancamagus who was the last leader of a union of 17 Indigenous tribes. The alliance, called the Pennacook Confederacy, was first formed by Kancamagus’s grandfather, Passaconaway, in 1627. The name Kancamagus means “the fearless one” and Kancamagus lived up to his name as he faced challenges trying to keep the peace between the 17 Indigenous nations of the alliance and the English settlers who wanted to control the land.
For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.
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You just pulled out wads of cash
Pickpockets like to target rich people, because…well, it’s a bigger payday! Shuffling through a large hunk of cash, especially if it includes big bills, is an excellent way to attract a pickpocket’s attention. For that matter, if you’re traveling to an area that’s known for pickpocket activity, you really shouldn’t be doing anything that showcases your wealth. Keep your fancy, sparkly jewelry and designer watches at home. Home burglars take notice of your wealth, too—learn some more secrets they won’t tell you.
You just checked on your belongings
If you see a sign to beware of pickpockets, or if you have reason to suspect there might be a pickpocket around, your first instinct might be to reach down and feel for your wallet or credit card. But this protective measure can actually backfire since it’s a good way to ensure that a potential thief knows where you’re keeping your valuables. Gene Turner, Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist and author of pickpocket.com, points out that men’s suit jackets and backpacks often have loads of pockets. “The wallet, cash, and credit cards could be in any one of ten or more pockets,” Turner says. “A pickpocket doesn’t usually have time to search all ten, but when they see you check your pocket when you see the sign, they now know the exact location.” Even just glancing down at the location can clue in a potential crook. If you think pickpockets might be around, resist the urge to glance down at your belongings. Keep your head on a swivel instead.
You’re lost (and look it)
Pickpockets pick on the distracted. They also keep an eye out for people who clearly are unfamiliar with the area, which is why they’re notorious for operating in popular tourist spots. If you have your head buried in a map or glued to Google Maps, pickpockets will take advantage of your distraction and confusion to swipe something off you. Even when you’re unsure of where you are, try your best to appear confident and stay aware of your surroundings. These are the things you do that can make thieves and criminals more likely to target you.
A group of people came somewhere together and then immediately split up
You happen to notice a cluster of people enter a restaurant or a tourist spot like a museum or cathedral together, and then disperse and start acting as if they’re alone. Try to steer clear of them, as there’s a real possibility they’re hunting for pickpocketing victims. Pickpockets rarely work alone, and accomplices will usually spread out to try to find a victim. They may also feign innocence by talking on the phone, when they’re in fact scheming with their partners-in-crime.
Someone yelled that there was a pickpocket around
This might seem like the most obvious sign there’s a pickpocket lurking…but maybe not for the reason you think. Of course, it could just be a worrywart tourist crying wolf. But sometimes, it’s the pickpockets themselves that sound the alarm. They know that it’ll send tourists (especially ones with more dough to lose) into a frenzy—and, again, get people patting their pockets.
You’ve got your wallet in your back pocket
If you’re going to chance keeping your valuables in your pockets at all, they should absolutely be in the front ones. Your front pockets are usually small and tight, making them harder to remove objects from…not to mention they’re in the front of your body, so you’re more likely to notice hands reaching toward them. On the other hand, if your surroundings are chaotic and/or unfamiliar, your back pockets may as well be in another world. Even if your back pocket is buttoned, thieves can swiftly and sneakily unbutton it or, at the very least, cut it with a knife. Either way, they still make off with your wallet. Here are the best ways to keep your belongings safe in your own home.
People just started arguing in public
Pickpockets know that people can’t resist sneaking a peek at strangers fighting, so a pair of them will stage an argument in hopes of getting the crowd good and distracted. Another thief will zero in on the gawkers. “Pickpockets are counting on you paying more attention to everything else except for your wallet or purse,” says Turner. Other ways pickpockets will cause a diversion, and ensure that people’s focus is off their valuables, are by tripping and falling or acting like they’re suddenly feeling sick.
You hung your belongings on the side of a chair
While this is a perfectly acceptable way to unburden yourself of your purse, backpack, or coat in a restaurant you’re familiar with or an area you know is safe, you may not want to do it in an unfamiliar or very crowded spot. Skilled thieves can stroll by and snatch up a backpack strap without even slowing down. Instead, keep your bag or coat somewhere you can see it at all times, on your lap, or down by your feet. Better yet, loop your purse or backpack strap around the leg of the chair you’re sitting in to ensure that it won’t be gone after a single tug. Learn some more tips that’ll help you avoid getting robbed on vacation.
You’re rocking out to your tunes
Technology is the ultimate distraction. If you have your headphones in, you’re much less aware of your immediate surroundings, which makes sneaking up on you all too easy. It’s effortless for thieves to unplug the headphones from the phone and snatch the latter. As Brightside.com points out, people will probably think something’s gone wrong with their headphones, or their battery’s died, before they jump to the conclusion that it was a pickpocket. The thief will probably be long gone by the time the victim realizes that their phone is. Watch out for these other common vacation mistakes that travelers make.
Someone is invading your personal bubble
In large, bustling crowds, getting up close and personal with strangers is often inevitable, and pickpockets will take advantage of that. One of the most cliché pickpocketing methods is the old jostle-and-snatch—someone bumps into you in a busy crowd, and either they or another pickpocket snatches your wallet. But be equally wary of someone who gets up very close to you, especially if you’re face-to-face, and especially in a space where it’s difficult to move further away, like a packed subway train. Your first instinct will probably be to turn away…which might leave your purse or backpack fully exposed to the thief. Instead, try your best to move somewhere else (without turning your back on them). Or, if you’re comfortable doing so, look directly at them. Thieves’ entire livelihood revolves around secrecy, so a direct, head-on stare might be all it takes to deter one. Here are some more tricks to outsmart a criminal that everyone should know.
Somebody tries to get you to look at a map
Posing as tourists themselves, pickpockets may go up to a target and ask them for help reading a map or finding a destination. Be especially concerned if they’re particularly aggressive and try to shove the map close to your face. Of course, it really could be someone who needs help, so try to avoid being rude, but consider just apologizing and saying you can’t help. If you do decide to help them, make sure you remain alert, looking around for a potential accomplice who might swoop in. Or, better yet, have someone you’re traveling with, and trust, keep a close eye on your valuables the entire time. Some other variations of this trick involve people asking you to sign a petition or read a flyer or brochure.
Someone spills something nearby
Here’s another surefire way to get you rattled and distracted. Again, using crowds and chaos to their advantage, would-be thieves drop coffee, ice cream, or some equally messy substance nearby (or even directly on!) their chosen target. Whether this makes that person rush to offer help or just makes them more flustered and distracted, the thieves can take advantage. This method is especially common near ATMs, where pickpockets might zero in on people who’ve just withdrawn cash. Be especially wary if someone spills something on you and offers to help clean up your clothes; chances are they’re going to snatch something from your pocket instead.
You don’t think it can happen to you
“But I’d know if someone grabbed my wallet!” people say all-too-commonly. News flash: Most pickpockets are experts. “I have always said a good pickpocket could pick me clean and I would never feel it,” warns Turner. Are you really certain that you couldn’t possibly get your pockets picked without realizing, or are you just in denial? It can and does happen, so don’t just assume the rules don’t apply to you. Indeed, “the greatest advantage that pickpockets have is that most people think it can’t happen to them,” says Turner. For more advice on how to stay safe from pickpockets, learn the 18 secrets they won’t tell you.
[Sources: pickpocket.com, Brightside.com, LifeHacker]
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