When it comes to epic scenic drives, New Hampshire tops the charts. From rugged mountains and pristine lakes to oceanfront vistas and quaint New England towns, any journey within the state is magical.
While the area is known for its picture-perfect fall foliage scenes, New Hampshire is a year-round scenic drive destination. We’ve put together a list of the best scenic drives to experience in the state, with each route unveiling its own version of New Hampshire’s captivating charm.
Although New Hampshire’s 18 miles of coastline is the shortest in the US, the Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive grants some of the most alluring waterfront scenes imaginable. Begin in the historic port city of Portsmouth. A causeway leads drivers into New Castle, past Wentworth-by-the-Sea and through Fort Constitution, where the first overt act of the Revolutionary War took place. A pristine selection of oceanfront state parks affords sandy beaches and miles of nature walks and biking trails along the rocky coast.
New Hampshire Highway 15 from Glen to Wentworth is known as Three Rivers Scenic Drive. The route cuts through White Mountain National Forest and runs parallel to Ellis River to the 64-foot Glen Ellis Falls. Hit the slopes at Wildcat Mountain Ski Area in the winter, or take a picturesque gondola ride in the warmer months.
Dating back to 1861, Mt. Washington Auto Road is the USA’s oldest man-made attraction. This historic drive leads visitors on an eight-mile journey to the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. At the summit you’ll find Mt. Washington State Park and the Mt. Washington Observatory. But be warned: the mountain summit has a reputation for its unpredictable weather patterns and fierce winds.
Explore the western segment of New Hampshire by cruising the picturesque Sunapee Loop. The route begins and ends in the town of Greenfield and provides an unforgettable drive through historic college towns, past glistening lakes and over rolling hills. The Franklin Pierce Homestead, former home the 14th president of the United States, provides a compelling rest stop.
The winding route along New Hampshire 153 delivers impressive views, charming towns, and an abundance of noteworthy stops. Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park is a rock climber’s paradise with a challenging 700-foot rock wall. Those visiting in the summer months can cool off under a cascading waterfall at Diana’s Baths. Add a ride on Conway Scenic Railroad to the itinerary for a memorable excursion.
Known locally as “The Kanc,” the Kancamagus Highway encompasses the eastern portion of Route 112. The passage leads visitors through one of the best leaf peeping regions in New England. With its spectacular views, the journey is a memorable drive in any season. The route runs through White Mountain National Forest, passing top attractions like Albany Covered Bridge, Sabbaday Falls and Rocky Gorge Scenic area.
The scenic Connecticut River Byway hugs the Connecticut River through several New England states. The New Hampshire segment of the bypass begins in Pittsburg near the Canadian border. The area provides a year-round fisherman’s paradise with fly fishing in the summer and ice fishing in the winter. The drive south leads to scenic vistas and hiking trails. It also showcases the state’s beautiful covered bridges, most notably the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, the longest wooden covered bridge in the U.S..
The American Independence Byway traverses some of the nation’s first charted roads provides a history lesson in the American Revolution. The town of Exeter, which had been the state’s capital during the war, is the focal point of the ride. Today it features the American Independence Museum, which holds an original draft of the Declaration of Independence. The drive meanders through several of New Hampshire’s original towns displaying impressive examples of colonial architecture. What’s more, many of the early American homes are open to visitors during the summer months.
One of the longest scenic drives in New Hampshire, the Lakes Loop encircles Lake Winnipesaukee, the state’s largest lake. The Lakes Loop spans approximately 134 miles. The drive weaves past charming villages, unspoiled beaches and amusement parks to break up the trip. The western portion of the route displays exceptional views of the water.
A drive through the isolated Great North Woods provides opportunities for spotting wildlife. Follow Route 3 through Moose Alley, a likely spot for a moose sighting. The loop begins and ends in the historic mill city of Berlin and provides an abundance of outdoor activities and off-road adventures like mountain biking, ATV riding and zip lining.