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Imagine starting off with your toes in the sand along the sweeping Atlantic shoreline and in just over two hours, looking over cascading mountains on a strikingly scenic highway through the White Mountains. Road trips in New Hampshire offer visitors some of the best places to glimpse moose in the country. Highways like Kancamagus Highway wind through peaks in the Appalachian mountain range and Route 3, along the Connecticut River, is known as Moose Alley. On the maritime side, historical cities like Portsmouth feature treasures like the USS Albacore and is a delightful haven for foodies, with more than 75 restaurants downtown, offering multiple flavors of coastal inspired cuisine.
Shop for exotic antiques in one of the many small towns that dot the edges of picturesque routes and highways. Stop at farms with fresh apple harvests and artisanal cheese. Drink home-roasted coffee in a charming New England café or stop at a dubious art town like Dublin or Harrisville, in the Southwest part of the state. The colorful views and varied scenery, make New Hampshire a perfect place for a road trip; one in which you do not want to forget your camera!
Start: Portsmouth, NH
Start your journey through New Hampshire on the beauty trail that extends from the fine beaches of Portsmouth into legendary peaks and forests of White Mountain National Forest. While in Portsmouth, be sure to enter Strawbery Banke for a trip back in time where you’ll find gorgeous colonial homes set in a laid-back village during 1630. Market Street gives you more than just a taste of charming New England shopping with unique stores specializing in everything from modern home goods to antique toys. Wallis Sands State Beach boasts New Hampshire’s largest sandbox while Gundalow Piscataqua offers you a full-scale replica of the flat-bottom gundalow barge that was once prevalent in this region.
Road Trip: Portsmouth to North Conway (85 miles; 1 hr, 45 min)
Wind your way north on the Spaulding Turnpike to Route 16 to North Conway on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest in the central-eastern region of the state. Find breathtaking views of Mount Washington Valley in the quintessential New England city that is home to numerous hiking trails, snow skiing, and the tax-free outlet mall, Settlers Green.
Road Trip: North Conway to Franconia (58 miles; 1 hr, 12 min)
From there, head directly through the White Mountains on Kancamagus Highway, a designated American Scenic Byway. Take in arresting views of spectacular unspoiled wilderness and travel north into parks with pristine waterfalls and hiking like Franconia Notch State Park where you can take an aerial tram to the top of Cannon Mountain.
As a bonus trip, head to Littleton, the home of famous author Eleanor H. Porter. View a statue of her character, Pollyanna, at the Littleton Library and delight in new and old-fashioned candy at Chutters on Main Street. At 112 feet, Chutters is home to the longest candy counter in the world!
Road Trip: Franconia to Mount Washington (65.5 miles; 2 hrs)
The highest peak in New Hampshire is the top of Mount Washington. Take Route 302 through some of the most spectacular scenery in New England including Crawford Notch, a popular stopping place for hiking and sightseeing along the east - west highway. Make your way onto the precarious slopes to the top of the mountain on the eight-mile Mt. Washington Road. The fee to drive to the top of the 6,288-foot summit is rewarded with panoramic views of the Northeast from the Observatory and Summit Marker. The Mount Washington Weather Museum and Cog Railroad await, providing further elevation overlooking the Presidential Range from the top of Mount Washington.
Dotted with multiple charming towns, scenic routes through New Hampshire provide access to the magic of New England’s small towns. Boasting of diverse historical culture and traditional heir-loom ways, you won’t want to miss these places that embody the backbone of America's start.
Start: Keene, NH
Beginning in the Southwest part of the state, the quaint town of Keene offers a college atmosphere along picturesque tree lined streets. Visit the restored 1924 stage at The Colonial Theatre or shop at Colony Mill Marketplace where vintage consignment goods are sold in open-air stalls. The town feels like it’s been suspended between yesterday and today with small reminders of what has been good in between. If you are visiting in Fall, Pumpkin Fest makes Keene a top tourist destination for viewing the most lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place.
Road Trip: Keene to Walpole
Walpole may just be the most charming of all New Hampshire’s small towns, featuring Greek Revival homes and a town green in front of a white steeple church. From farmers markets to handcrafted cider vodka and cheese at Boggy Meadow Farm, the tastes that you associate with New England can be found here in the rawest forms or in gourmet French delicacies at the acclaimed restaurant, The Restaurant at Burdicks which owns the chocolate emporium next door.
Road Trip: Loop back to Keene to discover more New England charms.
If you loop back south through Keene, at the heart of Monadnock you can visit beautiful Dublin, home to Yankee Magazine and the over two-century old, Old Farmer’s Almanac. Then drive 3.5 miles to Harrisville, the town where late 19th to mid-20th century artists like Abbott Thayer and Rockwell Kent called home. Today, many artists have followed in their footsteps and industrial buildings have been converted to artists’ studios where you can find anything from Norman Rockwell like paintings to encaustic pieces painted with local beeswax.
If the coastline is more of your thing, follow the route that’s known as the Maritime Trail. Highlighting centuries of seafaring traditions in the Northeast, some of the best parts of the trail can be found in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Tour the Port of Portsmouth Maritime Museum, spend a few hours whale watching in Rye Harbor or take a day trip to the romantic Isles of Shoals.