Top 10 Scenic Drives in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is a state known for its scenic beauty, especially with the changing colors of the leaves in autumn. It is also home to a wide array of wildlife that range from black bear to moose to coastal seabirds. Each winter, the state attracts a plethora of visitors wanting to ski the steep slopes scattered throughout the region, while spring and summer see bustling activity on the many lakes and rivers. Begin your own journey of discovery in this lovely state by traveling along one of our favorite New Hampshire scenic drives:

No. 10 – American Independence Byway

American Independence Byway New Hampshire
Flickr user: Lee Wright

Starting Location: Exeter, NH
Ending Location: Hampton, NH
Length: 12 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

History buffs will especially enjoy this tour of significant spots in the legacy of the American Revolution that begins in Exeter, the state’s former capital during the war and home to the American Independence Museum, which in part hosts the Annual Independence Festival each July. The way through Hampton Falls, once known as Old Mill Road, passes along one of the country’s earliest roads. In Hampton, visit James House, which was constructed in 1723 and is considered a prime example of First Period Colonial architecture.

No. 9 – Sunapee Loop

Sunapee Loop New Hampshire
Flickr user: JP Theberge

Starting Location: Greenfield, NH
Ending Location: Greenfield, NH
Length: 127 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic loop tours the Dartmouth and Lake Sunapee region of the state, making for a relaxing morning or afternoon drive. Stop in Hillsboro to see the Franklin Pierce Homestead, or take in the iconic New England village green in Washington. For a taste of culture and plenty of historic buildings, make time to explore the old college towns of New London and Henniker on the way.

No. 8 – Currier & Ives Scenic Byway

Currier & Ives Scenic Byway New Hampshire
Flickr user: J. Stephen Conn

Starting Location: Salisbury, NH
Ending Location: Henniker, NH
Length: 22 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Passing through rural regions and small towns, this route affords a more laid-back tour of this New England state with points of historic interest along the way. Start in Salisbury, where travelers can take a peek at Daniel Webster’s birthplace before passing through Webster and its turn-of-the-century farms and fields. In Contoocook Village, browse the array of novelty shops or take photos of its two resident covered bridges.

No. 7 – Connecticut River Scenic Byway

Connecticut River Scenic Byway New Hampshire
Flickr user: Bruce Denis

Starting Location: West Chesterfield, NH
Ending Location: Littleton, NH
Length: 133 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

As this drive twists and turns with the Connecticut River, travelers are treated to lovely water views and New England towns full of old-time charm. Walpole is a particularly picturesque town full of historic buildings, and its abundance of lilacs inspired Louisa May Alcott to write Under the Lilacs in 1878. A must-see attraction this way is the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, which includes a tour of the acclaimed sculptor’s home, gardens, and studio.

No. 6 – Great North Woods Drive

Great North Woods Drive New Hampshire
Flickr user: Dennis Jarvis

Starting Location: Gorham, NH
Ending Location: Berlin, NH
Length: 112 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This winding drive through the Great North Woods brings any along its way closer to nature, as it is largely removed from civilization. It is not unusual to spot local wildlife like black bears, deer, and moose, and such critter sightings may well outnumber those of people. There are several good places to stop to stretch your legs or take pictures, including the historic mill in Berlin, the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in Colebrook, and the enchanting covered bridge in Stark.

No. 5 – Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive

Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive
Flickr user: Kevin Oliver

Starting Location: Portsmouth, NH
Ending Location: Hampton, NH
Length: 19 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Beginning in the vibrant city of Portsmouth, travelers this way can explore the historic downtown or watch local fisherman busily at work while lounging in a café with a latte in hand. In New Castle, visit historic Forts Stark and Constitution, which played important roles during the American Revolution. Near the route’s end in Hampton, stop at Odiorne State Park, which abuts the beach and affords stunning views of the ocean.

No. 4 – New Hampshire 153

New Hampshire 153
Flickr user: Robert Linsdell

Starting Location: Conway, NH
Ending Location: Sanbornville, NH
Length: 35 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

For just the right blend of natural beauty and mingling with the locals, it doesn’t get much better than this drive between Conway and Sanbornville. Outdoor opportunities abound, including rock climbing up the 700-foot Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park and seeing native birds and animals up close at Watts Wildlife Sanctuary just outside Effingham. What makes this route truly special, however, is its array of quaint towns that epitomize the essence of New England, such as Eaton Center and Freedom.

No. 3 – White Mountain Trail

White Mountain Trail New Hampshire
Flickr user: Sean Munson

Starting Location: Conway, NH
Ending Location: Franconia, NH
Length: 52 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Starting in Franconia Notch State Park, this trip serves up plenty of views of rolling hills, Mt. Liberty, and lakes so beautiful their surfaces resemble mirrors. Flume Bridge, a covered bridge built in 1891, crosses the Pemigewasset River and provides a nice opportunity to unleash your inner photographer. Any fly fishermen in your party will want to stop at Profile Lake to see if the trout are biting, but anyone can enjoy the scenery from Notch Viewpoint nearby.

No. 2 – Three Rivers Scenic Drive

Three Rivers Scenic Drive New Hampshire
Flickr user: Glass_House

Starting Location: Jackson, NH
Ending Location: Errol, NH
Length: 56 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

As the name of this drive suggests, the trip largely follows the twists and turns of three rivers – the Ellis, Peabody, and Androscoggin Rivers. Pull over for the viewing platform for the 64-foot Glen Ellis Falls, or hike down to the bottom for a closer look and to feel bits of spray hit your skin. Hit the slopes at Wildcat Mountain Ski Area, where there is far more to do than just ski, including taking a gondola ride up to Wildcat’s 4,100-foot summit and hiking to Thompson Falls.

No. 1 – Kancamagus Scenic Byway

Kancamagus Scenic Byway New Hampshire
Flickr user: Robert Linsdell

Starting Location: Conway, NH
Ending Location: Lincoln, NH
Length: 36 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic route through the heart of the Kancamagus National Forest is the highest roadway in the region, with a peak altitude of 2900 feet. That ensures there is no shortage of panoramic views of a terrain that includes lush forests, mountains, and various waterways. Browse the quaint specialty stores full of handmade items in Conway’s historic downtown before setting out, and don’t miss a stop at C. L. Graham Wangan Ground Picnic Area with its photo opportunities of the Presidential Range.


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