Fall colors on the Kancamagus Highway New Hampshire

6 Travel-Worthy Scenic Drives in New Hampshire

What if we told you that you could experience the most beautiful places in New Hampshire in a day or less? It’s true, and there is so much this tiny New England state has to offer!

Scenic drives in New Hampshire can take you past snow-capped mountains, along the Atlantic coast, and everywhere in between. This state’s rich history is evident everywhere you go, and you’re always in for a unique experience.

Here are several of our favorite routes to add to your New Hampshire road trip list. Just don’t forget your camera!

Scenic Drives in New Hampshire

New Hampshire Scenic Drives: Lakes Region Tour (NH 11, Route 25)

  • Distance: 97 miles
  • Time needed:  Approximately 2 hours direct or 1 day

Discover the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest and most scenic lake, when you embark on the Lakes Region Tour. Spend a few hours or take the whole day to experience breathtaking views, hike the trails, and even amusement parks. The Lakes Region Tour offers some of the best photo opportunities in New Hampshire.

Your drive begins in Alton, also known as the southern gateway to the Lakes region. Recreational activities abound along NH 11, and there are many places to pause so you can take in views of the Ossipee Mountain Range and Lake Winnipesaukee itself. Ellacoya State Park is the perfect place for a picnic lunch, hiking, or a cool swim in the summer months.

USA New Hampshire Scenic Drives - Lake Winnipesaukee

As you continue to Meredith, you’ll encounter amusement parks and shopping at Weirs Beach, a popular tourist destination first colonized in the 1600s. When you reach Meredith, don’t forget to take advantage of the many photo opportunities of the White Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee.

From Meredith, you can either take Route 25 towards Moultonborough or NH 25B to Center Harbor. The latter is a more scenic route, taking you through rolling hills to the town of Center Harbor. As you continue to Tuftonboro and back towards Alton, stop at the Wentworth Estate and Libby Museum, the oldest natural history museum in New Hampshire!

When to Go: Although you can travel this route in all seasons, we recommend adding this New Hampshire road trip to your summer bucket list. Unfortunately, many attractions are only open seasonally.  

New Hampshire Scenic Drives: New Hampshire Coastal Byway (NH Routes 1A & 1B)

  • Distance: 18.5 miles
  • Time needed: 20 minutes direct to 1 day

Don’t forget to bring your sunhat for this breezy drive along the New Hampshire Coastal Byway. You’ll see some of the most beautiful places in New Hampshire, from gorgeous ocean views to historic mansions and everything in between. Although you can get from Portsmouth to Seabrook in about an hour, we invite you to take your time and enjoy the salty sea air.

USA New Hampshire Scenic Drives - Portsmouth

You’ll begin your drive by taking Route 1A in historic Portsmouth, where you can visit the Strawbery Banke Museum and Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.

From there, you’ll travel along to New Castle and Rye. Finally, you can extend your drive by taking Route 1B from Portsmouth’s historic district to an area called the Great Island Common, a route filled with charming homes and the famous Wentworth-By-the-Sea Hotel.

Nature enthusiasts will love exploring tidepools and forts at Odiorne State Park, and there are also many state and local beaches to visit along the way. If fishing is more to your liking, try your hand at a deep-sea fishing excursion from Rye Harbor. Lastly, take a walk along Hampton Beach and enjoy the many fine dining options in the area.

Pro Tip: There will be parking fees at state beaches, so make sure to have cash on hand.

When to Go: In order to take advantage of everything the New Hampshire Coastal Byway has to offer, make this drive between late spring and early fall to avoid seasonal closures. 

New Hampshire Scenic Drives: Kancamagus Highway (Route 112)

  • Distance: 26.5 miles
  • Time needed: 1 hour direct or 2-3 hours

The Kancamagus Highway is one of the best fall foliage scenic drives that New Hampshire has to offer, but there are many beautiful sights and activities to experience year-round. Lovingly referred to as “The Kanc,” this eastern stretch of Route 112 will be a drive to remember.

USA New Hampshire Scenic Drives - Kancamagus Highway

The Kancamagus Scenic Byway stretches from Lincoln to Conway. The route skirts the side of Mount Kancamagus, which is a sight to behold in and of itself. Stop to experience Sabbaday Falls before heading on to Rocky Gorge Scenic Area for photos. Don’t forget to walk across the Albany Covered Bridge, which was first built in 1858.

Pro Tip: The bridge is closed to cars during the winter, but you can walk across on foot.

Along this route, you’ll also see some of the best views in New Hampshire, as “The Kank” takes you through the heart of White Mountain National Forest. You can also hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail as well as many others, and there are countless breathtaking views along the way.

When to Go: You can travel the Kancamagus Scenic Byway year-round, although some routes may be closed during winter. Autumn is an excellent time to view the fall foliage.

New Hampshire Scenic Drives: Canterbury Shaker Village Scenic Byway (NH 132)

  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Time needed: 20 minutes direct or 1 day

A drive along the Canterbury Shaker Village Scenic Byway is like traveling back in time to a bygone era. Your route takes you through lush forests, open marshes, and pre-revolutionary architecture and ends at the historic Canterbury Shaker Village.

USA New Hampshire Scenic Drives - Canterbury Shaker Village

Visiting the 694-acre Canterbury Shaker Village is like taking a step back into the 1800s. You can take a 75-minute tour to learn the history of Shaker society, visit 29 original buildings, and find a souvenir or two at the museum shop on the grounds. Bring your walking shoes to enjoy the many nature paths on the property, including the Physician’s Botanical Garden.

The Shaker Village might be the main attraction of this scenic byway, but there are still other fascinating sites to see along your drive. You also have access to Hutchins Forest along the route, and the village of Canterbury itself has plenty to offer.

When to Go: Although you can make this drive any time of year, the Canterbury Shaker Village is only open seasonally from May to October (10-5 daily) and April, November, and December (10-5 weekends).

New Hampshire Scenic Drives: Currier & Ives Scenic Byway (Routes 202, 103, and 127)

  • Distance: 40 miles
  • Time needed: 1 hour direct or 1 day

Experience the tranquil New Hampshire scenery that inspired artists Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives with the Currier & Ives Scenic Byway. This drive is filled with natural beauty, historic landmarks, shopping, and more, so feel free to take your time and enjoy the ride.

USA New Hampshire Scenic Drives - Henniker Bridge

Begin your drive at Daniel Webster’s birthplace before continuing on Route 127 through Salisbury and on to Webster. You’ll see many historic churches and colonial architecture along the route, pastoral farmland, and rolling hills. Stop to kayak on Blackwater River before visiting the quaint New England villages like Contoocook and Hopkinton.

Hike the trails in Elm Brook State Park, or you can ski at Pat’s Peak during the winter. Then, shop in Downtown Henniker and enjoy the many fairs, festivals, concerts, and museums along the drive.

This scenic New Hampshire drive ends at the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough. Take a tour of this historic building and learn more about how the 14th president of the United States shaped our country during some of the most trying periods in America’s history.

When to Go: The Currier & Ives Scenic Byway has something to offer year-round, whether you’re skiing in the winter, leaf-peeping in the fall, or anything in between.

New Hampshire Scenic Drives: The American Independence Byway (Routes 150, 84, 1, and 27)

  • Distance: 21 miles
  • Time needed: 41 minutes direct or 1 day 

Last but not least is the American Independence Byway, a 21-mile State Scenic and Culture Byway that winds through several of New Hampshire’s original towns – Exeter, Hampton, Hampton Falls, and Kensington. Historians and nature enthusiasts alike will find something to love along this historic stretch of road.

USA New Hampshire Scenic Drives - Hampton Beach (1)

If you want the full historical effect, start your drive at the bandstand in Exeter’s center. Don’t forget to visit the American Independence Museum and Gilman Garrison, the town’s oldest building.

(Pro Tip: Gilman Garrison is closed during the winter, so make sure to visit during the summer!)

Then, take Route 150 to Kensington, surrounded by Georgian and early Federal farmsteads.

As you travel from Kensington to Hampton, look for apple orchards, farmers’ markets, and colonial architecture. You also get a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean in Hampton, where you can stroll along Hampton Beach before catching a bite to eat at one of the many fine-dining options the town offers.

When to Go: Drive the American Independence Byway year-round, and always check for festivals and performances that are open seasonally.

Where To Next? More Family Road Trips In New England

If you can’t get enough of the scenic beauty of New England, here are more day trips and itineraries to consider in the northeast.

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