Aerial view of the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire in Autumn.

12 Most Scenic Road Trips to Take in New Hampshire

From the jagged coastline from Portsmouth to Hampton, to the snow-capped peaks of the White Mountains, to the deep woods in the northern part of the state, the "Granite State" is a wonder to behold every time you turn around. Yet, how can one see enough of this beautiful country? The answer is to take a scenic road trip with friends, family, or even by yourself. These are the most scenic road trips that one can take in the great state of New Hampshire, and the good thing is all it will take is a vehicle, gasoline, a sense of adventure, and time to enjoy all the wonders that await.

Kancamagus Highway

Albany Covered Bridge, along the Kancamagus Highway in White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire.
Albany Covered Bridge, along the Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

The Kancamagus Scenic Highway, known intimately as “The Kanc” by those who travel it frequently, winds west through the picturesque wilderness along NH Route 112 from Conway to Lincoln. Trailing the Swift River, or vice versa, for much of its 34 miles, this mostly two-lane road passes a variety of natural sights, including Sugar Hill Scenic Vista, great for looking out over the panoramic Swift River Valley and experiencing the foliage change during spring and autumn, and the Pemigewasset Overlook, offering visitors stunning views of the majestic Osceola Mountains and the White Mountain National Forest. There are also several nature trails to check out along the way, like the Champney Falls Trail, Boulder Loop, and Franconia Falls Trail.

Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive

Portsmouth Harbor (Fort Constitution) lighthouse guides fishing boat during low tide along rocky coastline.
Portsmouth Harbor (Fort Constitution) lighthouse.

From Portsmouth, through the town of Hampton Beach, around a loop past Kensington and Exeter, and back to the town of Hampton, the Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive is an excellent way to experience the scenic coastline and history of America’s 9th oldest state. Whether it is visiting history or tasting some of the best seafood on the East Coast, this 40-mile road trip has something for everyone. For historical fans, check out Wentworth By the Sea, which was first opened in 1874, and stop by Fort Stark and Fort Constitution. For a taste of the seafood, Surf Portsmouth in Portsmouth, Rye Harbor Lobster Pound in Rye, and Eastman’s Dockside Dining in Hampton Beach are some of the best along the coastline.

Lakes Region Scenic Byway

Alton Bay at Lake Winnipesaukee aerial view and village of Alton Bay in fall in town of Alton, New Hampshire NH, USA.
Alton Bay at Lake Winnipesaukee in the fall, New Hampshire.

Lake Winnipesaukee, the Granite State’s largest and most popular lake, spans over 70 square miles. This is a prominent reason that the Lakes Region Scenic Byway is one of the most iconic scenic drives in all of New England. Starting at Alton, traveling all of the way around the lake, and finishing back at Alton, this approximate 100-mile road trip is not one to miss. From driving through the friendly downtowns of Ashland, Laconia, Meredith, and Ossipee, not to mention many more, to experiencing the fun and excitement of Weirs Beach and checking out the rare finds at Mills Falls Marketplace, this scenic drive is a wonder to behold for everyone.

Mount Washington Auto Road

Stunning view from the Mount Washington Auto Road, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
The Mount Washington Auto Road, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Even though it is quite short in length, about 15 miles up and back, the Mount Washington Auto Road, originally called the Mount Washington Carriage Road, is a great scenic road trip in New Hampshire. The road first opened in 1861 and traverses an elevation gain of 6,288 feet from the base to the summit. It was completely paved in 2022 and offers breathtaking, wondrous sights of most of the Presidential Range, otherwise known as the White Mountains. At the end of the approximately half an hour drive each way, there is the Red Barn Museum to check out, constructed from one of several barns used to house the horses needed to pull the original carriages back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lake Sunapee Scenic Drive

Covered bridge and fall colors in Sunapee, New Hampshire.
Fall colors in Sunapee, New Hampshire.

The Lake Sunapee Scenic Drive, also known as the Lake Sunapee Loop, circles Lake Sunapee, encompassing a total of approximately 25 miles. This road trip is worth taking multiple times, especially during autumn, as the panoramas of fall foliage explode with reds, oranges, greens, and yellows. Newbury is a good starting point, and some of the best attractions to enjoy along the way, besides the fall foliage, are stopping by the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge, visiting Mt Sunapee State Park, viewing the Herrick Cove Lighthouse, and enjoying the beauty of Lake Sunapee itself.

New Hampshire Route 153

Scenic route in New Hampshire on Route 153 and 25 with bridge over water
Scenic route in New Hampshire on Route 153.

Not suggested in the middle of winter, though it can be attempted, this scenic road trip along New Hampshire Route 153 is filled with panoramic vistas of the New England countryside, including a plethora of historic small towns to cruise through. Beginning in Farmington and continuing up through Union to the small town of Sanbornville, which is east of Lake Winnipesaukee and west of Lovell Lake, Route 153 then passes through the towns of Wakefield, Woodman, Effingham, and Madison until it reaches Conway and North Conway, the gateway to the White Mountains. Several natural wonders and attractions are along the way, like having a picnic at Pine River Pond north of Wakefield, checking out Madison Boulder, and stopping by Echo Lake State Park and Cathedral Ledge just north of Conway.

Monadnock Region Loop

An aerial view of residential buildings and roads covered in the snow in Keene, New Hampshire
 Residential buildings and roads covered in the snow in Keene, New Hampshire.

Not to be confused with the T4 Monadnock Loop, which is a very difficult, almost-9-mile scenic hiking trail near Jaffrey, the Monadnock Region Loop is an 80-mile scenic drive encircling Mount Monadnock. Beginning in Keene, a town that claims to have the widest Main Street in the world, this scenic road trip passes by the town of Jaffrey and the Mount Monadnock State Park, Peterborough, and Miller State Park, Greenfield and Greenfield State Park, and Stoddard and Pitcher Mountain before returning to the town of Keene. A couple of stops along the way that are worth taking the time to stop are the Monadnock Country Café in Jaffrey and the Waterhouse Restaurant in Peterborough, both offering excellent food. 

Currier and Ives Scenic Byway

Henniker. New Hampshire. USA - October 06, 2022 - View of Contoocook River and Edna Dean Proctor Bridge
Contoocook River and Edna Dean Proctor Bridge in Henniker, New Hampshire. Image credit VIKVAD via Shutterstock

Blending history with nature is a common theme of road trips in New Hampshire. This is seen in traveling along the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway as well. Starting in the town of Henniker, which is just southeast of the Lake Sunapee Loop, the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway travels east and north, passing by Elm Brook State Park, to Hopkinton Village and Contoocook Village, home of the Contoocook Railroad Museum, as well as the oldest covered railroad bridge in America. From there, the drive splits, allowing you to either follow NH-103 northwest to Rollins State Park or north on NH-127 to the Cogswell Woods Recreational Area and then into the town of Salisbury. 

Great Northern Woods Loop

A highway winds through the Dixville Notch mountain pass in New Hampshire.
Highway winds through the Dixville Notch mountain pass in New Hampshire.

This is a perfect scenic drive if nature is the top priority on your list. From the mill town of Berlin, this loop through the woods follows Rte. 16 north to Errol, Rte. 26 west to Colebrook, Rte. 102 south to Groveton, and then Rte. 110 back east to Berlin. There are ample possibilities of seeing black bear, moose, deer, and other woodland creatures along this trip. Dense forests, picturesque lakes and rivers, state parks, and other natural wonders are also common along this loop, as the Androscoggin River flows along much of Rte. 16. Several state parks, including Milan Hill, Mollidgewock, and Dixville Notch, are also nearby, and the Connecticut River flows along much of Rte. 102. 

White Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway

White Mountain National Forest fall foliage on Kancamagus Highway aerial view near Sugar Hill Scenic Vista, Town of Lincoln, New Hampshire NH, USA.
White Mountain National Forest fall foliage near Sugar Hill Scenic Vista, Town of Lincoln, New Hampshire.

For those looking for a longer adventure, this 100-mile-long scenic drive encompasses the Kancamagus Highway, but it offers almost 70 extra miles. The major difference between the two, other than length, is that this scenic drive brings you past a different variety of natural wonders, like Flume Gorge, the Basin, and the Old Man of the Mountain Memorial, several state parks, and two majestic passes. Photographic opportunities abound while traveling past these sights, not to mention the views to behold while crossing over Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch, both passes reaching heights of almost 2,000 feet above sea level.

Connecticut River Byway

The River Walk Covered Bridge with the Grist mill on the Ammnosuoc River in Littleton, New Hampshire.
The River Walk Covered Bridge with the Grist mill on the Ammnosuoc River in Littleton, New Hampshire.

Starting at the town of West Chesterfield and journeying up the western border of New Hampshire to the town of Littleton, following the Connecticut River most of the way, this byway is the longest of the scenic drives listed here. At 140 miles in length, it passes through a plethora of small towns, including Walpole, Charlestown, Lyme, Orford, and Lisbon. Each of these towns has its own historic and scenic wonders, from Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole to the Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown to the Orford Street Historic District in Orford. Plus, at the end of the journey, the town of Littleton is home to the Riverwalk Covered Bridge and the bronze statue of Pollyanna, the cheerful girl from the classic book written in 1913 by Eleanor Porter.

American Independence Byway

Hampton Beach aerial view including historic waterfront buildings on Ocean Boulevard and Hampton Beach State Park, Town of Hampton, New Hampshire NH, USA.
Hampton Beach on Ocean Boulevard and Hampton Beach State Park, New Hampshire.

This road trip offers a slice of history on its own or can be combined with the Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive. Beginning in the town of Exeter, famous for the Annual Independence Festival, continuing through Kensington and Hampton Falls, and ending in the town of Hampton, known best for Hampton Beach State Park and the Ocean World Oceanarium, the American Independence Byway is a 20-mile scenic road trip into the history of America. While ample opportunities exist to grab lobster and seafood at Perkins Pier in Hampton Beach and Old Salt in Hampton, there are also a plethora of historic sites and spots along the way, including the American Independence Museum and the Exeter Historical Society in Exeter, and James House (built in 1723 for Benjamin James) and the Tuck Museum in Hampton.

From scenic drives down two-lane roads through deep woods, past sparkling lakes, and through wondrous passes to road trips that rush through the sunny countryside and dive into history itself, the majestic northeast is a wonder for everyone. Whether it is a scenic drive along the Kancamagus Highway or a historic drive from Exeter to Hampton, these scenic road trips across the state of New Hampshire will be well worth the time.


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