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A Drive Through the White Mountains, Ending at Echo Lake

Aug 01, 2013 02:07AM ● By Erin Frisch

Whether your New Hampshire travels take you along the White Mountains Trail National Scenic Byway on the Northern or the Southern Loop, you’ll be treated to the best the Granite State has to offer—heavenly scenery, covered bridges, historic sites, picturesque villages, fantastic shopping and dining, and friendly New Englanders. A drive through the White Mountains ending at Echo Lake makes a delightful family day trip.

You’ll see all these and more along the 100-mile route. The Trail loop tour winds through the White Mountain National Forest and past popular attractions. It can be a day trip or an entire vacation. The Northern and Southern Loops afford a unique look at life in the White Mountains. In the 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne and painter Thomas Cole drew attention to the area, causing visitors to arrive in large numbers. Many tourists travel I-93 to enter the White Mountains, and the highway itself boasts spectacular vistas—just a hint of things to come. Covered bridges in the region are part of the landscape, as well as great spots to wait out a passing shower or watch raging rivers swollen with snow melt. Once called courting bridges, the first ones were often toll bridges too. One was so profitable it provided a 70 percent return on its 1870 investment!

The North Conway and Conway area has the largest concentration of shopping, dining, recreational facilities, and lodging in the White Mountains. Home to the Conway Scenic Railroad and the beautifully restored 1874 Victorian station, tourists can choose from scenic round-trip rides to Conway or Crawford Notch’s spectacular scenery. There’s no end to the fun in this area, with summer repertory theatre, concerts in Schouler Park in North Conway, terrific shopping along Rt. 16, and quaint villages, great golf courses, and of course camera-ready scenery at every turn in the road. Truly, there’s something for everyone.

Echo Lake is a pristine 15.7-acre lake with a sandy beach and picnic areas in Echo Lake State Park near North Conway. The park offers swimming, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and nature trails, as well as plenty of photo ops for amateurs and professionals alike. The lake lies at the base of White Horse Ledge south of Cathedral Ledge; both are popular rock-climbing destinations in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. South of Conway, Rt. 16 intersects with the Kancamagus Highway, a historic and well-traveled landmark.

“The Kanc,” as it’s also known, is to many the most spectacular section of the White Mountains Trail. It crosses through the White Mountain National Forest and climbs to 3,000 feet, boasting hiking trails, federally designated scenic areas, and breathtaking overlook views. The highway was named for Kancamagus, an Indian chief of the Penacook Confederacy who tried to keep peace in the region. English attacks ended his efforts and brought war and bloodshed. Sites along the road include the early 1830s Russell-Colbath Homestead, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, hikes with waterfalls—Sabbaday Falls, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Lower Falls—and many more without. There are hikes and nature trails for just about everyone. You’ll also find many well-kept picnic areas and campgrounds. Watch for moose! The opportunities for wildlife viewing are abundant all along the Kanc, so have your camera ready. You’ll find maps and information at the Saco Ranger Station and the Russell-Colbath Homestead near Conway, and at the Lincoln Woods Ranger Station and White Mountains Visitor Center, North Woodstock.

The Kancamagus Highway runs east to west from Conway to Lincoln, NH, 34.5 miles, and this completes your family day trip. Pull out the beach chair and soak up the sun and fresh mountain air at Echo Lake. You’ll sleep like a baby tonight.

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