The Appalachian Trail through New Hampshire
“Live Free or Die” is the feisty motto of tiny New Hampshire, the state that hits the national limelight every four years when its political primaries launch the horse race for the White House. During the presidential campaign’s opening stretch, locals have to turn into hermits to avoid having their votes solicited by every candidate running and their opinions polled by every reporter.
Some of New Hampshire’s million residents take the state’s motto to heart, however, and when you see the ruggedness of the landscape, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to find isolation from the madding crowd.
Despite its apparent brevity, the Appalachian Trail route across New Hampshire provides a hearty sampling of the topographic spectrum from its start at New England’s highest peak, Mt. Washington, to neighboring Vermont amid the rolling farmland of the Connecticut River Valley.
Road Trip Intersection: The Great Northern
Along the northeastern side of the White Mountains, between Grafton Notch and Mt. Washington, the Appalachian Trail parallels The Great Northern road trip route. Navigating two-lane highways from Acadia National Park to the sparkling city of Seattle, the Great Northern follows US-2 in one of the longest routes we cover in Road Trip USA.
North and east of Mt. Washington, the Appalachian Trail runs through one of its toughest sections, rambling through Mahoosuc Notch into Maine, then passing through Grafton Notch State Park. There are no real roads anywhere near here, so drivers wanting a quick taste of this impenetrable country will have to join US-2 for the drive through Gorham, New Hampshire, and Bethel, Maine, then wind along the Bear River on scenic Route 26. Beyond Grafton Notch, the hikers’ Appalachian Trail passes through ever more extensive wilderness, with fewer services (and many more mosquitoes and black flies!) the closer you get to the trail’s northern finish, atop Mt. Katahdin.
Though the hiking trail and the nearest roads are like strands of a double helix, both routes take you through some memorable country, especially around Rangeley Lakes and Moosehead Lake, in the deep Maine woods.
Recommended New Hampshire Sights
Some notable sights and stops along the Road Trip USA driving tour of the Appalachian Trail through New Hampshire:
- Mt. Washington – The star attraction of the White Mountains’ Presidential Range, 6,288-foot Mt. Washington stands head and shoulders above every other peak in New England
- Mt. Washington Valley – Jackson, NH has some of northern New Hampshire’s best places to eat, drink, and sleep while nearby Story Land is a draw for families
- The Kancamagus Highway – an A stunningly beautiful alternate scenic drive that’s shorter and less traveled than US-302 and US-3 through Crawford and Franconia Notches
- Crawford Notch – Centerpiece of the Crawford Notch State Park and Bretton Woods, home for the Mount Washington Cog Railway
- Franconia Notch – Probably the most popular spot in the White Mountains. Tour the Flume and see Avalanche Falls
- Clark’s Trading Post – The live bears at Clark’s Trading Post is a delicious tacky tourist attraction, while nearby Sunny Day diner delivers on classic breakfasts
- Lost River Gorge – To more or less follow the Appalachian Trail hiking route from Franconia Notch, we recommended a drive through the Lost River Gorge
- Hanover: Dartmouth College – A stop in attractive little Hanover–the home of Dartmouth College–makes for a good base for day trips and outdoor excursions