Franconia Notch is probably the most popular spot in the White Mountains, and, despite the numbers of visitors, it’s a fantastic place to spend some time. I-93, the country’s only two-lane interstate, offers easy access; a host of attractions—an aerial tram, the state’s own “little Grand Canyon,” covered bridges, a powerful waterfall called the Flume Gorge, even a trading post with trained bears—make it a great place to linger. If you give yourself the time to hike around or just sit still by a mountain stream, you could easily spend a week or more enjoying it all.
The main draw in Franconia Notch used to be one of the most famous landmarks in New England: the Old Man of the Mountain, a series of five granite ledges 1,200 feet above the valley that seemed to resemble an old man’s profile when viewed from certain angles. After years of reconstructive surgery, being held together by epoxies and steel reinforcement, the Old Man came tumbling down on May 3, 2003.
Fortunately, the other well-known feature of Franconia Notch is still there: The Flume ($15) is a granite gorge, 12 to 20 feet wide and nearly 100 feet high, carved by roaring waters at the south end of the notch. To get here, head to the large visitors center (603/745-8391, daily 8:30am-5pm May-Oct.), pay the admission fee, and take a short bus ride to near the start of the wooden boardwalk, which runs the length of the 800-foot-long gorge and ends up at the ear-pounding rumble of Avalanche Falls.
Though less famous than the Old Man and The Flume, between the two sits another favorite Franconia Notch stop: The Basin, where a lovely waterfall in the thundering Pemigewassett River has polished a 25-foot-deep pothole. Thoreau visited in the 1820s, and thought it was remarkable; it’s still a peaceful place to sit and picnic and be soothed by the natural white noise.