Summer in New England is lovely. We’ve got beaches, lakes and lobster rolls to keep us happy. Winter is also just fine. With dozens of ski mountains, museums and hot toddies to keep us cozy. (Let’s ignore spring, or as many in the area call it, Mud Season.) But fall is when New England really shines. We’ve got pumpkins and apples galore plus fresh-pressed cider and piping hot cider doughnuts and best of all, fall foliage. Each fall thousands of intrepid leaf-peepers will head north to see autumn in all its glory. And after spending a fall or two in New England, I think one of the best places to spend a fall day is in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, specifically the Flume Gorge and Cannon Mountain Tramway.
When to Go
Peak foliage (in my experience) in the White Mountains is usually in the first two weeks of October (also note that both the Flume Gorge and Cannon Tramway operate seasonally). I use the Yankee Magazine Live Fall Foliage Map to keep track of which areas are at their peak. The magazine even has an iPhone and Android App called Foliage Leaf Peepr so you can see which areas will have the best foliage while you’re on the road.
Pro tip: Pack extra layers, as the weather can change quickly in the White Mountains, especially at the top of Cannon Mountain.
Head north on I-93 for a little more than two hours until you hit the White Mountains, where you’ll find the Flume Gorge. This unique area boasts a natural gorge with tall, narrow granite walls that extends 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. While visiting, you can just walk through the Gorge or you can take a two-mile loop walk, which brings you over a covered bridge, through a forest where you’ll encounter glacial boulders and provides spectacular views of Mount Liberty (which looks like George Washington lying in state, pictured above) framed by the brilliant colors of fall. (I highly recommend the two-mile loop!)
The Gorge (852 Daniel Webster Highway/Route 3, Lincoln) is open until October 27 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults (13+), $12 for children ages six through 12 and free for children under five with a paid adult admission. The visitor’s center and this website provide lots of helpful information that make the trip more meaningful and educational.
This is the site of the first aerial passenger tramway in North America, which opened in 1938. The two enclosed cable cars now on Cannon Mountain ascend 2,022 vertical feet before depositing you at the top of the 4,180-foot summit. At the top of the mountain, take a walking trail to the summit observation tower where you’ll get unparalleled views of the White Mountains as well as neighboring states and Canada on a clear day.
Cannon Tramway (9 Franconia Notch State Park, Franconia) is open until October 20 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults (13+), $12 for children ages six through 12 and free for children under five with a paid adult admission.
Where to Eat
Both the Flume Gorge and Cannon Tramway have picnic areas and bringing a lunch is a nice way to enjoy more time outside in the crisp fall air. But if you’d prefer to dine inside, I recommend checking out the Common Man Lincoln (lunch or dinner, 10 Pollard Road). The restaurant has a beautiful interior, complete with seating on the second floor overlooking a two-story fireplace. Flapjack’s Pancake House (breakfast, 149 Main St.) and the Gypsy Cafe (lunch or dinner, 117 Main St.) are also tasty, casual options in Lincoln.
P.S. Looking for more New Hampshire fun? Head to Meredith on the shores of beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee! Or looking to stay closer to home? Try a trip to Salem, Mass., where you’ll find a whole lot more than just hokey witch stuff.