Up in the north, in New Hampshire, lies a glorious stretch of natural landscape called Franconia Notch State Park. And it’s a lush little part of New England that needs to be on your bucket list!
As a patch of wilderness that remains pure and pristine in the White Mountains, there are so many enjoyable things to do in Franconia Notch State Park that make it extra special. It spans nearly 6,500 acres, offering gorgeous views of the region’s natural beauty and miles of hikes.
Pulling from my time here during multiple New England fall road trips, I’m going to let you in on the must-sees for when you go!
Let’s start things off with the need to knows.
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What is Franconia Notch State Park
In specific terms, Franconia Notch is a state-run park that straddles the pass between Kinsman Range and Franconia Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Some very famous historical figures were connected with this area, mostly because it inspired them to do great work!
Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, is often referenced in connection with Old Man of the Mountain (see below) in The Great Stone Face.
Franconia was also named one of the 12 best state parks in the US, according to TripAdvisor.
Many (not all) of the camping sites and some of the trails do allow dogs.
That said, I strongly urge you to stick to the designated routes when hiking.
The park also employs a Leave No Trace policy in the interests of wildlife and forest preservation.
A Quick Park History
Located within the White Mountain National Forest, the area was originally the site of several iron mining operations.
It became a destination for rich tourists in the 1800s, and Franconia Notch State Park was established as an official state park in 1928.
Cannon Mountain, located in the park, is one of the oldest skiing destinations in the US. It is also the state’s highest ski peak.
The aerial tramway was opened in 1938, and was likely the first of its kind in the US.
Planning Your Trip
The park opens at 9AM!
Be advised that various areas within the park, like the lake beach and Flume Gorge, carry certain individual admission charges.
Many individual trails and areas may also charge a small fee (around $4 on average).
As far as when to go, many insist that the best time to visit is in the fall— this is my recommendation! In fact, a New England fall road trip is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
While temperatures may be cooler, the famous New England colors exhibited by the foliage are second to none. Winter brings snow and great skiing.
Another option is to take advantage of the camping and swimming options in the summertime.
This will also be a great time to rent a kayak and drift along the waterways or go fishing!
The park is beautiful all year round, so it really does not matter when you decide to go.
Although the key attractions can be seen in a day.
You’ll want to spend a few days exploring the park. Why would you want to rush it?
Franconia Notch State Park Things to Do
The Franconia State Park is known for several amazing lookout points and activities.
Let’s look at what to do in Franconia!
#1 Artist Bluff
Artist Bluff is a lookout and trail route.
It ends with a spectacular view over Echo Lake, which, as the name suggests, is truly inspirational.
Scott and I came up here during our last fall road trip and fell in love with it!
The colors were amazing and it made for an epic photo spot, so bring your camera gear.
I highly recommended you try to time a walk up here for a superb sunrise or sunset experience.
The trail itself is very easy to negotiate and forms a loop totaling around 1.5 miles.
You’ll want to take this in a leisurely fashion, especially if you plan on spending some time enjoying the view up top.
And if you like the view here, you’ll love exploring the hikes in Conway, NH.
Insider Tip: It can get WINDY at the top for sunrise (when I recommend going), so hold onto your hats when you get up there!
#2 Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram
The best way to get to the top of Cannon Mountain might well be the aerial tramway.
As expected, the panoramic views from atop the mountain are unbeatable.
Many visitors highly recommend that fall is the best time to enjoy the colorful views.
At the summit, a deck is available from which to enjoy the spectacle.
A restaurant café is also present. This makes the activity perfect for a lunch excursion.
If you want to spend even more time looking around the top of the mountain, you can take one of the light hiking trails, some of which will take you along some thrilling cliffs.
Note that the tram may not be operating during bad weather. Keep an eye on local advisories for operating times.
Ticket Price: $23-$28 round trip.
Insider Tip: Reserve your tickets for the tram online before you go. Walk-ins are usually subject to a lengthy wait. The tram opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm.
#3 Echo Lake
This beautiful lake offers a beach, which is a popular attraction in the summer.
Fishing, swimming, and kayaking are the activities of the day.
Kayaks and pedal boats are available for rental along the shore.
In the peak summer days, this area can become somewhat crowded.
You can, however, reserve a day pass online if you want to be assured of some space.
Insider Tip: Aside from the fun water activities, visitors can walk around the lake and simply revel in the fun atmosphere.
#4 Flume Gorge
Flume Gorge is possibly the most well-known and popular hiking attraction in the park.
It is a natural gorge that stretches about 800 feet.
There’s also a cave that you’ll have to crawl through, but it should make a fun adventure for most people and their kids.
The effort is worth it, as you’ll see Wolf Den cave, waterfalls (Avalanche Falls), the great boulder (300 tons of it), and the river.
In addition, the walk will go along past a famous red covered bridge — this was my favorite portion of the hike!
In total, it’s two miles and two hours of thrill-a-minute hiking!
Ticket to walk the gorge: $18
Insider Tip: Walk the gorge through its narrow walkways, but be advised that there are stairs to traverse along the way.
#5 Kancamagus Highway
As noted, the park runs along the Kancamagus Highway, which is itself a pretty decent opportunity to catch some spectacular views.
The highway offers several spots from which to view the park, so feel free to pull over in the ten designated areas to truly appreciate these beautiful scenes.
You could easily spend a day or two simply moving along the 35-mile byway.
Make a point of trying these waypoints at the very least:
- Hancock Overlook
- Lower Falls
- Rocky Gorge Scenic Area & Falls Pond
- Sabbaday Falls
Insider Tip: A great bonus is the highway can be explored as a part of a larger New England fall road trip, as it traverses the greater National Forest region.
#6 New England Ski Museum
A visit to a museum entirely dedicated to the history of skiing is guaranteed to offer up some kernels of interest.
For those who casually wander by, the fascination might lie in how far back the roots of skiing go.
For real enthusiasts, some surprises may crop up when it comes to how many skiing “firsts” actually occurred in these parts.
The museum opened in 1982, and admission is free.
Fun Fact: The permanent exhibition is aptly named “From the First Tracks to the Fall Line: Eight Thousand Years of Skiing”.
#7 Old Man of the Mountains Plaza
The Old Man of the Mountain Plaza is near the base of the Aerial Tram at Cannon Mountain.
There is a wonderful view of the Cannon Cliff from here.
This is one of the most famous Franconia, New Hampshire points of interest.
The cliff is so named because at a certain angle it resembled a human face.
At least, it did before a rockfall removed some of its key features.
The plaza employed a clever system of artificial construction that allows the viewer to see what it used to look like.
Fun Fact: This is the site that inspired the title of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story mentioned earlier.
#8 The Basin
Those interested in geography will love the opportunity to see The Basin, a glacier pothole that results in a whirlpool and waterfall at its center.
It’s a quick detour, but it’s well worth seeing the quirky geological phenomenon.
Insider Tip: To add to the fun, you’ll have to walk through a tunnel and across a wooden bridge to get there.
#9 The Covered Bridges
There are several covered bridges in the park.
If you are keen to experience them, these are the ones you need to see:
- Clark’s Covered Bridge — Notably, the very last Howe Truss bridge of its kind still in use anywhere in the world.
- Flume Covered Bridge — Along the Flume Gorge, this bridge was built in 1886 and may be one of the oldest in the state.
- Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge — New Hampshire’s largest sentinel pine used to stand at the beginning of this bridge.
Insider Tip: Bring something like a Sony 6400 and a 2-70mm f/2.8 lens for the best pictures!
#10 Woodstock Inn Brewery
It would be a shame to enjoy such a great getaway to these amazing Franconia, NH attractions without sampling some of the local brews!
The brewery offers a tour of the facilities, and on some days you’ll be entertained by live music.
It’s all really about adding to the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere of your holiday.
Insider Tip: Craft beers made on-site include the Mountain Haze NEIPA and the Cannon Ale IPA. Feeling more adventurous? Try the Double Pig’s Ear Brown Ale.
#11 Other Day Hikes
Pack your good hiking boots!
Aside from the specific hikes around the park already mentioned, there are a couple of long day hikes you might be interested in for a breakaway.
A good one to try is the three-mile-long Lonesome Lake Trail to the alpine lake.
The Mt. Pemigewasset Trail is a little more challenging with an incline of 1,200 feet over 3.7 miles.
The toughest long hike in the park is the Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail, which is an impressive nine miles long, rising 4,000 feet along its length.
Insider Tip: Artist Bluff would be my top recommendation for hiking. The fall colors are striking and the views are next level.
List of Best Things to Do in Franconia Notch State Park + Map
- Artist Bluff
- Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram
- Echo Lake
- Flume Gorge
- Kancamagus Highway
- Old Man of the Mountains Plaza
- The Basin
- The Covered Bridges
- Woodstock Inn Brewery
- Day Hikes
Below is the map I promised you.
You can click here for a live version of the map!
Where to Stay in Franconia Notch State Park
In the summertime, it’s a lot of fun to camp in the designated areas of the park.
The Cannon Mountain RV Park is open all year round.
Lafayette Place Campground is situated in the center of the park is a great option for summer camping. It offers picnic tables, fire pits, and easy access to the best bits of the park.
If roughing it is not your style, there are nearby towns with hotels and other accommodations that might suffice.
Try the nearby town of Lincoln, which happens to be the second-largest town in the state.
Lincoln Log Cabins — Get a total wilderness experience at these outstanding mountain-style accommodation cabins, to complete the feel. Check Availability
Riverbank Motel and Cabins — This beautiful old-style motel is situated along the banks of the Pemigewasset River. A quick seven-mile drive puts you at the park entrance, and there’s a popular trading post for all supplies about 100 yards from the motel. Check availability
Skyview Chalet — This entire chalet for rent is ideal as a stylish vacation home for those traveling in a group. Four bedrooms will accommodate a decent-sized party, and there’s access to several nearby ski-lifts. Check availability
Franconia Inn — This ever-popular inn in the town has ski-in access in winter and offers a great view of the White Mountains. Horseback riding, hot tubs, a swimming pool, and sports facilities are all offered on-site, on the off-chance you choose to stay in for a day. Check availability
Final Thoughts on Things To Do in Franconia Notch State Park
As is evident, there are things to do in Franconia, NH, and its state park. The park is especially suited to those who love a great hike.
There are easy hikes and a few more challenging ones, but all offer superb rewards.
The views of the New Hampshire and New England scenery are legendary, and very definitely worth the time spent exploring it.
Add to that the interesting geological phenomena found in the park, for those drawn to world knowledge and visual structures of interest.
It’s clear that, as parks go, Franconia Notch is a gem. Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed this wonderful list of Franconia Notch State Park things to do.
Looking for another park to explore? Consider the Acadia National Park, especially in the fall.
I also recommend checking out New York’s Adirondacks in the fall!