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Complete White Mountains New Hampshire Fall Guide: Itinerary and Best Activities

The White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire is an incredible place to explore all year long, but the mountains come alive in the fall when the leaves change to vibrant shades of reds, yellows, and oranges. The contrast of rocky cliffs and raging rivers against the backdrop of changing colors make the White Mountains an amazing fall destination. This White Mountains New Hampshire Fall Guide will share everything to help you plan your visit.

As New Hampshire locals, we spend time every fall exploring the mountains. In this post, we will share everything we know to help you plan your own visit to the White Mountains in the fall. If you are an avid hiker, we have suggestions for wonderful hikes, and if you want to maximize your time, we have suggestions for the best viewpoints and places to stop along the incredible scenic drives.

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Fall White Mountain Guide

If you prefer to have a printable guide to the White Mountains, get our complete guide to visiting the White Mountains in the fall including a weekend itinerary, the best hikes, where to stay and more.

You can purchase this Guide on Etsy.

Overview of the White Mountains, New Hampshire Fall Guide

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are a large mountainous area with hardwood forests, alpine peaks, and incredible outdoor activities. Many of the best hikes are within the White Mountain National Forest, and there are several nearby state parks with even more beautiful sites.

There are a few roads that run through the White Mountains mostly east to west including the Kancamagus Highway and Route 302. These are both beautiful, winding roads that are amazing scenic drives during the fall months. You can also access many hikes and viewpoints on Route 16 and Highway 93 that run north and south on either side of the mountain range. The White Mountains take about 1.5 hours to drive across.

Some of the highlights of visiting the White Mountains in the fall include:

  • Taking the cog railway up Mount Washington
  • Hiking to see views of the fall foliage
  • Taking a scenic drive and stopping at the scenic overlooks
  • Visiting one of the small towns nestled in the White Mountains
  • Getting out for a bike ride
  • Check out a local fair like the Fryburg Fair

Scroll down to see more details about things to do in the White Mountains.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Albany Covered Bridge
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Albany Covered Bridge

Things to Know about Visiting the White Mountains New Hampshire Fall Sites

The entire fall season in the White Mountains is a great time to visit, but most people are looking to arrive during the peak of the fall foliage. In general, with the exception of the weekends in early October, September is less busy than the summer months and the days are often clear with colder temperatures starting at altitude.

Below you can find some things to know to help you plan your visit to the White Mountains.

When does the Fall Foliage Peak in the White Mountains?

The leaves begin changing around the third week of September in NH and reach their peak in the Northern part of the White Mountains usually around the first of October. Peak usually happens in the main part of the White Mountains around the second weekend of October and continues southward – peaking in the Lakes Region in mid-October.

These dates are estimates and the peak of fall foliage in NH varies each year depending on the weather throughout the prior year. To see current foliage conditions, you can check out the fall foliage tracker put together by Visit NH. Even if you don’t visit during peak, you will likely still find beautiful fall colors anytime between mid-Sept and mid-Oct.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall

What is the Weather in the White Mountains in Fall?

Generally speaking, the fall weather in NH is lovely. Days are often clear and warm and nights are cool. You are also likely to find temperatures shift during the day depending on if the sun is out, the wind is blowing, or based on your elevation.

It is not uncommon to start an October morning in a sweater with temperatures in the 40s, then by 11 you are in a T-shirt hiking in the sun, only to have a rainstorm coming in mid-afternoon and you are back in your warm layers. The weather also changes dramatically as you gain elevation and the first snow often falls on Mountain Washington’s summit in late Sept.

While the fall tends to be mostly clear, it is not uncommon to get a larger storm system that comes through the region with heavy winds and rain. You may also experience morning fog or low-lying clouds that burn off throughout the morning.

When you are checking the weather in the White Mountains, make sure to check the area where you will be visiting, as the region and the weather can be varied across this area. Trails NH has a good forecast of the region including some of the mountains.

Here are the monthly average temperatures in North Conway – located right in the White Mountains on the eastern side:

  • September: high 71 and low 47
  • October: high 58 and low 36
  • November: high 46 and low 27
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Sabbaday Falls

Getting Around the White Mountains

The best way to get around the White Mountains in the Fall is by car. It is possible to take a bus into one of the towns, but in order to get out to see the fall foliage, you will need your own transportation. Note that there are limited gas stations in the White Mountains so make sure you keep your tank above half full.

Is there a Fee to Visit the White Mountains of New Hampshire

There is no fee to enter White Mountain National Forest or the State Parks in the area, but there is a fee to park at most of the scenic overlooks and hiking parking lots. For the areas inside the National Forest, you can purchase a $5 parking pass right in the parking lot. The state parks in the area have different fees, but they can all be purchased in the parking lot.

How long do You Need to Visit the White Mountains in the Fall

If you are planning to visit the White Mountains to see the fall foliage, you should plan at least 2 days. A weekend will give you enough time for some hikes and scenic drives. If you have more time, there is plenty to do to spend a long weekend or even a full week in the White Mountains in the fall.

Responsible Travel in the White Mountains

The White Mountains can easily become crowded when the fall leaf peeping hits its peak. On these early fall weekends, it’s not uncommon to find full parking lots, overflowing trash cans, and messy facilities. ALWAYS practice leave no trace when you are visiting to help preserve this amazing place for others. If you are new to hiking, make sure to check out our article on hiking for beginners.

What to Pack for your Fall Foliage Weekend in the White Mountains

Best Things to Do in the White Mountains New Hampshire Fall Season

In the next section, you can find information about the best fall activities in the White Mountains.

Take a Scenic Drive

One of the best and most popular things to do in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the fall is to take a scenic drive. The Kancamagus Highway winds directly through the White Mountains and is an incredibly scenic drive to soak in the fall sites. The Kancamagus isn’t the only scenic drive in the Whites. Route 302 takes a northern route through the White Mountains, and even Highway 93 is a beautiful drive through Franconia Notch.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Sugar Hill Overlook
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Sugar Hill Overlook

Best Stops on the Kancamagus Highway Fall Foliage Drive

Each of these stops is just a short walk and you can easily visit all of them of a day trip as you drive the Kancamagus Highway. If you are driving the Kancamagus, this audio driving tour is a great way to learn a bit more about the area.

  • Albany Covered Bridge
  • Lower Falls
  • Rocky Gorge
  • Sabbaday Falls
  • Sugar Hill Overlook

Best Stops on Scenic Route 302

Route 302 is a slightly more northern route with gorgeous views and sites. You can see a great route and details of taking this drive here.

  • Crawford Notch State Park
  • Bartlett Covered Bridge
  • Bretton Woods

Take a Scenic Fall Foliage Hike in NH

There are so many incredible hikes in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. If you are looking for fall foliage, look for hikes to rocky outcrops, waterfalls, or lakes for the best views. Below you can see some suggestions of the best fall hikes in NH and you can see more details here: 9 Best White Mountain Fall Foliage Hikes in New Hampshire.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Artist’s Bluff

Mount Willard: This easy and beautiful hike in Crawford Notch State Park gives incredible views of route 302 running up the valley. This 3.2-mile hike is mostly easy.

Artist Bluff: This classic fall hike in Franconia Notch is just 0.5 miles to a rocky outcrop with epic views. This is probably the most popular spot to snap a fall foliage photo in the White Mountains

Boulder Loop Trail: Right on the Kancamagus, this is another short hike with views out across the cliffs of the fall colors.

Arethusa Falls: If you are looking for a fall hike that includes a waterfall, this is an excellent choice. The trail follows a lovely stream to an amazing waterfall.

Hedgehog Mountain: This 4.8 mile hike has multiple vrocky ledges offering views out across the White Mountains.

Mount Flume and Liberty: If you want a slightly more challenging fall hike, you can explore Mount Flume and Liberty. This hike takes you to two summits with incredible 360-degree views.

Looking for even more hikes? Check out our favorite NH Hikes and the best Easy Hikes in the White Mountains.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall

Amazing Activities in the White Mountains

Cog Railway: The Cog Railway takes you to the summit of Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the state on a steep and thrilling ride. Fall is the best time to take this ride. You will need to buy tickets in advance.

Beer and Wine Tasting: New Hampshire is full of amazing micro-pubs and there are many places to stop in for a drink throughout the mountains. Go wine tasting or stop in for some beer tasting.

Ride the Canon Mountain Arial Tramway: Take the tram up Canon Mountain and get amazing views of the fall colors. At the summit, enjoy the views and grab a bite to eat at the cafe.

Take a Bike Ride: We love to hike to enjoy the fall colors, but taking a bike ride gives you the chance to cover even more ground. Many people take road bikes on scenic drives, or you can try mountain biking at Green Woodlands.

Visit one of the Cute NH Towns in the Whites: The White Mountains are a few small and picturesque mountain towns. You can find cute cafes, breweries, local artwork, and outdoor gear. Our favorite small towns in the White Mountain are North Conway, Jackson, Gorham, and Lincoln.

Map of the White Mountains – New Hampshire in the Fall

The map below show some of the best hikes and scenic stops in NH. It also outlines a fabulous loop drive to take in the White Mountains in the fall. You can add additional places by clicking on the map and saving it.

Where to Stay in the White Mountains in the Fall

There are several small towns where you can base yourself on exploring the White Mountains in the fall. North Conway is the largest town to stay in and has the benefit of lots of excellent restaurants and shopping options. You can also stay in one of the smaller towns like Jackson or Lincoln. Another option is to stay in one of the ski resort areas such as Bretton Woods. Below are some choices to help you find the best accommodation in the White Mountains New Hampshire in the fall:

Best Places to Stay in North Conway

White Mountain Hotel and Resort – this is in a stunning location near North Conway and you can find options for different-sized rooms whether you are traveling as a couple or as a family.

Fairfield by Marriott Inn & Suites North Conway – In a easy location, this hotel has a variety of rooms sizes

Best Places to Stay in Jackson

Wildcat Inn and Tavern – In a beautiful location in Jackson, this is a great location, especially in the fall

The Lodge at Jackson Village – right in the little hamlet of Jackson – this is a lovely lodge

Best Places to Stay in Lincoln

South Mountain Resort – This beautiful resort is a great choice in Lincoln

InnSeason Resorts Pollard Brook – Located at the base of Loon Mountain, this is a great place to stay, especially with kids.

Best Places to Eat in the White Mountains

There are lots of great restaurants in the White Mountains. Below are a few of our favorites.

Muddy Moose Restaurant & Pub in North Conway – with a very rustic, log cabin feel and a fireplace, this restaurant has a very American Menu.

Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro in North Conway – for a little fancier meal, head to this Italian restaurant.

Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. – we love this one and it has a fun vibe and delicious BBQ

There are also some great places for breakfast in North Conway or even to just grab a coffee, try: Stairway Cafe, the Met, Prescilla’s, and Peaches.

If you are staying in Lincoln, grab breakfast at Twisted Tree Cafe, Flapjacks, or the Moon Bakery and Cafe.

For a fun dinner in Lincoln, try the Gypsey Cafe.

NH is known for seafood, try some of the best Seafood restaurants in NH.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall

Weekend White Mountains New Hampshire Fall Itinerary

With so many things to do in the fall in the Whites, how do you put together the perfect White Mountains New Hampshire fall itinerary?

The basic formula is to plan a scenic drive with stops at some of the viewpoints, a short hike or two, and one of the other activities to round everything out. Below you can see some suggestions for a weekend itinerary. Note that this is a FULL weekend, but you can always adjust as you go. This itinerary, assumes you are staying in the North Conway area. If you are staying somewhere else in the White Mountains, you can adjust the itinerary accordingly. You can also stay in North Conway for the first night and Lincoln on the second night to save some time driving.

Friday Night: Arrive in North Conway and enjoy dinner in town

Saturday: Grab some breakfast and head right out on the Kancamagus Highway. Make sure to pack some snacks or even a lunch. Make your first stop at the Albany Covered Bridge and do the Boulder Loop Hike. This is a lovely 3-mile hike with excellent views and will take you about 2 hours to complete and take some photos.

Continue west on the Kancamagus and stop at Lower Falls, Rocky Gorge, Sabbaday Falls, and Sugar Hill Overlook for amazing views. Grab a late lunch in Lincoln. From here, drive north into Franconia Notch. If you have time, you can stop for the tram ride up Canon Mountain or take a short walk to Artist’s Bluff. Continue onto route 302 east over the top of the mountains and make your scenic way back over to North Conway. Enjoy dinner in North Conway after a long day.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Mount Tecumseh
White Mountains New Hampshire Fall: Mount Tecumseh

Sunday: After breakfast in town, head up route 16 to Jackson NH, and the base of Mount Washington. Take in the views then continue back onto route 302 to Crawford Notch. Take the 3-mile hike up Mount Willard and if you have time and energy, hike to Arethusa Falls or Ripley Falls. After your hiking, you can head back home, or if there is time, take the Cog Railway up Mount Washington.

If you have more time, you can explore more incredible White Mountains hikes or plan for some of the other fall activities in the White Mountains like biking. The Lakes Region just south of the White Mountains also offers excellent hiking opportunities.

White Mountains New Hampshire Fall

What to Pack for your Visit to the White Mountains in the Fall

The White Mountains New Hampshire fall weather can be highly variable from day to day and even from location to location. It’s important to bring layers, especially if you will be hiking in the fall in the White Mountains. If you are just getting out for a scenic drive, you can wear anything you want although you should pack a warm jacket and some good hiking boots as even some of the scenic lookouts involve some walking.

You can see a complete list of what to pack on my day hiking packing list, but here is a quick list of some clothing essentials:

  • Down Jacket – we really like to hike with a down jacket as it packs well and keeps you warm. You can also put your raincoat right over the down coat.
  • Rain Jacket – This is essential as it will keep you warm AND keep off the rain
  • Hiking Socks – pack a good pair that come up over your ankle
  • Hiking Boots – a good sturdy, waterproof pair is ideal, but you can also use a pair of good sneakers on some of the shorter hikes
  • Warm Hat – we always pack a winter hat when we hike in the fall

Summary of Visiting the White Mountains New Hampshire in Fall

The takeaway is that the White Mountains in fall are incredible, and if you are able to time your visit with peak foliage in NH, the White Mountains won’t disappoint. Even if you miss peak foliage – the fall is an amzing time to visit these mountains and take a hike.

Let me know in the comments if you have questions or additional suggestions. Enjoy the White Mountains!

Looking for more about hiking in the White Mountains? Check out:

15 Best Winter Hikes in the White Mountains Region

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