The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, where you're more likely to see a Harley Davidson dealership than a store that sells Birkenstocks, the "Live Free or Die" mantra extends even to car seatbelts—adults are not mandates to wear them within the state. This ethos brings with it a whole lot of charm. With the exposed peaks of the White Mountains, the vast tracks of the Great North Woods, its jagged lake district, and tiny strip of seacoast, it's no wonder this spectacular landscape is home to such an independent people. With the highest summits in the northeast (48 are over 4,000 feet), New Hampshire is especially welcoming to hikers and rock climbers. And in summer and fall, ski resorts often open their cross-country trails to bikers, riders, and walkers.

New Hampshire's radiant foliage often peaks during the first two weeks of October, with the color change happening earlier in more northern and higher elevation areas and later in more southern and lower elevation areas. Book early, as New Hampshire's small inns and bed and breakfasts fill up with Bostonians looking to get out of dodge. (Or just off the T.) Beautiful fall foliage drives await those who bring a car, from the Kancamagus Highway to the Mount Washingon auto-road to the section of I-93 that winds directly through Franconia Notch. Don't forget to explore New Hampshire's historic small towns and villages, which have all the stoic charm of the Old Man of the Mountain, the state's signature rock formation, gone but never forgotten.

1. Franconia
What to do: Right outside of Franconia Notch State Park, the town of Franconia is the perfect base for exploring this gorgeous corner of the White Mountain National Forest. Though the Old Man of the Mountain no longer graces Franconia Notch, there's still plenty to see. Take the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway up to the 4,180-foot summit for one of the most spectacular views in all New England, hike through Flume Gorge or along the Appalachian Trail, bike along the park's recreational trail. Also not to be missed: the eight-mile stretch of I-93 that loops through the Kinsman and Franconia ranges.

Where to stay: Horse and Hound Inn hosts overnight guests and diners inside a cozy 1749 building.

2. Hanover
What to do: Home of Dartmouth College, the riverside town of Hanover reaps the cultural benefits of sharing space with the Ivy League school. Check out the college's Hood Museum of Art and the small downtown's League of New Hempshire Craftsmen-a storefront for local artisans—and Left Bank Books. Hop over the Connecticut River to check out the campus of King Arthur Flour (technically in Vermont). Lou's Restaurant Bakery serves up a superb breakfast; Murphy's on the Green is perfect for dinner; and Morano Gelato is a worthwhile treat anytime of the day.

3. Lincoln
What to do: A great town for outdoor activities, Lincoln provides easy access to Mount Osceola (one of New Hampshire's 4,000 footers); the 30-foot wide and 15-foot deep glacial pothole, "the Basin," inside Franconia Notch State Park; and the many ziplines and off road tours provided by local outfitter Alpine Adventures. Grab breakfast at Flapjack's Pancake House or a margarita with dinner at the Gypsy Cafe.

Where to stay: Great for families or long-term stays, InnSeason Resorts: Pollard Brook provides condominium-style suites. The Red Sleigh Inn Bed & Breakfast offers warm, cozy rooms in town.

4. Meredith
What to do: Hop aboard the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad in Meredith and enjoy a scenic ride around New Hampshire's lake region. The small lakefront town boasts much good food and fine accommodations, perfect for a relaxing stay in view of natural beauty. Sample Cider Belly Doughnuts's finest, have lunch on the Lakeside Deli & Grille's lakeside porch, and enjoy a cozy dinner at local favorite George's Diner. Stock up on fresh produce and baked goods at Moulton Farm.

Where to stay: Mill Falls at the Lake will make all your birch-branch furniture dreams come true. The pleasingly secluded Ballard House Inn has direct access to the Waukewad Highlands hiking trail. Play a game of pool on the circa-1763 Nutmeg Inn's antique billiard table.

5. North Conway
What to do: The closest village to Mount Washington, North Conway is a great jumping off point for to see the highest peak in the northeastern United States, plus the surrounding White Mountain National Forest and scenic Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park. Whether you are hiking or driving (an auto road goes to Washington's summit), there's plenty of beautiful scenery. Make sure you take a spin on Route 112—the Kancamagus Highway—one of New Hampshire's most scenic roads. For breakfast, try Peach's Restaurant; for dinner, May Kelley's Cottage.

Where to stay: The White Mountain Hotel and Resort is a family and pet friendly option. The Cranmore Inn offers a B&B option in the village center.

6. Peterborough
What to do: In the shadow of Mount Monadnock, the most-climbed mountain in the western hemisphere and the second most climbed mountain in the world, Peterborough is a comfortable town to base your own summit attempt. Monadnock State Park boasts 38 hiking (sometimes overlapping) trails that stretch approximately 35 miles, with options for every skill level. There's plenty of good eating once you get off the mountain: Waterhouse, Pearl, and-for a good old burger and fries—Bantam Grill.

7. Portsmouth
What to do: Though New Hampshire has the smallest seacoast in the country (only 13 miles long), it's still packed full of charm. Portsmouth, just across the Piscataqua River from Kittery Maine, has beautiful harbor views as well as a charming downtown. Walk through brink-lined Market Square, explore the 10-acre outdoor history museum Strawbery Banke, browse the expertly curated shelves of RiverRun Bookstore, and sample the wares of the Redhook Brewery at their cozy Cataqua Pub. There's no excuse not to eat well: Ristorante Massimo serves up old school elegance, Lexie's (which has a second location in Durham, NC) offers some of the best burgers on the eastern seaboard, Row 34 s all about oysters, and Jumpin' Jays Fish Cafe has a refreshing take on seafood.

Where to stay: A converted 19th-century mansion, The Hotel Portsmouth welcomes guests into bright, modern rooms, while the boutique Ale House caters especially to beer lovers.

8. Walpole
What to do: What's better than cheese and wine? Grab a wheel at Boggy Meadow Farm and head over to the Walpole Mountain View Winery. There's plenty more fresh, local ingredients and food at Alyson's Orchard, which offers pick-your-own apples, and the Walpole Valley Farms, which sells sustainable and humanely produced meat, eggs, and produce. Grab dinner at the Restaurant at Burdick's and follow it with a cone at the local Walpole Creamery. What better way to see the leaves then when you're well fed?

Where to stay: Bellows Walpole Inn occupies a 1752 mansion built by a "colorful" Colonel Benjamin Bellows, who also happens to be Walpole's founder. In yet another 18th-century building, Inn at Valley Farms welcomes guests to a working 105-acre organic farm. Source: 1

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