Guide to White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

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To be honest, I never had New Hampshire on my bucket list of places to travel. I’m not much of a winter sports girl and I honestly didn’t know what more the state had to offer. So when my wanderlust started kicking into high gear in the middle of August, I started researching places to go for the Autumn time. I know New England has some of the best foliage to offer in the country, so that is where I began my research.

The more I looked into it, the more it seemed like New Hampshire was the best place to go. About a 10-hour car ride (one way) can easily be divided into two relaxing days of travel. Plus, I know there would be some fun stops along the way. In general, we were looking to relax on this trip. We wanted to have some great views that were easily accessible from the road but also have fit in a hike or two throughout the day. Nothing too strenuous, but something that was good enough to build an appetite for  after the hike. After getting some great advice from fellow photographer, Patrick Koetzle, I was ready to hit the road.

Our entire trip revolved around spending 3 whole days in the White Mountains National Forest area the first week of October. At that time it seemed like we were right in the middle or towards the end of peak autumn color which was exactly what I was looking for. For the most part, the weather was beautiful. In the mid-50s with no humidity. But in the middle of our trip, it rained really hard and it got really cold and windy bringing the temps down to the 30s.


Based on all my research about the White Mountain area, an overwhelming amount of people suggest staying in a town called, Lincoln. I did my best to find a suitable place to stay but even booking our trip 2 months in advance, our options were limited. We ended up finding a cottage in Twin Mountains. We brought our dog, Frankie so it was great to have our own little cottage with a fenced-in backyard. The location was right in between Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch, two of the places where we wanted to spend most of the time so the cottage was perfect for us.

So if you’re looking to stay somewhere centrally located with your own private kitchen and hot tub, I’d highly recommend staying with Sherry and Ron. They were amazingly welcoming and thoughtful hosts.

We did visit Lincoln one day around lunchtime. Since we were visiting during the Covid pandemic, a lot of the restaurants and stores seemed like they were closed. That just reinforced the idea that our decision to stay in Twin Mountains was the best option for us.

Franconia Notch

Driving around this area is so exciting. I remember telling Andrew on more than one occasion that he had to drive just so I could stare out the window. But I think my favorite was the Franconia Notch side. Maybe because it seemed like there was more color on that side but more than anything, I just really enjoyed the views.

Our first official hike was Artist’s Bluff for sunrise. Although it is only 1.5 miles long, the hike was strenuous being that it was just straight up the mountain then down the mountain. There were a few flat areas but not much. If I think about it, a majority of the hikes around the White Mountains area was like this. A great glute workout for sure! But it was absolutely worth the sweat.

The view from the top was probably one of my favorites out of our entire trip. This morning was particularly foggy which I feel like just adds to the autumn ambiance.

But if you are looking for an easy trail to walk, definitely don’t miss The Basin. We found it on a particularly cold/windy day in the mountains. Unfortunately, we weren’t dressed properly for the weather to hike to the summit so we sort of stumbled upon this great trail. It is on the bottom of the mountain so you won’t feel the wind as much and it’s 2.6 miles of mostly flat, paved trail. It seemed like every turn lead to something that made my jaw drop. As I said, we just stumbled upon it so I had no idea what to expect. Even if you’re an experienced hiker or not, I don’t think the Basin should be missed.

Beautiful views all along the trail

Spent a lot of time photographing this Basin. So beautiful in real life.

For my last recommendation in Franconia Notch, I really enjoyed The Flume Gorge. While I was researching the trip it was somewhere I knew I wanted to visit and was on top of my list to go. The only thing about it is that no dogs are allowed so Frankie had to stay back in the cottage for this part of the trip. However, it is beautiful! You have to book tickets online, luckily when we were there, there weren’t as many people so we were able to just book them right when we arrived at the front entrance and walked right in. Even though there weren’t as many people there, there were clusters of people. So if you wanted to wait for a shot where there was no one or barely anyone, you did have to wait a while. The website says it takes about 1.5 hours to go through, it probably took us about 2 hours because of the waiting around. Also there are a lot of steps that can be sliperry so you may want to watch out for that as well.

Crawford Notch

Crawford Notch was probably the part of the White Mountains National Forest where we spent the most time. If I had to compare it to Franconia Notch, it was easier to navigate because it was just one road that went through it all. We spent more time in this area just because it was so easy to.

This is the part of the trip where we were able to see beautiful viewpoints right off the road. There were many places where we would be wowed by the scenery and I’d look around and find a parking area very close by.

Just one of the lakes you see along the side of the road in Crawford Notch.

One of my favorite mornings was when we just drove around and looked for the light. Andrew and I ended up just climbing up some waterfalls along the side of the road and it was just so peaceful and calm. But in general, if you’re a waterfall fan, there a lot of great hikes to waterfalls in this area of the White Mountains to explore.

Further down the road, you will see a railroad station. I didn’t know this but you can actually hop on and off the train and it will take you on a scenic ride all throughout the Mount Washington Valley. Seems like it would be worth the ride. However, the entire time we were there, we only saw the train once. And it was the one time when we were trying to find the trailhead to the Mount Willard Trail. Turns out it was RIGHT behind the train when it was parked. Andrew and I had to drive somewhere else because we didn’t have cell phone reception and find a map to realize the train was blocking us from seeing where the trail began. Once we figured it all out, it was a great hike.

Andrew mentioned multiple times that this was his favorite hike out of all the ones we did. When I mentioned that Artist Bluff was one of my favorite views, this was my other favorite. Very fitting considering how they are on different sides of the mountain.

The Mount Willard trail is a total of 3.2 miles of straight uphill to the viewpoint and then all the way down. The uphill was pretty difficult but going downhill seemed like it took 1/5th of the time it took to go up.

The view from the top of the Mount Willard Trail

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Another view looking down


Ugh. The biggest mistake I made on this entire trip was forgetting Frankie’s food at home. I was so busy thinking about everything else, making sure he had his treats, his food bowls, even extra poop bags that I forgot the container where we keep his food. Luckily, I had the insight to pack some little baggies of food for the road trip so that held him over until we were able to settle into New Hampshire.

So one of the very first things we did when we got to our cottage was to look up where the nearest pet store was. It was an hour away but luckily I had bookmarked a few hikes in that area so it wasn’t a total waste of time. Our first full day in New Hampshire was spent adventuring in Bartlett.

We decided to go to the Cathedral Ledge trailhead. When I plugged it into the GPS, it seemed like you could drive all the way to the top. However, once you get there you will see that the road is gated off right where it starts to get steep. So that’s where you park your car and go the rest of the way by foot. Even though it’s a paved road, it was still very steep. The whole way down, Andrew and I kept on talking about what it would be like to sled or even bike down this trail.

Frankie needed a little break so we all took a break. Luckily while we were there, there weren’t many others so we were able to just plop in the middle of the road.

The view of Cathedral Ledge.

It was pretty cool to see people rock climbing. What a view!

And if you’re interested in seeing a little more from our trip, here’s a little youtube video I created with my iPhone 11 Pro of the highlights:

So I hope you enjoyed this guide. If you have any questions about your own visit, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll try my best to help you out. Regardless, I hope you have a great time in New England!