Natural Attractions: Wilderness and Activities for Kids and Adults
A highlight in the middle of the White Mountain National Forest, Franconia Notch is filled with things to see and do for the entire family. Its natural wonders stretch from Lincoln to Cannon Mountain.
The White Mountain National Forest and Franconia Notch State Park cover a huge part of north central New Hampshire, with landscapes as awe-inspiring much of the land in the western National Parks and much more accessible to the millions of people in the eastern the United States. Here, within a two hour drive of Boston and only five hours from New York City, lies a cool forested wilderness with lots to do and see.
While New Hampshire mourns the loss of the Old Man of the Mountain, that was not the only natural stone profile in the mountains. By getting off I-93 at Lincoln and following the signs for Route 3 north you will see Indian Head in the mountain ridge to the west (left). You’ll have to look carefully because the opening view through the woods is narrow.
But Route 3 is also a better route from Lincoln than I-93 because there is more to do. Kids will love the Whale’s Tale Waterpark , train lovers can take a long ride on the narrow-gauge Hobo Railroad and ride an authentic steam engine at Clark’s Trading Post, where there are also engaging acts by trained bears and acrobats. All these attractions are within a few minutes of the other.
Near the Flume I- 93 turns into a two-lane throughway to work its way through the narrow mountain pass. This pass was carved here millennia ago when an ice sheet more than a mile high rode over the tops of these mountains, grinding away summits that are thought to have been as tall as the Rockies. Today you’ll see the sheer cliffs of Cannon Mountain and Mounts Lafayette, Lincoln and Liberty towering above as you drive through.
One favorite adventure is to walk the trail through the Flume Gorge. Discovered in 1808 when tourism was in its infancy, the deep gorge has attracted tourists since its discovery. The gorge is at the foot of Mount Liberty and stretches for more than 800 feet through solid granite walls that rise 70 to 90 feet straight up. Caused by a fissure in the mountain rock and worn deeper by the stream that passes through it the gorge is made even more beautiful by a series of waterfalls and cascades. The Visitor Center has programs and materials detailing the formation of the gorge. You can’t miss the signs for it.
A short distance away, on the west side of the road, look for The Basin. There is parking off the northbound lane. Follow the path under the road and to a pool that Henry David Thoreau described as the bathtub of a goddess when he visited here in 1839. A small stream drops down through a rock sluiceway and falls into an immense natural bowl carved in solid bedrock granite. More than 15 feet deep, it was formed when melting glacier waters roared through this valley 25,000 years ago, carving away the rock as they swirled. Look for the trail to Kinsman Falls behind the Basin. The falls are a series of long cascades as water slides over sloping granite ledges. Bring along bathing suits and slide down natural waterslides into pools below, but use caution if you chose to do this.
While you are there be sure to follow the trail through beautiful woods following the signs for the Baby Flume. Another example of the power of water to wear away solid rock, the stream runs through the woods over a bed of rock and then down through a grove in the rock deeper and deeper through sets of natural steps and waterslides. This powerful little stream starts at Profile Lake just up the road, gathering water from streams and eventually becoming the Merrimac River.
Further up I-93 the signs for Boise Rock will be on the right. Back in the early 1800s, when there were few people living here, Thomas Boise and his horse were stopped by a blizzard in the valley. He, and the horse found shelter under this huge glacial erratic. He survived but the horse did not.
At the top of the notch you’ll find the headquarters of Franconia State Park and Cannon Mountain, an icon for skiers. Some of the first ski racing in the US took place on the slopes of Cannon Mountain, and at its base is the New England Ski Museum (soon to open a new branch in North Conway). The famed Aerial Tramway operates here year ‘round, hauling skiers in the winter and bringing visitors to the top of the mountain in summer for hikes to the summit and spectacular views of the White Mountains and Franconia Notch. Trails on the mountain provide for good hiking and walking, a good chance to get to inhale the fragrance of the green coniferous forests that abound in the White Mountains.