Franconia Notch State Park: The Complete Guide

Franconia Notch State Park during Autumn in New Hampshire USA White Mountains National Forest
Cappi Thompson / Getty Images
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Franconia Notch State Park

Address
Flume Gorge, Daniel Webster Hwy, Lincoln, NH 03251, USA
Phone +1 603-823-8800

Often named the best state park in New Hampshire and even one of the top state parks in all of America, Franconia Notch State Park is a can't-miss destination in the rugged and scenic White Mountains. These 6,440 acres, tucked in the "notch" or mountain pass between the Franconia and Kinsman mountain ranges, abound with natural wonders. Even a summer drive through the park on I-93 will fill you with awe for this landscape of granite and green. And in the fall, when green turns to scarlet, coral, and gold, you'll understand why people from all over the world travel here just to leaf peep.

The discovery of a distinctive rock formation on the side of Cannon Mountain in 1805 sparked the first wave of tourism to this gap in the vaulted terrain. Long before Instagram, descriptions of this "Great Stone Face" published by luminaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster got curiosity seekers on the move, and while the Old Man of the Mountain is no more, his 2003 disappearance has not diminished his stature as a symbol of New Hampshire's individuality. Today, Franconia Notch State Park visitors find myriad attractions, hikes, and opportunities for adventure, including new ways to visualize and appreciate the legacy of the Old Man.

In this guide, you'll discover Franconia Notch State Park's highlights, from Flume Gorge at the south (I-93, exit 34A) to Echo Lake at the northern end (I-93, exit 34C), plus all of the advice you need to plan and book your trip to this exhilarating place for photography, sightseeing, learning, and outdoor recreation.

Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire, USA
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Things to Do

There are five primary attractions within Franconia Notch State Park. They're all quite different, and all are worthy of a visit. From south to north, they are:

  • Flume Gorge: This geologic marvel was discovered in 1808. Follow wooden walkways and stairs through the narrow Pemigewasset River gorge to view rock walls, caverns, glacial boulders, and a 45-foot waterfall.
  • Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site: At exit 34B off I-93, pay homage to New Hampshire's immortal icon by visiting the Old Man of the Mountain Museum at the Old Man Gift Shop, as well as by using the unique "profilers" at Profile Plaza to see how this stone face appeared before its collapse.
  • Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway: The original tramway, which ran from 1938 until 1980, was the first of its kind in North America. Today, visitors still embrace the tradition of soaring over scenery to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain aboard a tram car. Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway II will whisk you up the mountain in less than 10 minutes for views of mountains in four states and Canada when skies are clear. It operates seasonally, summer through mid-fall, and is an unforgettable way to see New Hampshire's fall foliage.
  • New England Ski Museum: Even if you're not an avid skier, you'll find the exhibits at this free museum compelling. They tell of skiing's 8,000-year history and focus in on local achievements including those of New Hampshire native and Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller, who grew up skiing at Cannon Mountain.
  • Echo Lake: The swimming beach at this beautiful lake has Cathedral Ledge in full view. Bring a picnic, and cool off here on a summer day.

Have more time to spend in Franconia Notch State Park? Stretch your legs on a walk, hike, or climb; bike the Franconia Notch State Park Recreational Trail; go canoeing or kayaking; fly fish for trout on Profile Lake. And make a point of returning in the winter months to appreciate the landscape's stark beauty and to ski at state-owned resort, Cannon Mountain.

Best Hikes & Trails

Whether you want to embark on a short, scenic walk or a rugged hike, Franconia Notch State Park has an abundance of trails. Some hikes to consider include:

  • The Basin: From the pull-off between I-93 exits 34A and 34B, it's an easy, 10-minute walk to this natural attraction: a glacier-carved "pothole" in the granite that has been smoothed by stones swirling in the waterfall-filled pool. Continue your outing, if you'd like, on the half-mile Basin-Cascades Trail, which leads to secluded Kinsman Falls.
  • Echo Lake Trail: Just under a mile long, this loop trail around Echo Lake is for all ability levels and can be hiked on foot or snowshoes in the wintertime. You'll love the scenes of Cathedral Ledge reflecting in this clear, clean lake.
  • Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff: This moderate, 1.5-mile loop trail rewards hikers with exhilarating views of Cannon Mountain and Franconia Notch. Park across Route 18 from the Peabody Base Lodge. A quarter-mile in, watch for a steep, short path on the left to detour to the open summit of Bald Mountain. Continue across the low ridge on the main trail, then watch on the left once again for an unmarked path that leads to the top of Artists Bluff.
  • Lonesome Lake Trail: One of the pinnacle hikes in Franconia Notch State Park, this trail begins near the Lafayette Place Campground's south parking lot. It's 1.5 miles one-way to Lonesome Lake, and you'll face some steep stretches on this partial ascent of Cannon Mountain. Continue along the lakeside trail to reach the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Lonesome Lake Hut.
  • Hi-Cannon Trail: If you're an experienced hiker in pursuit of a challenge, this 4.2-mile trek to the top of 4,081-foot Cannon Mountain is a demanding climb that is narrow, twisty, and steep.
The Basin at Franconia Notch, NH
Vath. Sok / Getty Images

Winter Activities

Winter turns the White Mountains into a wonderland, and Franconia Notch State Park can be your destination for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. The 20-mile Franconia Notch State Park Recreational Trail, which parallels I-93, is open to snowmobiles in the wintertime. New to the sport? Book a guided tour with Lincoln-based Sledventures. For downhill skiers and snowboarders, Cannon Mountain is known best for its expert terrain.

Where to Camp

For an incredibly affordable overnight fee, you can make Franconia Notch State Park's Lafayette Place Campground your home base. There are 97 wooded tent sites available here from mid-May through early October, and while amenities are limited, you will find coin-operated showers and a camp store. Pets are not permitted. After Oct. 10, primitive camping is an option.

If you're driving your rig through the notch, there are seven sites for RVs available year-round at Cannon Mountain RV Park, located on the north shore of Echo Lake. Reservations are necessary during the main camping season.

Where to Stay Nearby

You'll find a full range of lodging options in the New Hampshire towns that bookmark Franconia Notch State Park: Lincoln to the south and Franconia to the north. Because these are well-known ski destinations, there are many extended-stay options for families, rentable via resorts like Loon Mountain or on your own through sites like VRBO and Airbnb. 

If you're looking to stay at a property that is a bit more memorable and distinct than a motel or chain hotel, consider:

  • Franconia Inn: A 35-room country inn on 107 acres that has made guests feel at home since 1863. You'll have views of Mount Lafayette, Franconia Notch, and the Kinsman Range and expansive recreational facilities right on-site including an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, horse stables, tennis courts, mountain bike trails, a soaring center offering glider rides, and, in the winter, an X-C Ski Center offering groomed trails and rentals for a full range of outdoor winter sports.
  • Sugar Hill Inn: A romantic farmhouse bed and breakfast, located near Franconia in the town of Sugar Hill. Choose from main house or cottage rooms, some with fireplaces and/or double whirlpool tubs, and enjoy drinks in the tavern, on-site dining, and massages in the Spa Room.
  • Indian Head Resort: This year-round family destination on Shadow Lake has rooms, cottages, bungalows, and rustic houses to suit all sorts of travelers and a throwback vibe that invites you to slow down and enjoy on-site amenities like indoor and outdoor hot tubs and pools, pedal boats, an arcade, tennis courts, restaurant and lounge, and an observation tower.
Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Franconia Notch State Park
Robert Michaud / Getty Images

How to Get There

Franconia Notch State Park is about a two-hour drive from Boston, and it's just over three hours from Hartford, Connecticut. Driving your own car is optimal, but Concord Coach Lines does have bus stations in Lincoln and Franconia, New Hampshire. The primary entrance for Franconia Notch State Park is at Flume Gorge, located at 852 Daniel Webster Highway (I-93) in Lincoln. Flume Gorge, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, and Echo Lake all have their own admission fees.

Accessibility

Some aspects of the park are more accessible than others, and it is always helpful to call the park directly at 603-823-8800 to discuss any specific questions and needs. The trail through Flume Gorge, with its steps and narrow walkways, is not wheelchair-accessible. However, The Basin is recognized as one of the most wheelchair-friendly hikes in New Hampshire, and there is a wheelchair overlook designed for optimal viewing. The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway can also accommodate passengers in wheelchairs. Lafayette Place Campground has a small number of ADA-accessible sites, as well as accessible amenities.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Seeing park highlights in a day is probably doable, but you're better off allowing for a minimum of two days. 
  • Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather and air temperature whenever you're out exploring in the White Mountains.
  • While pets are not permitted at the campground or on most hiking trails, you will find designated dog walks for leashed dogs near the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway and Flume Gorge parking lots.
  • Download helpful free materials before your visit including the White Mountains Travel Guide, Leaf Peeper's Guide, and maps.
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