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New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway, a stretch of breathtaking road that winds 26.5 miles through the White Mountain National Forest, is known as “the Kanc” to locals.
Sounding more like an infectious disease than the National Scenic Byway it has been deemed by the United States Department of Transportation, it shouldn’t be judged on name alone. Pronounced "Kank-ah-MAW-gus," this stretch of N.H. Route 112 is dotted with some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Northeast, including towering mountains, cascading waterfalls and wooded hikes. The name comes from the Native American who ruled over what is now southern New Hampshire during the 17th century. It translates to fearless one.
Seeing the best of the Kanc is as easy renting a car, hitting the road and following the signs along the way marking the scenic areas and places of interest, but there are a few not-to-be-missed spots along the way:
- Sabbaday Falls: Perfect for novice hikers, Sabbaday Falls majestically greets visitors after a quarter-mile hike along a gravel pathway and wooded stairs. The entrance to the falls is just off the highway in Waterville. Dropping 45 feet in three tiers, the falls offer observation decks along the way to the top for easily snapping photos and enjoying the view.
- Lower Falls: Just down the road from Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls might not be as tall or majestic, but it provides a welcome respite on a warm summer day. Thousands daily flock to the gentle pools of the Lower Falls for a dip in the cool water. This is also a great spot to stop for lunch: Picnic tables and grills make for the perfect place to take a break and have a snack while exploring.
- Falls Pond: Just off the highway in Stratford, Falls Pond is more a series of cascades than a pond. Cool New England water gently flows over time-worn rocks and crags, and visitors can get up-close-and-personal with the ebb and flow of the water: There are no barriers along these waters.
- Rocky Gorge: Like the Lower Falls, the Rocky Gorge is a popular warm-weather destination for locals, but swimming is not allowed in the falls area. Travel just north or south, though, and there are gentle pools for cooling off on a warm day. The falls themselves only drop 15 feet, but a bridge that runs along the waters affords breathtaking views.
- Sugar Hill Overlook: Sugar Hill Overlook is the perfect spot just off the Kanc to take in the gorgeous views of the famous vistas surrounding White Mountain National Park. Informational posts educate visitors on the delicate ecosystem of White Mountain National Forest, which is strictly monitored by wilderness specialists.
After the journey along the Kanc, there are a few other famous New Hampshire landmarks just a short drive away from the western end:
- Flume Gorge: A vigorous 2-mile walk takes hikers through the Franconia Notch State Park to the Flume Gorge, discovered by 93-year-old “Aunt” Jess Guernsey on a fishing trip in 1808. Cascading 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty, the flume is situated between two walls of ascending granite; wooden steps lead visitors up the center of the action.
- Old Man of the Mountain: Despite its presence on New Hampshire’s state quarter, the Old Man of the Mountain actually no longer exists. Once a rocky formation that jutted out from the side of Cannon Mountain and formed what appeared to be the craggy face of an old man, the “face” actually dropped from the side of the mountain in 2003. This hasn’t stopped the location from being a hot tourist destination: An installation now allows visitors to view what was once the old man by standing in a formation that aligns a statue of the face on the ground with the place on the mountain where the face used to be.
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