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The Most Scenic Drives in America: The Kancamagus Highway.

Updated on October 8, 2012
Wide open views along the Kancamagus highway in beautiful New Hampshire
Wide open views along the Kancamagus highway in beautiful New Hampshire | Source

Scenic Byways in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is justly famous for its scenery, and having just come to live among the mountains and lakes of this lovely state, I hope I never find them commonplace or boring.

Still, some parts of New Hampshire are even more scenic than others, so if you're looking for a leisurely drive which will allow you to enjoy mountains, rivers, and beautiful foliage, let me suggest the Kancamagus Highway, just north of lake Winnipesaukee in the White Mountains region.

The highway is only 26 miles or so long, but there are many points to stop along the way and enjoy the scenery, which ranges from waterfalls and lakes to rivers, open mountain views and, in the right season, stunning fall foliage.

Kancamagus Highway Map

Conway, NH, USA

get directions

Eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway

Lincoln NH:
Lincoln, NH, USA

get directions

Western end of the kancamagus highway

About the Kancamagus Highway

If you're staying in the lakes region of New Hampshire, you'll find the highway easily by travelling to Conway. Surrounded by fir trees and lakes, Conway is the gateway to the region. Visit the ranger station and you can buy a parking pass (don't worry if you forget you can fill in the envelope at any one of the stops along the way) then head on along the road. At first the route travels through thick forest, though you'll notice the Swift river running long the northern side. The flow varies greatly throughout the year and is far more spectacular when swollen with melt water from the winter snow.

There are several stops along the way where you can admire the falls, or look at the beautiful mountain scenery. One of the best things about the route is that it varies so much from season to season. In the spring the falls are spectacular, in the fall the foliage is the main attraction. In winter the route is like driving through a beautiful Christmas card, rocks, fir and pine all garlanded with snow. In summer there are many placed to stop and picnic, enjoy the view, and swim in the many old fashioned swimming holes.

The road itself is officially state route 112 and was first paved in 1964. It follows the path of the Swift River and climbs to approximately three thousand feet as it crosses Mount Kancamagus and then winds its way down to Lincoln on the western side.

One of several falls along the route. Easy to get to, just a short walk from the car park, and with lots of benches along the way.
One of several falls along the route. Easy to get to, just a short walk from the car park, and with lots of benches along the way. | Source

Who Was Kancamagus

Kancamagus was the grandson of Passaconway the almost legendary chief of the Pennacook one of the first tribes to encounter European settlers. The Pennacook were decimated by diseases such as measles, typhoid and smallpox and many scholars believe that it was because of the loss of life through disease (and King Philips War) that Passaconway decided to make peace with settlers rather than press his numeric advantage. Kancamagus was the son of Passaconway's eldest son. His name means 'fearless one' though the English settlers described him as cunning. His anglicised name was John Hodkin or Hawkins.

While Passaconway had believed firmly in diplomacy, and thought that the settlers would stick to the agreements they made with the Pennacook and others, Kancamagus saw many of those agreements ignored and came to believe that conflict would be necessary. In 1676 attacks by English commanders such as Capt. Samuel Mosely destoyed many pennacook villages, with the result that the people followed their chief much further North to St Francis in Canada. Kancamagus stayed behind and gathered a force which began to harry the English forces.

As a result Gov. Edward Cranfield turned to the Mohawk for help in defeating the Pennacook and eventually Kancamagus and his people moved further north to the Lakes region of new Hampshire. Kancamagus then wrote to the governor and tried to make peace, but without success and there was more bloodshed. In 1690 the English lead a raid against Kancamagus villages, capturing a killing several members of his family. By 1692 Kancamagus was forced to accept English terms of peace in order to get his family back, and after that, little is known about him, though most historians speculate that he lead his people further north into Canada.


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