Franconia is one of the best towns in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire to visit if you’re looking to see some of the top sites in the region, and tackle some of the most amazing hikes. While Franconia doesn’t really have a downtown area, you’ll find miles of nature trails to explore, incredible state parks, covered bridges, waterfalls and so much more. This post is all about the best things to do in Franconia, NH that are worth your time, and my tips for visiting the area. Let’s get into it!
Best Things To Do In Franconia, NH – Franconia Notch State Park
By far, the absolute best thing to do in Franconia, NH is explore all the amazing sites in Franconia Notch State Park. This park is one of the most popular attractions in the White Mountains region, and for very good reason! Some of the most iconic views can be found here, and it also offers a great mix of things to do for all ages and abilities. This is a must for first-timers.
Best Activities In Franconia Notch State Park
1. Flume Gorge
It’s really hard to narrow down the absolute best thing to do in Franconia Notch State Park, but if hard-pressed, I’d say that Flume Gorge is probably it. Not only is it great for everyone of all ages and abilities, it really lives up to the hype it receives online. This is such a fun 2-mile walk with not only the actual gorge to experience, but also covered bridges and overlooks with amazing mountain views.
Tip 1: Flume Gorge accepts reservations online that provide you with a 1-hour time slot window on the day you choose. Online tickets are discounted by $3 per person. Walk-in tickets are available at the ticket window, but since they only allow a certain number of people in at each time slot, there is a possibility you will have to wait, or come back another day. This generally only happens during peak season (fall) and on weekends. Click here to make your reservation online.
Tip 2: You’ll want to wear waterproof footwear during your visit, as your walk through the actual gorge will be pretty misty and wet. It also doesn’t hurt to wear a waterproof jacket on chillier days.
2. Flume Covered Bridge
The next two things on this list are sites within Flume Gorge, but they definitely deserve their own mentions! The first is Flume Covered Bridge, and this is the iconic red covered bridge that most people post about when talking about Flume Gorge. It’s also the first site you’ll see during your walk through the trail.
3. Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge
Toward the end of your walk through Flume Gorge you’ll come across the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge, which is absolutely beautiful and offers really amazing views.
There are a view lookouts before you get to the actual bridge, as well as shortly after it, which offer a better perspective of the bridge from a distance. Be sure to scope those out on your walk! You can easily find them with signs pointing you in the right direction.
4. Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway was actually the first of its kind in North America, and is the only one of its kind in the entire state, making this one of the coolest things to do in Franconia, NH! This tramway takes you to the summit of Cannon Mountain, and from there, you can not only take in the incredible views of the sweeping mountain vistas, but also explore some really nice waling trails, enjoy a meal at the cafe, visit the observation deck and see beyond New Hampshire, into Maine, Vermont, New York and Canada on a clear day.
Tip: Wondering what the difference is between a gondola and a tramway? A tramway goes back and forth on cables, whereas gondolas are continually rotating in a loop pattern. Tramways are also typically larger than gondolas.
5. Artist’s Bluff Trail
One of the most popular hikes in Franconia Notch State Park is the Artist Bluff trail in Franconia Notch State Park, and honestly, it’s worth it. This hike is especially popular during fall foliage season, and during this time of the year, the stunning colors really add to the already very awesome views.
The trail is pretty short at around 1.5 miles in a loop, but it can be a little tricky if you’re not prepared. If it’s been raining, you’ll need to know that the trail and rocks can be very slippery and muddy. You’ll want to wear hiking boots with good ankle support, too, as there is some rock scrambling involved on this trail. It’s not challenging, but it’s not an easy trail to attempt if you’re looking for a relaxing stroll.
This trail is best at sunset on a clear day, or at sunrise to avoid the crowds, especially in the fall.
Tip: To access the trailhead, you’ll park in the Echo Lake Beach lot, which is pretty big but can still fill up fast on weekends during foliage season. Walk across the street, and you’ll immediately see the trailhead with a sign letting you know you’re in the right place.
6. The Basin
A really easy attraction to visit that’s just one exit away from Flume Gorge on I-93 is The Basin. Now, one thing to note is that while this site is very cool, it’s also not quite as exciting as Flume Gorge if you’re just coming from there. It’s a very short walk from the parking area, and the actual basin is a fairly small site to take in. But if you know a little about it, it’s more than worth a stop.
The Basin is basically a big bowl with heavily flowing water that was formed at the very end of the Ice Age over 25,000 years ago, making this a really cool natural phenomenon. Even famed writer Henry David Thoreau once wrote about the Basin, “One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess” and called it the “most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.”
I mean, if it’s good enough for a goddess, it’s good enough to add to your itinerary, right?
7. Echo Lake Beach
If you hike the Artist Bluff Trail, the view from above overlooks Echo Beach, and either before or after your hike, I highly recommend heading down to the actual beach for a quick walk around (especially if you visit during fall foliage season). While there’s really only a small sandy patch of actual beach, and a short portion of the lake perimeter is accessible to pedestrians, it still offers really amazing views from a cool perspective around the lake. I think it has the most impact during fall foliage season.
8. Cruise Along The Franconia Notch Bike Path
For cyclists, one of the best activities to hit the Franconia Notch Bike Path. And not only is this a scenic bike ride through the park, it also connects some of the most popular sites like Flume Gorge, Echo Lake, Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway and The Basin.
The best way to access the path is to start at the beginning. For this option, you’ll park at the Skookumchuck Trailhead (another option is the Flume Gorge Visitor’s Center). Both of these will come up in Google Maps. But the path can also be accessed at different points along the route. Click here to read more detailed information about the bike path.
Best Hiking In Franconia Notch State Park
If you’re looking to do some hiking beyond the Artist Bluff trail, you’re in luck! This hiking in this park is amazing, and with so many options for scenic trails, it may be hard to narrow down the best ones to choose during your trip. Here are the ones I recommend checking out when planning your itinerary.
9. Basin Cascade Trail
The Basin Cascade Trail is the perfect extension to visiting the Basin itself, and the trail is just about two and a half miles in an out-and-back pattern. This one is likely moderate for most folks, as there are some steep inclines and it can get pretty muddy if it’s been raining. I would definitely recommend only tackling this trail with good waterproof hiking boots for ankle support and to stay dry.
But during this trail, you’ll start at The Basin, and then continue on through the woods to see a cool waterfall (that you can actually swim under!) and some really nice views. Definitely worth the mud and the effort.
10. Georgiana & Harvard Falls Trail
This is another moderate hike that’s about two and a half miles in an out-and-back pattern, and this is another one where I recommend waterproof hiking boots with ankle support, as it will pass by some waterfalls which make the ground slippery and muddy. But, it’s a really good one to tackle. You’ll see upper and lower waterfalls on this hike, and be rewarded with some really nice views.
11. Lonesome Lake Trail
A really great hike to do in the warmer months because you can also combine the hike with a refreshing swim in the lake if you want. The hike up to the overlook that offers a really amazing bird’s eye view of the lake is a bit steep, but most skill levels will be able to tackle it. And as mentioned, bring your swimsuit on a warm day to take a dip after the hike to cool off! This hike clocks in at about 3 miles in a loop pattern.
12. Mount Lincoln Trail
For a challenging hike, you’ll want to look into the Mount Lincoln Trail, which is a tough, 7-mile, out-and-back hike that provides awesome views from the top. During the hike, you’ll also find really nice views while walking along Franconia Ridge.
Since this hike is pretty long, I would be sure to pack snacks and/or lunch, and come prepared with good hiking boots and hiking poles.
Best Things To Do In Franconia, NH
As mentioned before, Franconia doesn’t really have a downtown to explore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fun things to do outside of the state park. Here are some things to do right in Franconia, NH.
13. Taste The Local Brews
Iron Furnace Brewing is a great place to stop and taste the local beer, and enjoy lunch or dinner. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, offer pints and beer flights and also serve up some really good food. I recommend getting their New England IPA to try out, and their pizzas are really tasty.
14. Visit The Frost Place
One of the best attractions in Franconia, NH if you enjoy poetry is The Frost Place, which is housed in the former home of famed poet Robert Frost. It’s now a really lovely homage to Frost’s work, as well as a wonderful haven for local poets and writers.
Even though the Frost family was originally from California, they moved to New England and considered it their home. Shortly after falling in love with the White Mountains region, they purchased this house and lived there for five years year-round, and spent countless summers there.
At The Frost Place, visitors can enjoy seeing first editions of Frost’s work, as well as other mementos of his time at the house. On the grounds, you’re also able to enjoy a nature walk, which is guided by plaques featuring words from Frost himself, which really invoke his love of nature and the area. It’s a great place to reflect on how beautiful New England truly is.
Note: The Frost Place Museum has been closed off and on due to COVID, so be sure to check if it’s open before your visit. The grounds have remained open during this time.
15. Explore The New England Ski Museum
Located right by the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is the New England Ski Museum, which is free for all to visit. The museum features both rotating and permanent exhibits that showcase the history of skiing, as well as notable ski moments that took place right at Cannon Mountain.
Things To Do Near Franconia, NH
Even though there’s so much to do right in Franconia and Franconia Notch State Park, there’s also quite a bit to do nearby! Here are my top suggestions for things to do near Franconia, NH that are absolutely worth your time.
16. Drive Through Sugar Hill
Sugar Hill is a small town that has a lot of scenic back roads, making it perfect for a relaxing drive. But there are also a few things I suggest you check out in the area, including St. Matthews Chapel (the cutest little chapel I’ve ever seen), Polly’s Pancake Parlor and Harman’s Cheese & Country Shop.
17. Tour The Rocks Estate & Christmas Tree Farm
One of the coolest places to visit near Franconia is the Rocks Estate & Christmas Tree Farm, which is just a short drive to nearby Bethlehem. Don’t let the name fool you, though – it’s not just a Christmas destination. The property opens its scenic trail system to the public year-round, and also hosts maple tree tours during sugar season in March.
But of course, you can come here to pick out and cut down your own Christmas tree, which typically begins in late November.
Note: As of 2020, The Rocks is undergoing an extensive restoration project as a result of a devastating fire, and plans to be under construction until 2023. The tree farm is open during renovations starting after Thanksgiving, and Maple Tours are still on in March. However, the trails and house are closed to the public during this time. Check their website for details and changes in tours!
18. Spend A Few Hours In Littleton
Littleton is one of my favorite towns in the White Mountains region, and is somehow offbeat, quaint and charming all at the same time. It’s also been put on the map as having one of the best Main Streets in the entire country, and the longest candy counter in the world.
Curious on all the best things to do in Littleton, NH during your visit? Click the link below!
19. Drive The Scenic Kancamagus Highway
The Kancamagus Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in all of New England, and this route connects the towns of Lincoln and Conway, making it the perfect way to also explore some other nearby towns (more on that below!).
The Kanc, as the locals call it, is a 34.5-mile drive along Route 112, and is the most scenic during fall foliage season when the entire route will be ablaze with fall color. During the twisty drive through the mountains, there are also plenty of stops to make including easy scenic overlooks, hiking trails and waterfalls.
Depending on what you’re looking to do, I would plan about 1.5 hours to drive the entire route in one direction without any stops, as traffic tends to slow down a bit when people pull over or admire the foliage. If you want to hit up some of the trails and overlooks on the route, I would plan a minimum of 3-hours in one direction, depending on which hikes or stops you want to make.
Tip: If you drive The Kanc from Lincoln to Conway, I suggest you take Route 302 through Crawford Notch State Park during your drive back to Franconia. This route is also scenic, and offers different stops to make with amazing mountain views. The best of both worlds for the perfect day trip!
20. Take A Day Trip To Jackson & North Conway
If you decide to drive The Kanc from Franconia, you’ll end the scenic byway in Conway. North Conway is a really cute little town that’s only about 15 minutes from Conway, and is the perfect place to spend a few hours in the afternoon. The Main Street is lined with great shops and fun eateries, and it’s also home to wineries, outlet shopping, more hiking and the very cool Conway Scenic Railroad.
Jackson is another 15-20 minutes from North Conway, and is home to the Honeymoon Covered Bridge, Flossie’s General Store, and cool waterfalls to explore.
Winter Activities In Franconia, NH
Franconia is an amazing winter wonderland destination in the White Mountains to visit, and while many of the things already mentioned in this post are also great in the winter, here are my suggestions for the best winter activities in Franconia, NH.
21. Hit The Slopes
Skiing and snowboarding in this area are awesome, and the destinations closest to Franconia for a day on the slopes are Mt. Eustis Ski Hill in Littleton, Cannon Mountain, Loon Mountain and Bretton Woods.
Mt. Eustis Ski Hill is a really cool volunteer-run ski destination that’s a great one to consider for a true local experience. It’s just one hill, and uses a tow-rope to get back up after after your run down, but it’s a really cool place to ski, with awesome views at the top of downtown Littleton. There’s rental equipment available for children, but adults will need to bring their own.
For a traditional resort ski experience, Cannon Mountain, Loon Mountain and Bretton Woods will all have rentals, lessons, lodges and food available.
22. Go On A Sleigh Ride
Franconia Notch Stables offers magical winter sleigh rides through their scenic trails, and both public and private rides are available. They provide cozy blankets to snuggle under, and invite you to bring your own warm beverages to enjoy during your ride.
Sleigh rides begin right across the street from the Franconia Inn (one of my recommendations below on where to stay in the area!), which makes is really convenient if you’re staying there.
23. Ski The Cross Country Trails
Franconia is an amazing place for cross-country skiers! Located right in town, you’ll find 25 miles of groomed trails that take you through the woods or open landscapes with impressive mountain views.
If you’re a guest at the Franconia Inn, many of the trails begin right on their property, and they also offer rental equipment if you don’t have your own.
24. Get Snowed In At A Cozy Cabin
One of the best experiences to have in Franconia, NH in the winter is to simply slow down, and allow yourself to get snowed in. I don’t mean that literally, of course (well, let’s hope not, anyway!), but sometimes, it nice to just rent a cozy little place and enjoy the crisp, mountain air without having to do a whole lot, right?
Many cabin rentals will come with a fireplace for cozy nights inn, and covered outdoor decks with awesome views of the mountains that you can enjoy while snuggled under a blanket (and definitely with a cup of hot cocoa). If this sounds like it’s more your speed, click the link below to start browsing some cabins rentals in Franconia.
25. Head To Santa’s Village
Santa’s Village is actually a year-round Christmas theme park, but of course, it’s the most fun in the winter. During the winter season, most of the rides will still be open (which are extra magical during a snowfall), and Santa even makes an appearance to hear what’s on your Christmas list. In the evenings, you’ll find the entire park aglow in twinkle lights, and enough Christmas cheer to last you the entire season.
Rainy Day Activities In Franconia, NH
With so much to do outdoors, you may worry about what to do if it rains. But fear not! There’s plenty of experiences to be had in Franconia, NH when the weather isn’t cooperating. Here are some ideas for a rainy day:
- Go wine tasting at Seven Birch’s Winery in Lincoln.
- Grab an umbrella and head to nearby Littleton or take a day trip to North Conway to explore the shops on Main Street (more on that below!).
- The Kancamagus Scenic Byway is still beautiful in the rain.
- Take a scenic railroad tour with Hobo Railroad or Conway Scenic Railroad.
- The New England Ski Museum.
- The Frost Place.
Best Places To Stay In Franconia, NH
Franconia doesn’t have the largest selection of hotels to stay in during your visit, but there are still some really great places to stay. Below are my suggestions for places to stay in Franconia, NH.
The Franconia Inn is a really wonderful place to stay that’s cozy and convenient. It’s only 15-20 minutes to Flume Gorge, about 20 minutes to the start of the Kancamagus Scenic Byway and 10 minutes to Echo Lake Beach and the Artist Bluff Trailhead. In the winter, as mentioned earlier in the post, they also have direct access to all the cross-country ski trails, and provide rental equipment. You’ll also find a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, as well as an ice rink in the winter and an outdoor heated pool.
The Best Western is a great option for budget travelers, and is also in a convenient location to a lot of the best attractions nearby, including Flume Gorge and Echo Lake Beach. They also provide a complimentary breakfast with every reservation.
For a cozy vacation rental for a larger group or family, this apartment is a great option. It’s perfectly decorated for a mountain getaway, and offers convenience to Franconia Notch State Park and all the attractions there.
Best Restaurants In Franconia, NH
- Franconia Coffee House – A great cafe option for a quick coffee, breakfast or lunch. They have really good sandwiches for lunch and delicious pastries and donuts for breakfast (or a treat!).
- Iron Furnace Brewing – Mentioned earlier in the post, but wanted to mention them again because they offer really great food in addition to their brews.
- Tavern at Sunset Hill – For a nice dinner out, this is the place to go! Located in nearby Sugar Hill, you’ll get a lovely seasonal meal here with an awesome wine list.
Best Breakfast In Franconia, NH
Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill is just a quick 5-minute drive from Franconia, and is definitely the best breakfast in town!
What Towns Are Near Franconia, NH?
The best towns to visit that are near Franconia, NH are Littleton, Lincoln, Sugar Hill and Woodstock. If you’re willing to drive a bit further, some other nearby towns that are about an hour away are North Conway and Jackson.
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Visiting Franconia, NH FAQ
Is Franconia Notch State Park Dog Friendly?
Pets are allowed on the hiking trails and designated areas when leashed. Pets are not allowed at the Flume Gorge, Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, campgrounds or Echo Beach.
Best Time To Visit Franconia, NH
Fall and winter are the best times to visit Franconia, NH. Since this is one the top locations is New England for fall foliage, it’s sure to be a memorable trip during that season! And in the winter, with all the skiing and outdoor winter activities available, it also makes for the perfect winter getaway.
Summer is also great in Franconia, and will offer the nicest weather for hiking, swimming and seeing the waterfalls.
Are Cell Phone Service And Google Maps Reliable In Franconia Notch State Park?
If you have cell service, Google Maps will bring you to all the locations without any issues. However, once inside Franconia Notch State Park, cell service is limited, or non-existent. For this season, I highly suggest you offline maps of the entire region before your visit. You may also lose cell service on the Kancamagus Highway, or even in some of the towns, so it’s just better to have maps offlined for the entire area.
What Is Franconia, NH Known For?
Franconia is best known for Franconia Notch State Park, which is one of the top attractions in New England, and home to Flume Gorge, the Artist Bluff Trail, Echo Lake, The Basin and other incredible sites.
It’s also known for having the first aerial tramway in North America, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway.
That’s A Wrap On The Best Things To Do In Franconia, NH
Now that you know why this destination is such an incredible place to visit in New England, and all the very best attractions and sites to see in Franconia, NH, hopefully you’re now inspired to plan your next trip there! For first-timer’s, I definitely recommend visiting Flume Gorge, hiking the Artist Bluff Trail and visiting Echo Lake Beach, but really, everything on this list is more than worth your time. Happy planning!