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New Hampshire scenic drives
Photograph: Courtesy Visit New Hampshire

The best scenic drives in New Hampshire

We’ll showcase some of the most spectacular drives across the state, recommending some great spots to stop off along the way

Written by Gerrish Lopez in association with Visit New Hampshire.

Travelers come from across the world to drive their way through New Hampshire’s most scenic routes. This is never more apparent than in autumn when serious leaf peepers flock to the region in search of kaleidoscopic displays of color. (The swathes of orange, yellow and red can be breathtaking, even if you’ve lived here your whole life.) But the Granite State is a wonder to behold any time of year, especially when you stick to the state’s most scenic drives. String together a few of these drives to formulate an epic road trip, one that would take you from the mountains to the coast. Impress that special someone by offering to do the driving; just remember to keep your eyes on the road, and not on the jaw-dropping scenery just outside your window.

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Limmer Boots: part of the 'How I Live Free' series by Visit New Hampshire.

1. Lakes Region Scenic Loop

The drive around Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest and most popular lake, offers solitude in the winter and plenty of water activities in the summer. Around 130 miles long, the loop offers plenty of stops and things to do as it winds through villages, past beaches, and near amusement parks, all with amazing views of the lake. Near Moultonborough, take a detour to visit Castle in the Clouds mansion and museum.

This 34.5-mile scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Rt. 112 brings you through the White Mountains and past rivers, ponds, covered bridges, waterfalls, gorges, and jaw-dropping vistas. It’s a must in the fall when you’ll see a variety of colors as the winding mountain road varies in elevation. There are plenty of spots to pull over for a hike and to snap some photos. The Pemigewasset Overlook is a great spot to watch the sunset over the seasonal reds, yellows, and oranges. At one end of the Byway is the quaint town of North Conway.

3. Great North Woods Loop

Looking to spot wildlife? Head north of the White Mountain National Forest to the Great North Woods. You’re bound to see local fauna like black bears and moose on this drive. There’s even a stretch called “Moose Alley.” The 115-mile loop takes you through Gorham, Errol, Colebrook, and the historic mill city of Berlin, which offers plenty of trailheads, several outfitters, and outdoor activities like mountain biking, ATV riding, and zip-lining. Be sure to stop for breathtaking views at Dixville Notch State Park.

You don’t need to hike to get to the top of New England’s highest peak. The 7.5 mile Auto Road will get you to the summit where you’ll enjoy spectacular 360-degree views. Drive yourself or book a tour and enjoy stunning scenery on the way up. Great Glen Trains at the base of the mountain offers snow coach tours in the winter as well as skiing, snow tubing, snowshoeing and fat bike tours.

5. Colonial New Hampshire Seacoast Drive

New Hampshire’s coastline is the shortest in the country. But those brief 18 miles are beautiful ones, worth a detour from I-95. Start in historic Portsmouth, perhaps with breakfast at The Friendly Toast. Take the drive to New Castle to see Forts Constitution and Stark. Continue along Route 1 past a series of state beaches, stopping for some sun and fun on the way. The drive ends in Hampton where you can try your luck at the casino or find a bite to eat along the Hampton Beach boardwalk.

Connecticut River Byway
Photograph: Courtesy Visit New Hampshire

6. Connecticut River Byway

This scenic byway follows the Connecticut River and is dotted with covered bridges, vistas, hiking trails, and fishing (fly fishing in the summer, ice fishing in the winter). The quaint town of Charlestown is a good starting point. Not far from there is the Cornish-Windsor-covered bridge, the longest in the country. Along the route, you can explore Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park and Dartmouth College.

7. The American Independence Byway

History buffs will want to take this 21-mile drive through the historic towns of Hampton, Kensington, and Exeter. Start at the American Independence Museum in Exeter, which houses one of the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence, then get a feel for colonial life as you visit the different communities along the drive. In the summer, many of the historic homes are open to the public.

Sunapee Loop
Photograph: Courtesy Visit New Hampshire

8. Sunapee Loop

This 140-mile loop in the western part of the state, starting and ending in the town of Greenfield, takes you through historic college towns, past rolling hills, and along beautiful lakes. The Franklin Pierce Homestead, former home of the 14th president, in Hillsborough is a worthy stop. The town of Washington has one of the most beautiful village greens in all of New Hampshire.

This 40-mile drive is packed with quintessentially New England sights. The largest concentration of covered bridges can be found along this route, and there are plenty of picturesque villages with quirky shops and riverside cafes that are worth a stop. If you’re up for an adventure, kayak on the Contoocook or Blackwater Rivers or hike in Rollins State Park. Art lovers can stop by the New England College Art Gallery in Henniker.

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