Franconia Notch State Park: A user's guide
This New Hampshire gem is a four-season recreational hub with hiking in the summer and snow skiing in the winter. (Bonus: It's easy to get to, thanks to access from the interstate.)
Fri, Aug 26 2011 at 8:05 AM
Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire is a swath of class New England: green and granite, water and snow, sapphire ponds and mountain peaks. And it may be the only state park in the country with interstate highway access. Interstate 93 runs through Franconia Notch, an eight-mile mountain pass that includes the peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges.
Franconia Notch State Park is a four-season recreational hub with hiking in the summer and snow skiing in the winter.
The state acquired the land for Franconia Notch State Park in 1928. The aerial tramway at Cannon Mountain was built in 1938.
Things to do
Generally, the phrase “it’s all downhill from here” is bad news. But when you’re on a bike, that’s exactly what you want to hear. The Franconia Notch Recreation Path is a paved, 8.8-mile path for walking, running and bicycling. The path has an elevation gain of about 800 feet from south to north, but if you start at the base of the Aerial Tramway (pictured below), it’s a mostly downhill ride to the Flume where you can take a shuttle back. The bike path runs between I-93 and the east side of the Pemigewasset River through a rare stand of old-growth forest.
The myriads of hiking options include a 1.5-mile hike to Lonesome Lake high above the valley floor. Summit baggers will want to trudge 1.4 miles to the top of Mount Pemigewasset. The 2,557-foot peak offers views of Franconia Notch, the Franconia Range, and the valley to the south.
A shorter two-mile loop takes you through the Flume, a gorge just 12-20 feet wide with granite walls as high as 90 feet extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The route takes you across a covered bridge and the Pemigewasset River and past Avalanche Falls, a 45-foot cascade. (You can view a video of the impressive waterfall from Flume Gorge here.)
Why you’ll want to come back
There is a lot of fun to be had during the winter — which lasts a while in this part of the world. The Cannon Mountain ski area has 72 ski trails and more than 80 acres of backcountry skiing. There are a total of 23 miles of trail with the longest trail being more than two miles. There are 10 lifts, including a 70-passenger tram that runs during the summer, too.
At 4,080 feet, Cannon is the highest ski summit in New Hampshire and the 2,180-foot vertical drop is the greatest in the state.
Flora and fauna
Leave the crowds behind and you might spot a moose at Lonesome Lake. You may also spot whitetail deer, a black bear or a fisher, a member of the weasel family. Other critters in the north woods include beavers, red fox, porcupine and coyotes.
By the numbers:
- Website: New Hampshire Division of Parks & Recreation
- Park size: 6,692 acres
- 2010 visitors: Estimated at 600,000
- Funky fact: Franconia Notch State Park was the site of Old Man of the Mountain, a natural rock formation on the back the New Hampshire state quarter. The Old Man of the Mountain collapsed during the night hours of May 3, 2003.
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