Twin Mountain to Franconia Notch
Between Twin Mountain (at the junction of US-302 and US-3) and where US-3 merges with I-93, you’ll find the aging face of the area’s long association with tourism: a variety of motel courts and “housekeeping cottages” at least as old as you are. Despite their outward dowdiness, several make a virtue of the rustic setting, but given their prime location, most are hardly the bargains you might hope for. More interesting and historic lodging may be had on a 200-acre working farm in Franconia (pop. 1,104), where, since 1899, the friendly Sherburn family’s Pinestead Farm Lodge (603/823-8121, $60 and up, shared bath and kitchen), on Route 116 south of town, has offered simple rooms and warm hospitality at reasonable rates.
Just west of Franconia on Route 117 is Sugar Hill. The township is aptly named: The sugarbush (a grove of sugar maples) on Hildex Farm contributes its unforgettable essence to breakfasts at the popular Polly’s Pancake Parlor (603/823-5575, daily 7am-3pm spring-fall). Polly’s is located in the farm’s thrice-expanded 1830 carriage shed. Warning: After trying real maple syrup, you may never be able to go back to Mrs. Butterworth’s again.
The most famous farm in the vicinity is certainly The Frost Place (603/823-5510, $5 adults) off Route 116 south of the Franconia village intersection. Besides the half-mile Poetry Trail and the displays of Robert Frost memorabilia from his five-year full-time residency and 19 summers here, there’s a regular program of readings by the current poet-in-residence during the summer.
Franconia Notch is probably the most popular spot in the White Mountains, and, despite the numbers of visitors, it’s a fantastic place to spend some time. I-93, the country’s only two-lane interstate, offers easy access; a host of attractions—an aerial tram, the state’s own “little Grand Canyon,” covered bridges, a powerful waterfall called the Flume Gorge, even a trading post with trained bears—make it a great place to linger. If you give yourself the time to hike around or just sit still by a mountain stream, you could easily spend a week or more enjoying it all.
The main draw in Franconia Notch used to be one of the most famous landmarks in New England: the Old Man of the Mountain, a series of five granite ledges 1,200 feet above the valley that seemed to resemble an old man’s profile when viewed from certain angles. After years of reconstructive surgery, being held together by epoxies and steel reinforcement, the Old Man came tumbling down on May 3, 2003.
Fortunately, the other well-known feature of Franconia Notch is still there: The Flume ($15) is a granite gorge, 12 to 20 feet wide and nearly 100 feet high, carved by roaring waters at the south end of the notch. To get here, head to the large visitors center (603/745-8391, daily 8:30am-5pm May-Oct.), pay the admission fee, and take a short bus ride to near the start of the wooden boardwalk, which runs the length of the 800-foot-long gorge and ends up at the ear-pounding rumble of Avalanche Falls.
Though less famous than the Old Man and The Flume, between the two sits another favorite Franconia Notch stop: The Basin, where a lovely waterfall in the thundering Pemigewassett River has polished a 25-foot-deep pothole. Thoreau visited in the 1820s, and thought it was remarkable; it’s still a peaceful place to sit and picnic and be soothed by the natural white noise.
Side note: The hikers’ Appalachian Trail crosses the Franconia Notch Parkway and Pemi Trail at Whitehouse Bridge, in between the Basin and the Flume!