North of Franconia Notch State Park is the Franconia-Sugar Hill-Easton area. This gentle countryside is a bit more rural, the pace slower, the views absolutely gorgeous … so get off the highway and explore this beautiful area.
Don’t miss the Frost Place, once the mountain farm of New Hampshire poet Robert Frost, which today has a resident poet and nature trail; the Stone Stack Iron Foundry Interpretative Center; the Sugar Hill Museum, a gem of a small historical museum with changing exhibits that reflect two centuries of North Country life; Franconia’s Abbie Greenleaf Library; and the drives along Routes 116, 117 and Sunset Hill Road. The first ski school in America was located in Sugar Hill and is marked by a state historical marker on Route 117.
Continue north on I-93 from Franconia, and you’ll come to Littleton, considered by many to be the shopping, dining and antiquing center of the northwestern White Mountains. Once part of the Underground Railroad, Littleton at one time was also home to the largest manufacturer of stereoscopic views in America; many views were of the White Mountains, and were instrumental in helping to promote the area as a vacation destination.
Today you can stroll down Littleton’s Main Street on a historic walking tour that includes 23 buildings of architectural interest, plus art exhibits at the library and community house. The Littleton Grist Mill, established in 1798, has been restored to its authentic internal workings, and sports enthusiasts shouldn’t miss Moore Dam Reservoir, a wonderful place for boating and fishing. Littleton is also home to a 300' covered bridge, new in 2004; you’ll find it spanning the river between the Grist Mill and Miller’s Cafe.
From Littleton, it’s a scenic drive on Rte. 135 along the Connecticut River to Lancaster and Rte. 2. Or you may opt to head back on Rte. 302 to Bethlehem which, at 1,500 feet above sea level, is arguably the highest occupied village east of the Rockies. Known for its virtually pollen-free air, it was once the headquarters of the National Hay Fever Association. Today antique shops and restaurants line Main Street.
West of Bethlehem, take Rte. 116 north to Jefferson, or travel farther east on Rte. 302 and pick up Rte. 3 north to Lancaster and Jefferson, home of a popular family attraction, Santa’s Village, whichs offer a variety of fun rides and activities, all included with your admission. At Santa’s Village, you shouldn’t miss the HoHoHo H2O Waterpark, “Reindeer Rendezvous” or the award-winning 3-D film “A Tinkerdoodle Christmas.”
Nearby Randolph, just east of Jefferson on Route 2, is an equally lovely rural village. Hikers are especially fond of Randolph, due to its location at the base of the northern Presidentials, Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams; and there are many trailheads in the town.
Your next stop is the Gorham area, a notable vacation area for families and outdoor enthusiasts, set at the crossroads of Routes 2 and 16. From there, turn south on Route 16 through Pinkham Notch. While the scenery along this stretch is striking as any you’ve seen, some of the most spectacular views in all the White Mountains—or anywhere, for that matter—are still to come. Whether you choose to take a guided van ride, or drive your own car to the top, a trip up the Mount Washington Auto Road to the top of the highest peak north of the Carolinas and east of the Rockies is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Or, for terrific views of Mt. Washington and a good deal more (on a clear day, it’s possible to see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean), treat your family to a ride on the four-passenger Wildcat Express gondola skyride or new ZipRider™ at Wildcat Mountain.
From the base of either Wildcat or the Auto Road, Rte. 16 takes you south to the picturesque village of Jackson. Many visitors like to walk the mile and a half loop around the village and the Wentworth Golf Club course; the route takes you through one covered bridge, the “kissing bridge” that leads to the village, and past another on the golf course. There are also shops and restaurants along the way.
If you’re in the mood for another scenic detour, explore Five Mile Circuit (Rte. 16B), which joins Rte. 16A in the village. This route will take you past Black Mountain, a ski area in the winter; the Eagle Mountain House golf course; Jackson Falls (a perfect place for a picnic or a cooling dip on a hot summer day); and the town’s community church and library. There’s also a pleasant short walk along Wildcat River and through the town park.
When you’re ready to move on, head south on Rte. 16, which joins up with Rte. 302 in Glen, and continues on to North Conway on the White Mountains Trail.