There’s no better place to enjoy the artistry of autumn than in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The scenic Kancamagus Highway, a section of New Hampshire State Highway 112, has proven year after year to display the most colorful fall palette in New England. The 35-mile stretch of curvy road lies between the Pemigewasset River at Lincoln and the Saco River at Conway. You may want to start your trip in Lincoln and drive it at a leisurely pace—sharp curves are common as the pavement climbs and descends the steep slopes of Mount Kancamagus.
Named for an early Indian Chief of the Penacook Confederacy called “The Fearless One,” and known as the “Kanc” by locals, the road winds through the White Mountain National Forest where deciduous trees yield a stunning array of fall hues. My favorite section of the scenic byway is the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, through which the Swift River has cut a narrow cleft in solid rock. Bright foliage contrasted by rushing water makes for some beautiful photographs! Although the timing varies each autumn, the splendid colors never fail to impress. Most leaf peepers agree that the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains is undoubtedly the best fall foliage route in New England!
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
Have you ever marveled at how trees seem to transform themselves from perpetual green into fleeting brilliance practically over night? Although it might seem like autumn color appears in a short time, it’s actually a slow, continual process.
During the spring and summer growing seasons, chlorophyll, which provides leaves with their basic green color, is produced during long daylight hours. Chemicals such as carotenoids (produces yellows, oranges and browns) and anthocyanins (responsible for reds and blues) are also present in many varieties of leaves, but the green chlorophyll masks their tones. As days grow shorter and nights lengthen, less and less chlorophyll is produced, and all the wonderfully rich hidden hues are exposed. Environmental factors such as temperature and rainfall also influence fall foliage. Generally, sunny days and long, crisp nights bring out the most spectacular colors. As do warm, wet springs and moderate summers. Since weather is always changing and unpredictable, autumn leaves may be especially vivid some years and less so in others. Leaf-peeping season may arrive in early September, other times it’s late October. But no matter when, taking a country drive sometime in the fall reveals Mother Nature at her colorful best!
IF YOU GO
Request a New Hampshire Visitor’s Guide for trip planning advice in the White Mountains, information on camping, hiking trail maps, and nearby attractions.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com