The Franconia Notch (State Park) is one of the most (if not THE most) beautiful locations in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. It offers several unique geologic features, and provides an incredible number of different recreational activities in a 9-mile long narrow glacier carved mountain pass.
The Franconia Notch Recreation Path is a paved bike, walking, running path that travels away from the roadway and connects all the major attractions in the State Park (the road does as well). It starts 1.5 north of the Peabody Slopes exit at Cannon Mountain, and is a wonderful up and down (mostly down) ride, dropping 1,000 vertical feet from the base of the Tramway at Cannon Mountain to the Flume Gorge Visitor Center. Bikes can be rented at Cannon Mountain and a shuttle service brings you back from the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, if you are not up for the return, up hill climb. Along the way you pass Echo Lake with a sandy beach for swimming (with Lifeguards), and canoe, kayak and paddleboat rentals. The 28-acre lake is good for novice paddlers and allows fishing. RV camping is located near Echo Lake. Across the lake I have seen mother bears with youngsters foraging on the ski slopes of Cannon Mountain and overhead I have watched the aerial display of Peregrine Falcons that nest on the cliffs in the notch. The path also passes old beaver dams and lodges.
There is a scenic 1.5-mile hiking loop from the Peabody Slopes parking area up Bald Mountain and across a saddle to Artists Bluff, then trough the woods back to the parking. This short hike, with some moderately step climbs, provides spectacular views of Cannon Mountain and its ski slopes, Echo Lake, Mount Lafayette, and the notch stretching out below you. Rock climbers are often on Artists Bluff (and the cliffs on Cannon further on) and are fun to watch and admire (or learn to do it with a guide).
At the base of the Cannon Mountain (reviewed elsewhere) Tramway you can stop in at the New England Ski Museum (also with its own review section) for a slice of skiing history or the Old Man in the Mountain Museum featuring the history and artifacts from the rock profile and New Hampshire state symbol that once hung on the cliffs of Cannon mountain 1.200 feet above Profile Lake. You can ride the Tram to the summit where you can get a snack or meal, take in the 360 degree view from the lookout (on a clear day you can see mountains in 4 states and Canada), and/or hike a very short trail to a rock ledge looking across the notch at Mount Lafayette and the Franconia Ridge, and down into the notch below. This is a spectacular view and a wonderful spot for a picnic. From the top of Cannon Mountain you can hike the very steep trail to Lonesome Lake or the rigorous trail up and over The Cannon Balls. In winter the view is spectacular and the skiing below wonderful!!!
On May 3, 2003, after over 40 years of trying to hold the rock formation together with cement and metal tie rods, the freeze and thaw cycles won out, and geologic icon (the Old Man in the Mountain) fell in pieces to the valley floor. Many people, including myself, grieved the loss of this rock formation, as if it were a real friend. People left flowers below the cliff and many different ideas were suggested for replacing the profile or for a memorial to it. I still miss seeing the profile when I drive or bike through the notch.
As part of the memorial to the Old Man in the Mountain, a series of rods with metal silhouettes of the old man’s profile stand at the side of Profile Lake and the profile can be lined up with rock cliff to see what it looked like when the rock outcrop was there. Another phase of the memorial will have 5 granite monoliths that when lined up will recreate the profile (that was originally seen when 5 ledges were lined up on the mountain).
The recreation trail bypasses Boise Rock (no great loss) and passes by the Lafayette Place campground (tents) and a major hub for series hiking. Trails lead to Lonesome Lake to the west and up to the Franconia Ridge to the east. Many consider the Franconia Ridge (connecting Mounts Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, and Lafayette) as the most scenic portion of the Appalachian Trail as it runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The Franconia Ridge looks out to the east over the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Continuing along the bike path you come to The Basin, a 20’ pothole carved out of the granite 15,000 years ago by swirling rocks and sand in the rushing water as the North American Ice Sheet melted. Above The Basin are a series of cascades and small waterfalls, and some quite stretches where freezing cold pools will revive you.
The next stop is the Flume Gorge (also reviewed in a separate section on TripAdvisor). The visitor center contains a museum, orientation movie, a café, gift shop, and trout pond.
From here you can hike up along the Pemigewasset River, over an 1886 covered bridge, by cascades and waterfalls, until you reach the Flume Gorge. The gorge is an 800 foot long, 90 foot deep, and 15 foot wide slice carved out of the granite, and you walk through it on a wooden walkway suspended over the raging water to a large (for New Englnd) waterfall. At this point you may return to the visitor center or continue the hike through the woods to the Centennial Pine Bridge (a covered bridge build on top of an enormous fallen white pine in 1939) spanning a deep gorge and river below. The trail brings you back to the visitor center, along the way are spectacular views of pools in the river with the bridge high above, of the peak on Mount Liberty, and through a series of enormous glacial erratics (boulders deposited by the receding glacier).
The Franconia Notch, its beauty, its attractions, and the wonderful recreation path through it, has something for everyone and should not be missed. Spend a day or several days here, and come back to visit in the different seasons, they are all spectacular.
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