Get Out of the House By Taking One of These Scenic New England Drives
The past couple of months have been difficult for everyone. In an effort to avoid contracting COVID-19, most of us have been staying home, working or taking classes remotely, and avoiding contact with family and friends. Weddings, graduations and other celebrations have been postponed or canceled. Going away for the weekend or even eating in a restaurant has been out of the question. It’s enough to make even the most optimistic people reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. Most of us need something — anything — fun to look forward to.
Although you might not be able to book the late spring getaway you hoped for, you can still get into your car and go for a drive. Bring along your own food, or pick up some takeout from your favorite restaurant, and you will have the makings of a pleasant day.
Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, New Hampshire
One of New England’s most beautiful drives, the Kancamagus Highway (a section of New Hampshire Route 112) starts in Lincoln just off of exit 32 on Interstate 93 and continues for 34.5 miles to the town of Conway. Unspoiled by development, this National Scenic Byway passes through one of New England’s wildest and most pristine landscapes.
Beginning in Lincoln, the “Kanc,” as it’s called by locals, ascends into the White Mountains, passing several breathtaking outlook points that offer views of the Osceola mountains, the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, Swift River, Lower Falls, Sabbaday Falls, Rocky Gorge, Sugar Hill, Mount Tremont, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Parking is available at many of these scenic locations, so you can get out of your car for a bit and stretch your legs, or even enjoy lunch. (If the area is crowded, it might be better to stay inside your car to avoid close contact with people.) Some parking areas in the White Mountain National Forest require users to pay a fee, so be sure to have cash on hand as credit cards are not accepted. Fives and ones are generally best. Because fees are collected via secure steel boxes, there is no way to make change.
If you are lucky enough to have one of these parking areas mostly to yourself, there are a number of short walking trails, easy-to-moderate in difficulty, that lead to various waterfalls and other natural sites. Wildlife is abundant in the White Mountains, so be on the lookout for hawks, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, deer, moose, bears and porcupines.
It’s never a good idea to use any trail if you don’t have a map, water and proper footwear. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some White Mountain recreation sites and toilet facilities may be closed. You can find maps, weather reports, travel advisories and other resources at MountainWanderer.com, FS.USDA.gov/WhiteMountain, VisitWhiteMountains.com, and Visit-NewHampshire.com.
Ocean Avenue, Kennebunkport, Maine
A bit closer to the Merrimack Valley, the Kennebunk region of coastal Maine offers several scenic oceanfront drives that are ideal for shorter half-day outings. Kennebunkport’s Ocean Avenue offers one the area’s most beautiful routes. This winding road stretches 8 miles from downtown Kennebunkport’s Dock Square to Wildes District Road, which leads you to Cape Porpoise, a picturesque fishing village that features a working harbor, beautiful views of the ocean, and classic Maine coast scenery.
Along the drive, you’ll enjoy dramatic ocean vistas and views of quaint cottages and sandy beaches. Keep an eye out for Walker’s Point Estate, the summer home of the Bush family. Ganny’s Garden, located on Ocean Avenue across the street from Kennebunkport’s Caption Lord Mansion, is dedicated to late former first lady Barbara Bush. You’ll also enjoy seeing some of the area’s beautiful historic homes.
A few parking areas can be found along Ocean Avenue, enabling you to get out of your car and enjoy the scenery. To avoid violating local ordinances regarding beach closures and other restrictions, be sure to do some research before you leave home. For information, visit GoKennebunks.com and KennebunkMaine.us.
The Mohawk Trail, Northern Berkshires, Massachusetts
Residents of eastern Massachusetts don’t often think about visiting the Berkshires, but the region is home to some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes. One of the area’s most popular scenic routes lies along or just off of the Mohawk Trail, the portion of Massachusetts Route 2 that heads west from Interstate 91. The most scenic part of this drive is the 55-mile stretch that travels through the towns of Adams, Savoy, Florida, Clarksburg, North Adams and Williamstown.
In the town of Florida, about 30 miles west of I-91, you’ll find Savoy Mountain State Forest. The forest is home to Tannery Falls, one of the region’s magnificent waterfalls. Seeing the falls requires a fairly short hike that’s well worth the effort. The falls are usually at their best during the spring and early summer.
Continue driving west in Florida and you will soon reach Whitcomb Summit, the Mohawk Trail’s highest point at 2,173 feet. From the scenic overlook, you can enjoy views of Vermont’s Green Mountains and the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
The next point of interest on the trail is the Hairpin Turn in Clarksburg, a sharp curve in the road at Western Summit, once called Spirit Mountain by local Native Americans. Park at the scenic overlook and take in the view of downtown North Adams below, Mount Greylock and Mount Williams looming less than 50 miles away, and the Green Mountains in the distance.
Another worthy stop is Natural Bridge State Park in North Adams. One of Massachusetts’ most unique natural places, the park features a white marble arch or “bridge” sculpted by glacial runoff more than 13,000 years ago. The dramatic arch spans Hudson Brook, which lies at the bottom of a 60-foot gorge.
Continuing westward, you’ll pass through the town of North Adams, arriving in Williamstown shortly afterward. Williamstown is home to several historic places, including Williams College and the 1753 House, a replica of an 18th century home built to commemorate the town’s 200th anniversary in 1953. Mount Greylock State Reservation lies partly in Williamstown.
Author’s Note: Due to the rapidly changing nature of state-issued travel advisories during the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to check travel advisories for your state as well as for any state(s) you plan to visit before leaving home. Official information can be found at Mass.gov, NH.gov and Maine.gov.