Franconia Notch, in northern New Hampshire offers the wilderness experiences and vacation opportunities of the western national parks, but is only two and a half hours from Boston.
Located in the midst of the White Mountain National Forest, the Franconia area includes Franconia Notch State Park with its many natural wonders and options for hiking, climbing, swimming, boating and fishing — and some nearby childhood fun parks.
Franconia Notch State Park
The first question is what is a “notch”? When the settlers of this region were trying to find a way to get their produce to the markets of New York and Boston in the late 18th and early 19th centuries they needed a way over the formidable line of mountains. The easiest route was a low place where nature had cut a “notch” between mountains, in this case during the retreat of the last glaciers. In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Franconia is one of the biggest notches. It is such a special place that when I-93 was planned to pass through it, I-93 changed designation as an Interstate Highway to that of a Parkway and was reduced to one lane in each direction.
The Flume Gorge
I-93 leads directly into this wonderland of nature. Close to the entrance to the notch look for signs for Flume Gorge, an 800-foot-long crack in the walls of the mountain at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of the gorge rise 70 to 80 feet above the brook that flows through it, and range from 12 to 20 feet apart. Close to the top of the Flume listen for the sound of Avalanche Falls, formed during a flood in 1883. From the Ridge Path look for the trail to Liberty Gorge and its cascading stream. Along the trail watch for Sentinel Falls Bridge and Pool. A covered bridge cross the chasm here, its base the Sentinel Pine, a pine tree 16 feet in diameter. It was felled during the hurricane of 1938. The pool, 130 feet below, was carved by glacial waters 14,000 years ago and is 40 feet deep and 150 feet in diameter. Visitors make an exciting walk through the gorge on a boardwalk, sometimes just feet above the rushing water of Flume Brook below. There is a short version of the walk through the gorge itself, or an optional two-mile loop walk past cascades and glacial boulders. The moist atmosphere of the gorge permits the growth of exceptional flowers, mosses and ferns.
A short distance north, watch for signs to The Basin. When the ice that stood a mile deep over the mountains melted, ending the last ice age, it sent torrents of water raging down this valley, carving a smooth-bottomed basin twenty feet in diameter into the solid granite of the mountain. A smooth path leads to the spot today, where the not so torrential Pemigewasset River still pours water into The Basin, continuing a process begun 14,000 years ago. Be sure to follow the path along the stream south of the basin for views of the Old Man’s Foot and the beauty of the stream passing through the quiet woods.
Soon after the first rough road was extended through the notch in the early nineteenth century, a local man named Thomas Boise suddenly found himself in a raging blizzard as he rode through the notch on his horse. Realizing that both he and the horse would die if he continued on, Boise looked for a protected spot and found a huge granite boulder, one side of which provided a sheltering overhang. In order to preserve his own life, he killed the horse and wrapped himself in its hide under the projecting rock. When found alive the next day by searchers, his rescuers had to hack the frozen hide off him. This site, with a picnic area, can be reached only from the northbound lane. When in the Notch, look for other huge boulder in the landscape. They were dropped here at the end of the last glacial period, some having traveled many miles from where the glacier broke them off of a mountain top.
More than natural wonders
There is much more to Franconia Notch than these natural wonders. Ride on the first Aerial Tramway in North America to walk high above the notch on the Rim Trail. Stay in a small inn and take the kids to visit Clark’s Trading Post, just below the notch, and Santa’s Village, also nearby. Bring a bathing suit and a fishing pole.
Getting to Franconia Notch
Just head north on I-93. In about two and a half hours you’ll see the mountains that frame Franconia Notch rising on either side of you.