The White Mountains Circuit classic route encompasses 130 miles of cycling over three days. It is suitable for road bikes; gravel enthusiasts can also enjoy additional back roads and The Presidential Rail Trail that parallels Route 2.
Not ready to tackle the entire circuit in one go? Start by picking your favorite section and turn it into a one- or two-day ride. Hiking trails and rivers that run along the entire circuit allow for countless side trips and multi-sport adventuring.
On the White Mountains Circuit, you will ride along the famous Kancamagus Highway and two other National Scenic Byways, see the shops and restaurants of North Conway, pass through Pinkham Notch and the shadow of Mount Washington, and cruise through a wooded bike trail with stunning views of Franconia Notch and the Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site at Cannon.
The White Mountains Circuit was once connected to three hostels in the loop. The Notch Hostel, Rattle River Lodge & Hostel, and the White Mountains Hostel (now the CoHo: Conway Hostel). Sadly, Rattle River Hostel and White Mountains Hostel both shut down due to the pandemic. You can now stay at the CoHo Hostel and the Notch Hostel, along with many other places throughout the entire route.
This strenuous ride involves both bike paths and major roads and is designed for experienced, fit riders. The entire circuit can be completed in two or three days, depending on how fast or relaxed you want to go. Or break it up into sections and tackle your favorite one first. The three sections of the classic White Mountains Circuit are described below, followed by alternative routes of varying lengths and difficulties. Choose YOUR circuit!
Section One (53 miles)
Start point: North Woodstock, NH
End point: Gorham, NH
Start in North Woodstock.
Follow Route 3 and the Recreation Trail paved bike path to climb to the height of land in Franconia Notch. Enjoy views of Mount Lafayette and Cannon Cliff.
Continue north to Route 115, then head east along Route 2 and Durand Road. The uphill stretch of road along Route 2 is busy and exposed to full sun; gravel bikes can avoid this section by taking the Presidential Rail Trail.
Once you reach the high point of the day, the views justify the effort. Pass through fields of lupines as you take in the looming vistas of the Northern Presidential mountain range and enjoy relatively easy riding the rest of the day.
You’ll end your day in Gorham. There are plenty of amazing restaurants and accommodations to help you re-energize and get yourself ready for section two.
Section Two (38 miles)
Start point: Gorham, NH
End point: Conway, NH
Start at Gorham center and head south on Route 16.
Ride through the valley between Mount Washington and the Carter-Moriah Range, passing by such attractions as the Auto Road and Wildcat Ski Mountain. Climb to the height of land in Pinkham Notch.
AMC Pinkham Notch Visitors Center/Joe Dodge Lodge (food, restrooms, shop). This is the base camp for Mount Washington. The Visitor’s Center has a huge 3D map of the White Mountains that will give you a close-up view of the geography and topography you will be cycling through on the Circuit.
Downtown North Conway (tons of restaurants, excellent shopping, cafes)
Avoid downtown North Conway by taking West Side Road, or bike through town if you want to check out the shops. Some riders swear by West Side Road; others avoid this road due to the windiness and low shoulder. The scenery along West Side Road is quite special — old New Hampshire farmhouses and beautiful landscapes.
There are plenty of amazing places to stay in Conway and eat. If you’re interested in one of the local hostels, take a right on Washington Street right after the Rt 113 junction to arrive at the CoHo: Conway Hostel.
Section Two ALTERNATE: Extended Ride (55 miles)
Section two is the least strenuous section of the tour. Looking for a longer day? Add Bear Notch Road to the route:
After riding through Pinkham Notch and the town of Jackson, take Route 302 West into the town of Bartlett.
Turn left at the start of Bear Notch Road, a summer-only, 8-mile road that winds through the heart of the White Mountains, offering unique vistas and little traffic.
Possible side trip: Hike Table Mountain
Emerge from Bear Notch Road on the Kancamagus; follow the Kanc (and/or the more shaded Passaconaway Road) for 8 miles east to Conway.
Section Three (38 miles)
Start point: Conway, NH
End point: North Woodstock, NH
Directions for this section are simple: Begin on the shaded, low-traffic Passaconnaway Road, which parallels the Kancamagus Highway for 6.5 miles. Then, follow the Kancamagus Highway to its end in Lincoln. One of America’s Scenic Byways, the Kancamagus is a bucket list item for cyclists and boasts the best continuous roadside views of any road in the Whites.
Ride uphill to the Kancamagus Pass (elevation 2,855 feet), then descend steeply into Lincoln, NH.
Sugar Hill Overlook (roadside mountain vista)
Sabbaday Falls (short walk from the road to stunning waterfalls and geologic features)
Hancock Overlook (roadside mountain vista overlooking the Osceolas)
Once in Lincoln, stay on 112 W, once you get to the Route 3 intersection you will find yourself in North Woodstock.
MAKE IT LONGER: Stop off in North Woodstock for lunch, then continue on 112 West to explore Kinsman Notch, yet another stunningly scenic area between Mount Moosilauke and Kinsman Ridge. Take a right on Route 116 to see Easton’s farmland and the backside of the Kinsmans.
Add a Fourth Hostel: D Acres
Another loop route you can add in takes you from the North Woodstock to D Acres Hostel and Farm, a unique permaculture farm and educational homestead located in Dorchester, NH (near the Rumney climbing crags!). There are two routes, one is “the big hill way” and one is “the long flat way.” Take one of them down and one of them back up!
First Route Option, Notch to D Acres:
From the Notch Hostel Head southwest on NH-112 W toward Lost Valley Rd for 1.5 mi. If you are in the mood there is great swimming at Agassiz Basin, site of the old Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant. Take a Slight left onto NH-118 S. *After the crest of the hill you can head up to the Ravine Lodge to check it out — beware it is a long gravel grind to the Lodge.* On the downhill great swimming at Breezy Point. After 13 miles turn left onto NH-118 S/NH-25 E. Check out the rocket in Warren and ice cream at Moose Scoops on the Warren Common. Go through the town of Wentworth and into Rumney. Then Turn right onto NH-118 S. This is another monster hill with limited shoulder. After 2.3 miles, turn right onto Hearse House Rd for 1 miles then turn left on Streeter Road. There is one final mini-hill over 0.4 miles and you are home free. There is beer at D Acres. 🙂
Second Route Option, Notch to D Acres:
From the Notch Hostel Head northeast on NH-112 E toward Sundance Rd for 1 mile. Then turn right onto US-3 S. This route is sort of a grind but you avoid the hill of the Sawyer Highway for 19.7 miles. Before you cross the overpass into Plymouth, turn right onto Fairgrounds Rd. This is a favorite among locals because of the gentle grade. You can stay on Fairgrounds and head straight into Rumney Center — there is beer and food at the Common Cafe and Tavern on the Common–or rurn right onto Quincy Rd after 1.8 miles then slight left onto Old Railroad Grade after 1.3 miles then turn right onto School St for 1 mile then continue onto Depot St. After 1.1 miles takes a right on NH-25W for 3 miles. The turn left onto NH-118 S. This is a monster hill with limited shoulder. After 2.3 miles turn right onto Hearse House Rd for 1 miles then turn left on Streeter Road. There is one final mini-hill over 0.4 miles before you reach D Acres.
Don’t have time for a three-day tour? Or, want to pack even more awesomeness into your circuit? Here are a few alternate routes that can be substituted or added into the White Mountains Circuit:
57.6 Miles. Ride north along the Pemi Rail Trail through Franconia Notch, then head west to the quaint town of Franconia. Then cruise south through Easton’s farmland along the Kinsman Range. Descend and climb out of the wild and scenic Kinsman Notch during the last leg of the trip.
Crank the Kanc:
Bike the famous Kancamagus Highway, either to the Kancamagus Pass high point and back, or all the way to Conway and back.
Ride north through Franconia Notch, then east along Route 3 and 302 to visit Crawford Notch and the Highland Center, with historic sites, hiking trails, ponds, and rivers galore. Take Bear Notch Road to the Kancamagus Highway back to North Woodstock.
TWO-DAY RIDES FROM THE NOTCH HOSTEL
Ride to Gorham:
The Section One itinerary is the same.
After spending the night in Gorham, follow the Section Two Extended Ride alternate above, but instead of heading east on the Kancamagus after Bear Notch Road, head west back to North Woodstock.
Ride to Conway:
Spend the day exploring the Kancamagus Highway and all its highlights, including the roadside overlooks, river recreation areas, geologic features, and hiking trails.
Rest up in Conway before returning back to the North Woodstock the same way, OR take West Side Road to 302 to Bear Notch Road for a longer ride.
Featured below are some pictures previous cyclists have taken while completing the White Mountains Circuit. Although the hostels are no longer involved, the hope is for these photos and trip descriptions to inspire avid cyclists to attempt the challenge in the beautiful White Mountains.