New Hampshire: Kancamagus Highway

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New Hampshire State Route 112 runs for 56 miles through the White Mountain National Forest starting in the east in Conway, New Hampshire and ending in the west in Bath, New Hampshire. The eastern 26.5 miles between Lincoln, New Hampshire and Conway, New Hampshire is called the “Kancamagus Higway.”

Presented here are the numerous storyboards on important historical or geological facts of the area that populate the various scenic overlooks along the Kancamagus Highway . . . do read on!

The storyboards are presented as if driving from Conway, New Hampshire to Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Pictures Taken November 4 and 9, 2011

Kancamagus Highway . . . Who Was Kancamagus?

Kancamagus Highway: This scenic highway through the White Mountain National Forest was constructed through the combined efforts of the New Hampshire Department of Public Works and Highways, the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, and the U.S. Forest Service. The road was opened between Conway and Lincoln in 1959. The scenic road opens the Swift and the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River watersheds for increased public use. Take your time and enjoy your drive.

Who was Kancamagus? Kancamagus (The Fearless One), grandson of Passaconaway, succeeded his uncle, Wonalancet, about 1684 as third and final “Sagamon” of the Penacook Confederacy. He tried to maintain peace between the Indians and whites, but harassment from the English aggravated this hot-tempered chieftain until he loose the furies of war, causing much bloodshed. The tribes of the confederacy became scattered after 1691 and Kancamagus, with his followers, moved either to northern New Hampshire or into Canada.

Forest Service-U.S. Department of Agriculture

Picture of New Hampshire Kancamagus Highway Storyboard

Kancamagus Highway

Albany Covered Bridge

Picture of Covered Bridge in Albany, New Hampshire

Covered Bridge in Albany, New Hampshire I

Picture of Covered Bridge in Albany, New Hampshire

Covered Bridge in Albany, New Hampshire II

Cart Roads and Wagon Paths Connect a Community

Was getting their half the fun?

Today a trip to town takes minutes. For homesteaders, traveling the bumpy 15 miles to Conway by wagon took 3 hours, on a good day.

Trips to the store would not have been casual affairs but a chance to stock up on supplies, 50 lb. sacks of grain or seed, cloth sew clothes for the whole family, a rare chance to send and receive mail.

The stagecoach connection

The stage was the link with the outside world. The driver brought these isolated hill farmers newspapers, made purchases for farmers in town, even did their banking.

The men who drove the stages

They were colorful characters, usually men who also owned a farm or an inn. Jim Shackford, owner of Shackford’s (Passaconaway House Inn), was typical–a good storyteller, a skilled driver,m and able to quickly fix a wheel broken by the rutted road or a frost-heaved stone.

The road remains, the community fades away

As this 1892 map shows, this road was once lined with farms. Today you can still find clues to the past such as old cellar holes, cemetaeries, old hotel sites, and stonewalls scattered about the forest.

How many traces of the vanished farm landscape can you spot during your stay?

Picture of Albany, New Hampshire Covered Bridge Storyboard on Kancamagus Highway

Albany Covered Bridge Storyboard

Russell Colbaith Historical Site

Picture of Russell Colbath Historic Site Sign on Kancamagus Highway

Russell Colbath Historic Site Sign

Picture of Russell Colbath Historic Site House I on Kancamagus Highway

Russell Colbath Historic Site House I

Picture of Russell Colbath Historic Site House II o Kancamagus Highway

Russell Colbath Historic Site House II

Picture of Russell Colbath Historic Site Barn on Kancamagus Highway

Russell Colbath Historic Site Barn

Sabbaday Falls

Picture of Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Sign on Kancamagus Highway

Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Sign

Picture of Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Entrance on Kancamagus Highway

Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Entrance

Picture of Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Historic Site on Kancamagus Highway

Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Historic Site

How Sabbaday Falls Got Its Name

The Legend of Sabbaday Falls

Legend has it that one Saturday night, with winter rapidly approaching, workmen building a road from Albany Intervale to Waterville decided it was time to call it quits. They hid their tools, planning to return the following spring. Before leaving on Sunday morning, they named the book Sabbaday Brook for the Sabbath day, or “Sabbaday.” the workers never returned to complete the road, but the name has endured.

A day of rest

For the early settlers, the hard work never seemed to stop, but on the Sabbath, families occasionally took time out to pick wild berries or take a walk to the Falls.

1880: Cutting the trail to Sabbaday Falls

A local farmer, Jim Shackford, who owned the Passaconaway House hotel, earned extra money by blazing trails for the Appalachian Mountain Club and by guiding tourist who like to hike those trails.

In 1880, Shackford cut this trail along the Swift River from his hotel to Sabbaday Falls. Today, the trail is part of the White Mountain National Forest.

In the path of a President?

Influential easterners began flocking to the White Mountains in the 1880s, including President Grover Cleveland. A guest at Shackford’s Passaconaway House, he likely visited the falls with his young wife Frances.

Many of those urbanites later helped gain legal protection for the White Mountains when the area was threatened by logging, forest fires, and erosion.

Picture of Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Storyboard II on Kancamagus Highway

Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Storyboard II

By Foot and Horseback, Stagecoach and Car

Generations of visitors have followed this trail

According to local historians, Native Americans once traveled a path through the area to hunt and fish.

During the nineteenth century, writers and artists, moved by the splendor of the scenery became promoters of the White Mountains. They romanticized this “wilderness tamed” in poetry, painting and travel articles.

Farmers prepare for a crop of tourists

Attracted by the clean mountain air and easy access by train, tourists began to visit Passaconaway Intervale and the Falls after the Civil War. Local farm families, including the Shackfords, started taking in guests.

Tourists come by stage

Jim Shackford brought his guests to Passaconaway House from Conway by stagecoach. He would also take them on day trips to favorite spots, like nearby Sabbaday Falls.

To the mountains–by car!

The auto eventually opened up the area to scenery seekers of all income levels.

Picture of Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Storyboard I on Kancamagus Highway

Sabbaday Falls Picnic Ground Storyboard I

Sugar Hill Scenic Vista

Picture of Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Sign on Kancamagus Highway

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Sign

Picture of Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook View (Left) on Kancamagus Highway

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook View (Left)

Picture of Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook View (Right) on Kancamagus Highway

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook View (Right)

A Forest According to Plan

It may surprise you to learn that that the vista before you–which looks so vast and wild–is actually planted.

The forest you are visiting is indeed a planned, managed and nurtured place. 

Much as communities are zoned for different purposes, the White Mountain National Forest has areas that have been set aside for specific uses.

Managing a national forest is an immense balancing act

In some areas, timber harvesting and motorized recreation may be allowed. In others, such as Wilderness and Scenic Areas, a “light on the land approach” is taken, allowing forests to regenerate naturally and kikers to search for solitude.

In fact, the Forest Service deliberately lets natural processes manage the landscape in over half the White Mountain National Forest.

Caring for the land and serving people

With public involvement, the Forest Service develops a long-term strategy for managing the land. Natural features such as soils, landforms and watersheds are balanced against the capacity of an area to support recreation, wildlife, timber harvest, and other uses in a sustainable way.

Everyday, specialists in these fields work together to manage the White Mountain National Forest using an ecological approach.

The Forest Plan

The Forest Plan sets management direction, prescribing what uses are allowed and where they may occur.

Use of National Forests and the resources they contain, such as forest products used for building homes, baseball bats, and furniture–to recreation opportunities like hiking trails and mineral collecting–are debated and evaluated during the planning process. A forest plan provides Forest Service managers with guidance as they implement projects.

Various activities may take place in designated zones, or Management Areas, ensuring that the entire Forest achieve an overall balance of uses.

Picture of Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Storyboard I on Kancamagus Highway

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Storyboard I

Planning to Blend with Nature

Planning the views

Did you realize that this view is part of a plan to assure that management activities are in harmony with the landscape?

Forest managers make decisions based on all aspects of forest ecology: water, trees, soils, elevation, wildlife, and landscape.

The forest renews itself

The forests you are looking at has been harvested at least once, and some portions logged a second and even third time. But to look at the landscape you might never know it.

Can you spot the traces of generations of forest harvesting?

The birch and maple hardwoods in the valley that give us such lovely fall colors replaced some earlier spruce/fir forest cover.

Before logging, the valley floor had more evergreen trees. Without its history of harvesting, this landscape would include fewer trees that create the spectacular fall foliage we enjoy today.

How to read the landscape

Reading the landscape: To see how the forest changes after harvest, look for places where the vegetation differs in size, color, shape and texture.

Look for shapes: To spot a harvest area, look for soft gradations (older cuts) or sharp, well-defined outlines (recent cuts) in the landscape.

Ideally, the outline of a recently cut area will mimic the fluid shapes and patterns of nature so that it blends into the landscape. Don’t be surprised to see a clearcut resembling the shape of a cloud’s shadow on a hillside.

Different cutting practices produce different effects on the view: Sharp changes in line, color and texture probably indicate a recent harvest–within the last year or two. Lush summer foliage tends to mask differences. Winter contrasts makes these areas easier to spot.

Softer changes in texture appear over time as shrubs and trees start to grow and the cycle of forest renewal continues. After 10 to 15 years it becomes harder to spot a harvested area.

Changes are hard to spot where trees of different species and ages have been selectively removed. The landscape from a distance looks no different than before logging took place.

Contrasting patterns can appear where clumps of trees are left standing to provide shade for new growth or where groups fo trees were cut to diversify the age of trees left in the forest.

Dark green tones, visible on very high ridges in the fall and winter, may be older growth spruce and fir which was left behind by early loggers because it was too inaccessible.

To learn more: For more information on forest, ecology, forestry and silviculture in the White Mountain National Forest, be sure to visit the Forest Discovery Trail on the western side of the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, about 11 miles from here.

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Storyboard II on Kancamagus Highway

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Storyboard II

How Multiple-Use Works

When planning a timber sale to implement the long-term Forest Plan . . .

  • The Forester: Measures the value, maturity and health of a stand of trees.
  • The Recreation Specialist: Looks for recreational opportunities such as converting logging access roads to mountain hike or ski trails.
  • The Water Quality Specialist: Assures clean water from the watershed.
  • Biologists: Look for ways to increase the diversity of habitats.
  • The Soil Scientist and the Engineer: Work together to plan a logging road with minimal effect on soil and water.
  • And the Archaeologist: Checks for the possibility of heritage sites.

. . . all as part of the planning process.

Picture of Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Storyboard III on Kancamagus Highway

Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook Storyboard III

C.L. Graham Wangan Grounds Scenic Overlook

Picture of C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook Sign on Kancamagus Highway

C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook Sign

Picture of C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook View

C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook View

Life at the Top

Shaped by wind, weather and elevation

Although the weather at this site doesn’t match the ferocity of the Alpine Zone on the tallest White Mountain peaks, the stunted vegetation and wind-flagged trees that you see here are testimony to harsh winter storms and drying winds.

The evergreen advantage

Evergreens are built to handle short growing seasons and cold temperatures. Their narrow, waxy needles lock in moisture, and their sap contains a natural antifreeze. As soon as temperatures warm in spring, their shallow roots soak up water and evergreens start growing again.

Picture of C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook Storyboard I on Kancamagus Highway

C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook Storyboard I

A Raindrop’s Journey

Take it from the top:

A drop of rain can follow two paths here–both end up in the Atlantic Ocean.

Kancamagus Pass, at 2,855 feet above sea level, is the highest point on this scenic byway. The headwaters of two river systems begin here.

Western Route: The Pemigewasset into the Merrimack watershed

The turbulent waters of the Pemigewasset’s East Branch meet the main stem of the “Pemi” near North Woodstock, NH to become a more sedate, meandering river.

The Pemi and Winnipesaukee rivers merge in Franklin, NH to become the Merrimack River. Historically one of the most heavily industrialized rivers in the northeast, the Merrimack empties into the Atlantic near Newburyport, MA.

Eastern Route: The Swift River into the Saco watershed

The eastern two-thirds of the Kancamagus byway follows the Swift River, a tributary of the Saco River, which it joins in Conway, NH.

For Native Americans and explorers, the Saco River was the first highway to the mountains. The Saco originates in Saco Lake near Crawfords Notch and ends 130 miles east in the Atlantic at Saco, ME.

Picture of C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook Storyboard II on Kancamagus Highway

C.L. Graham Wangan Scenic Overlook Storyboard II

Kancamagus Pass

Picture of Kancamagus Pass Sign

Kancamagus Pass Sign

Pemigewasset Overlook

Picture of Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook Sign on Kancamagus Highway

Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook Sign

Picture of Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook View (Left) on Kancamagus Highway

Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook View (Left)

Picture of Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook View (Right) on Kancamagus Highway

Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook View (Right)

Mature Mountains Worn by Water, Weather, and Ice

Slow changes over millions of years

The White Mountains are part of the Appalachian chain, created when the African and North American continental plates collided 400 million years ago.

Heat and pressure from the colliding continents melted existing rocks and formed New Hampshire’s famous granite.

Signs of aging: Rounded contours

The White Mountains may once have been as tall as the Rockies, but now their stooped, rounded features show the effects of relentless erosion by the elements.

Slight climate change, big effect

About one million years ago, ice sheets formed in Canada when the climate cooled by about 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Glaciers expanded south, smoothing the landscape.

Glacial equalizer

The ice sheets scoured the mountain tops and filled valleys. Debris trapped in the bottom of the ice, and the weight of the ice itself, scraped peaks bare. 

Traces of the last glacier

Ice usually smoothed north-facing slopes and plucked rock from the southeast, leaving ragged profiles on the downflow. (see phot at left)

A conveyor belt of glacial debris

The glaciers picked up gravel, sand, and clay, dumping it further south as a tumbled mass of till.

When the last glacier finally melted 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, meltwater streams depositied as much as 100 feet of sand and gravel in river valleys.

Other glacial features to look for in the Forest: 

  • Greens Cliff. From Sugar Hill overlook you can see its steep glacier-plucked SE face and gradual NW slope (“Roche mountonee”, see central photo)
  • Giant glacial erratics at Big Rock Campground and Forest Discovery Trail.
  • Glacial striations on Rattlesnake Mt. ledges (near Rumney) were scraped into the bedrock by the passing glacier.
  • Cirques or bowl-shaped amphitheaters on Mt. Hancok–and in Tuckerman’s and Huntington’s Ravines–were carved by small, non-Ice Age alpine glaciers.
Picture of Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook Storyboard I on Kancamagus Highway

Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook Storyboard I

Westward Journey to the Atlantic

You are looking southwest toward the Merrimack watershed

Water flowing down these slopes runs into the Hancock Branch–which flows into the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River. The Pemi drains into the Merrimack River Watershed before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean near Portsmouth, NH.

What is a watershed?

Simply put, it is an area that sheds water to a stream or other water body.

Water flows down these ridges as it would down the sides of a huge basin collecting at the bottom in the Pemigewasset River–and later flowing into the Merrimack.

The watershed includes both the water flowing on the surface and underground as it passes through wells and wetlands on its way to the sea. The water can carry silt, soil and any pollutants it picks up in the watershed.

Forest Service management activities protect the watershed and ensure that water from here is clean and free-flowing.

Poor logging practices in the 1890s and the forest fires that followed, stripped the forest of vegetation that anchored the soil. Erosion washed tons of silt into rivers.

Industry and conservationists worked together

A coalition of mill owners, women’s clubs and citizen groups like the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests banded together to protect watersheds and downstream water supplies from flooding and pollution.

Birth of eastern National Forests

Their efforts led to the creation of the White Mountain National Forest through the 1911 Weeks Act. Since then, the Forest Service has been charged with protecting the watersheds of the White Mountains.

Picture of Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook Storyboard II on Kancamagus Highway

Pemigewasset Scenic Overlook Storyboard II

Hancock Trailhead

Picture of Hancock Trailhead Sign on Kancamagus Highway

Hancock Trailhead Sign

Picture of Hancock Trailhead View (Left) on Kancamagus Highway

Hancock Trailhead View (Left)

Picture of Hancock Trailhead View (Right) on Kancamagus Highway

Hancock Trailhead View (Right)

Peakbaggers and 4,000 footers

Peakbagging

Some hikers, called “peak baggers,” keep a tally of the mountains over 4,000 feet high that they have scaled. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine, a perfect score is 48. The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Four Thousand Footer Club recognizes those who have climbed all 48 peaks.

Peakbagging is for the young–at heart

To add a little challenge to their peak bagging. Miriam Underhill and her husband Robert became the first to scale all 48 of the 4,000 footers of New Hampshire during winter. When they completed their feet in 1961, Miriam was 62 and Robert was 79 years old.

Hikers have a history of service

More than 20 different mountaineering and outdoor clubs, college and university outing clubs, and local organizations assist the Forest Service in trail construction and maintenance. They also conduct clean-up campaigns, low-impact wilderness education, hiking demonstrations, and advocacy.

Some hikers adopt their favorite trail and become responsible for the ongoing maintenance. To find out more about the Adopt-A-Trail program and how you can help, inquire at Forest Service offices.

Pictuer of Hancock Trailhead Stroryboard I on Kancamagus Highway

Hancock Trailhead Stroryboard I

A Brief History of Hiking in the White Mountains

“Daunting and terrible”

In the 1700s, mountains were off limits by choice. Settlers kept to the fertile river valleys, where it was hard enough to clear land and farm crops in the harsh climate.

Surveyors climbed mountains to get an overview of the land for map-making. Hunters and trappers also relied on the forest’s resources. But mountain climbing and hiking were not recreational pursuits.

Wild places for pleasure

In the 1800s, an exciting new idea swept the salons and parlors of eastern cities–that beauty so vast and sublime as the wilderness would uplift and inspire the beholder.

Artists painted the mountains as a wilderness paradise. Writer romanticized them. People soon flocked to the White Mountains–at first to look, and later to hike its trails and scale its peaks.

The first trails

In 1819, Abel Crawford and his son, Ethan (left), built the first footpath to the summit of Mt. Washington. They profited by guiding adventurous writers, artists, scientists, and summer visitors to the summit. Ethan and his wife Lucy later built The Notch House, hosting such notables as author Henry David Thoreau.

Mountains become a place to protect–from ourselves

As the popularity of backpacking grew in the 1960s and ’70s, some areas were being literally loved to death. Heavily used trails eroded badly. Fragile alpine plants were inadvertently trampled and erosion increased. Even the most remote peaks were often crowded.

Worried that too much popularity would destroy the very qualities of wildness they sought some outdoor enthusiasts became conservationists.

1830-1870

The first wave of mountain tourism: Footpaths cleared by guides gave way to bridle paths as more people discovered the mountains for recreation.

1870-1910

Mountains as a place to walk: The new sport of trekking reached the White Mountains. Hiking clubs built trails and published maps and guidebooks to make the region accessible to all–including ladies in long skirts and snowshoes.

20th century

Hiking reaches new heights: By the 1940s, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and other organizations had built a single unified trail system linking major peaks in the Northeast.

Picture of Hancock Trailhead Stroryboard II on Kancamagus Highway

Hancock Trailhead Stroryboard II

See our full list of Historic Road Markers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont

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