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A Perfect Outdoor Weekend in North Conway NH

Looking for a mountain village in New England with a walkable downtown, beautiful scenery, and wide-ranging outdoor activities for all ages and abilities?

Head to the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire — more specifically, North Conway — one of my favorite mountain towns in New England.

north conway nh feature
Best things to do in North Conway NH? Get outside!

Not only is North Conway a dream destination for hikers but it’s also got tax-free shopping, a cool passenger train, swimming holes, and lots of hotels, inns, and vacation rentals.

Yes, North Conway is a tourist town, so you’ll be sharing your vacation spot with lots of other outdoor lovers. The benefit of a tourist town in the mountains? There are more gear stores than I could count on both hands, several great coffee shops, and lots of dining options. And people on vacation time are so friendly!

I recently spent a long weekend in North Conway with a few goals in mind: drive the famous Kancamagus Highway from Lincoln, NH (another beautiful mountain town), hike to as many waterfalls as possible, and ride a train on the famous North Conway Scenic Railroad.

After the rain in North Conway Village.
After the rain in North Conway Village.

I checked all those things off my list, and I also enjoyed a seriously amazing grilled cheese sandwich, swam under a covered bridge, and fraternized with bikers (in the area for Laconia Motorcycle Week — a huge deal in these parts).

I feel hard for North Conway, and I think it makes a perfect weekend getaway for anyone who wants to spend time outside breathing some fresh mountain air.

Here’s a perfect weekend itinerary for outdoor lovers that includes all the best things to do North Conway NH.

Planning a trip to New Hampshire? Be sure to check out these posts for nearby destinations!

The Perfect Outdoor Weekend: Best Things to Do in North Conway NH

Ready to explore all the coolest things to do in North Conway, NH?

This is a choose-your-own-adventure trip, but we’re spending the weekend outside. Don’t want to hike a grueling trail? There are lots of easy trails and scenic road trips to embark on, and if it’s hot, be sure to pack a swimsuit because there are lots of opportunities to get wet.

Day One: Road Trip on the Kancamagus Highway

Summer lupines at CL Graham Wangan Overlook on the Kancamagus Highway.
Summer lupines at CL Graham Wangan Overlook on the Kancamagus Highway

Wherever you’re coming from, start your White Mountains journey in Lincoln, NH, and drive the Kancamagus Highway from west to east. It’s just under 35 miles, but you could easily spend a full day on this part of the journey.

This magical little stretch of pavement is lovely in the summer but especially stunning during fall foliage, which comes around in early October each year.

Before you hop on this scenic highway, fill up your gas tank, buy some snacks, and choose your favorite road trip playlist. The Kancamagus Highway does not have any amenities besides toilets, so be sure to plan ahead.

Insider tip: The National Forest Service manages the parking areas on the Kancamagus Highway, which is part of the White Mountain National Forest. Most spots require a parking permit on your dashboard. You can use your credit card to pick one up for $5 at the Lincoln Woods stop and use it all day. Many of the other stops require cash.

Kancamagus Highway Waterfalls and Scenic Overlooks

There are so many cool stops on the Kancamagus Highway, including many beautiful hikes to woodland ponds and mountain summits. For this itinerary, we’re sticking to the four major scenic overlooks and a couple of spectacular waterfalls.

Here are my recommended stops in order from west to east:

  • Check out all four overlooks since they are right along the roadside: Hancock Overlook, Pemigewasset Overlook, CL Graham Wangan Overlook, and Sugar Hill Overlook.
  • Sabbaday Falls: My favorite of the Kancamagus Highway waterfalls, Sabbaday Falls was also the busiest. It’s a picture-perfect waterfall on a short, easy trail, and while I really wanted to take a dip here, swimming isn’t permitted.
  • Champney and Pitcher Falls: These falls require a three-mile (round-trip) hike on a moderate trail. Be sure to take the spur trail to Pitcher Falls, which is located in a dark little gorge. This was a beautiful wooded hike with several stream crossings.
  • Rocky Gorge Scenic Area: Another roadside attraction with an optional one-mile hike around a pond.
  • Lower Falls: A small collection of waterfalls, and it’s a nice place to cool off in the summer.

Late Lunch/Early Dinner at Cheese Louise

Cheese Louise on the Kancamagus Highway near Conway, NH.
Cheese Louise on the Kancamagus Highway near Conway, NH.

As you leave the Kancamagus Highway toward Conway, you’ll see a little shack on the side of the road. Don’t pass it by. Cheese Louise claims to have to best grilled cheese in New Hampshire, so I had to check it out.

I’ll admit that this was my very first New Hampshire grilled cheese, but it was damn delicious!

Cheese Louise sources key ingredients locally and prepares everything in-house, including hand-craft potato chips and a secret sauce that they were very protective of (it was so good).

I ordered the Godmother — tomatoes, pesto, and mozzarella with a balsamic glaze on sourdough. It was the best ending after a full day of exploring waterfalls and hiking trails. Don’t miss it! Cheese Louise is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm, and there’s a new one opening in North Conway Village next week!

Day Two: Cathedral Ledge and a Covered Bridge Tour

In my opinion, seeing this view from Cathedral Ledge is one of the best things to do in North Conway NH.
In my opinion, seeing this view from Cathedral Ledge is one of the best things to do in North Conway NH

Let’s start the day right — with a relaxing breakfast at Frontside Coffee Roasters to put you in vacation mode. I ordered an avocado bagel and a maple cream coffee to enjoy on the dog-friendly patio.

In addition to the coffee drinks at Frontside, there’s a rotating cast of baked goods to choose from. Frontside Coffee Roasters is open every day from 6:30 am-5 pm.

Cathedral Ledge State Park and White Horse Ledge Hike

Tara and Malinda sit on a rock at White Horse Ledge in North Conway, NH.
More epic views from White Horse Ledge (plus a cute dog).

The best view in North Conway can be enjoyed without any effort. As much as I love a good hike, driving to Cathedral Ledge was just too tempting to pass up.

As long as the weather is cooperating, you can take the mile-long road through Cathedral Ledge State Park and walk to the viewpoint on the 700-foot-high ledge. Views stretch across the Saco River Valley toward the White Mountains.

There is room in the parking lot for about 20 cars, and it’s $4 to park in the self-pay station. You can only park for two hours, which gives you time to hike to White Horse Ledge. This steep trail leads to another fantastic lookout over Echo Lake, North Conway, and the Saco River Valley.

You can do this trail as a loop from Echo Lake below, but I chose to go up and back since I was in the two-hour parking spot. It took me 1.5 hours round-trip, and that’s with a good 20-minute period of sitting and enjoying the gorgeous view.

Here’s the trail map and elevation profile on AllTrails for the section I hiked. The full loop, which begins at Echo Lake State Park, can be found here.

Lunch at Moat Mountain Smokehouse

After exploring Cathedral Ledge, head over to Moat Mountain Smokehouse and grab some lunch.

While this brewery has been bottling tasty lagers and ales since 2014, it’s the food that really ignites the taste buds (and I’m not much of a day drinker, so I can’t report on the beers this time).

What I can recommend is the black bean and mango pineapple salsa wrap, which is served with Spanish rice in a very relaxing space indoors or out. And if it’s too early for a cold brew, you can always grab a few cans to drink later.

Explore Five Covered Bridges on this Driving Tour

Saco River Covered Bridge and an awesome swimming area.
Saco River Covered Bridge and an awesome swimming area.

I’m a sucker for covered bridges, especially when you can swim underneath them. This scenic explores five covered bridges and can be completed in an afternoon. It travels from North Conway onto the Kancamagus Highway, up Bear Notch Road to Bartlett, through Jackson, and back to North Conway.

Here’s an overview of the route on Google Maps, followed by a description of the covered bridges on the tour in the recommended order to visit.

  • Swift River Covered Bridge (1890): This is a pedestrian-only bridge crossing the Swift River. Parking is available on both sides, and picnic tables are in the middle.
  • Saco River Covered Bridg (1890): In the summer, this is the best covered bridge for swimming underneath. There is a good-sized parking area with a port-a-potty. The riverside has a soft, sandy beach and a deep swimming spot. The bridge itself sees plenty of traffic, but there is great viewing from the river.
  • Albany Covered Bridge (1858): On the Kancamagus Highway, this bridge has good river access with an accessible fishing area, and the parking area is also the start of the Boulder Brook Trail. $5 parking fee.
  • Bartlett Covered Bridge (1851): This cool bridge was turned into a gift shop in 1965. There are just a few parking spots.
  • Jackson Covered Bridge (AKA Honeymoon Bridge 1876): One of the most photographed bridges in New Hampshire. There is a small parking area near the bridge and a pedestrian walkway but no river access. Be sure to stop at Flossie’s General Store before you get back in your car.

Dinner at Flatbread Company

Pizza from Flatbread Company in North Conway
Pizza from Flatbread Company in North Conway

My travel weakness is wood-fired pizza, and Flatbread Company gets serious bonus points for sourcing local and sustainable ingredients, allowing dogs on their patio, and having a fantastic beer list. It’s part of the East Slope Inn, and the pizza is epic.

I ordered a North Conway Community Flatbread, and it was loaded with caramelized onions and mushrooms over whole-milk mozzarella and a nice tangy tomato sauce.

Beers are served in two different sizes (16 and 11 ounces), so if you’re a lightweight (like me), you can sip a tasty IPA and still drive (or walk) back to your hotel room or vacation rental.

Day 3: Conway Scenic Railroad and Diana’s Bath

The Met coffeeshop in North Conway, NH.
The Met serves strong coffee and fabulous croissants.

Another day, another coffee shop! Today, head over to The Met on Main Street for a cup of strong coffee (my favorite kind) and the best chocolate croissant in New Hampshire. Exaggeration? You be the judge. This cozy coffee shop and art gallery has a few tables outside for you and your pup — the perfect spot to start your day.

If you’ve got time today, stop into Zeb’s General Store to pick up souvenirs, penny candy, maple syrup, and a toy for your dog. This is a classic general store with creaky wood floors, an old-fashioned candy counter, and enough stuff to be slightly overwhelming. It’s an experience, though, and a must-visit while you’re in North Conway.

Take a Ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad

train station north conway

2024 marks the 50th birthday of Conway Scenic Railroad, which offers a variety of scenic train rides from North Conway and into the White Mountains. Choose from excursions ranging from a quick hour ride to a full eight-hour trip.

I took the Conway Valley Train ($24 for a one-hour ride), which travels 11 miles through the rural countryside. This particular excursion lacks the grand views, but I think the real thrill is traveling in the historic rail car and the narration that talks a bit about the history of the area. Small dogs are welcome, but Malinda was over the 20-pound weight limit, so I left her behind.

Mckaella's Sweet Shop in North Conway.
Mckaella’s Sweet Shop in North Conway

After hopping off the train in North Conway Village, grab a homemade ice cream cone from Mckaella’s Sweet Shop.

Relax, Hike, and Swim at Diana’s Baths

dianas baths nh
One of the small swimming pools under two waterfalls at Diana’s Baths in North Conway.

Not only is Diana’s Baths one of the most mellow and kid-friendly swimming holes in the region, it’s also one of the prettiest waterfalls in the whole state.

Park in the large parking lot and pay the $5 fee to the National Forest Service. It’s a 0.5-mile walk (one-way) to the falls, characterized by small pools, potholes, and numerous cascades with plenty of space for rock-hopping, swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking.

I visited Diana’s Baths on a weekday in early June, and there were several dozen visitors exploring the area alongside me. I imagine that this place gets pretty crazy on a hot summer weekend, so plan to visit early in the morning or late in the day.

Where to Stay in North Conway: Village Place

village place north conway

While I can’t vouch for all of the rooms in Village Place on Kearsage Street in North Conway, I can tell you that the Cottage Suite was perfect for my needs — dog-friendly with a full kitchen, within walking distance to downtown North Conway, but far enough from the hubbub to be blissfully quiet.

King-size bed in my Village Place suite.
King-size bed in my Village Place suite.

Village Place, once the Oxen Yoke Hotel, is now owned and operated by the Eastern Slope Inn in North Conway Village. The entire Village Place is dog-friendly, and there are different room configurations to fit every budget.

There is a small outdoor pool, and guests at Village Place have access to all of Eastern Slope Inn’s amenities, including an indoor pool, indoor/outdoor hot tubs, a game room, tennis courts, and a fitness center.

Small kitchen in Village Place.
Small kitchen in Village Place.

I would absolutely stay at Village Place again and would recommend it for budget-minded travelers with or without dogs. I booked my stay on Airbnb, but you can also book directly on Eastern Slope Inn’s website.

This wraps up another spectacular summer weekend exploring small towns across America. Who knows where we’ll end up next?

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Scenes from the White Mountains and North Conway in New Hampshire. Text overlay reads: The Perfect Weekend in North Conway, New Hampshire, Outdoor Edition.
Tara Schatz sits with her two dogs, Gatsby and Flynn.

Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She is the co-author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont and currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.