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Franconia Notch in the White Mountains

Franconia Notch
Mt Canon and Franconia Notch

Franconia Notch is a spectacular mountain pass in the White Mountains. It is one of several major notches that the Appalachian Trail traverses in New Hampshire including Kinsman Notch to the south, Crawford Notch at the southern foot of the Presidential Range, Mahoosic Notch credited with being the toughest mile on the AT, and Grafton Notch, another scenic marvel at the foot of Old Speck Mountain, just over the New Hampshire/Maine state border.

The eastern side of Franconia Notch is dominated by the exposed cliffs of Canon Mountain (pictured above), the largest vertical rock face in the Northeast US. To the west, it is flanked by the towering Franconia Ridge, a series of five high peaks 4,000 to about 5,250 ft in height (Mt Flume, Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack Mountain, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette) that run along its eight mile length.

The notch area hosts many outdoor activities including big wall rock climbing (free and aid), ice climbing, expert level skiing at the Canon Mountain ski resort, a year-round aerial tramway that ferries tourists to the Canon summit, camping, swimming and boating at Echo Lake, and a paved bike trail that runs the length of the notch.

The area is also a delight for day hikers and backpackers. There are many trails appropriate for all levels of hikers that pass by waterfalls, alpine lakes, open summits and ledges with outstanding vistas. In addition, the Appalachian Trail traverses the region passing over the Kinsman Range before descending steeply through the southern end of the notch, and back up and over the Franconia Ridge as it heads northbound to Crawford Notch and the Presidential Range.

A new road through the notch, the Franconia Notch Parkway,  was completed in 1988, making the region more easily accessible to outdoor adventurers and tourists from Massachusetts to Quebec. Before it’s construction, a two-lane road traversed the notch, on which tourists simply pulled over the view the scenic vistas, yearound, creating constant traffic jams and safety hazards in summer and fall.

This road was replaced by an extension of Interstate 93. However, as a compromise to fierce opposition from environmentalists, including the Appalachian Club, the roadway was limited to two lanes through the notch, making the Franconia Parkway only one of two sections in the entire 42,000 mile US Interstate system that is not at least 4 lanes wide. Instead of the additional lanes, numerous pull-off areas, shielded by trees, were constructed allowing tourists, campers, and adventurers to pull off the road to park and access the area’s attractions more safely.

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