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The Hitchiker’s Guide to the White Mountain National Forest

Map of the Major Roads in White Mountains
Map of the Major Roads in the White Mountains

It can be incredibly difficult to get around the White Mountains without a car, and while the Appalachian Mountain Club has a hiker shuttle in the summer months, it visits very few trailheads, making it difficult to use unless you’re transferring from one AMC lodging location to another and don’t mind standing around for a day.

Hitchhiking is a viable alternative for getting around in the White Mountains, but you need to understand the road system, which roads are the best to hitchhike on, and how to find the people who are most likely to give you rides. I do a fair amount of hitchhiking around the White Mountains and here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up for getting fast rides to towns or back to my car after long hikes.

This guide assumes you are a hiker and that you look the part, complete with a backpack when you stick out your thumb and try to hitch a ride in the White Mountain National Forest.

Who Picks Up Hiking Hitchhikers in the White Mountains?

There four types of people who pick up hiking hitchhikers in the White Mountains:

  1. Locals who know that hikers power a big chunk of the local White Mountain economy.
  2. Summer employees who work for local conservation or recreational organizations.
  3. Former Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who hope you are a thru-hiker too.
  4. Other hikers, who understand what a hassle it is to get around without a car.

Tourists aren’t going to pick you up. The same goes for Forest Service employees. Forget it.

Mountain Passes

Like many mountainous areas, the road system in the White Mountains is channeled through mountain passes, called notches in the White Mountains. These are the only roads that pass through the center of the White Mountain National Forest and are the fastest way from one side of the forest to the other. They’re also where you’re most likely to get a ride from one the groups listed above.

  • Pinkham Notch
  • Kancamagus Pass
  • Franconia Notch
  • Crawford Notch
  • Kinsman Notch

Where there’s a second set of roadways that run around the periphery of the White Mountain National Forest, they are a lot harder to get rides on because the roadways are faster, it’s illegal to hitch on some of them, and the drivers on them are a lot less sympathetic to hikers.

What are the Best Roads to get Rides on?

The easiest roads to hitch a ride on in the White Mountains run north to south and east-to-west through the center of the National Forest. The best locations to stick out your thumb out are near major trailheads or at the boundaries along the edges of the White Mountain National Forest. Trying to hitch along these roads inside towns is quite difficult, but gets much easier the closer you get to recreational areas.

Rt 112, The Kancamagus Highway between Lincoln and Conway

Rt 112, the Kancamagus Highway, also known as the “Kanc” is the main east to west road people drive on between Lincoln to Conway. Lincoln and Conway are both gateway communities to the White Mountain National Forest and lie on it southeastern and southwestern boundary.32 miles in length, the Kanc is a winding twisty two-lane road peppered with scenic overlooks, campgrounds, and trailheads.

  • If you want to get a ride all the way from Conway to Lincoln on The Kanc, the best place to stand and hitch is outside the Saco Ranger Station on Rt 112 near the intersection of Rt 16 and Rt 112. People will still pick you up along the road, provided there is an obvious place to pull over.
  • If you want to get a ride from Lincoln to Conway, the best place to stand is on The Kanc is outside the entrance to the Lincoln Woods parking lot and trailhead, east of Lincoln. Trying to hitch in Lincoln is tough since most of the traffic is local and not headed into the interior of the National Forest. Trying to hitch a ride between Lincoln and North Woodstock to the west is even tougher because most of the traffic is headed to the Interstate ramps located between the two towns and is no thru-traffic.

Rt 302 in Crawford Notch from the AMC Highland Center to North Conway

Route 302 runs east to west through the center of the White Mountain National Forest, except when traveling through Crawford Notch where the road is forced to run north to south through the mountain pass. The easiest place to hitch rides on Rt 302 is between the AMC Highland Center parking lot and the Davis Path trailhead, north of Bartlett.

Like “The Kanc”, this stretch of road lies inside the National Forest and there are frequent scenic pullovers and trailheads up and down its length. The Appalachian Trail crosses this section of Rt 302 at Webster Cliff, so you might be able to tap into AT thru-hiker sympathy rides if you hitch near that trail crossing.

Rt 302 intersects Rt 3 in Twin Mountain and Rt 16 in North Conway and it’s a good way to connect the two roads.

Getting rides along Route 302 can be frustrating, however, because the road has relatively little traffic, compared to Rt 3 or the Kanc, and the majority of drivers don’t drive straight through, stopping along the way for recreational activities.

Rt 16 in Pinkham Notch

Rt 16 is the main north to south road on the eastern side of the National Forest between Gorham and North Conway. It also runs past many scenic outlooks and trailheads, including the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitors Center at the foot of Mt Washington. It is very heavily traveled and crosses the Appalachian Trail at multiple locations.

If you’re headed south, the best places to hitch along it is between the Imp and 19 mile Brook trailheads or just below Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. If you’re headed north toward Gorham, the best place to hitch is just north of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center parking lot.

Rt 3 in Franconia Notch

Rt 3 parallels Interstate 93 (hitchhiking is illegal on the interstate) through Franconia Notch between North Woodstock and the southern end of Franconia Notch before merging with I-93 in the Notch itself for several miles. Rt 3 subsequently splits off I-93, north of the Notch, and heads east to the town of Twin Mountain, where it intersects  Rt 302 north of Crawford Notch.

If you need to get from North Woodstock to Twin Mountain or the reverse, you’ll need to catch a ride before or after Rt 3 merges with I-93.

if you’re headed south, the best places to hitch on Rt 3 is below the Flume Visitor Center before you reach the hotel area north of North Woodstock. If you’re headed east toward Twin Mountain, the best place to hitch is just past the Skookumchuck trailhead after Rt 3 exits Interstate 93 and the Beaver Brook picnic area on Rt 3

Route 118 in Kinsman Notch

Route 118 runs from North Woodstock west, crossing the Appalachian Trail in Kinsman Notch at the foot of the Beaver Brook Trail on the north side of Mount Moosilauke. The road does not receive a lot of traffic and is mostly used by local residents. Despite that, it’s fairly easy to get a ride to and from the Appalachian Trail, because drivers will assume you’re an AT thru-hiker.

When hitching west on 112, you want to try to get a ride all the way to Kinsman Notch (AT) instead of the junction of Rt 118 and Rt 112, which runs along the southern side of Moosilauke. Rt 118 is virtually impossible to hitch on and should be avoided. If you get a ride that plans on leaving Rt 118 at the Rt 112 junction, beg them to take you the extra few miles to Kinsman Notch or offer to pay them $10. Most drivers will cave and take you the extra distance for free. You just have to ask.

The best places to hitch along Rt 118 are:

  • Heading west (towards the AT): Just west of the stoplight at the intersection of Rt 3 and Rt 118 in North Woodstock, where you can stand in the large parking lot behind the Chinese restaurant on the corner.
  • Heading east (towards North Woodstock): At the Kinsman Notch trailhead (AT crossing) on Rt 118.
Exploring New Hampshire's White Mountains Map
Exploring New Hampshire’s White Mountains Map

Recommended Maps

Most hikers in the White Mountains carry maps that show the hiking trails in the areas that they plan to hike, but these maps don’t provide enough detail about the road system if you are forced to bail on a hike and need to road walk back to your car or you plan on hitchhiking intentionally.

In my experience, the best overview map of the White Mountains National Forest, including its roadways and hiking trails, is the waterproof Exploring New Hampshire’s White Mountains Map published by the Wilderness Map Company. I carry this map on the multi-day backpacking trips I take in the White Mountains where I don’t need super detailed topographic information because I plan to stay on trails, simply because it lets me see my entire route, potential bail out trails, and roads, on a single map of the area. It’s also great for hitchhiking for the same reason.

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  1. I think you have Rt 118 and Rt 112 backwards here.

  2. Philip,

    You left out another class of those who offer rides in the mountains:

    The masked, chainsaw wielding, zombie lunatic who wants to harvest your internal organs for snacks.

    These people are not Forest Service employees or tourists in the usual sense. Most work for Hollywood, although a few have been found to be members of congress. They generally give rides after darkness falls. If the hiker begins to hear ominous background music as the vehicle slows to offer him a lift, he should decline the gesture and flee back into the woods unless he desires his final transportation to be through a digestive tract.

    The hiker should also be aware that the one offering the ride may pursue, and if so, will never tire during the process. If the hiker is female, she should keep in mind that if she looks back at some point, she will lose a shoe, stumble and lay there whimpering helplessly with outstretched hands. She should never look back.

    In the interest of public safety and full disclosure, you should have pointed out the above facts.

    Happy hitchhiking.

  3. I am so glad that when we had to bail with two kids, we found had cell signal to our pickup driver. Though I bet standing by the pull off with a couple drenched kids might make us more likely to get a ride…

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