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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

This not That (Littleton and Route 116) - Fall in New Hampshire

One of my favorite topics on Katie Wanders is a "this not that" sort of series.  It basically takes some of your popular spots and trips and gives you a much better less-crowded alternative. This post is featuring two of these things because when you hit a spot in one of its peak seasons, you need to learn to adjust.  

First, Littleton not Lincoln

Lincoln is a famous town in the Whites of New Hampshire.  It is the western entrance to the Kanc (we'll talk about that later) and it's a bustling town.  You have quaint shops, cute restaurants, a ski mountain, and the "gateway" to one of New England's most scenic drives.  What they don't tell you is how insanely busy this town is on a Saturday morning in late September.... how you can't dine on the weekend without a reservation... how the traffic just trying to get through the town is unbearable.  So - instead of Lincoln, head to Littleton.  

Littleton is all the charm without all the chaos. When you pull into town, the signs inform you that you are in "one of America's 10 Best Towns and Main Streets" and their motto is "Be Glad".  I had been to Littleton once before, after hiking Franconia Ridge the first time to be exact.  I ventured over to what I thought was a sleepy little mill town to find the wonderful Schilling Brewery, offering great beer and good pizza.  The town is also known as Main Street of the Mountains and I finally made the time to visit this quaint little Main Street.  

On my second hike to Franconia Ridge, when Lincoln was swamped and dinner was off the table without a reservation (pun intended), we took our host's recommendation to head to Littleton to the Littleton Freehouse Taproom.  With just a 20 minute wait, we walked around Main Street, popping into the cutest shops.  We were so impressed with how cute this town was and how blissfully quiet it was compared to the motorcycles and taillights traversing through Lincoln.  When our table was ready, we enjoyed a lovely meal outside with the dogs - a little smitten with this little mountain town and our new sort of secret to avoiding the masses.  An adorable Main Street, dinner without a reservation and the backdrop of a beautiful river crossing through the town.  

Route 116, not the Kanc

So we've talked small towns (Littleton, not Lincoln) and we can't chat in October in New England without talking fall foliage drives.  Last year, we drove the Kancamagus Highway for the first time and maybe it was the rain but while the road was busy, it was tolerable.  We enjoyed a wet overcast drive through the Kanc that was busy but wasn't unbearably crowded.  We made stops for short hikes and scenic stops along the way and enjoyed isolation where we could find it.  After seeing the crowds in Lincoln on a beautiful sunny late September weekend, we knew we needed a different plan for a scenic drive (the crowded Kanc was not worth a redo in the sunshine).  And so, I looked at the map where we were staying and decided to take some new-to-me backroads slowly back south, calling this our "scenic drive" as we actually made our way home.  

We found ourselves traveling down Route 116, giddy as we drove down a perfect quiet two-lane road with miles of orange, yellow, and red before us.  We didn't see a car for a while and we happily pulled over to snap a photo, or to stop at a picturesque lake where we only had to share the parking lot with a family unloading their canoe.  I basically sprinted around the empty road screaming "THIS IS AMAZING" while taking in the crisp morning air and the quiet.  We continued traveling down Route 116 until it merged with Route 112 where we followed the road past a few sites I had heard of, the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves included.  While we didn't have the time (or the reservation #2020) to stop, we appreciated how beautiful the ride was and just how quiet it is compared to the Kanc. No, you don't have the same amount of scenic stops but you do have far fewer people and for me, the solitude in a mountain town on a fall morning is always worth it.  

Of course, you can drive somewhere and type into google "The Most Popular X" and find the best-rated spots in town.  Or, you can talk to your local host, you can scroll around on the map, and you can take a chance on a random back road and find something just as lovely but a whole lot less crowded.  As 2020 pushes us to stay local and drives a lot of us into the outdoors, it's important to be open-minded and to be adjustable as some of our popular parks and spots reach capacity.  Skip the "TripAdvisor Best 10 Lists" and head out for your own version of This not That - I promise it's worth it. 

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