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A TANK AWAY | FRANCONIA, N.H.

Save room for the feast for your eyes

In New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park presents a startlingly beautiful panorama. In New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park presents a startlingly beautiful panorama. (Greg Keeler/N.H. Division of Parks And Recreation)
By Eric Wilbur
Globe Staff / July 7, 2010

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When it comes to classic New England landscapes, arguably none is more defining than what one can find in Franconia Notch State Park, where rugged, mountainous beauty overwhelms the senses. For eight miles, Interstate 93 transforms into a stunning mountain pass where one feels enveloped by raw, rock-strewn scenery. Despite Franconia being a popular tourist destination, it’s easy to feel isolated and at ease here. In the fall, Franconia bursts with color, one of New Hampshire’s top leaf-peeping destinations. In winter, the presence of Cannon Mountain, one of the state’s best ski areas, makes it a no-brainer, go-to spot for New Englanders after a big storm. But arguably the best time to enjoy what Franconia has to offer is in summer, the calm before the autumn storm when the tranquility of the town’s residents and their guests matches the soothing nature of its natural attractions.

STAY
Find classic New England accommodations at the Franconia Inn (1172 Church St., www.franconiainn.com, 603-823-5542, $131-$284), a three-story, Colonial-style building featuring 29 guest rooms. In nearby Sugar Hill, the Sugar Hill Inn (116 Scenic Route 117, sugarhillinn.com, 603-823-5621, $135-$265) offers a country aura mixed with luxurious extras including a full spa and fine dining. For less expensive options, the Kinsman Lodge (2165 Easton Road, Route 116, www.kinsmanlodge.com, 603-823-5686, $55-$95) receives rave reviews from its customers for its competitive rates, and rooms at the Gale River Motel (1 Main St., www.galerivermotel.com, 603-823-5655, $90-$105) offer spectacular views of Mount Lafayette, Cannon Mountain, and the Franconia Notch.

DINE
For breakfast, Polly’s Pancake Parlor (672 Route 117, Sugar Hill, www.pollyspancakeparlor.com, 603-823-5575, breakfast, $10-$15) is a must for pancakes and waffles made from scratch and served in a vintage 1830s shack. Then you can skip lunch and enjoy an early afternoon snack at Harman’s Cheese and Country Store (1400 Scenic Route 117, www.harmanscheese.com, 603-823-8000), which features a wide array of gourmet cheeses. Classic American fare comes reasonablypriced at the Horse and Hound Inn (205 Wells Road, www.horseandhoundnh.com, 603-823-5501, entrees $9.95-$21.95), where dinner is served in a comfortable, family-style lodge setting.

DURING THE DAY
History and literary buffs will no doubt want to make a pilgrimage to the Frost Place Museum (Ridge Road, www.frostplace.org, 603-823-5510, adults $5, seniors $4, students ages 6-18 $3), housed in the former home of New Hampshire’s beloved poet, Robert Frost (1874-1963). For a different take on New England history, the New England Ski Museum (Franconia Notch Parkway, www.skimuseum.org, 603-823-7177, free), located at the base of Cannon Mountain, is a fascinating way for skiers and riders to see how their sport’s equipment and fashion have evolved over the years. Afterward, head next door to the Cannon Tramway (9 Franconia Notch State Park, www.cannonmt.com/cannontram.html, 603-823-8800, adults $13, children 6-12 $10, one-way tickets available for $11), where you can enjoy a 10-minute ride to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain, offering spectacular views of Franconia Notch State Park. Upon return, the Old Man of the Mountain Museum (Cannon Mountain Tramway base station, free) celebrates the history of the state’s iconic rock formation, which crashed to the ground in 2003. Get back outdoors and head to nearby Echo Lake Beach (exit 34C off I-93, adults $2, children 6-11 $2), where you can relax or paddle-boat on a 28-acre lake in the immediate shadow of Cannon Mountain. Later, hit up the Flume Gorge (603-745-8391, adults $13, children 6-12 $10), where you can walk along wooden bridges built into the natural fascination of an 800-foot-long gorge. (A “Discovery Pass’’ allows admission to both the tramway and Gorge; adults $24, children 6-12 $18.)

AFTER DARK
The North Country Chamber Players present the 32d annual White Mountain Music Festival (www.northcountrychamberplayers.org, $20 for single show general admission, $80 for all five sessions) starting Saturday. The six-weekend slate of classical music will be performed at various venues in the area. Live entertainment is also a weekly staple at Above the Notch Restaurant and Tavern (729 Main St., www.cannonmtview.com, 800-823-9577), where patrons can also enjoy libations and half-priced appetizers every day from 4-6 p.m. in the lively pub.

Eric Wilbur can be reached at ewilbur@boston.com.