The Hancocks and the Kancamagus Highway

The Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire Route 112, opened in 1959 creating a connection between Bath, NH, Interstate 93 and New Hampshire Route 16 in Conway. The road was first paved in 1964 . Locally known as "The Kanc" and pronounced;"Kank-ah-mah-gus."
The Hancocks used to be the most remote and inaccessible peaks in the White Mountains, before the Kancamagus Highway.

Right near the hairpin turn on the "Kanc" at the Hancock Overlook parking area is where the beginning of the Hancock Notch Trail begins, please take caution crossing the road to the trail. It is a beautifully maintained yellow blazed trail gradually gaining elevation which has 3 river crossings of the North Fork of the Hancock Branch. On my hike today the rivers were very easy to cross although may be difficult in high water. 

After 1.8 miles on the Hancock Notch Trail the intersection of the Cedar Brook Trail is on the left still following the North Fork with a few river crossings. After 0.7 miles on the also gradually ascending Cedar Brook Trail there is the intersection with the Hancock Loop Trail, to continue on the Cedar Brook Trail would bring you to the Wilderness Trail further into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. For 1.1 mi. on the Hancock Loop Trail you will come to the intersection of the trails to North Peak (4,420') and South Peak (4,319'). 

To the summit of the North Peak is 0.7 miles and the trail to the summit of the South Peak is 0.5 miles, both with considerable elevation gain; +/- 1,000 feet. The trail leading to South Peak is steep but rewarding trail with incredible views looking into Merrimack Valley and the Sandwich Range. I was in the clouds during my summit to South Peak, but on a clear day views are to the north into the Pemigewasset Wilderness via the outlook. 

On the Ridge Link (1.4 mile) towards North Peak it is a beautiful ridge trail that has had some great trail work especially in the boggy sections. Views can primarily be seen in this wooded area towards the south into the Sandwich Range. 

Thankfully as I approached the summit of North Peak I was able to get a fantastic window of time where I was no longer in a fog bank!  Great views (left to right) were of the Osceolas, Scar Ridge and Loon Mountain as seen in the picture below. Looking towards the southeast views also extend to Sandwich Range as well at Mt. Chocorua. Now that it is September and winds were quite high I was well bundled up with a hat, gloves and a warm jacket. It is that time of year again to unpack your winter gear and have it available for the colder temperatures on the summits!

Descending on the North Trail side was a bit rough as the trail has many small loose rocks and gravel, although I personally found this to be easier to descend than the South Trail; but both pose their own challenges and some hikers prefer going up the North Side and descending the South Side due to the loose rocks and gravel. 

This 9.8 mile loop is a great day hike that allows you to also summit two 4,000 foot peaks. I saw a handful of other hikers who were also out there to bag their remaining 48! The hues were starting to turn a bit sooner on the Kanc than in the adjacent valleys; stay tuned as we will be continuing to update the blog with the rapid changing of the seasons!

For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk.  We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM or by email at

Happy Hiking!

Danielle J.
Backcountry Information Specialist
AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
(603) 466-8116 

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