Van + Hiking Recommendations for New Hampshire

I spent six days and five nights exploring New Hampshire from a van life perspective. Here are my recommendations.

Best Hikes in the White Mountains Region

Franconia Notch State Park

This gorgeous state park puts you in the middle of the action of the White Mountains. Interstate 93 takes you right through the heart of the notch, and whether you stop to explore the park or not you’ll get incredible mountain views.

Let’s start with a hot take: skip Flume Gorge Trail. You’ll see a lot of people recommend the Flume Gorge Trail but I’m not one of them. The pictures look gorgeous (pun intended) but when they say you have to pay fee, they’re not telling you it’s $30 per person for a hike that’s less than 2 miles. It’s a controversial take as I see this hike listed on all the “best Of” lists, but hard pass from me.

Instead, check out the abundance of free trails throughout the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff Loop

A steep loop that throws you up to the top of Bald Mountain, over to Artist’s Bluff and back down again. It’s got a lot of vert for around 2 miles, but stunning views. The Artist’s Bluff side was more popular than the Bald Mountain Trail when I hiked it, but expect to see people on both sides.

Basin Cascade Trail

A short and relatively easy hike that takes you along the river past dozens of roaring waterfalls and stunning carved-out stone. Expect crowds here- it’s a very popular, accessible trail. But on the plus side, it’s also very dog-friendly.

Franconia Ridge Trail

If you want the highlight reel of the best peaks in the park, this is the trail for you. It’s long, steep, and not for inexperienced hikers, but you’re rewarded with stunning views at every turn and a little concession stand at [some] mountain. This trail is part of the Appalachian Trail, so you can expect to see thru-hikers and section hikers during peak season.

Other Hikes in New Hampshire

Little Sugarloaf Mt

Located in Wellington State Park, this short but challenging hike has 380 feet of vert packed into 1.4 miles. Views from the top look over Newfound Lake and, on a clear day, you can see to the White Moutain range in the north. A fun, accessible hike for inexperienced to moderate hikers.

Low’s Bald Spot

This 4-mile out-and-back hike takes you through a section of the Appalachian trail in New Hampshire as you head toward Low’s Bald Spot. It’s a woodsy hike with several stream crossings and a few boulders scramble toward the end. It’s got just under 1,000 feet of elevation and is dog-friendly, but use caution. Older or inexperienced dogs may struggle on the scrambles at the end. The view from the top is gorgeous and the hike itself is nice too.

North Woods Rafting

Not a hike, but another fun way to get outside – river rafting. A short and sweet rafting trip down a class II section of the Androscoggin River. Maybe a quarter mile long with short rapid sections. Very family-friendly and you can swim after your runs.

Van Parking in White Mountains, New Hampshire

Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge sits on a long, rural highway with plenty of small pull-offs. If you brave the narrow, root-covered dirt roads you’ll find tiny hideaways, perfect for cars and vans. These small dispersed campsites can’t fit RVs but will fit vans, truck campers, and SUVs. There’s some road noise but the highway isn’t heavily trafficked. The spot I chose was right next to a pond and had a small trail running between the pond and the road.

Pull off on Highway 2

It’s unconventional and in many places probably not safe, but in the sticks of New Hampshire, I’ve never felt safer on the side of the highway. I pulled onto a gravel pulloff marked on iOverlander which sat about six feet off the highway. It was on the side of the river which made for great views, but it was exceptionally buggy.

Southern New Hampshire Region


This small port city is quintessential New England, with narrow roads, brick sidewalks, brick buildings, and a Navy shipyard dating back to 1800. Perfect for a day of wandering, you’ll find plenty of parks, gardens, coffee shops, and boutiques.

Pierce Island

This tiny island is easily accessible from downtown Portsmouth and has one of the nicest dog parks I’ve ever been to. There are a few trails, each pretty short, but the longest one is the North Shoreline trail which takes you around the perimeter of the island with 360 views of the Piscataqua River. The first half of the trail requires dogs to be on leashes as you pass by a playground, picnic areas, and a swimming pool. The view isn’t breathtaking, but you will get an intimate look at the Navy shipyard and the infrastructure of Portmouth’s port. The second half of the trail lets you take your dog off-leash, and there are plenty of large grassy areas to play. You can stay among the trees or take your dog down to the shoreline to cool off.

Van Parking in Portsmouth

South Mill Pond

This centrally located park has an abundance of street parking as well as a large lot with 72-hour parking. I stayed on the street here next to the park for one night without issue. It was one of the most urban places I’ve stayed, with street lights shining down and noise of pedestrians, but otherwise a great place. There’s the South Mill Pond Dog Park here and you don’t have to be a resident or pay to access it.

Published by Jessica Reilly, Writer

Writer, cannabis aficionado, and poetry lover

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