This route began as an American Indian trail. Timothy Nash, a hunter from Lancaster, and Benjamin Sawyer of Conway explored it, and the road opened in 1775. As the Notch attracted travelers, it also drew permanent settlers. The Crawford Family and their in-laws, the Rosebrooks, built inns at both ends. The following south-to-north itinerary reveals the region's rich history and the White Mountains' spectacular scenery. —John Snyder
Sawyer Rock Picnic Site
Sawyer Rock, a large boulder with a historic plaque telling the story of Sawyer and Nash, is located at the south end of the Notch a half-mile past the sign welcoming visitors to the White Mountains National Forest. It's a good spot to park for a swim in the adjacent Saco River. 603-536-6100.
The Notchland Inn, Hart's Location
The stone mansion was home to Samuel Bemis, a Boston dentist often regarded as America's first landscape photographer. Hart's Location, with a population of about 46, is one of the first places in the country to declare election results in the New Hampshire primary and presidential elections. 603-374-6131; notchland.com.
Named for landscape painter Godfrey Frankenstein—not, as some may imagine, for Mary Shelley's evil physician—this area is a favorite winter haunt for ice climbers. A 5-mile round-trip trail leads to the top of the 2,531-foot-high cliff.
Webster Cliff Trailhead
This steep, challenging Appalachian Mountain Club Trail is for seasoned hikers only. It leads to the summit of 3,910-foot-high Mount Webster and offers some of the most dramatic views in the Notch.
Willey House Historic Site, Crawford Notch
At about 3 a.m. on August 28, 1826, a violent summer storm destroyed much of the Willey family farm. The family dog was the lone survivor, and some say its lonely howl can be heard at night. Today, the site is home to Crawford Notch State Park headquarters, along with a snack bar and a small museum. 603-374-2272.
AMC Highland Center, Crawford Notch
The Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center offers lodging, food, and educational programs and is a good place to begin or end your Notch hike. Check out its exhibit of the photography of Bradford Washburn, one of America's finest aerial mountain photographers and explorers.
Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods
Opened in 1902, this U.S. National Historic Landmark is famous for hosting the international Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, which established the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Today, the AAA Four Diamond resort features a golf course and a network of cross-country ski trails. For an ideal way to end your Notch drive, sit on the hotel's wraparound porch and enjoy the view as the sun sets on the Northeast's highest mountain. 603-278-1000; omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington.