Famous Perspectives on the White Mountain National Forest
by Chris Proulx
Here in the White Mountains, it’s that time of year: the ephemeral, blaze orange transition from summer to winter. From village main streets to scenic byways, the roads are alive with camera-toting travelers all seeking to capture their own versions of the majestic images that have lured them here. Sadly, many will be disappointed with the results.
You can count on color in these hills, but if you want your photograph to look like a postcard or magazine cover, you need a few more ingredients. You’ll need the right light and atmospheric conditions, quality camera gear and sound technical know-how. Alas, these require even more ingredients: timing, experience, money, skill and sometimes just plain luck. There is, however, one simple thing you can do to make your photos quickly resemble even the most esteemed images to have ever come out of these mountains. To capture an image like an artist, start by walking in his footsteps.
Along with a storied legacy and a national treasure trove of paintings and literature, White Mountain artists over the last 150 years have left behind well trodden pathways to scenes of inspiration. These sites are perfect for fall leaf peeping and photography because they embody the very thing that draws us to fall. They are scenes of change. Some are dramatic physical contrasts – the stark clash of a tranquil turquoise lake against a sheer cliff erupting from the ground. Others are vantage points from which to witness the march of time over an endless sea of treetops. All of them offer unique perspective on today’s White Mountain National Forest. In fact, these are the origin of the great groundswell that led to its very creation. Art helped save the White Mountains.
In the late 1800s, conflict was brewing. The railroad had come to the White Mountains enabling rapid, incompatible growth of both tourism and logging. While resorts profited off healthy forests, timber barons profited off their depletion. By the early 1900s, much of the mountains was clear-cut, polluted and even burned.
The backlash was strong. For years, many resorts had housed “artists in residence” who lived on-site and were prolific at capturing the grandeur of The White Mountains on canvas. This inspired an influx of more artists and the formation of artist colonies. Paintings of the New Hampshire mountain landscape traveled downhill and were hung above mantles in Boston, New York and even Europe. They created a sentimental connection to the forest in people who had never even visited. It was social media of the early 20th Century and it strengthened the tide of opinion against private ownership of this great natural resource. As a result, The Weeks Act of 1911 was buoyed by public, multi-state support. Its passing by congress allowed the federal government to buy and manage land for conservation, setting the stage for the creation of The White Mountain National Forest.
Here are a few sites that will help you compose a fall photo in the tradition of the masters that first exposed them. The subject is posed – now it’s up to you! Choose your framing, get creative, and take a lasting memory The White Mountains home.
Artists Bluff, located in Franconia Notch State Park, is a an open ledge with a dramatic view. The panorama is framed by the ski slopes of Cannon Mountain on the right, Eagle Cliffs, Mount Lafayette and the other peaks of The Franconia Ridge on the left and Echo Lake below.
This was a favorite spot among several influential painters in the late 1800s, including Edward Hill, artist-in-residence at the Profile House, a resort that once existed near the shore of Echo Lake. Eighteenth century art from this vantage point brought the rugged beauty of Franconia Notch to a widespread and influential audience, helping to popularize the region and save its forests from sale to lumber companies. Today, you can access Artist’s Bluff via a short, 20 minute hike, most of it a climb up stone stairs. The trailhead is located across the street from the parking area for Echo Lake Beach, just off exit 34C on the Franconia Notch Parkway.
Route 302 Visitor Center at Intervale Overlook
Like Artists’ Bluff, the Intervale Overlook offers a dramatic view of a valley surrounded by cliffs and mountain ranges. The foreground is an expansive floodplain of fields and forests whose trees hide the twisting and turning Saco River. To the left are Humphrey’s Ledge and Cathedral Ledge backed by the ridge of the Moat Mountain Range. Thorn and Iron Mountains rise up to right. The focal point of this vista, straight ahead, is the Presidential Range with Mt Washington in the center (assuming it’s a clear day and the summit is not in the clouds). In fall, not only will you have a carpet of reds, oranges and yellows leading up to the Northeast’s highest peak, but, as the season progresses, there’s the increasing chance Mt Washington will be snowcapped. For all of these reasons, this vista drew the attention 19th Century artists like Benjamin Champney whose paintings attracted other artists. The area grew so popular among artists that it became known as one of the nation’s first artist colonies, “The White Mountain School of Art.” The vista has easy access today — it is a rest area off Rte16/302, a few miles north of North Conway.
Echo Lake State Park
This was another view in the area popular among the White Mountain School of Art. Not to be confused with Echo Lake in Franconia Notch, Echo Lake in North Conway is a very small, shallow turquoise lake shadowed by the immense White Horse Ledge. Cathedral Ledge can also be seen from this vantage point. Unlike the previous vistas, this one has you immersed in the foliage. There’s a hiking trail around the lake and up to the ledges for those who want to appreciate the color from inside the woods or get a view of North Conway from above. Echo Lake Park is off West Side Road, a short drive from North Conway Village.
The Kancamagus Highway
Finally, the mecca for foliage viewing. The Kancamagus Highway is a National Scenic Byway stretching approximately 34 miles between Lincoln and North Conway through the undeveloped interior of the White Mountain National Forest. Along the way you’ll find vistas, hiking trails, waterfalls and historic sites which add great content to your leaf pictures. Two notable vistas are on opposite sides of the highway’s highest point, Kancamagus Pass. The Pemigewassett Overlook is on the western side of the pass and provides a beautiful view of the Pemigewassett watershed. It is spectacular at sunset. On the eastern side of the pass is the C.L. Graham Wangan Grounds Overlook which peers out over the Sawyer Pond Watershed. Sunrise is special here as you face the eastern horizon. Both vistas allow you to see and appreciate the modern day health of a forest that was brought back to life with the help of White Mountain artists.
Of course, art is not imitation. A visit to these locations is just a starting point for your own creativity. No matter what your equipment or skill level, you have the ability to capture a valuable moment like no one ever has, even the great masters. You have the ability to capture the White Mountains with you and your family in them.
These sites are all part of the Recreation Tour on The Weeks Act Legacy Trail, a free, self-guided driving tour celebrating the story of the the White Mountain National Forest. The tour features 40 sites of interest across 100 miles. Themes include Conservation History, Ecology and Wildlife, Family Activities, History and Cultural Heritage, Art and Literature, and Water. Download an audio tour, print maps, get GPS coordinates or take a virtual multimedia tour at weeksactlegacytrail.org.
About the Author
Chris Proulx is the owner of Borealis Productions, an independent media production company based in Conway, NH. He is the media producer of The Weeks Act Legacy Trail and the station manager of White Mountains TV.
Social tagging: Artists Bluff > Autumn > Cathedral Ledge > Echo Lake > Fall > Foliage > Franconia Notch > Intervale > Kancamagus Highway > New Hampshire > North Conway > Overlook > Photography > Scenic Vista > Weeks Act Legacy Trail > White Horse Ledge > White Mountain National Forest > White Mountains