White Mountains 3-hostel bike tour (experience, proper bike optional)

Recently I did the White Mountains bike tour with my friend Henry. It’s a 3-day, 130 mile tour with 3 hostels (Notch, Rattle River, and White Mountain)

See the route on Strava, RideWithGPS, or Google Maps

We each carried a change of clothes, minimal food (a few bars, nuts, sausage), and water (2L each). Since this tour involves a reasonable amount of elevation gain, every pound counts.

Neither Henry nor I are very experienced cyclists. I have some experience bike touring, but Henry had never ridden further than about 20 miles and was on a glorified mountain bike, proving any fit person can do this tour. A less fit person with a better bike and/or gear shuttling should also find it challenging yet achievable.

I recorded our ride on Strava, you can see our ride by following the links in each day’s title.

Click these to skip to their respective subsections:

Day 1: Notch to Rattle River

We started at the Notch, opting to carry our own gear rather than pay for the shuttle service. The route begins at the Franconia bike path

A lot of the elevation gain for the day is done here, but the shade makes it a lot more comfortable. A bridge towards the end of the bike path provides a sweeping view of the landscape:

Eventually, the path ends, the road begins, and the speed picks up

The shoulder here makes for comfortable riding

We opted to take a gravel path as a shortcut to getting on to Rt 2, but at this point we were quite tired and a bit conflicted on whether this was worth it.

Nice to be off the main road, but bumpy

Towards the end there is one more hill to climb

Not any harder than the climbs at the beginning, but this smooth grades feels unrelenting at the end

When we arrived in Gorham we got a pizza and fries at Mountain Fire Pizza, which ran us about $20 each but was very filling

We drank an inadvisable quantity of mountain dew here due to unlimited refills

Once at Rattle River we showered and our dirty clothes were washed for us (this is very helpful, as it means you only need 1 change of clothes). This AT hostel was quite social and we had a great time hanging out and chatting with the thru hikers. In the morning there’s pancakes, coffee, and ibuprofen.

Day 2: Rattle River to White Mountains

This is the easiest day of the tour by a decent margin. If I were worried about it being too easy, I’d recommend combining this day either with Bear Notch (go here, scroll to Day 2, MAKE IT LONGER), or with a hike at Pinkham Notch. The crux of this ride is climbing 1.8k’ to Pinkham Notch

We ate our lunch here, and continued on. Going downhill was awesome, I went about 40mp/h on the descent and could have easily gone faster had I trusted my bike more.

Smooth road, comfortable turns, and a sizable shoulder make a for an enjoyable descent

After the descent the road flattens out and it’s a mostly flat ride to Conway. I’d recommend stopping in North Conway to buy groceries if necessary. The grocery store closer to the hostel is suboptimal. There’s a Mexican restaurant and a nice looking cafe in town, but we decided to be frugal.

At White Mountains there’s a cool record collection, a TV with Netflix/Amazon, a guitar, and board games to pass the time. Additionally the kitchen can accommodate multiple groups cooking simultaneously.

Day 3: White Mountains to Notch

It’s possible to start immediately on to Kancamagus highway, however we opted to take Passaconaway Rd. which was well worth it. It’s off the main road, paved, and includes a covered bridge

The beginning of this route is less steep than it seems on Google Maps. We didn’t really think we were gaining elevation, until somewhere after this sign

This is the hardest (and most rewarding) day, despite having less mileage and elevation gain than day 1. The elevation profile illustrates the difficulty

At 18 miles or so, the earth turns up

Luckily there are a number of turnoffs and overlooks to take breaks on during this climb. We were quite proud of having only stopped twice.

There were some raspberries here. It’s worth a stop, for a lot of reasons
Stop #2

This road, in addition to being the most difficult, is also the most dangerous of the tour. There’s a number of right turns with minimal (~1-2') shoulder and a guard rail. Despite this, the road is quite popular among cyclists, which should mean that cars are generally aware of the possibility of cyclists just-around-the-bend.

It’s all worth it to reach this sign

Afterwards, cruise down the hill, and don’t miss the bike path next to the Loon Mountain Resort.

Henry is too tired to look at the camera
So am I

Coming back into town there are a number of places to eat. Black Mountain Burger is quite good, for example.

Compared to other bike tours I’ve done this offers better views , easier navigation and higher road quality and makes for a more athletically interesting route as a result of the climbs. There’s a definite satisfaction to reaching the top of the hills at Pinkham Notch and Kancamagus Pass.

Opting to go without gear shuttling was great, especially since we could easily bring snacks with us and save money on eating out/shuttling/etc. While some official bike tours are pricey or have rigid schedules, we appreciated that this tour could easily be done on a budget and we could adjust the route and schedule to our fit our goals for the trip.

Hanging out at the hostels and talking to some of the thru hikers definitely made me more interested in the AT. We enjoyed a sort of mutual admiration of the difficulties of thru hiking vs. bike touring whilst hanging out at the fire, in addition to a really bizarre set of topics ranging from inane to philosophical.

It was a worthy tour.