Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cannon Mountain Scenic Tram, Franconia Notch State Park, NH

Vacationing in the White Mountain region of New Hampshire and looking for a spectacular ride and some great views? Consider stopping at the Cannon Mountain Scenic Tram and taking a ride to the summit of Cannon Mountain where you get stunning views of Franconia Notch, the Franconia Range and the Presidential Range beyond. Not only that, you can see far into northern New Hampshire and over in the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont, along with views to the south. Basically – you get a 360 degree view from the summit and on a clear day – it’s one that is hard to beat.

Where do I find the Tram?

The Cannon Mountain Scenic Tram is within Franconia Notch State Park and is one of the many attractions that are located throughout the Notch.

The Tram is located off of Exit 34B on Interstate 93. That’s the second to last Franconia Notch exit if you are heading north on 93 and the second Franconia Notch exit you’ll come to when you are heading south on 93.

There are signs for the Tram which direct you into a large parking area. The Tram building is slightly above the parking area. Parking is free and the lot is quite large. Though on busy weekends parking can be tight and in addition, the parking area also functions as parking for area trails, so there may be times that it is hard to find parking.

The ‘visitor center’ for the Tram really is nothing more than the ticket booth, the loading/unloading area for the tram and some open spaces where there’s brochures and stuff. There are other facilities around the area including the New England Ski Museum and Echo Lake. There’s also the viewing area for what’s left of the Old Man of the Mountain (nothing is really left) a short drive down away from the Tram area.

Getting on the Tram?

The Tram is open for visitors during the summer time (generally May through October) and during that time is open from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Tickets for the 2007 season were $10 round-trip for adults, $6 for kids up to $12 and free for kids under six. You can also purchase a one way ticket and that would be $8 (say you want to ride up and walk down or walk up and ride down).

The Cannon Mountain Tram is a big tram. It fits up to like 80 people at one time and then makes its way up the mountain as the other Tram makes its way down the mountain. Thus it makes its trip about every half an hour both up and down the mountain. At the base after purchasing a ticket you can make your way to the line for the Tram where you will load up and then begin your journey.

The ride only takes about 8 minutes as you climb above the steep slopes of Cannon Mountain. At times the Tram is quite high off the ground (for those of you afraid of heights) and the entire time the views of Cannon Mountain, the Notch and the mountains beyond are wonderful.

There’s a guide in the Tram with you who gives you a bit of the history of the Tram, of the Cannon Mountain Ski Area and of Franconia Notch. Also for those who are afraid of heights, they make sure to point out when you are the highest off the ground.

At the top

When you reach the top of the Tram you aren’t quite on the summit on Cannon Mountain. You’ll have to get out and leave the small observation building and walk on the trails to the summit. The observation building holds the Tram loading and unloading area, an observation deck and a small cafeteria (which is a great place to stop if you’re hiking on Cannon Mountain). When you leave the building you’re basically on the summit ridge of Cannon Mountain and you can walk a number of trails around that bring you to various view points and to the summit of the mountain.

The views from the observation deck, the various vistas and the summit are all great. Really, there isn’t a bad view from anywhere up there.

Of course, that’s if the weather is clear. If it’s a cloudy day – you might be in the clouds when you get to the summit. In that case, your view will be that much smaller, but your visit can still be interesting. The summit of Cannon is a world away from the bottom of the Notch – the weather can be colder and windier and it can be quite an experience for someone who hasn’t been to the top of a mountain in poorer weather.


I would heartily suggest that you save the Cannon Mountain Scenic Tram for a mostly clear day, otherwise you run the risk of the trip not being very scenic. That said, being up there in bad weather can be an experience in its own right.

Though I personally would save that experience for a second trip and try to make the first trip in good weather. The views are phenomenal and it’s definitely something that should be seen in clear weather. Not only that, the Tram ride up to the top and back down is that much more exciting when you can see exactly where you are and what is happening with the Tram as it makes its way up and down the mountain.

I usually plan a couple of hours for a trip up the Tram and back down. Expect to spend about a half an hour getting your tickets and waiting for a tram and then when you get to the top, it’s up to you to spend as much time as you want up there. I would expect at least an hour and perhaps more if you want to stay up there and eat at the cafeteria and thoroughly explore the summit area of the mountain.

It’s a good idea to bring a sweatshirt or a light jacket with you when you up the Tram. It’s often several degrees colder and quite a bit windier on the summit than it is down in the Notch. You don’t want to be shivering the whole time while trying to enjoy the views.

I would try to avoid the tram on the busiest holiday weekends. There tends to be big crowds and the wait time for getting on the tram can be quite long. Not only that, the top of the mountain gets crowded, which makes it harder to enjoy. I'd suggest quieter weekends or perhaps a mid-week stop if you are vacationing in the area.

If you are in the area in the Fall, the Tram can be an excellent way to get to see the Fall foliage in the Notch. It gives you a chance to get an expansive view of the entire area and if you hit it right as the leaves are peaking, it's quite a view.

Final Thoughts

A trip up the Cannon Mountain Scenic Tram is well worth the money and time. It’s one of the most spectacular rides in the area and when you’ve reached the summit, the views cannot be beat.

Make sure you pick a clear day for your first trip to truly enjoy the views – after that, consider a trip in poorer weather, as that can be an adventure all by itself as you make your way around the summit in foggy and windy conditions.

Anyone traveling through the area should stop at the Cannon Mountain Scenic Tram – it’s one of the classic White Mountain destinations and is definitely a must see attraction when you are there.

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