CONCORD, N.H. - For a small state, New Hampshire offers a variety of free experiences in the fall, whether it's scenic drives, hiking, moose watching, browsing antique shops or spotting huge pumpkins. Foliage reports show leaf color has started showing up in the Great North Woods, White Mountains and Lakes regions, and the state just released a foliage tracker to help visitors find the best spots. The state's tourism division has also started a new campaign this year, "Live Free and ...." The fill-in-the-blank play on the state motto, "Live Free or Die," suggests that there many possibilities when it comes to exploring New Hampshire. Here are a few suggestions to enjoy the beautiful foliage, waterways and mountains in the state at no cost:
KANCAMAGUS HIGHWAY The 34.5-mile east-west drive on State Route 112 winds through the White Mountains between the towns of Lincoln and Conway. There are no restaurants, gas stations or other amenities; the emphasis is on the stunning natural beauty surrounding you. Visitors can seek out hiking trails, campgrounds and waterfalls. Some areas, such as the Rocky Gorge, were damaged during Tropical Storm Irene, but have since been restored. Some color already is showing, but the maple, birch and beech trees are at their peak usually in the first and second weeks of October. Details at visitnh.gov or kancamagushighway.com.
CAMPING Day use and camping fees are not charged at 26 camping sites, trailheads, ponds and picnic areas in the White Mountain National Forest. This is for the adventurous type who wants to backpack in and camp off the trail or at a backcountry shelter or tent platform in undeveloped or wilderness areas. Other free activities include hiking, biking, scenic drives. The trails, some of them heading up a few of the 4,000-foot mountains, offer varying degrees of difficulty. For more free opportunities, information and backcountry rules visit fs.usda.gov/whitemountain.
MOOSE WATCHING There's still a good chance to view a moose in New Hampshire's North Country through mid-October. Some companies offer moose-watching tours, but the intrepid traveler can set out at dusk on Route 3 in Pittsburg, Route 16 in Errol and other roads to try to spot one. Moose are unpredictable, so it's common to see the "Brake for Moose" signs up north. More information can be found at nhgrand.com/itineraries.aspx.
Quiet Escapes New Hampshire has many peaceful, scenic settings such as the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, an open-air cathedral on a hilltop in the southwest part of the state with a great view of the Mount Monadnock. Stones taken from across the country and from overseas make up an altar recognized by Congress as a National Memorial to American men and women who lost their lives in war. The site holds public events promoting peace, interfaith understanding and respect for the environment. It is free and open through Oct. 31. Information is available at cathedralofthepines.org.
SURFING Not into leaf-peeping? Turn to the ocean beaches. The sand-sculpting competitions and sunbathers may be gone, but New Hampshire's mere 17 miles of coastline are attracting more surfers -- in wetsuits, of course -- this time of year. The watch for hurricanes and other extreme weather conditions may keep some wary, but surfers say they contribute to some of the best surfing conditions in the Northeast. Surf spots include North Hampton Beach, Jenness Beach, Rye Rocks and The Wall on Route 1A for those who want to ride the waves, or just watch. Information on conditions can be found at magicseaweed.com.