Wild River Wilderness New Hampshire

Camping & Hiking the Wild River Wilderness

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, Trekking & Hiking, United States

Recently, my partner Erich and I spent an unforgettable weekend hiking and camping in one of New England’s most remote wildernesses—a place so wild and inaccessible there is only one road in or out and most of it can only be reached on foot. The Wild River Wilderness.

What is the Wild River Wilderness

One of 6 officially designated Wilderness Areas in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire, the Wild River Wilderness is a 23,700-acre area comprised of steep mountainous walls surrounding a wide, deep valley with the capricious Wild River cutting through its center. Located at the far north of the White Mountains, this valley is only accessible via a single dirt road or by hiking. It is also the newest of the Wilderness Areas in the Whites—designated in 2006. 

This is the kind of place where you can spend a day in the woods and never see another soul. Right now, the Wild River Wilderness feels like a secret held close to my heart. If I write this, am I contributing to the over-trafficking and abuse that our wilderness areas are facing? Perhaps so. And yet I feel compelled to share it. For those who favor adventure, who aren’t afraid to explore the deep woods, who don’t fear the things that go bump in the night, the Wild River Wilderness presents a chance for adventure still within a days drive of Boston.

Megan Brake stands in front of waterfall in Wild River Wilderness

Where to Stay in the Wild River Wilderness

There is one car camping ground within the Wilderness area: the Wild River Campground. This is a primitive campsite for tent camping, accessible via a 5-mile dirt road. There are 12 sites available, one of which includes a log shelter—a primitive 3 sided lean-to. All sites are first-come, first-served. 

The campground is hosted. Camping is $20 per day, inclusive of one vehicle. There is a $5 additional fee for a second vehicle. Firewood can be purchased on-site.

There are also several backcountry tent sites accessible via hiking. When I visited one of these, the Spruce Brook tent site, in October of 2014, it was unhosted with no tent platforms or bear boxes. Be prepared to hang your food or store food safely in a bear canister or ursack. Tent sites are free, no reservations required. Follow leave no trace principles and be keep the wilderness wild for future hikers.

The floor of the Wild River Valley is wide and relatively flat, so backcountry camping options are plentiful on the Wild River Trail, Highwater Trail, and on all the other trails that cross the valley floor. Follow Wilderness Area rules for choosing a campsite.

Campsite at Wild River Campground with picnic table and fire pit

What to do in the Wild River Wilderness

This vast wilderness area is a playground for the adventurous. The Wild River is long and deep in places, with crystal clear water flowing over massive boulders, swirling in and out of deep pools and shimmering over the riverbed. Swimming is possible in places, as is a simple soak or sunbathing. I’m not into fishing but I hear people come here to fish as well.

Hiking trails criss-cross the area, some following the length of the valley, others climbing steeply up to the mountain ridges that line either side. Some of my favorite trails that I’ve hiked here are the Black Angel trail down from Carter Dome and all the way up to the Basin Rim Trail (7.7 miles in total). The Basin Trail, 2.2 miles from the valley floor to the Basin Rim trail, was exceptionally beautiful. 

For those looking for a less strenuous but no less wild and riveting hiking experience, the Wild River trail and Highwater Trail each parallel the river up the valley, offering glimpses of its waters as they make their way down from their source at No Ketchum Pond. The two trails form a nice 5-mile loop starting from the Wild River Campground, though you will need to cross the river without a bridge at one end.

In truth, you can’t go wrong hiking in the Wild River Wilderness. All the trails have their own points of interest, the sheer vastness of the valley floor makes every trail up to the ridge an adventure, and the diversity of life and ecosystems within this forest make each hike a fresh experience. 

Wild River Wilderness Hiking Trail

These wilderness area signs are my favorite.

How to get to the Wild River Wilderness

If you plan to camp at the Wild River Campground or to access any of the hiking trails from the trailheads in the valley, you’ll need to find the 5-mile Wild River Road.

From Boston: Take 93 N through Franconia Notch. Exit to Route 3 North, then take Route 115 to Route 2. Follow Route 2 until you enter Maine (Yep, crossing state lines!) then take Route 113 south for just a few miles, past the gate you’ll see a sign for the Wild River Wilderness and the turn for Wild River Road is just beyond here. The Wild River Campground is 5 miles down Wild River Road, but there are several trailheads with small parking areas located along the road as well.

Route 113 is not maintained in Winter so this area is only accessible by vehicle from May to October.

Hiking into the Wild River is also possible from the Pinkham Notch area on Route 16 in New Hampshire, and from Route 113 in Maine/New Hampshire.

Now that you’ve got all the facts, if I still have your attention, let me tell you a story about the magnificent, unforgettable weekend I had with my boyfriend Erich in the Wild River Wilderness. 

megan and erich on mount meader in the white mountains of New Hampshire

Our Weekend in the Wild River Wilderness

All week eagerness coursed through my veins like fire. After five years of dreaming about it, I was finally returning to the Wild River Wilderness. 

Five years ago, in October of 2014, I planned a haphazard backpacking loop that took me in and out of a valley called the Wild River Wilderness. At that point in my life, I’d only done one other backpacking loop around the Pemigewasset Wilderness in early August. The Pemi, as it is affectionately called by locals, is a 40 mile, well-trafficked loop that follows the Appalachian Trail for at least half of its path. In early August, I was sharing the trail with day hikers, fellow Pemi loopers, and AT thru-hikers. Every night I camped at a hosted tent site where bear boxes were provided, a host assigned me a platform, and the company was plentiful in the cooking areas. Although it was a solo trek, I was hardly ever alone at all.

I expected my loop through the Wild River Wilderness, in early October, to be the same.

Instead, I spent a grueling four days in the backcountry completely and utterly alone. I lost the trail at one point, walked myself to the point of exhaustion, realized on day three I didn’t have nearly enough food, and in four days of hiking I only saw three other human beings. By the time I made it back to my car I was grateful just to be alive. But somewhere in that mess of agony and strife, I’d fallen in love. The Wild River Wilderness held a special place in my heart. Its vast expanse, its poorly maintained trails, its air of pure, unadulterated wilderness wiggled itself into my heart and didn’t let go. 

In the 5 years since that misbegotten backpacking trip, I’ve dreamed of the Wild River valley often. Every time I returned to New England from my life in Peru or Cambodia, I’d stare at my map of the White Mountains and try to find a chance to get back there but I could never quite make it work.

That is until I rolled onto my side earlier this Spring and popped my kneecap out of place. Injured and unable to take on serious backpacking trips, I started looking for car camping options. It was then that I realized: the Wild River Campground. The moment I thought of it, my heart bloomed with hope. All I had to do was find the perfect weekend and I could finally get back to the landscape that enchanted my dreams.

waterfall on Basin Trail in the Wild River Wilderness

For weeks this summer I stared at my worn-out map of the White Mountains, tracing my finger over the little red “Wild River Campground” label. I watched the weather, peeked through my calendar, and finally, in mid-July, the perfect weekend opened up. I finished work at 1pm on Friday, shut my laptop with a snap, and loaded my gear into the car. Erich rolled up and we were on our way. We tore out of my driveway, rumbled down the poorly paved streets of Medford, and merged onto the highway ready to fly—or crawl north, rather. We sat in traffic from Medford to Concord, inching our way north with the throngs of others who, I hoped, were headed to the Lakes region and not to the Whites.

Just before 7pm, after 5 hours of highways, country roads, and mountain views, we made the turn onto Wild River Road, a long dirt road that follows the Wild River and feels like it has seen its fair share of tough winters. By the time we pulled into the campground, it was after 7pm. We drove the small loop around the 12 sites to look for an opening. Site after site had cars in front of them, tents set up, people sitting in chairs around a fire. As we drove, my spirits sank lower and lower and despair started to sink in. We’d driven all this way, no reservations, what if we didn’t get a spot? I looked at Erich, trying to keep the panic out of my eyes. He reached over and held my hand. 

But I wasn’t ready to hear him say, “I’m sorry, babe.” Not just yet. I drove back down the hill, there were a few more spots near the gate of the campground we hadn’t checked. That’s when I saw him, an old man, still surprisingly tall, standing by the side of the road in a plaid shirt with a big welcoming smile on his face and his hand in the air waving us over. I drove up next to him and rolled down the window.

“You looking for a campsite?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, I’ve only got two left. One up there on the hill, or down here at the shelter. The one up there is still open but the people next door have one of those yappy little dogs so I don’t know if you want that. If you take the shelter you don’t need to sleep in it, there is still room for a tent on the ground.”

I could see the shelter just in front of me, the only campground wide open to the road. I pointed uphill, where a set of stairs were built into the landscape.

“The other open campground up there?”

“Yep, just up those stairs.”

“Ok, we’ll take it.”

He nodded, I backed the car in and looked over at Erich with tears in my eyes. Maybe I was being overly emotional, but I’d dreamed about visiting this campground and this valley for years, the idea of having to turn around, to camp somewhere else, was too painful to consider. But it didn’t matter, we got an open spot and it was perfect. Carrying our stuff up the small stairs, we found an open area cut into a grove of beech and pine. The site had enough space for several tents, plus it included a surprisingly stable picnic table and a fire pit with cooking grate. 

That night we built a fire, cooked veggie fajitas in a cast iron pan over an open flame, and indulged in a few Birds of a Feather IPAs from my favorite Boston area brewery, Lamplighter.

Mount Meader New Hampshire

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. I’d originally planned for us to hike up to Mount Moriah, one of the 48 4000 footers that I haven’t bagged yet, but our morning got off to a slow start. By the time I’d made coffee, eaten breakfast, and gotten dressed it was already past 10am. Not an ideal time to set off on a 12-mile hike. So we reassessed, scoured the map, and devised a plan to follow the Basin Trail up to the eastern rim of the Wild River Valley and hike up to Mount Meader. It’s not a 4000 footer, but it would still be a beautiful day in the mountains and by the end, a 10-mile hike.

The Basin Trail was enchanting. From the campground, it wound along the valley floor through a hardwood forest where the sunlight filtered through the trees to dapple the ground in soft green light. After winding around the trees like a ribbon, the trail worked its way gently uphill following a small creek. After a slightly steep section, we came to a beautiful pool of copper-colored water. At first, I was so taken with the pool flowing through shapely rocks that I failed to look up. I walked to the water’s edge and dipped my hand in, testing the temperature—cold, even in mid-July. It was only when I looked up at Erich to share in this beauty that I saw it.

Through the trees on the other side of the pool rose a sheer exposed cliff face completely devoid of trees or plants. It looked almost fresh like the rock had just fallen away yesterday. I could just make out a few groups of rock climbers working their way toward the top. It was massive, impressive, looming over me like some gray giant. For a moment I could have believed I’d been transported out west where the mountains are bigger and the cliffs more dramatic. I said as much to Erich as we continued up the trail.

Basin Rim Trail White Mountains

Soon enough, we reached Rim Junction, where we headed south on the Rim Trail toward Mount Meader. The trail crossed an open granite slab and we had our first view out toward Maine. Mount Meader rose above us, huge and rounded, crowned in pines. It looked absolutely massive from where we were standing and I knew that even though it was less than 3000 feet tall, we still had quite a strenuous climb ahead of us. We pushed on and the trail took on that relentless character of all White Mountain trails. Granite stairs led ever upwards and we stopped often to catch our breath. Hardwood gave way to pine as we pushed ever up, scrambling over rocks. Finally, we broke free of the trees and found ourselves near Meader’s peak. Just before the peak, there is an area that grants a commanding view of the ridgeline and Caribou Wilderness to the east. It was breathtaking. Rolling, pine-covered mountains stretched in all directions. Here and there, the pop of a granite cliff face shone through the hazy air. It had been a grueling climb, but the view made it all worth it.

We took a seat in a sliver of shade and munched on our banana and peanut butter sandwiches, relishing in our sense of achievement sitting up here on the summit. It was a warm day and we stretched out, taking a moment to rest. 

The way back down to Rim Junction was slow. Erich had managed to hurt his leg somehow and climbing down the steep granite trail only exacerbated the pain. I was worried about him and halfway back, resolved that we’d shorten our hike by taking the Basin Trail back down, foregoing our planned loop for an out-and-back. But Erich insisted he still wanted to do the loop, so we headed down the Black Angel Trail—a straight shot down to the valley floor, or so I thought.

basintrail

I was so excited to reach the river down below us, and couldn’t stop chatting about it to Erich. We were going to soak our feet in the cold water, lay out on the round boulders, it was going to be great. I thought the whole way down would be a fairly easy walk. It had looked that way when I glanced at the topo this morning and at first, the trail seemed to do exactly what I expected. It meandered down until we reached the Blue Brook Tent site, then dropped somewhat steeply down to a creek. Just as we were peering about to find where the trail reappeared on the other side, a woman popped out of the trees. She was kitted out for a camping trip with a full pack and a sunny disposition. We made small talk, shared insights on the trail, and as we headed in our separate directions, she left us with a final comment.

“You’ll love the Wild River when you get down there but you’ve got some serious climbing to do first.”

Climbing? The Black Angel Trail is supposed to just go down to the valley floor. I pulled out my topographical map and quickly realized my mistake. Very clearly the contour lines showed that we would need to cross a kind of pass between two hills before heading down to the river. I looked apologetically at Erich. I really hadn’t read the map closely enough this morning. He shrugged and we stepped out. What else could we do?

The climb was fast and steep, with the final pitch so sheer I found myself using tree roots and trunks to stop me from sliding back down the hill. Thankfully, it was also fairly short and before long we were starting the descent. The trail hugged the higher side of a hill, looking down on a creek far below. It would have been prime moose spotting territory, I assume, though the only thing we saw was pile after pile of deer poop. Meandering slowly back down to the valley floor, we eventually made it to the intersection with the Wild River Trail and the much-anticipated Wild River itself.

Eagerly, we cut through the trees and clambered over the giant boulders that formed the riverbed until we found an area to dip our feet. The water felt so good and we were standing right by a nice, deep pool with a little waterfall pouring into it. I looked around, didn’t see any people, figured I’d be hidden once in the water, and I made a decision to do something I’d never done before.

I got totally naked and slipped into the river. 

The water felt so good on my sore muscles and if I stood under the waterfall just so it gave me the most wonderful massage. Erich joined me and we leaned against the rocks, floating our legs in the cold water, dunking our heads, and just reveling in the feeling of being alive. It was a magical afternoon.

But all good things come to an end. The water was cold and when I started shivering, I climbed back onto a dry rock in the sun, dried off, and got dressed. The walk back to the campsite was fairly uneventful. The trail had been washed out in places, the riverbank torn away by the river in some of its wilder moments, but there were clear herd paths showing where to go.

Overhead, clouds began to gather and we heard the distant rumble of thunder. At one point, less than a mile from the campground, I saw a bolt of lightning strike down at the far end of the valley. We hustled and made it back to camp just in time to slip into our tent. Then the skies opened and the rain pounded down. Safe and warm and relatively dry in the tent, we listened to the sound of the rain in the afternoon light. After about an hour or so the skies finished their temper tantrum and the rain cleared. Starting a fire that night with wet wood was a particular challenge and I may have had a temper tantrum of my own but eventually, we got it started. A well-earned box of Annie’s mac n cheese each and we were happy campers. 

The final morning we took it slow, lazily making breakfast and packing up camp. By the time we drove away, it was already 11:30am. We made our way over to Pinkham’s notch to take a small stroll up the Square Ledge Trail and ogle Mount Washington, then drove down to Ossipee to get a well-earned lunch and a beer at Hobb’s Tavern.

Erich reads trail signs in the white mountains

All in all, the weekend lived up to my expectations, and the Wild River Wilderness remains one of my favorite spots in all of the White Mountains. Hopefully, it won’t take me another 5 years to make it back.


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Discover the best camping and hiking in the Wild River Wilderness of New Hampshire's White Mountains

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10 Best Places to Visit in New England This Summer

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, Trekking & Hiking, United States, Vermont

Summer in New England means one thing and one thing only: adventure. During summers in New England, something seems to shift—as if everyone lets go of that last bit of tension they were holding onto from the winter and gives into pure bliss. Memories of the bitter cold stashed away, we all relax, smile at our neighbors, and head outside to enjoy whatever it is that we love most about the hot season. The sun is blazing, the trees are green, and the ocean is calling. 

If you’re new to New England or are visiting this summer, there is an almost endless list of places to visit and things to do. It can get a bit overwhelming. If you’re like me, you’re looking for places where can you hike, swim, eat great food, drink delicious craft beer, and hang out with friends long into the night. Well, look no further. Here are my top 10 places to visit in New England this summer—trust me, I’m a local. 

I tried to get at least one in every state so, Connecticut, you don’t have to feel left out.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Photo by m01229 (Flickr)

1. Cape Cod and the Islands

Could any list of places to visit in New England not include Cape Cod? I grew up going to the Cape every summer. Around here, we call it “going down the cape” and it is as essential to every summer as beach days or afternoon margaritas. Something about the Cape is just better than everywhere else. Maybe its the slow pace of living, the small cape houses perched above the sea, or the way the sand dunes seem to stretch on forever. Whatever it is, one thing is clearly true: if you didn’t go to Cape Cod, it wasn’t really summer.

My personal favorite spot on the Cape is a little tiny town called Wellfleet. It’s way out on the outer cape, almost all the way to P-town. And because of that, very few people are willing to make the long trek out there. Sure, you’ll sit in some traffic on your way there but if you’re willing to make the journey, you’ll be rewarded with quiet streets lined with colonial-style cape houses, pristine beaches guarded by jaw-droppingly beautiful sand dunes, and long hot days spent surfing or just drinking summer ales on the beach. 

Have I convinced you? If you’re going to head to Wellfleet, here are a few things not to miss: drinks at the famous Beachcomber, takeaway lunch from Box Lunch (get the lobster roll), and fish from Hatch’s Fish Market. But most of all, you need to relax, hang out, try surfing (or at least boogie boarding) and soak in the laid back pace of life characteristic of the outer cape. 

Newport Rhode Island Lighthouse

2. Newport, Rhode Island

Imagine a long rocky path stretching into the distance. Down below, the waves of the sea crash into the wall of stone and the smell of the sea is rich on the air. As you walk, your gaze turns from the sea over to the magnificent green lawn that lays sprawled out in front of you, meticulously groomed and artfully designed. At the far end of this elegant lawn sits the most magnificent manor house you’ve ever laid eyes on. You stop, take it in, wonder at the family who had the money and power to build such a house. Yet it’s not alone. House after house, on and on in a parade of opulence and historic wealth. You walk for a whole afternoon taking in the exquisite architecture while the ocean plays below you. This is the oceanfront walk in Newport, Rhode Island.

To walk along this path is to take a step back into the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Great Gatsby. To throw yourself back to a time when robber barons and oil magnates were taking over the world. Sure it was a problematic time and they were problematic men—but the architecture they left behind leaves an imprint in your imagination that you won’t soon forget.

Little House Brewing, Chester CT

3. Chester, Connecticut

For many New Englanders, myself included, Connecticut is a bit of a throwaway state—roads too heavy with traffic till you get close to New York and then it just gets worse. I always wrote off Connecticut as a place not worth visiting. That is, until this past Spring when my boyfriend and I took a weekend trip and I was forced to confront and reject my preconceived notions.

We stayed in the village of Chester, Connecticut and I was legitimately floored by how charming it was. Built along a small river, Chester has all the allure of a colonial New England town with a wealth of dining options and even a craft brewery. The nearby Cockaponset State Forest offers trails for hiking in the quiet of the wood. If you’re planning a New England road trip this summer, I’d recommend adding Chester to the list. 

Hiking Mount Greylock up the Cheshire Harbor Trail

4. Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

The tallest point in Massachusetts and allegedly an inspiration for numerous writers include Henry David Thoreau, Mount Greylock rises high above the town of North Adams at the northern edge of the misty Berkshire Mountains. At a whopping 3,491ft, it’s no Mount Everest, but it is still a prominent peak with a quiet, noble beauty. Draped in hardwood forests and carpeted in pines, Greylock sits like a sentinel, staring out over the surrounding mountains and ridgelines, a commanding presence in an already imposing landscape.

For the adventurous, Greylock is crisscrossed by a network of trails that range from a moderate 6-mile out-and-back to overnight backpacking loops through dense old-growth forests. If you’re not here for a hike, there is an auto-road that you can take to the top (for a fee, of course) with a historic old lodge offering meals and a scenic overlook facing east.

For more information, trail maps, and most up-to-date pricing for the auto road visit the Mount Greylock official site.  

Acadia National Park, Maine, New England

Credit William Brawley (Flickr)

5. Acadia National Park, Maine

Because, of course. Because you can’t go on a summer adventure across New England and not visit it. Because if you’re looking for places to explore and you love adventure, you cannot in good faith ignore Acadia.

Situated on the coast of Maine, a five-hour drive north of Boston, Acadia National Park is a place unlike anywhere else in the world. Mountains rising up from the sea with dramatic, sloping rock formations worn soft by years of oceans spray. Quaint little villages offering lobster by the pound and clam chowder by the cup perch above the crashing waves. Bike trails meander through the park following carriage roads laid down by long-dead entrepreneurs.

It has mountains, it has the sea, it has forests, it has a coastline, it has fishermen, it has historic colonial architecture, it has everything. Hike Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise then ride a bike around the trails to explore some of the more hidden corners of the park that most of the tourists in Bar Harbor will never catch a glimpse of.

Welcome to Maine

Credit Renee Johnson (Flickr)

6. Ogunquit, Maine

Another Maine location makes the list, but are you surprised? When it comes to places to visit in New England, the coast of Maine is hard to ignore. Far, far to the south of Acadia on the southern coast of Maine is a stretch of charming, eccentric, quaint, and idyllic little towns that just beg to be explored at a leisurely pace.

Think of it as the slightly more rugged cousin of Cape Cod. Cape Cod of the North, if you will. Beaches here give way to long spines of stone that reach out into the sea. Red roofed lighthouses look out over turbulent seas as the waves crash against the rocks. And on the shore? Shops selling knick-knacks, antiques, and curios sit snug against cute little cafes and well-thought-out restaurants.

Spend a day exploring the towns or, if you’re more into active adventure like me, bring a bike and take yourself out for a long and beautiful bike ride. The coastal road from Wells down south to Nubble Point outside York is an unforgettable ride. Turn inland to explore the farmland and quiet communities that live in this coastal paradise year-round. Not into planning your own bike routes? If you’re looking for inspiration, you can use this route that I designed for my long weekend up in Maine this past Memorial Day.

If you do the ride, leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Or feel free to follow me on Strava, if that’s your thing.

Best Hiking Trail Near Lake Winnipesaukee

7. Lakes Region, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee. Say that ten times fast. Pronounced “Win-eh-peh-saw-key” it is an Abenaki word with a contested meaning. Some sources record Winnipesaukee as translating to “The Smile of the Great Spirit” while others recorded it as signifying “Beautiful Water in a High Place.” Though we may never know for sure what the Abenaki word means, one thing remains true: this is a special place.

The Lakes Region of New Hampshire is comprised of several large lakes, of which Winnipesaukee is the largest. Known for its boating, fishing, and motorcycle gangs, the region is actually home to a wealth of adventure for those willing to look for it. From little known hikes buried deep in the hills to full-day kayaking or stand up paddle board adventures, the Lakes Region offers outdoor adventures for everyone.

Hike outside Stowe Vermont

Credit Patrick (Flickr)

8. Stowe, Vermont

I love Vermont. From verdant green hills draped with farmland to the two parallel rows of green mountains running down the length of the state like a terrestrial spine, the Green Mountain State is perhaps New England’s best-kept secret. Picturesque villages perched among green and yellow fields, more hiking, mountain biking, and skiing than you could finish in a lifetime, and of course, an overwhelming number of microbreweries and nanobreweries cooking up some of the finest craft beer in the country (the Alchemist, anyone?)—Vermont really does have it all.

And if you’re new to Vermont and have to pick just one place to visit: make it Stowe. For the intrepid traveler, Mount Mansfield and Smuggler’s Notch offer hiking, mountain biking, and skiing (in the winter, of course) both in bounds and backcountry that is on par with some of what you can find out west (no, I’m not kidding). Once you’re done with the trails, head back into town and pick up some of the finest beer in North America from the Alchemist or try some of the headier brews from Vermont’s less well-known breweries at literally any of the stores and restaurants in town. My favorite Vermont brewery is Upper Pass. Try their Cloud Drop IPA, you won’t regret it. Need something to eat? Stowe has everything from five-star meals to cheap and tasty burritos.

Find yourself a nice little farmhouse to rent in Airbnb and discover why people are leaving Colorado to come live in this tiny little state in New England. You won’t regret it.

Whately, Pioneer Valley

9. Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts

The Pioneer Valley is a region of Massachusetts that sits just to the east of the Berkshires, nestled among the foothills along both sides of the scenic Connecticut River and the considerably less scenic Interstate 91. It stretches roughly from Northampton to Greenfield, though the people to the north and south of those towns might contest that border.

What is there to do in the Pioneer Valley? Go tubing down the Deerfield river, take a hike up Mount Tom, spend the afternoon exploring breweries that line the Connecticut River, buy farm-fresh produce from one of the hundreds of farmstands that dot the roads, and explore the many college campuses that blanket the city streets of Northampton and Amherst.

As an added bonus, Northampton is one of the most LGBTQUIA+ friendly cities in New England, long known to be a center of the lesbian community complete with rainbow crosswalks. 

DSC00958

10. White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire

It’s dawn. A warm, pink light has just begun to suffuse the sky as the birds begin to sing. You lay in your sleeping bag, warm and content, listening as the forest slowly comes to life. Soon, however, the sun streams in through the tent. You rouse yourself and exit your nylon shelter. You are deep in a forest of pine, not another soul to be seen. The air smells like Christmas and the ground is soft beneath your feet.

After a quick breakfast, you pack up your campsite, deftly fitting all of your supplies into your single backpack. Stepping out, you follow a narrow path as it winds its way through the pines. Soon you are walking up and up and up, the trail turns into a granite staircase and you start to sweat. Just before you decide you need a break, the pines shrink, fall away, and you find yourself on a rocky, exposed summit. Your breath catches in your throat as you stare around you with eyes wide with wonder. In every direction, as far as you can see, mountains and forest-clad hills roll off into the deep blue distance. You set down your pack, take a seat on a rock, and soak it all in. It is magnificent. It defies understanding. It is the White Mountain National Forest.

This is, without question, my favorite place in all of New England. A mountain wilderness so beautifully wild, so deliciously remote, it seems impossible that it’s only a 2-hour drive north of Boston. In the Whites, ridge after ridge of mountains hide dense valleys where the maples and oaks grow thick around bubbling streams. For the intrepid hiker, it could be the work of a lifetime to explore every last trail that winds through these mountains. 

But even for the less adventurous, the White Mountains offer something for everyone. From scenic drives to tubing down rivers, lavish hotels and rustic campgrounds, the Whites are perfection. They are my happy place, my refuge from the world, my wonderland that I cannot stop exploring.

These Places in New England Are Just the Beginning

For such a small part of the United States, New England is truly a treasure trove of places to explore. From wild rivers to scenic beaches, hip cities and rustic farmland, I honestly believe that New England has a little bit of everything (but I might be a little bit biased). Have you visited New England? Do you have places that were left off of the list? Let me know in the comments.


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10 places to visit in New England this summer for the adventure loving traveler from Into Foreign Lands

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2018: My Year in Review

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

2018 was a tumultuous year for me. It was the first full year I’ve spent in the United States since 2011. As such, it has been quite a year of transitions. I have had days and weeks where I questioned my decisions and worried about the future. I’ve struggled with depression, physical injuries, and anxiety.

My tough transition back from living abroad surprised me. Living abroad is a constant adventure where your mind is learning every day. Whether you’re adapting to the new cultural norms, learning the language, or exploring some new area of your foreign home, living abroad is thrilling. The transition back to living at home can be jarring. Suddenly all that mental energy that went towards your day-to-day has nowhere to go. For me, that resulted in, at first, a lot of tension and emotional confusion, and eventually, in a lot of activity. I had to throw all that mental energy into learning new things and finding new challenges, or else get lost in a mire of confusion.

For all that I miss my life abroad, I’ve also had some really fun adventures since moving back to New England. I’ve explored the absolute heck out of the White Mountains, taken several trips to Vermont, and I did get to take one really special trip abroad at the beginning of the year. So, instead of focusing on the hard times of 2018, I want to take a moment to reflect on the year that was, review some of my favorite adventures, and talk a bit about some of my hopes and plans for 2019.

Megan standing on Osceola Peak

My Top 3 Highlights of 2018

Most of my 2018 adventures were undertaken solo, but some of them featured my boyfriend and best friend Erich and some other seriously awesome women who have come into my life this year. It was the support of these people that really gave me the energy to accomplish all that I did in the past year.

whistler 1

1. Skiing at Whistler

This year kicked off strong with a week-long trip to Whistler, one of Canada’s premier ski resorts. I’d never visited this part of the world before and the sheer magnificence of the place shocked me.

On our first day, the summit was wreathed in fog. I did my best to explore the terrain—skiing off-piste for the first time in my life and navigating a field of bumps larger than most east coast mountains—but it was on day two that I really discovered Whistler. That day I woke up to crystal blue skies and saw for the first time the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. From the summit of Whistler, a wonderland of snow-capped peaks stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. For the whole day, I skied in a kind of blissful dream state. Every dip and curve of the slope revealed some new magnificent vista of mountain wilderness. I was in heaven.

I realize Whistler and the sport of skiing are not accessible to everyone. It’s extraordinarily expensive and requires years of practice to get to a level capable of skiing on a mountain such as Whistler. On top of that, it requires a level of wealth and privilege just to take a trip and spend a week there. So, I realize this isn’t accessible to everyone and doesn’t really fit into my usual approach of extreme budget solo travel. That said, if you do get the opportunity to ski at Whistler, take it.

century ride in new england

2. Completing 2 Century Rides (My first!)

For those not in the world of cycling, a century ride is a 100-mile bike ride. This year, I completed my first and second century rides and I couldn’t be prouder of myself. The first I did solo, training in the cold, wet New England March and April, trying desperately to get into shape for my May 20th ride, terrified I wouldn’t be able to finish it.

The night before that first ride I could barely sleep. As the sun rose that morning, I took off with no fanfare. The ride had no official start so I started riding by myself. I feared I would ride the entire century solo, struggling in vain against a ferocious headwind. But my fears were unfounded. Before I’d even ridden 10 miles I was picked up by a group of friendly but competitive riders from south of Boston who encouraged me to “hop on!” their peloton. I kept pace with them for the next 20 miles, adrenaline coursing through my veins. When I got to the first rest stop I pulled out my phone and checked Strava to find my speed. Though I hoped to average 16 mph for the whole century, I was shocked beyond belief to see I’d averaged 18.9mph over the first 30 miles. To my knowledge, that was the fastest I’d ever ridden. By the end of the ride, my average speed was just above 18 mph.

I learned that day that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for.

DSC00958

Hiking My First Presidential Traverse

The crowning achievement of my year, by far, was my first Presi Traverse. This hike, known as one of the toughest in New England, spans roughly 23 miles and crosses several of the tallest peaks in the region. For me, this hike was yet another example of my tendency to underestimate myself. In the days leading up to my hike, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to complete it. And yet when the day came I flew along the trail, covering the main section, 15 miles, before 5pm, nearly 2 hours ahead of schedule.

What really makes the Presi Traverse stand out as my top adventure of 2018 is the amazing community of hikers that exists in the White Mountains. Over the three days that I spent on the trail, my fellow Presi hikers became my companions, almost friends, though we were all strangers at dawn. As I saw the same people, peak after peak, we started to look out for one another, checking in, offering tips, giving each other a heads up about the weather. The people I met were the backbone of my Presi Traverse experience.

Entering the Dry River Wilderness, New Hampshire

My Adventure Plans for 2019

There were so many more adventures that peppered my 2018: riding my bike to the top of Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, beginning my journey into rock climbing with the baddest group of women around, spending three days hiking in the Pemigewasset Wilderness by myself, and taking Erich up for his first ever backcountry camping trip. But enough about 2018. Here are some of my (as of yet, tentative) adventure plans for 2019:

Colorado

As of this moment, Erich and I are planning to head to Colorado at the end of the summer. His favorite band, Phish, plays an annual three-day show at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Arena out there. So we are using that as an opportunity to take a full week and explore the Rockies, drink some awesome craft beer, and see one of the most exciting bands around. If you have any recommendations for hiking spots or mountain biking routes we should check out, let me know!

Oh yeah, did I mention that in 2018 I also fell a little bit in love with the band Phish? Because that happened.

Bike Tour of Vermont

I’m not sure how many days I’ll get to do this, but at some point, during the summer of 2019, I’d like to do a bike tour of either just Vermont or of Northern New England. I’ve seen some trail maps floating around of a Vermont tour that can be done on dirt single track and dirt roads, so if I get my hands on a mountain bike, I’d love to check that out. Otherwise, I’ll probably be planning a road bike trip, hopefully crossing several of the steep gaps that cut through the Green Mountains.

A Single Day Presi

After completing my first Presidential Traverse in three days, it seems only obvious that I need to up the ante a little and challenge myself to complete the entire hike in a single day. It might require me to even pick up a bit of trail running.

Colombia

I’m planning to take at least one trip in 2019 that requires me to use my passport and Colombia is close to the top of my list. Not so far away, and with a thriving South American culture that I’m just dying to return to, my imagination is alive with thoughts of Colombia. I want to immerse myself in her cities and lose myself in her mountains. It may happen even this February.

But if I’m being totally honest, the trip I really want to make in 2019 is

Patagonia

This is currently just a dream, but if I can make it work I might (that’s a big MIGHT) try to tackle Patagonia as a solo traveler. Patagonia sits at the top of every outdoor adventure traveler’s list. How can it not? With so much wild beauty, such a mystique, and being positioned at the very end of the earth… Patagonia is my dream destination for 2019. Now, I just need to make it happen.

That’s a Wrap

So that’s a wrap on 2018. Honestly, when I take a step back I have to admit it was a really good year. Emotionally, mentally, I’ve had my ups and downs. More often than not I’ve been struggling. But at the same time, I accomplished some amazing things.

What did you do this year that you’re most proud of? What plans do you have for 2019 that excite you? Let me know in the comments!

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Winter Hiking

Adventure Travel, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

Winter hiking can be intimidating for beginners. Although I’ve been hiking pretty regularly since about 2010, I didn’t go on my first winter hike until 2018. I thought it would be windy, cold, and generally unpleasant. I love the feeling of warm sun on my skin as I lay across the warm rocks on a well-earned summit. I thought winter hiking would be just awful.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Winter hiking is a wonderland. The pines are draped in snow, the ice is shaped into a million intricate sculptures, and the entire world is turned into a majestic landscape like something out of a dream. On top of all that, there are way fewer people out, so you may get the summit to yourself.

Winter hiking is amazing. But, more than at any other time of year, it is imperative that you go prepared. Winter is a volatile season in the mountains and it can be dangerous. Preparation is key and safety should always be your top priority. If you take the proper precautions, winter hiking can be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have in the mountains. Even as a beginner.

beginner winter hike

 

Winter Hiking for Beginners: Before You Go

There are a few key things that beginners ought to keep in mind as you start to plan your first winter hike. First, don’t hike alone! If you’re used to hiking solo in the spring, summer, and fall this can be a tough pill to swallow—but winter hiking is dangerous! Hike with a buddy for your first winter season until you learn how to adapt to the changing landscape. You can find hiking groups on facebook or places like meetup.com if you don’t have any hiking buddies.

Second, know your route. I realize this is also true during the warmer months, but it is so much easier to get lost in the winter. You could be hiking an unbroken trail, an unexpected whiteout could hit, or you could lose the trail when hiking above the tree line. More than ever, when winter hiking as a beginner you need to know the names of the trails, have a map, and be ready to use it.

Third, be prepared for any conditions. On a single winter hike, the weather could change from bright, sunny, and above freezing, to windy, snowing, and dangerously cold. Come prepared with the gear you need to face any weather, not just what the forecast reads.

And on that note, let’s get to the good stuff…

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What to Wear Hiking in Cold Weather

The key to hiking in the winter is wearing layers! You want to ensure that you don’t sweat on the way up. If you sweat, your clothes will get wet and you run the risk of frostbite. Wear clothing that breathes well and wicks away moisture. Stay away from cotton. Once wet, it will never dry. Instead, try packing winter gear like this:

  • Base Layer shirt and pants made of a thin, breathable, synthetic material.
  • Warm second layer like a fleece shirt and thicker leggings.
  • Down jacket with detachable outer shell like this North Face jacket.
  • Insulated snow pants
  • Insulated tall socks and sock liners
  • Glove liners and insulated mittens (I prefer mittens to gloves for my outer hand layer as they retain heat better).
  • Insulated hat.
  • Insulated hiking boots. I wear Salomons.
  • Gaiters (if your snow pants don’t include them).
  • Sunglasses or ski goggles
  • Balaclava or other face cover

winter hike new england

 

What Gear to Pack for a Winter Hike

Because you need to be prepared for several different situations on any one hike, winter hiking can require a lot of gear. Finding friends or groups to hike with can help offset the cost, as can renting some gear, such as snowshoes, for the first season if you can’t afford all the gear up front.

But, to be properly prepared for a winter hike, I recommend packing the following gear:

  • Map + Compass (and know how to use them)
  • Snowshoes and microspikes/hillsounds – be ready to need both depending on conditions.
  • Water in insulated containers. Choose water bottles over bladders as the tube can freeze too easily. Bring hot water in a thermos.
  • Small stove and pot for boiling snow, especially on very long or very cold hikes.
  • Hand Warmers – these are useful for keeping extremities warm. But also keep one in your pack near your phone to save battery life. If you want to be environmentally conscious, I recommend getting some reusable hand warmers.
  • Flashlight – even on a day hike it gets dark fast in the winter.
  • Hiking Poles

summit view from mount moosilauke in winter

 

What To Wear On Your Feet

This is the big question and a source of major debate among winter hiking enthusiasts. But if we rule out skiing/boarding for now, on the day of your hike you have three choices for footwear.

  • Snowshoes: No matter what the conditions, you should always bring snowshoes with you. When there is recent snow on the trail or lots of snow, you’ll want to use your snowshoes. It’ll make it easier for you to walk, and help preserve trail conditions for other hikers.
  • Microspikes/Hillsounds: If snow cover is thin or you expect the trail to be hard packed and maybe a bit icy, microspikes or hillsounds are the way to go. These smaller spikes help you grip the snow and prevent you from slipping as you walk.
  • Crampons: These larger spikes are necessary when the trail is extra steep or icy, or if you plan to descend down a steep rock face during your hike. The long spikes help you secure your footing and prevent injury.

As always, no matter which of these options you choose, you’ll want to wear a pair of insulated winter hiking boots.

What Food to Bring on a Winter Hike

Winter hiking uses up more energy than warm weather hiking because your body is working overtime to keep you warm. Because of this, you need to eat plenty of high calorie food to keep your metabolism and your body temperature high. Some snacks I recommend are:

  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • Candy (Snickers is my favorite hiking candy).
  • A thermos of hot cocoa
  • Protein bars

Whatever food you like to eat on a hike, bring lots of it and eat! You’ll be very cold by the end of your hike if you neglect your nutrition. Eat a lot and keep warm.

winter hiking in new hampshire

Winter Hiking Can Be Awesome for Beginners

Most of all, have fun and be safe! Be willing to turn around if the weather gets bad. Let go of pride and prioritize safety. Pay attention to your gut feelings—especially if they are telling you to be careful! Be safe, follow these winter hiking tips for beginners, and I promise you’ll have an absolutely amazing time exploring a winter wonderland.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!


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Winter hiking can be intimidating for beginners. It is more important than ever to come prepared with the right winter gear, food, and tools to survive. Get the inside scoop here.

Hiking Osceola Trail from Tripoli Road: Trip Report

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

One particularly sunny and beautiful mid-July weekend, Erich and I decided to take a hike. Erich is quite new to hiking, having never really done a full day, oh-my-god-my-knees-hurt hike before we met. In an effort to get him to see the joys of hiking, not just the pains, I sought out a moderate level hike with stunning views. The choice was obvious: the Mt. Osceola trail from Tripoli Road.

This hike hit all the major points: Mount Osceola is one of the 4000 footers of New Hampshire’s White Mountains; we could easily bag a second 4k-er, East Osceola, without adding too many miles to our day; it was a fairly moderate hike, only 3.5 miles from Tripoli Road to the summit; and the denizens of the New Hampshire Hiking Facebook group I joined said that it had some of the best views in the Whites.

Decision made. We were hiking Osceola and East Osceola.

erich points towards the pemigewasset

Everything You Need to Know about Mount Osceola

Mount Osceola is a peak in the southern White Mountains. Along with its sister peak, East Osceola, they make up two of New Hampshire’s 48 4000 footers in. Osceola sits at a height of 4,315ft (1,315m) and nearby East Osceola reaches a stately 4,156ft (1,266m).

So they aren’t the tallest mountains ever.

But don’t let that fool you. As anyone who has ever hiked in New Hampshire can tell you, the modest height of these mountains hides some surprisingly tough terrain. The trail from Tripoli Road to Osceola is fairly easy, with only a few rough granite patches, but the trail along the ridge from Osceola to East Osceola features some steep granite stairs and a spicy little section known as “The Chimney”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The mountains are named after the famous Native American warrior, Osceola, born a member of the Creek tribe, he and his mother became refugees and they ultimately were taken in and became members of the Seminole Tribe. Osceola grew to become a fierce warrior and powerful leader, taking on the American Army when no one else would. He was captured in a deception that is, to this day, one of the great shame of the U.S. Military history, and many monuments around the nation are named in his honor, including these two peaks in New Hampshire.

DSC00833

Hiking Mount Osceola Trail from Tripoli Road

The trail from Tripoli Road is unexpectedly smooth and gentle. Trails like this are something of a rarity in New England, where most of the paths were cut by anxious old Yankees who seemed more interested in punishing their knees than having a nice day walking in the woods.

At any rate, the trail is pretty easy. It starts out gentle and stays pretty gentle all the way to the top. There are some really nice spots along the way where the trail levels off completely and you meander through piney forests and weave in and out of hardwoods.

As you near the top, the trail steepens a little and there is a slight scramble, not even a scramble really, just a small climb up a wide flat granite section. It is closely lined by trees, so the smooth rock, though slippery when wet and probably a disaster in the winter, is nothing to be afraid of.

Erich and I reached the top before we’d even started to feel the hike in our legs.

Mount Osceola view from the summit

Summit Views

The best part of hiking Osceola is the reveal. The entire ascent is forged through a tunnel of trees, not a view to be found. As you near the summit the trail levels off and, on most days, you hear the sounds of people chatting and hanging out. Pass through the last barrier of pine trees and you emerge onto the flat granite summit of Osceola.

The world opens up before you. Pine clad mountains stretch for miles, Tripyramid stands tall and proud across the Waterville Valley. To the north, the Pemigewasset beckons with it’s multitude of rocky peaks and dense, eternal forests. It really is one of the more remarkable views in the White Mountains.

ridge and chimney to east osceola

The Trail to East Osceola and the famous Chimney Cliff

From the summit of Osceola, East Osceola is a short and steep ridgeline traverse away. Easily visible from your perch on the wide granite peak, bagging them both on the same hike is an opportunity too tempting to pass up.

Leaving Osceola, the trail descends immediately down a long granite staircase, following the bumps and curves of the ridgeline. The trail alternates between steep downhill and short, level sections wherein you truly feel you’re walking the ridge above two sheer mountain walls.

Then you reach most thrilling part of the traverse: the Chimney. This famous cliff begs for you to slip and fall, if not to your death then at least to a broken wrist or two. I exaggerate. In the summertime, it’s a fairly easy, if a bit steep, section of scrambling. There is a slightly easier alternate route off to the left for those who are averse to climbing straight down.

In the winter, this should probably only be attempted with the proper gear and knowledge.

And also I saw some people in their 60s or 70s climb down it. And a dog. And some kids. So, like, chill.

After you descend the Chimney, you quickly reach the saddle and head back up. There’s a nice viewpoint overlooking the Pemigewasset just below the summit, then a little further up another granite staircase and you find yourself at the riveting, jaw-droppingly stunning summit of East Osceola.

Just kidding, it’s tree’d in.

Apparently there are more viewpoints past the summit on the way to Greeley Pond, but they are several hundred feet down a steep trail so, dealers choice. We did not include that in our day hike.

My First Osceola, But Not My Last

I adored this hike up to Osceola. The views from the top of this mountain were classic White Mountains at their finest. In Erich’s words when we got there.

“Oh yeah, I could get into this.”

I’ve heard good things about the approach to the Osceola’s from the Kancamagus. It’s steeper and more grueling but apparently has some stunning viewpoints. A definite must on my list of hikes.

clif views

How to Get to Osceola Trail on Tripoli Road

From Interstate 93 take exit 31 for Tripoli Road and take a right. Follow Tripoli Road for 6.5 miles. You’ll pass through a gate and continue past two other trailheads before you get to the Osceola Trailhead. It will be on your left. Unless you get there early, prepare to park on the side of the road. Parking is only allowed on the right side.


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Hike Mount Osceola from Tripoli Road with this complete guide to one of the most scenic hikes in New Hampshire's White Mountains

Hiking the Langdon Trail to Mt. Resolution

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

One summer weekend, I set out on a backpacking trip to Mount Isolation; the highest point on the Montalban ridge of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But the trip was not to be. Through a series of unexpected events, I ended up hiking the Langdon Trail to Mt. Resolution instead.

Change of Plans: Finding a Trailhead in Bartlett, NH

With the weather finally warming up after a prolonged, cold spring, I planned a 3-day, 2-night hike up and over Mt. Isolation. The trails would not be too strenuous, but the 4000 footer in the middle would make the trip seem just a little bit grand. I was pumped.

Yet from the very start, the world conspired against me.

First, traffic. Of course, traffic. I sat in traffic for nearly 5 hours as I slowly inched my way north through the Boston metro area towards New Hampshire. It wasn’t until 6:30p.m. that I reached the small town of Bartlett. I had only planned to hike two miles to the nearest shelter anyway, so although I was a bit flummoxed, I knew I was still safe.

As I drove up the hill towards the trailhead, anticipation built in my belly. This would be my first backpacking trip since I moved back to America last September. Soon I would be alone in the forest, surrounded by the rich smells and sounds of the wilderness.

And then.

I drove around a bend in the road and came face to face with a locked gate. No parking lot or trail marker to be found. On the gate was a small posted sign: caution, trails in the Dry River Wilderness were severely damaged in late season storms. Expert only. Hike at your peril. Be prepared to die.

Prideful and committed to my plan, I toyed with the idea of hiking up the trail anyway. I believed in my ability to make it through the wilderness. And it could add another level of adventure to an otherwise fairly routine hiking trip.

And yet, I finally came to my senses and aborted my plan to hike Mt. Isolation.

Instead, I scrambled to find a different trailhead. Even if my plans only reduced to a 1 night, 2-day hiking trip.

I settled on the nearby Parker Trailhead in Bartlett. From the trailhead it was only 3 miles to the Langdon Shelter. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it was a night or two in the backcountry. I hopped back in my car and drove the few miles over to the trailhead.

Langdon Trail at Sundown

The Parker Trailhead

Parking at the Parker Trailhead was fairly limited, with space for just a few cars in a small clearing in the woods. There were two other cars already parked, locked and empty when I arrived.

By the time I began my hike it was 6:45 p.m. The rich, gold sunlight of an early summer evening filtered sideways through the leaves.

Not having backpacked in almost two years, I had no idea what my pace would be or how much ground I’d be able to cover before I ran out of light. I figured I had about an hour before I needed to find a site. It was 3 miles from the trailhead to the shelter, but I trusted myself to set up a leave-no-trace backcountry stealth campsite if I couldn’t make it that far.

Langdon Hiking Trail Bartlett New Hampshire

Hiking the Langdon Trail to Langdon Shelter

The first mile or so of the Langdon Trail ascends at a gentle grade. The forest on either side has been cut away for some reason. Perhaps for power lines or some other kind of ugly human development. The lack of vegetation brings an unpleasant and exposed feeling to the trail.

After about a mile, the trail enters the Dry River Wilderness and the change is immediate. The scarred forest gives way to pristine wilderness. A small creek curves between two hills and rolls off into the distance. Pine needles carpet the ground and the occasional birch reaches up towards the sky. The trail begins to ascend more sharply as it finds its way up the mountain.

Entering the Dry River Wilderness, New Hampshire

The water available from the trail vanished as I ascended to higher elevations. The setting sun poured through the leaves around me. Depending on the terrain, the trail alternated between a wash of golden light, and a dim, dusky gloom.

When the sun moved behind a hill and the forest filled with shadows I would feel a sense of urgency, a dread that urged me to stop and set up camp. Then I would reach the next rise, the sunlight would return and I would think to myself, “no, a little further now. You have time.”

And then, at last, I reached a sign informing me that the Langdon shelter was just half a mile away. No sense looking for stealth camping at this point. In the dying light of the day, I hoofed it the final half mile down the path until I saw the shelter crouched amongst the trees.

Langdon Shelter, New Hampshire

A Night at the Langdon Shelter

As I emerged from the trees, I saw a woman standing in a clearing, snapping together tent poles. Turning towards me, she asked if I was with a group.

No, I answered. I’m by myself.

Oh! Her voice warmed. I’m Laura, and that’s my husband Brent, putting up our bear throw.

Laura and Brent had already hiked all of the 4000ft peaks in New Hampshire and were in the final stretch of “red-lining,” the challenge of hiking every mile of AMC managed trail in New Hampshire. That’s over a thousand miles.

They had only something over a hundred left to go.

I set up my tent in a small flat clearing close to the shelter and returned with my bear vault to sit with Laura. She began building a small fire. I pulled out my map. What would be possible over the course of the weekend?

I calculated the distance between myself and Mt Isolation. 16 miles. One way. There were no official tent sites between here and there but Laura and Brent clued me into a few spots where one could set up a tent and take in a nice view, if one were so inclined. Stealth sites, if you will.

And yet, that would mean a long hike on Saturday and a long hike out on Sunday. Sunday was Father’s Day and I had a date in Massachusetts with my Dad. If I hiked all the way to Isolation, I wouldn’t be out of the mountains till late afternoon on Sunday.

But my heart had been set on spending two nights in the backcountry. It was a painful expectation to let go of.

 

After chewing it over and changing my mind at least seven times, I settled on my choice. Tomorrow I would hike to Mount Resolution then turn around and head back out to my car. It wouldn’t be my three day journey, but it would be a 12-mile hike in the White Mountains.

I spent the rest of the night swapping stories with Laura and Brent over the fire. I told them about that time I bought a donkey in Peru, and what it feels like to trek across the Himalayas in Nepal. They spoke about a trip along the John Muir Trail and their favorite hiking spots in New England.

The next morning, I tortured myself with thoughts of bagging Mt Isolation. I knew the right thing to do was to limit myself to Mt Resolution and make it home in time for fathers day. But I wanted to do the longer hike. I wanted a second night in the woods.

Disappointment crept into my mind like a fog. As I packed up my tent, munched on my breakfast of cold pop tarts and headed out up the trail, it weighed me down, making me question my integrity as a hiker. Why even bother if I was only spending one night in the woods?

But despite the disappointment and my flair for the dramatic, the solitude of the woods embraced me, picked me up, and did its very best to remind me why I came into the mountains.

My mind settled into the introspective state that I only find when I’m pushing myself physically. My thoughts roamed, jumping from tree to tree alongside the chipmunks I startled from the underbrush.

Perhaps, I thought to myself, this sense of disappointment comes less from the hike and more from my expectations. I was hiking in New Hampshire, one of my favorite places. I was surrounded by the smell of pine, the soft feeling of my feet against the trail. Why would I possibly feel anything other than contentment?

Perhaps that import I placed on other people’s imagined expectations was what I most needed to let go of.

These thoughts filled my mind all the way up to the summit of my first peak of the day, Mt. Parker.

 

View of Mt. Washington from Mt. Parker

Mt. Parker Summit Views

Mt. Parker to Mt. Resolution

Mt Parker stands just above 3,000ft. It is pointed, bald, and commands a beautiful view of the surrounding Presidential range.

I set down my pack and stood still. The peaks and valleys of the Whites rolled away from me into eternity, looking like sleeping elephants. Massive beasts about to rise up out of the earth at the slightest provocation. Washington loomed in the distance, still wearing patches of snow in mid-June.

After a moment, I pushed on further down the trail. In the near distance, I could see a flat-topped mountain rising up between me and Mount Washington. That, I believed, was Mt. Resolution, and the extent of my hike for that day.

The trail from Mount Parker to Mt. Resolution was delightful. From the summit of Parker, the trail is a narrow strip of dirt between granite boulders and alpine brush, winding down into the spruce trees. In amongst the pines, the meandering trail bops back and forth along the ridgeline.

The undulating movement continued until I reached the base of Resolution. The pitch shifted skyward and I climbed up the final ascent to the large flat granite surface: the summit of Resolution.

Setting down my pack, I wandered across the mountaintop. It is less of a summit and more of a plateau. I’m not certain I ever found the highest point. But the views of Mt. Washington were superb, and I enjoyed a moment basking in the mountain’s nearness, dreaming of the Presi traverse I hoped to complete later in the season.

White Mountains New Hampshire Views

As I stared up the Montalban ridgeline, contemplating a trek from here up to the summit of Mount Washington, the uncertainty returned.

What if I did keep walking? Am I being a quitter because I’m only hiking to Resolution and going back to my car? I had intended to spend two nights in the backcountry on this trip. Did spending only one night make me a failure?

I paced back and forth on the mountaintop as I debated my answer. I could see Stair Mountain further down the ridge. What if I simply hiked to there, found a nearby campsite, and walked back in the morning? I could still make it for dinner on Father’s Day.

But no, I’d be exhausted on Monday. And besides, I’d like to spend the whole day with my family. If I camp tonight, I wont be able to do that. There are plenty more weekends in the summer. I’ll have many more opportunities to spend two nights in the wilderness, but fathers day only comes once a year.

Turning back was the right choice. It was what I wanted. So why was it so hard to do?

Summit of Mt. Resolution New Hampshire

Mt. Resolution Summit

Reluctantly, I picked up my pack and headed back the way I had come.

But indecision had not yet released it’s grip on my mind. The fact that I had told my boyfriend I’d be in the woods for two nights, told the couple I met last night, told a few friends… I felt that I would be letting them down if I hiked out of the woods today.

My indecision was so intense I hiked about a tenth of a mile back towards my car, stopped, turned around, hiked back up the hill, stopped, turned back and forth a few times, then set off resolutely in the direction of my car.

The indecision and self-flagellation hung about me like a dull mist for the next mile or so, almost all the way back to Mt. Parker. I had to work to shake the feeling that I was letting other people down. It took far too long for me to fall back into that beautiful meditative state.

View of White Mountains from Mt Parker

After the summit of Mt. Parker my mind began to relax and I was able to relish the hike back out of the woods. Though I expected the trail to be tired, old, and boring the second time around, it was anything but. Coming at it from this new direction it was like a fresh trail populated with old friends. Here was the rock I had to scramble over on the way up, and here is the felled tree that forces me down into a crawl. The spruce and deciduous forests felt warm and inviting. Last year’s leaves crunched underneath my feet.

For 6 miles I walked along in bliss. Pain was growing in my knees and my legs heavier and heavier, yet I was finally soaked in that woodland euphoria. At the edge of the wilderness area, by the sign I had enjoyed so much the night before, I stopped briefly to refill my water and dunk my head into the stream.

Even if I could only make it out for one night, I still got to spend a night in the woods.

By the time I made it back to my car I was tired, sore, and rejuvenated. Popped into Moat Brewing for a well earned IPA and a sub-par sandwich and was on the road back to Boston, ready to plan my next hiking adventure.


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Hiking the Langdon Trail to Mount Resolution: An overnight backpacking trip in New Hampshire's White Mountains

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Adventure of a Lifetime

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

You’ve got two weeks in Peru. You want to visit Machu Picchu and see the most famous place in South America, but you also want to have a wild, life altering adventure deep in the Andes. It may not sound possible, but you can have all this while staying under budget on your two week trip. How?

By hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide.

Choquequirao is a stunning ancient Incan temple built about 100 years after Machu Picchu. Much like it’s more famous cousin, Choque sits on top of an Andean Ridge, overlooking a river thousands of feet below. But unlike Machu Picchu, Choque has hardly any tourists. Fewer than 20 people visit each day.

condor

Photo by Macie J

To put that in perspective for you, Machu Picchu gets 5,000 visitors a day. One more time for the people in the back: Machu Picchu gets 5,000 people per day. Choquequirao? 20.

Why the difference? Because the only way to reach Choquequirao is via a grueling two-day hike.

As if that wasn’t adventurous enough, for those in the know, those passionate, outdoor-loving, backpacking maniacs who want to immerse themselves in the Andean wilderness, an even greater adventure awaits you beyond the gates of Choquequirao: the 9-day trek from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu.

It’s an epic journey that follows an Incan trail over two high Andean passes, through verdant valleys, and up to a deserted mountaintop ruin overlooking Machu Picchu.

Imagining, beginning your week at one of the most remote religious sanctuaries in the world, traversing Andean mountains on the same pathway the ancients walked and ending your journey at the fabled Machu Picchu.

This is all possible. Hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide is challenging, it is stunning, and it is totally doable in less than two weeks.

hiking choquequirao to machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Itinerary

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca to Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao to Pichauhuyoc Ruins
Day 4: Pichauhuyoc to Pajonal
Day 5: Pajonal to Yanama
Day 6: Yanama to Colcabamba
Day 7: Colcabamba to La Playa
Day 8: La Playa to Aguas Calientes
Day 9: Machu Picchu

This is a long and extremely challenging journey. Before you go, make sure you are prepared for this trip both mentally and physically. Only take on this journey without a guide if you are an experienced trekker and confident navigating backcountry terrain. Though the path is clear throughout, there are still plenty of opportunities to get lost in the Andean highlands.

As with any hike in Peru, the most important consideration of all is altitude. Give yourself at least one day to acclimate in Cusco before beginning the trek. The path from Choque to Machu Picchu crosses extremely high elevations, the highest point at Yanama Pass (4500m/15,000ft). The air up there is thin and no matter how fit and knowledgeable you are, you will struggle. Acclimate!

This trek is no joke. But for those who are fit, smart, and capable, hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu offers a chance to see a part of Peru most people have never even heard of.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Trekking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: What to Expect

I’ve covered what to expect from days one and two when you hike to Choquequirao, so let’s continue to day three, and the morning of your Choque explorations.

After you’ve finished reveling in the tranquility of this ancient temple, head towards the highest part of the temple and off into the jungle. From Choquequirao, the trail winds up the side of the mountain, weaving through dense shadowy forests before descending sharply towards a river valley.

andean flowers choquequirao hike

Photo by Macie J

A little more than halfway down to the river valley floor, you’ll come to a set of ancient Incan terraces carved into the wide open mountainside. This is Pichuhuyoc. These terraces and the small temple in the center are the location of one of the last still-functioning Incan water systems in Peru. It also makes a great place to camp for the night.

Come the morning of day four, follow the trail all the way down to the river below. There was no bridge in June 2014, but the crossing was easy nonetheless. From there, the trail is slightly off to your left. Ahead of you is a long and steep climb up to the village of Maizal. Village is perhaps a generous term, it is a collection of four or five houses perched on a mountainside. Not a human soul to be seen when I visited, but I did have a great conversation with a cow standing next to the only source of water.

From Maizal, the trail continues up more gradually, working its way towards the Victoria Pass. Through the lush jungle, the trail clings to the steep mountainside. A glance over the edge of the trail will send your heart thumping up into your throat. When I hiked this in 2014, the path was very wet and treacherous. Quiet narrow, especially when I had to share it with donkeys coming the other way.

Along the way, you’ll pass abandoned Victoria Mines, a narrow chasm cut deep into the mountain. Shortly after the mines, the trail cuts sharply up the mountain in a series of stairs and switchbacks. Once you climb into the sparse, high Andean environment, it should be nearing the end of the day. Though there is no official campsite up here, camp on whatever wide, flat, empty space you can find.

path to victoria pass

Photo by Macie J

Here is your reminder to practice leave no trace! High elevation environments are extremely sensitive, do your best not to crush plants and other life underneath your camping equipment.

Come dawn of day five, continue up towards Victoria Pass. I cannot encourage you enough to get there as soon after sunrise as you can. Further, into the day, the clouds will gather and obstruct the views. But if you arrive early enough, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding glaciers and sharp Andean peaks.

From the pass, it’s a long but fairly gentle descent down to Yanama Village, where you can camp for the night.

Waking up in Yanama will be a bizarre contrast of modern and ancient. This small village is home to a road. In fact, it is home to the only road that accesses this remote corner of the Andes. You may hear trucks and cars heading in and out of town, a grating contrast to the serenity of your days on the trail.

yanama pass

Photos by Macie J

No need to share the road, however, the Incan Trail you’ve been following for days continues its meandering path up the center of the valley. It’s difficult to get lost at this point as there is only one way to go from here.

Up and up the valley floor you go, gaining altitude and increasing in grade as the day continues. The final push to Yanama Pass is a steep and relentless wall of scree. But make it to the top of the pass and you’ll find views of a glacier so close you could reach out and touch it.

But don’t. Glaciers are very dangerous.

After Yanama Pass, you have a long yet gentle walk all the way down to Colcabamba. Savor the silence because in Colcabamba you’ll meet up with the Salkantay trail and all dirt, grime, people, and noise that come with a heavily touristed trail. But on the plus side, you can talk to another human!

trekking to yanama

Photo by Macie J

Once in Colcabamba, you can say goodbye to free campsites. Camping here is limited to a few houses and licensed spots, and they will expect you to pay. The good news is you can get a home cooked meal for the first time in almost a week.

On day six, follow the Salkantay hikers and their guides as the trail winds its way down to La Playa, a small village perched next to a river. At this point, you’ve returned to relatively low altitudes and the heat will be intense. Best to drink lots of water and try to stay in the shade.

On the final day of the trek, you have the (boring) option to follow most of the Salkantay Trekkers down to Santa Teresa and from there hike along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Or, if you have the strength and want to see Machu Picchu in a way most tourists never will take a lesser known track up to Llactapata.

Llactapata is a forgotten and unimpressive ruin that sits on a ridge overlooking Machu Picchu. Its true beauty is the unparalleled opportunity it offers to look down on Machu Picchu from afar, just as the Inca once would have.

From La Playa, cross the river and continue to hike along the road. Be on the lookout for signs pointing towards an Incan Trail to Llactapata. They are hard to find but you will see it eventually. As of 2014, it was a faded red sign.

After this, the Incan Trail winds up the side of the mountain, not too steep but after a week of Andean hiking pretty much every incline feels steep. Your effort will be rewarded when you stumble out of the jungle onto a small clearing with the still standing walls of a modest temple structure.

Walk to the edge of the plaza and look out across the landscape. On the distant ridge, you’ll see a place where the jungle has been wiped away. Stones cling to the bare mountainside. This is Machu Picchu, and you are standing by yourself in the Andean Jungle looking out over it just as the Inca did long ago.

overlooking machu picchu from llactapata

Photo by Macie J

From Llactapata, the trail down to the valley floor is easy enough and then its just a slog along the train tracks until you reach Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.

For accommodations in Aguas, your options are paid camping or budget hospedajes. Take your time and find the right option for you. The cheapest hospedajes are going to be up the hill and far from the main plaza. If you’re not too picky, camping is probably the way to go. Before you go to sleep for the night, make sure to buy your entrance pass to Machu Picchu for tomorrow! Do not wait until the next morning. Apparently now they assign times of day for your visit, so check your ticket to see when you’re allowed to enter the temple.

machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

The next day, wake up early to make the walk up to Machu Picchu! Because you didn’t walk all this way just to take the bus, did you?

If you did, best to get in line for the bus at like 4am I hear. It’s pretty hard to catch a bus. The stairway up to Machu Picchu is tough but not impossible. I say hike it.

All that’s left is your exploration of Machu Picchu. Take all the time you need. This place is worth it.

After your temple visit, I recommend catching the train back to Cusco. It is by far the easiest way to travel back to civilization. If the train is outside your budget, you can follow the train tracks back towards Santa Teresa and from there catch a taxi or collectivo out to Santa Maria, and from there a bus to Cusco.

If you’re really hardcore, you can walk all the way back to the Sacred Valley by following the train tracks in the other direction. This is a 28km walk and takes the full day. Get started early. When you get to KM 82, you’ll find yourself in a small village and from there you can easily get a collectivo back to Ollantaytambo.


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Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in PeruHike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in Peru

All photos on this post from Macie J.

Visit Choquequirao Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

What would it be like to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds? How incredible would it be to wander around the temple at your own pace, soaking in the silence and leaving no stone uninvestigated? While you’ll probably never get a private visit to that storied temple, there is another temple in Peru, similar is size and design, yet visited by less than 20 people a day. What is this elusive mystery? The secretive and secluded Choquequirao Temple.

For those intrepid travelers with a taste for adventure, Choquequirao offers a rare opportunity to take in Incan architecture and splendor without the crowds. A guided tour can cost hundreds of dollars, but if you are willing to take the plunge, hiking to Choquequirao without a guide can cost less than $200 and offer up the adventure of a lifetime.

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Photo by Danielle Pereira

All About Choquequirao

Pronounced “CHOCK-ey-keer-ow” this little known Incan temple is similar in style and structure to Machu Picchu. It was constructed in the 15th or 16th century, making it slightly younger than Machu Picchu. Choquequirao was also one of the last strongholds of the Incan warrior Manco Inca Yupanqui during his final resistance against the Spanish.

The site has been “rediscovered” multiple times throughout the centuries, most notably by Hiram Bingham in 1909. Excavations on Choquequirao only began in 1970 and are still ongoing today.

The temple sits at 3000m (9,800ft) above the Apurimac River, on the very top of a mountain ridge. The only way to get to Choquequirao is by trekking for four days across hot, dry, and steep terrain.

There is also an extension of this trek which can take you all the way to Machu Picchu, through some of Peru’s most legendary scenery, over the course of 9 days, which I will cover in an upcoming post.

A note on when to hike to Choquequirao: the dry season will make for the best conditions, between March and October. However, should you attempt it in the wet season, know that it is possible but the trail may become slippery and dangerous, and your views will probably be obscured by cloud.

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Hike to Choquequirao Without A Guide

Day 1: Cachora – Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca – Marampata/Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao – Chiquisca
Day 4: Chiquisca – Cachora

4303249819_098d126128_z

Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Get to Cachora

If you’re going to hike to Choquequirao, first you’ve got to get to the starting point: Cachora. From Cusco, get any bus headed to Abancay, the earlier the better if you plan to start hiking on the same day. When I made the trip in June 2014, we were able to get a 5am bus, which got us to Cachora before lunch.

Ask the bus driver to stop at the Ramal de Cachora. At the Ramal, there will be several taxis waiting to drive you the 13km to Cachora. Should cost about 5 soles to share the taxi.

If you need to pick up last minute supplies like snacks or an extra packet of ramen noodles, Cachora is the place to do it. You can also allegedly hire a muleteer or even a guide, but I am not qualified to give you advice on that. You wanted to do this hike solo, right?

A note on timing: if you get an early bus from Cusco, you should be able to start hiking before or around noon. This gives you enough time to get to Chiquisca before dark. However, if you get a later bus and arrive at Cachora in the afternoon, you should probably wait a day before you start trekking. As I recall, there are a few affordable hospedajes in Cachora along with some upscale options.

Now let’s get to the good stuff: hiking to Choquequirao.

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca

The views on this hike begin immediately, as Cachora sits on the edge of a steep canyon, commanding panoramic views of the snowcapped peaks across the divide.

From Cachora, head downhill on the main road through town until you hit the farmlands. You should find a sign indicating the trail to Choquequirao. Take a left, cross a small stream, then take the path up to the road. Walk along the road until you come to the Mirador, an outcropping of land jutting into the canyon.

From the Mirador, it’s a long, steep set of switchbacks all the way down to Chiquisca at km19. If you got a late start, this is a good spot to camp. However, if you make it to Chiquisca early in the day, I recommend pushing on all the way to the river or even to Santa Rosa Baja.

Pro Tip: Day 2 is the most intensely grueling day of the entire trek, so the more ground you can cover on day 1, the easier day 2 will be.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of this itinerary, that you only make it to Chiquisca on Day 1. This campsite has streams for water, small shelters for cooking, and plenty of space to pitch a tent. Get a good night’s sleep because Day 2 is not a joke.

Apurimac River Valley

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 2: Chiquisca to Marampata/Choquequirao

The earlier you can start day 2, the better. The trail is a long, steep, and without shelter from the blazing sun. If you can get at least halfway up the mountain before the sun rises to its apex, you’ll be thankful.

From Chiquisca, the trail continues down the mountain to the river below. At the river, you’ll find a campsite and a suspension bridge. Take a moment of silence in honor of your strength, endurance, and capacity, because they are all about to be pushed to their limits.

From the canyon floor, the trail heads up steeply, in a series of switchbacks that go on forever. I made the mistake of thinking that I must have almost reached the top. Don’t worry. You haven’t. You’re in for a big climb and your legs are going to feel it.

You’ll pass Santa Rose Baja, and a few minutes beyond that, Santa Rosa Alta. There are stores here and a nice flat, grassy area. It’s a good spot to stop and enjoy a snack. Then, continue following the merciless trail as it leads you relentlessly upwards.

At long last and well beyond your breaking point, you’ll come to the top of a switchback and find the trail leveled out. A bench awaits you, granting a respite from standing and a view out over the canyon wall you descended the day before.

From there, it is only a short walk to the village of Marampata, where you can find shops selling snacks, beers, and even a campsite. However, if you have the energy, I recommend continuing onwards and camping at the site below Choquequirao. It’s quite a bit further, probably another hour of hiking, but well worth it to camp so close to the ruins.

On the walk to the campsite, you’ll get your first view of Choquequirao perched precariously on the edge of the mountain ridge.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 3: Choquequirao to Chiquisca

Today is the day! After the labors on the mountainside on day 2, you’ve more than earned the right to visit this secretive world wonder. Whether you’re camped at Choquequirao or Marampata, I recommend getting an early start to experience the majesty of this temple in the early morning light.

The trail cuts through thick jungle and muddy mountainside on its way to the sanctuary. A few steps out of the jungle and suddenly you find yourself on the main plaza, in the center of a temple equal in size and splendor to Machu Picchu.

The true joy of a visit to Choquequirao comes not from the structures themselves but from the serenity of the space. Take a seat beneath the single tree in the main plaza and appreciate the silence and the grandeur of this Incan Temple.

When you’ve basked long enough, stroll slowly through the structures, make your way down to the terraces, or climb up to the main temple plaza. From the top, you can look down and see all of Choquequirao spread out before you. Your mind will struggle to comprehend the idea of people constructing this massive complex nearly 600 years ago.

And yet, here it stands.

Allow a full morning for exploration and enjoyment of this wondrous landmark. Eventually, however, all good things must come to an end. If you’re taking on the massive nine-day hike to Machu Picchu, head uphill through the temple to find your Incan Trail.

For those who are only taking on the four-day trek, it’s time to tackle the long downhill and small uphill back to Chiquisca on the far side of the canyon.

Choquequirao view

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 4: Chiquisca to Cachora

The climb from Chiquisca up to the Mirador, so easy when it was a downhill, becomes somewhat more grueling on the way back up. Once you gain the Mirador, a well-earned beer awaits you at the small shop there.

Once revived by your adult beverage, only a short walk stands between you and Cachora, where you can easily find a room for the night or a taxi to drive you back up to the main road. In order to hitch a ride back to Cusco, you’ll have to do it the Peruvian way, when you see a car, van, or bus, hold out your hand flat and wave it up and down. Eventually, someone will stop and offer you a ride. If you’re nervous about it, negotiate a price up front.

Once back in Cusco, you are faced with a choice: do you tell other travelers about the majesty of Choquequirao, or keep the secret of this remarkable place close to your heart?


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Visit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the AndesVisit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the Andes

Hiking Colca Canyon Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

The trek through Peru’s Colca Canyon will test your limits, push you to your breaking point, and reward you with some of the most stunning views to be had anywhere in the world. This is one of Peru’s most popular trekking destinations and the second deepest canyon in the world. Though it can be done as a two-day trek, I recommend taking 3 to 5 days to explore this unique and gorgeous location. For those who are on a budget, or who are just fiercely independent, let’s go over how to trek Colca Canyon without a guide.

I made a five-day trek through this beautiful Canyon back in December 2015, and to this day it is one of my most memorable trekking experiences. Something about the depth of the canyon, the colors of the desert landscape, and the unique combination of wilderness and Peruvian culture made this trek stick out in my mind. I did it without a guide and for under $200 and I’d love to share some of my insights with you.

Colca Canyon view from the top

View from the top.

All About Colca Canyon

Before we get started on the how, let’s get into the why. Colca Canyon is one of the most exceptional natural landscapes in Peru. And Peru is a country filled to the brim with jaw-dropping landscapes. But really, Colca Canyon sticks out among the rest.

Once billed as the deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon has since been forced to cede that crown to a nearby, but less well-known canyon. Still, second deepest canyon in the world just ain’t that bad, reaching a depth of 10,730ft (3,270m). As a comparison, the Grand Canyon in the United States is only 6,093ft deep.

Located about 8 hours from Arequipa, this Canyon sits below now dead volcanoes and is cut through by the Rio Colca. At the northern end of the Canyon sits the town of Chivay. Up here, the canyon is more of a fertile valley, characterized by small villages and ancient pre-Incan terracing.

As you travel south down the only road on the top of the canyon, you’ll pass by 56 different small villages. The river runs beside you through the valley until suddenly, just a few miles before the final town, it drops away and the canyon opens up below you. The last town perched on the edge of the canyon is Cabanaconde. This is the starting point for the trek.

Colca Canyon is home to a wide variety of unique flora and fauna, the most famous of which is the Andean Condor. This majestic bird can live 70 years and has a wingspan of up to 9 feet. In the Incan mythology, the flying Condor represents heaven.

The people who live in and around Colca Canyon come from two separate cultures: the Cabana culture are a Quechua speaking people, and the Collagua culture are an Aymara speaking people. They continue to live on the land to this day, practicing traditional culture and cultivating their pre-Incan terraces.

Plaza Central Cabanaconde

Central Plaza, Cabanaconde

How to Get to Colca Canyon

Your journey begins from Arequipa, a town that sits slightly inland from the ocean in the middle of a vast desert. You’ll want to get a bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. If you can’t find a time to Cabanaconde that works for you, you can get a bus to Chivay and transfer to a local bus that goes from Chivay to Cabanaconde.

From Arequipa, there are several bus companies that run to Cabanaconde. I took Turismo Milagros. Buses to Cabanaconde leave at a range of times, from about 1am until mid-morning. We took a 4am bus that got us to Cabanaconde in time for lunch.

Expect the entire bus journey to take upwards of 8 hours. This bus ride is long, reaches high elevations, and can get extremely cold. Bring a jacket! I didn’t have enough layers and I was freezing in the high elevations.

bus to Colca Canyon

The Itinerary: A 5 Day Trek in Colca Canyon Without a Guide

Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho – Tapay – Malata
Day 3: Malata – Fure – Llahuar
Day 4: Llahuar Hot Springs Day of Rest and Joy
Day 5: Llahuar – Cabanaconde

Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what to expect when you hike Colca Canyon without a guide.

Colca Canyon Views

View from the bus near Chivay

What to Pack for Colca Canyon

When I made this trek in 2015, I did it with a partner and we intended to hike completely unassisted. We had the advantage of being based out of the Cusco area where I was living for work at the time. I had brought all of my camping equipment with me when I moved to Peru, so we didn’t need to rent any gear.

For those who are traveling without tents and sleeping bags and stoves, there are guesthouses in certain towns in the valley. For more information about trekking Colca Canyon and staying in guesthouses, I recommended reading this blog post, or this one. You might also be able to rent tents and camping bags and such in Arequipa, but I’m not sure about that.

We carried all of our food into the canyon with us and were able to feed ourselves and cook our own meals until we got to Llahuar, which as you’ll read, by that point we were so starving and tired we were more than happy to pay 10 soles for a home-cooked meal.

For clothing, bring a couple layers. The canyon is in a desert and as such is primarily hot and dry but we did get a few drops rained down on us on the first day, and it got a little chilly at night. I appreciated having my fleece with me during the evenings.

Map of Colca Canyon Trek

Map of Colca Canyon. Yeah…

A note about maps: ideally you should always trek with a topographical, accurate map of the region where you’ll be hiking. To the best of my knowledge, one of those does not exist for this canyon. The best we could find was a cartoon map not drawn to scale. Hopefully, you have better luck.

Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho

Our bus from Arequipa dropped us off in the central plaza of Cabanaconde right around lunchtime. We grabbed a quick menu from a shop on the square then walked off to buy some cookies and head for the trailhead.

To get to the trailhead for San Juan de Chuccho, head back out of town up the paved road. After a little while, you’ll see a sort of church and a small soccer field with some bleachers on your left, the trailhead is behind that soccer field. Follow the footpath with hiking boot footprints in it.

colca canyon trail cabanaconde

It begins.

Pretty soon you should start to see some signs pointing you towards a Mirador, towards Tapay, and a kilometer indicator that reads 00. This is the beginning of the long, winding trail to the bottom of the canyon.

The trail begins by cutting along the side of the canyon, offering stunning views to the north and south, as well as a peek down to where you’ll end your day. After this easy beginning, the trail heads down and down and down. In places, it can be quite steep, with slippery loose rock underfoot.

All told, it took us about 3 hours to reach the bridge at the bottom of the canyon, but we may have been slowed down by our heavy packs and camping supplies.

When you reach the canyon floor, you’ll come to a bridge and find a representative who will check your boleto turistico. Cross the bridge and follow the path along the river until you reach San Juan de Chuccho.

bridge before san juan de chuccho colca canyon

Receiving words of wisdom from the keeper of the bridge.

For those hiking without camping gear, there are two guesthouses in San Juan de Chuccho, Roys house or Rivelina’s house. They are probably pretty similar. We camped in an open grassy area below Rivelina’s house and paid them 5 soles for the privilege. Since we brought our own food and camping stove, 5 soles was the total cost of our day.

Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Malata via Tapay

We woke early the next morning, ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal, and packed up our campsite. This would be our first full day of hiking in the canyon and we were pumped. As we headed out of San Juan de Chuccho, we struck up a conversation with a local who suggested we hike uphill to Tapay.

I’m sure they had a reason for suggesting this, but in retrospect, I cannot for the life of me remember what it could have been. Maybe the church? Or the views? Anyway, we decided to follow their advice, though it led to a day far more wild than what I had expected.

Colca Canyon without a guide

It was a hot day.

A small trail cuts off of the main road just outside of San Juan and heads uphill towards Tapay. I believe this may have been a local trail. There is a far more well defined and easier trail that heads to Tapay from the bridge from the day before, but we didn’t want to backtrack. Take the local trail, we thought. What could possibly go wrong?

We followed it up through some terraces and farmland, hiking as the sun rose above us and the day got hotter and hotter. We stopped at one point to dip our heads into some cool water flowing down from the mountains far above.

At some point in the terraces, our local trail failed us. It narrowed from a trail to a path, and a path to a “maybe that’s it over there…” and pretty soon we found ourselves climbing through terraces and working our way slowly uphill, trying to reassure each other that eventually, we’d come upon another road to Tapay.

Instead, we came upon a landslide.

Landslide below Tapay Colca Canyon

Yes, I hiked through that. No, it wasn’t a good idea.

Clearly quite recently, a large section of the earth that sat below Tapay had given up the game and come loose, descending into the canyon below in a rush of dust, stone, and heavy boulders. Most sensible people would see a landslide like this and decide to turn back, realizing that Tapay just wasn’t in the cards. We were not sensible people. We pushed on.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, do not do this. Landslides are incredibly dangerous, especially recent ones. You can never be certain that the rocks above you won’t come loose and come crashing down. Choosing to muddle our way up and across a fresh landslide was foolhardy and not worth the risk.

But that’s what we did. It took ages and was unbelievably hot, but we clambered through the freshly fallen silt, our feet sinking into the loose rock up to our knees until we finally worked our way up to the newly constructed road. From there it was a short and easy jaunt into Tapay.

Was Tapay worth a near-death experience? Absolutely not. It’s a small village with a cute church and nice views up and down the canyon. If you can take a regular and safe path to get there, go right ahead. If you decide to follow in my rambling and untrustworthy footsteps, then on your own head be it.

Finally in Tapay, we paused to take some photos and appreciate the view from the church plaza, ate a quick lunch, then descended down the far easier, and well-trafficked path that headed towards Cosñirhua. The little path took some tight switchbacks down then rejoined the road running along the side of the canyon. We followed this for the rest of the day, overlooking Cosñirua then finally stopping to camp for the night somewhere in the vicinity of Malata.

We camped in an unused terrace with the permission of the family living nearby. They were generous enough to let us sleep and cook in their fallow field for free. We bought some cookies and beer from their shop instead.

Colca Canyon without a Guide view from malata

Day 3: Malata to Llahuar via Fure

From Malata, we followed the main road up to a small rise, overlooking Sangalle, better known as the Oasis, down below us. Though the swimming pools and verdant green fields looked tempting, we were determined to experience the fringes of this deep canyon.

Turning our backs on the Oasis, we headed uphill towards Fure.

Fure is a small village tucked away rather far from the rest of the tourist trail. The draw of Fure is the waterfall that sits a further hour’s hike from the village itself. To get there from Malata, the trail was an undulating ribbon of rock cut through a dry and barren land.

We made it to Fure fairly late in the afternoon and although we began to hike down the trail towards the waterfall, we had to admit that we were pushing our luck. Our goal was to camp in Llahuar that evening, but it was certainly going to be at least 3 more hours of hiking until we got there.

Our plan was to hike to Llahuar today and spend tomorrow resting in the hot springs below the village. After the three incredibly intense days of hiking in the canyon, we both felt we deserved a bit of a break and a bit of a soak.

As we sat on some rocks next to the trail, we pondered our two options. Continue towards the waterfall and camp tonight somewhere near Fure, hiking to Llahuar tomorrow and forgoing our rest day, or forgo the waterfall now in favor of hot springs tomorrow?

Hiking from Fure to Llahuar in Colca Canyon

We chose the hot springs.

Abandoning the waterfall, we headed back through Fure. Though I hear that it has guesthouses and shops during the high traffic tourist season, in December of 2015 this village was a ghost town. The shops were closed, there was no sign of a guesthouse. If you arrived here without a guide and without campaign gear in mid to late December, you might find yourself without a place to sleep that night.

Slowly we made our way back down the hillside to Llahuar. It was a long and relentless hike, through farmland, down steep mountainsides, and along irrigation canals. My feet were sore and my legs were rubber by the time we saw Llahuar nestled among the cliffs down below us.

Llahuar Guesthouse

Llahuar Guesthouse

Llahuar itself is a great little village, with a hostel perched above the river and hot springs down below. We met the owner of the hostel, paid a small sum to camp on the grass near the hot springs, then headed up to her restaurant to have our first home cooked meal in two days. The fare was simple, but at the time I felt I had never eaten anything so extravagantly delicious.

meal in llahuar peruvian food papas y arroz con huevo

The best meal of my life.

I slept like a baby that night, eager in anticipation for my day of soaking in hot springs.

Day 4: Resting in Llahuar

Because of the madness of our previous three days of hiking, we made the executive decision to spend an entire day relaxing in the hot springs below Llahuar. It was the best decision we could possibly have made. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We bought some beers from the hostel and hung out in the steaming hot waters all day, soaking our sore muscles and preparing ourselves for our massive ascent up the canyon wall on the following day. When the water got too hot, we jumped into the icy rushing river below, then slipped back into the warm, sulfurous waters of the hot springs.

Llahuar Guesthouse colca canyon

Llahuar Guesthouse Views

It was heaven.

If you’re hiking Colca Canyon without a guide and have the extra time, I highly recommend taking a rest day in Llahuar. It is totally worth the 5 or 10 soles you’ll pay to camp and eat there.

Day 5: Llahuar to Cabanaconde

Resisting the urge to hitch a ride on the back of the pickup truck that was making the ride from Llahuar to Cabanaconde that morning, we packed up our bags, said goodbye to our elysian hot springs, and began the long and arduous climb up to Cabanaconde.

Up and up and up, that’s all you can expect from this day of hiking. The day gets hotter as the sun rises and you ascend the sheer, rocky, barren walls of the second deepest canyon in the world.

But have no fear, eventually, you’ll get to the top. And then you have to walk a further hour to get back to Cabanaconde.

I exaggerate, but it certainly felt that way after our five-hour climb out of the canyon.

Once back to Cabanaconde, we had a pretty difficult time finding a bus to take us back to Chivay, but I think that’s because it was in that weird time between Christmas and New Years when no one wants to work or do anything. After an hour or two of begging every truck that drove past, we hitch a ride sitting in the back of an open pickup truck.

From Chivay, it was pretty simple to hop onto the next bus for Arequipa. You can’t miss it. There will be at least five men shouting “Arequipa Arequipa Arequiiiiippaaaaaa” in your face the moment you walk in the door of the bus station.

The Takeaway: Colca Canyon is a Hikers Paradise

As with many of the hiking destinations in Peru, Colca Canyon is a treat and a half. Sheer rock walls, verdant green farmland, challenging trails and hospitable locals all make for a wonderful multi-day trek. Combine that with the fact that it’s totally doable without a guide and without real camping gear and you’ve got yourself a winner. Hiking Colca Canyon without a guide is fun, rewarding, and easy. Just do it.


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How to Hike Colca Canyon without a Guide - What to do in Peru

How to Hike Colca Canyon without a Guide - What to do in Peru

New Hampshire Hiking: Mt. Moosilauke from the Ravine Lodge

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

In my current quest to find as many excellent hiking trails near Boston as I can, I recently made the two-hour drive up to New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilauke via the Ravine Lodge route. Mount Moosilauke is the westernmost of New Hampshire’s 4000ft peaks. I reached the summit and came back down as a single day hike, though there is a shelter up near the summit and enough trails in the area that a two-day camping trip could be possible.

Though its peak reaches 4800ft, Mount Moosilauke is known locally as the “gentle giant” because of its long sloping shoulders and mild ascents. The name Moosilauke comes from the Native American Algonquin language and most likely translates to “Bald Place.” The summit is rocky and above the tree line, offering incredible views of New Hampshire, Vermont, and on a clear day, New York in the distance.

I hiked Moosilauke with my mom, after much research into family appropriate hikes. I wanted something that would be a fun challenge, without too much extremely technical hiking. I briefly considered planning a trip up to Acadia for some family-friendly hiking, but in the end we couldn’t find the time. Then, I discovered Mount Moosilauke.

Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

The History of Mount Moosilauke

Given that its name is of Native American origin, this mountain has clearly held significance for the local people of the area for many years. The mountain stands slightly alone, a short distance from the nearby ridges, stark and imposing in its prominence.

In the late 19th century, the Woolworth family acquired the mountain and constructed a structure on top, known as the Summit House. They also built a road to access the summit, known as the Carriage Road. This road is still in existence today as a hiking trail.

The Summit House operated as a hotel for many years, offering urbanites from Boston and New York the chance to take in the air from on high. Old photos show people from the early 20th century enjoying skiing and mountaineering across the peak of Moosilauke.

Alpine Region White Mountains

However, as with other regions of the White Mountains, conditions on the peak of Moosilauke are unreliable and dangerous, especially in the winter. Despite their best efforts to maintain the structure, it was eventually destroyed and never rebuilt.

In the mid-20th century, Dartmouth College acquired a large portion of the land on Mount Moosilauke, including the summit and southwestern side of the mountain. They constructed the Ravine Lodge at the base, originally intending it to be a ski area. That plan fell through but Dartmouth continues to run and maintain the trails on Mount Moosilauke today.

Appalachian Trail

How to Get to Mount Moosilauke from Boston

Mount Moosilauke is entirely possible as a day hike from Boston. Head north on I-93 until you reach Lincoln, NH. Take exit 32 towards NH – 112 and Woodstock. Follow 112 west until the junction with Route 118. Take the left onto 118 and continue until you see Ravine Lodge Road on your right. Drive uphill and find parking before the lodge.

On a quiet day, it should be possible to park near the lodge. The Ravine Lodge is run by Dartmouth College and offers dorms, meals, snacks, and a clean place to go to the bathroom or fill up a water bottle.

Hilariously, on the day my mom and I headed up to hike Mount Moosilauke, Dartmouth was having an inaugural party after finishing recent renovations on the lodge, so we had to park a mile down the road, adding two rather less scenic miles to our hike.

Dartmouth Ravine Lodge at Mount Moosilauke

Hiking Mount Moosilauke via the Gorges Brook Trail

Although there are several trails that ascend Mount Moosilauke, we chose to ascend via the Gorges Brook trail (or “George’s Brook Trail” as my mom kept calling it) and descend via the Carriage Road and Snapper Trail. It was a long yet gentle day of hiking that included nearly everything I love about hiking in New Hampshire: sweet-smelling pine forests, rocky scrambles, and stunning views.

From the Ravine Lodge, follow the signs pointing to “All Trails”. The road dips downhill to a wooden bridge crossing a small brook. From there, the trail turns uphill and begins a slow and steady ascent towards the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

Less than a mile into the hike, the trail forks, splitting into the Gorges Brook Trail on the right and the Snapper Trail on the left. We chose to hike up the Gorges Brook Trail. From the split, there is a short steep ascent to a ridgeline, then a slow, meandering walk through the pines. In several places, trees have been cut down to offer views of the sloping hillsides and mountains in the distance.

Gorges Brook Trail and Snapper Trail Moosilauke

Because the Ravine Lodge is already located halfway up the mountain, at about 2500ft, almost the entire hike is through the aromatic pine forests of New England’s Appalachian Mountains. Your hike will be distinguished by soft, muffled sounds; sweet, festive smells; and dappled sunlight.

Shortly before the summit, the trail opens up onto an exposed piece of rock. This is a false summit but in a few feet, the trail crests a hill and the true summit rises up before you. A short walk through some small pines and a gentle climb across an alpine meadow and you arrive at the top.

Moosilauke Summit

When I was there, the summit was bright, sunny, and windy. Bring a second layer! I would’ve been cold without my fleece jacket.

We had views of Franconia Notch and the Presidential Range to the east, as well as the Green Mountains in the west. Apparently, on a truly clear and crisp day, it’s possible to see all the way to the Adirondacks in New York.

Moosilauke Summit

Descending Mount Moosilauke via the Carriage Road

At the summit, the trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Following the Carriage Road down, you’ll head across the wide open summit and down along a ridge. This area is apparently popular as a backcountry ski route during the winters. It’s not super steep but just narrow enough to be a challenge.

Carriage Road Moosilauke

After a short while, the Appalachian Trail veers southwest towards the South peak and the Carriage Road continues down the mountain back towards the Ravine Lodge. The trail was fairly smooth for a New Hampshire hike: no scrambles or steps descents. I found it to be one of the easiest hikes on my knees that I’ve ever done in New England.

Back amongst the pines, the Carriage Road comes to an end and the Snapper Trail brings you back to the Gorges Brook Trail, and all the way back to the Ravine Lodge.

Gorges Brook Trail Mount Moosilauke

Including our lunch break and our two-mile walk to our car, it took my mom and I about 5.5 hours to finish this 8-mile loop. It was a gorgeous day of beautiful New England hiking and I highly recommend heading up to Mount Moosilauke if you’re looking for a new and different day hike from Boston.


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Hike Mount Moosilauke; a hiking guide for Mt. Moosilauke, one of New Hampshire's 4000 footers