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

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.

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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 Camels Hump Via Monroe & Long Trail

Adventure Travel, United States, Vermont

The wind ripped through the trees and we stared up at the jagged peak just visible through the pines. I wasn’t aware that any mountain in New England could look that ominous. Maybe, I thought to myself, this wasn’t such a great idea for our first hike together.

My boyfriend Erich and I were climbing Camel’s Hump, a jagged and beautiful peak in Vermont’s Green Mountains. But what started as a simple day hike was turning into something far more strenuous.

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What Is Camel’s Hump Mountain?

Camel’s Hump is the third highest mountain in Vermont, standing at 4,083 ft. Though it sits lower than nearby Mt. Mansfield or Killington, Camel’s Hump is by far the most recognizable peak in the Green Mountains due to it’s intriguingly shaped peak. The mountain’s unique shape was carved by glaciers many, many years ago.

The first people to name the mountain were the indigenous tribe known as the Abnaki who lived in the Green Mountains. They called it “Ta Wal Be Dee Esso Wadso” which has been translated a number of ways but my favorite is “Prudently, we make a campfire in a circle near water (and rest) at this mountain.” But probably the more reasonable translation is “resting place”.

Then the French showed up in the colonial period and besides ruining everything with diseases and capitalism, they called the mountain “Le Lion Couchant” or the resting lion. And although we all should have quit while we were ahead, the English apparently didn’t feel the mountain was quite as majestic as a lion so they renamed it Camel’s Rump and finally, Camel’s Hump.

I personally am of the opinion that we ought to go back to “Prudently, we make a campfire in a circle near water at this mountain” because that’s what we all really want to do there, anyway.

Descend camels hump via the monroe trail

Our Adventurous Hike up Camel’s Hump

The morning of the hike to Camel’s Hump dawned clear and cool. It was Memorial Day Weekend and this would be my first time hiking with my boyfriend Erich, and his first New England 4k footer. I knew the hike would be 7 miles long over some rugged terrain and I wanted to get going early. I had fraught memories of the slightly stressful Franconia Notch hike with my mother last fall.

So, much to Erich’s chagrin, I was out of bed at 6:30, making coffee and preparing our lunch. Yet despite my best intentions, things never move as quickly as you think they should in the morning. We didn’t hit the road until 8:30.

We headed for the Monroe Trailhead, a great access point if you’re interested in a mix of moderate to challenging New England hiking. Arriving at 9:30, we parked in the overflow lot. I was a bit worried we’d end up behind the crowds but we found the main lot nearly empty. Clearly, the sense of urgency I felt in Franconia Notch was not to be found on the laid back slopes of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Erich and I headed into the woods.

Monroe Trail up Camels Hump

The Monroe to Dean Trail

Stepping onto the trail, the deciduous forest enveloped us and the world of cars, cities, smog, and corporate greed dropped away. My vision was imbued with the vibrant green of sunlight filtered through early spring leaves. Beech trees and oak rustled in the wind. Saplings reached up towards the sun.

The trail began to work its way up the mountainside gradually. There are a few steep spots at the beginning but nothing to fret about. The first mile passed by quickly and we found ourselves at a fork with the Dean Trail splitting off to the left, and the Monroe Trail continuing on ahead.

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Taking a seat on a rock to break into our first snacks, Erich asked me, “So, how close are we to the top?”

It was my first hint of that perhaps I hadn’t chosen the most sensible hike for his first. Perhaps someone with greater empathy would have chosen a lower peak, a less exposed mountain, a less challenging hike.

“We aren’t close yet at all.”

Hey. At least I’m not a liar.

Hiking Camel’s Hump via the Long Trail as an introduction to New England hiking was the rough equivalent of watching a child flounder in the deep end of the swimming pool.

Dean Trail up Camels Hump

From the fork, we headed for the far less trafficked Dean Trail, which continued the previous trend of gently heading up the mountain. The trail was narrow and overgrown. Easy to follow but clearly not much used. It wound through wetlands and reached up into the liminal area between deciduous and pine forests where both types of tree vie for the attention of the sun above. A few more gentle inclines, and we had entered the spruce forest: one of the most delicious environments in New England. The air smells like Christmas. The ground is soft and springy beneath your feet and the entire forest feels like it is holding its breath.

Coming around one curve we found a smaller offshoot peeling off to the right and into a small clearing. Directly across the field, we could see the peak of Camel’s Hump rising above the treeline. A bank of clouds rolled across the summit on the wind, obscuring the rocks from view.

I consoled myself that we still had at least another hour of hiking to go before we reached the summit. Hopefully, the cool air and fog would clear before then. I didn’t relish the idea of Erich’s first summit lacking the views.

Back to the Dean Trail and it wasn’t too much further before we hit the intersection with the Long Trail.

Long Trail to Camels Hump

Taking the Long Trail to Camel’s Hump

For the uninitiated, the Long Trail is America’s oldest thru-hike. A 270-mile relentless trek through the Green Mountains of Vermont. It famously lacks switchbacks and mercy. Still, somehow, I thought it would be a great introduction to hiking in New England.

This hike would be my first time setting foot on the Long Trail. I’d heard stories of this trail from my dad; how challenging it could be, how beautiful, how the old Yankees had cut the trail straight up the side of a rugged mountain without regard for future hikers knees.

Excitement bubbled up within me. I was finally here! Walking on the Long Trail.

The intensity picked up immediately. Where the Dean Trail had crossed a saddle on the side of the mountain, the Long Trail headed north, straight up the spine and onto the first ridge. Before long, we were scrambling up granite boulders taller than our heads.

Coming up over the first scramble, I found myself on an exposed outlook, a ragged shelf of granite jutting out between the pine trees. The wind blew fast and hard into my face as I stared out over the Appalachian landscape. We were facing east, towards the parallel ridge of the Green Mountains and in the distance, New Hampshire.

I turned around to celebrate this first viewpoint with Erich only to find him sitting by the edge of the trail several feet away from the edge, looking shaken. I had forgotten he had a fear of heights and didn’t love the wind.

“I’m fine,” he asserted, “I’m just going to stay over here.”

green mountain photo

We continued. The trail remained rugged, cutting straight up the side of the mountain through jagged granite boulders. The footing and scrambling required no small amount of creativity. The trail ran mostly through the trees, sheltered from the wind, but at times the trail was wide open; granting stunning views of the surrounding mountains but exposing us to the increasingly high winds.

The Long Trail’s approach to the summit of Camel’s Hump accentuates a peculiar feature of the mountain’s geography: the trail ascends to a false summit before dipping down towards a saddle then ascending once more in a final, steep lurch to the top.

Just before that dip in the saddle, a clearing opened in the pines above us. We were granted a glimpse of the summit. It felt present. Imposing. It commanded respect and no small amount of fear. The wind howled around us. The jagged, sharp, dark grey granite rocks stood out ominously from the swirling gray sky. From this angle, it appeared we would need to scramble straight up the side of the cliff to reach the summit.

Quite an introductory hike you choose, Megan.

Green Mountain views from Camels Hump Vermont

We wound through the pines as the wind raged around us and we steeled ourselves for the final ascent. It would be exposed, windy, a little dangerous, and would involve plenty of scrambling. I had known when I planned the trip that this trail would be challenging but I’d had no concept of just how intense this final stretch would be.

We headed into the pines, climbing a giant’s staircase made of granite through the trees, sometimes reaching up to hold onto roots and trunks as we hauled ourselves up the steep trail.

With the summit in sight, the trees disappeared and we faced the final challenge: an exposed, wind-whipped scramble along sheer granite rocks, the white blaze of the long trail painted just often enough for us not to get lost. We clung to the boulders as we navigated sideways and upwards towards the summit.

Coming over the top of the final rise, we found a group of hikers cowering against the wind, tucked into crevasses and any sheltered place atop the windy, exposed summit. As we pulled on our jackets I looked over at Erich. I must admit I was moderately afraid I’d find him in shambles, cowed by the height and the wind. Had I permanently traumatized him?

He already had his phone out to take pictures of the view.

Wildflowers in Vermonts Green Mountains

The fog we’d seen from the valley below had vanished on the wind. The summit offered a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. Lake Champlain stretched to the west, with the distant Adirondacks a blue ridge beyond. To the east, the low lying Green Mountains sat closest while the White Mountains rose above them in the far distance. North, Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak, stood proud but shadowy, it’s summit wrapped in fog.

We sat for a few minutes, swapping encouragement and jokes with the few other hikers present, enjoying that strange camaraderie that comes from reaching the summit of a mountain at the same time.
Something about the mountain transforms you from strangers to companions, sharing an appreciation of the surrounding splendor and the struggle you went through simply to be there.

At last, buffeted about by the wind and more than a little worried that our accessories or even entire backpacks might be blown off the mountain, we raised ourselves into low crouches and headed down the rocky summit and back to the relative safety of the pine-covered trail.

Views from Camel's Hump Summit

Descending via the Monroe Trail

Since I have a strange aversion to out and back hiking, we descended via the Monroe Trail. This was starkly different from our Long Trail ascent.

On the way up we had been alone, the sole hikers on the trail. This descent was more like walking down a hill in a city park. The trail was crowded with rambunctious groups of college kids, young adults, avid hikers, and families bounding up the mountain.

The solitude gone, we walked down the trail with everyone else, pausing now and again to let the faster hikers pass us. As with most hikes, the descent always feels just a bit longer than the ascent. Legs are tired now, knees are starting to ache, feet to sting, and what should feel like the easiest part of the hike begins to present its own unique challenges as the pain of the day makes itself known.

Still, the trail was comfortable and not overly steep. We descended swiftly and were back at the car by 2pm.

All that was left for the day was to find a good spot for some post-hike pizza and craft beer.


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Hike Camel's Hump in Vermont's Green Mountains via the Long Trail

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

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

Franconia Ridge Trail: One of the Best Hikes in New Hampshire

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

Visit New England and you’ll face one unavoidable truth: the Appalachian Mountains just aren’t that big. This might lead you to assume that hiking in New Hampshire is easy. Yet if you assumed this, you would be wrong. Trails in New Hampshire are some of the toughest I’ve ever encountered. Most especially, one of the best hikes in New Hampshire: the Franconia Ridge Trail.

There is something special about hiking in New Hampshire. I love the way the forest changes as you ascend up the mountains, going from leafy green deciduous trees; to pine forests; to sparse, high alpine environments with little cover and excellent views. Once you enter the mountains in New Hampshire, you are transported to another world.

Few places are as good for that as the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains.

Falling Waters Trailhead Parking

Trailhead and Parking

All About the Franconia Ridge Trail

Before I get ahead of myself and start gushing all about how much I love this trail. Let’s just go over some of the fine print.

The Franconia Ridge Trail traverses the Franconia Ridge (surprising, I know) from Mt. Flume at the southern end, all the way up to Mt. Lafayette to the north. In between the two peaks, it summits Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack Mountain, and Mt. Lincoln. The section from Mt. Liberty to Mt. Lafayette is also included in the storied Appalachian Trail.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this trail, apart from the views, is the biodiversity. From Mt. Flume to Little Haystack, the trail passes through pine forests typical of New Hampshire. In here, it smells like Christmas and the air is blanketed with silence. From the peak of Mt. Haystack, the trail emerges into a high alpine environment where low shrubs and lichen reign supreme. This is an exceedingly delicate environment. Though small, many of these plants take years if not decades to grow. But it’s not all doom and gloom up here. Not only are the plants quiet fragile; they are also quite short. This means more views for us hikers.

The views from the top of Franconia Ridge are breathtaking. To the east, you can look down into the remote Pemigawasset Wilderness and across to the rolling peaks of the Bondcliff Trail. To the north, you’ll see the rest of Franconia ridge rising above you. And to the west sit the Kinsman and Canon ranges, as well as the steep cliffs of Franconia Notch, former home of the Old Man in the Mountain. (RIP)

The tricky thing about the Franconia Ridge Trail is that it never intersects with a road or parking area. Given that it sits on the top of one of the highest ridges in New Hampshire, that kind of makes sense. So for us intrepid hikers hoping to best this trail in a single day, we face a small problem: in order to enjoy this hike, we must first ascend to it.

A word of caution before we keep going: because the Franconia Ridge Trail is high and exposed, it can be particularly dangerous during harsh weather conditions. Up there, hikers are prone to lightning strikes and at the mercy of strong winds. The weather in the White Mountains is highly changeable so be sure to check reports before hiking. If you see clouds coming into the ridge, better to delay your hike until another day.

Waterfall in the White Mountains

Waterfall #3 on the Falling Waters Trail

Hiking Franconia Ridge Trail as a Day Hike: Planning the Trip

When my mom recently had the idea to spend a weekend on the trails, I knew I wanted to tackle the best hike in New Hampshire: my beloved Franconia Ridge Trail. The only problem was, I’d never done it as a day hike before.

Usually, I include the Franconia Ridge Trail as part of the Pemigawasset Loop, a 2 to 4-day backpacking journey that combines the Franconia Ridge with the Bond Ridge for a truly epic experience. But mom wasn’t game for a camping trip, so it’d have to be a day hike.

Luckily, there was an obvious loop that began and ended at a parking lot off of the Franconia Notch Parkway called Lafayette Place.

We’d hike up the Falling Waters Trail (because I suppose Waterfall Trail was just too obvious) for three miles to the peak of Little Haystack Mountain. From there, follow Franconia Ridge trail for 1.7 miles to the peak of Lafayette. Then hike down Greenleaf Trail to the Greenleaf Hut (open May to October), and finally, down the Old Bridle Path for 2.8 miles and back to our car.

Great. I had the whole day planned.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I need to talk about my boots.

Prior to this trip, the soles of my hiking boots had started to fall off. They were old boots and I knew I ought to get them resoled but I was unorganized and didn’t. In lieu of a cobbler, I bought something called “Shoe Goo” at REI and tried to glue the soles of my boots back onto my boots.

And up until the morning of our Franconia Ridge hike, it seemed to have worked.

Just to be safe, I used some duct tape to secure the heels. I considered bringing the duct tape with me, but the glue seemed secure and I didn’t want to add the weight to my day pack. I left the tape at home and we headed for the mountains.

IMG_20170924_103600

Waterfall #2 on the Falling Waters Trail

Hiking the Best Hike in New Hampshire: Our Epic Day on the Franconia Ridge Trail

Given that this would be a long day, hiking 9 miles through tough New Hampshire terrain, we wanted to get started bright and early.

So, of course, we arrived at the trailhead at 10am. Oh well.

Mom had convinced herself and, reluctantly, me that we ought to hike up the Old Bridle Path and back down the Falling Waters trail. I thought it was a bad idea but the guidebook suggested it so that was what mom wanted to do. Thankfully, there were some Park Rangers at the trailhead there to convince my mom that indeed we ought to hike UP the Falling Waters trail and come down the Bridle Path. NOT the other way around. Good.

For those following along at home, the Falling Waters Trail is by far the steeper of the two. If you’re going to tackle this loop as a day hike, I highly recommend ascending via the Falling Waters Trail. Old Bridle Path makes for a lovely descent.

Part 1: Falling Waters Trail

So it began. We headed up the three-mile Falling Waters Trail. The trail starts off as a meandering path through deciduous forests. Maple, beech, and oak trees grow thickly on the lower slopes of the mountain and the trail ascends slowly, following the path of a small brook.

After perhaps a mile of hiking, maybe a bit more, we reached the first waterfall. It featured large granite slabs with water gushing over the crest and a massive group of college kids clambering all over it. I don’t have a photo of that one.

Somewhere in between falls number one and two, we hit our first obstacle of the day. Remember how I had used “shoe goo” to glue my boots together? Remember how I said they seemed fine?

I was wrong.

As I climbed up a large granite boulder, I felt something catch underneath my foot. Looking down, I was dismayed to find that I was standing on the toe of my sole. In fact, the toe had detached itself and curled backward underneath my foot. The heel and mid-section were still in place.

Good thing I brought that duct tape… Oh, no, I left that duct tape at home. The only adhesive I had with me was the box of overlarge bandaids I’d brought to tape up the growing blister on the back of my right heel.

Sorry blister. I used the band-aids to secure the sole to the toe of my boot. And it worked. For a time.

From here, the trail began to get a bit steeper but nothing too crazy. A little bit of boulder scrambling, but that’s to be expected in New Hampshire. The second and third waterfalls followed in quick succession. Both were excellent specimens. Taller than the first, the water cascaded down ladders of granite with pine and maple trees growing out of the sides.

Somewhere in this section, the toe of my other boot decided that it didn’t want to live anymore. Taking out two more band-aids, I secured the offending article. But the boots were wet and the band-aids didn’t want to play. I needed another solution. Something that would force the sole of my boot to stay attached to my foot. I removed my hair elastic from my hair and used it to secure the toe.

It worked. But it also meant I would spend the rest of the day hiking with my long hair down, drenched in sweat, and clinging to my neck, cheeks, forehead, and eyes. What’s a girl to do?

Not too long after the third waterfall, the trail begins to ascend quickly through a series of switchbacks. If you’re imagining the type of smooth, graded switchbacks that characterize most hiking everywhere else on the planet, you’d be wrong. This is New Hampshire. Our switchbacks feature scrambling up boulders and jumping from one massive granite slab to the next.

Finally, just below the summit, as the pines were starting to thin and we hesitantly said out loud to each other, “I think we might be almost there” the trail took a sharp turn in the direction of outer space and climbed directly up the mountain all the way to the summit.

Out of breath, sweating, and shielding our eyes from the harsh sunlight above the treeline, we reached the top of Little Haystack Mountain. I turned around to take in the view and immediately my heart stopped in my chest.

The valley swept away far, far below me. The granite wall of Franconia Notch opened up to the north. Turning my eyes to follow the trail, I saw a dusty brown line cutting across the top of a dramatic ridge, leading up to the peak of Mt. Lincoln.

We had reached the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Best Hikes in New Hampshire Franconia Ridge Trail

Mom hiking towards Mt. Lafayette

Part 2: Hiking 1.7 miles of the Franconia Ridge Trail

The top of Little Haystack is comprised mainly of large flat slabs of granite scattered everywhere like so many marbles. We chose a likely looking spot to have a rest and a snack before tackling the ridge.

A word of caution: it was very windy up there. As long as we were hiking, I was perfectly comfortable in my t-shirt and leggings. But as soon as we sat down, I needed my jacket.

I guess the good thing about the wind was that it dried out my sweaty, disgusting hair.

From Little Haystack, the trail dropped down into the saddle before heading up to Mt. Lincoln. There is a small rise in the middle of the saddle, really quite tiny, and then the trail ascends steeply up to the summit of Lincoln at 5,089 feet. From here, the trail is visible all the way to Lafayette.

From Mt. Lincoln the trail drops somewhat steeply down to the saddle where there is another hump and then a small grove of low-lying pine trees. If you are ever unlucky enough to be caught up on the ridge in a storm, this is the best spot to take cover.

The final ascent, though not as steep as the ascent to Lincoln, is slightly longer, and by this point, my legs were pretty tired. The trail also gets a little difficult to follow. You’re not going to accidentally walk off the mountain or anything, but try to keep your eyes open for the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail marker. This is a sensitive environment and erosion is a big issue. Stepping off of the path has wider implications than meet the eye.

The top of Lafayette is glorious. Franconia Notch is below you to the west. Garfield Mountain rises to the north and seemingly all of the Appalachian Mountains stretch away in many different directions. At 5,260m, this is one of the tallest peaks in New Hampshire and the absolute tallest in the Franconia Notch area. For this reason alone, this is one of the best hikes in New Hampshire.

This was also the highest point of the hike. It was all downhill from here.

Franconia Ridge Trail from Mt Lafayette

View from Lafayette looking back towards Lincoln and Liberty in the distance.

Part 3: Greenleaf Trail to Greenleaf Hut or the Death of Megan’s Boots

It was beautiful on top of Lafayette but still very windy and I didn’t much fancy trying to make sure my sandwich didn’t fly away while I ate it. Mom and I decided to postpone our lunch until we reached the relative shelter of the Greenleaf Hut.

Going into the descent we both felt pretty optimistic. The hard part was over, the hut was only a mile away, and the trail didn’t look particularly challenging.

But it’s right when you start to feel comfortable that it all goes to shite, amirite?

Not even a quarter of a mile into the descent, I tripped, catching something under my right foot. I look down, and the sole of my shoe, freed from the confines of its band-aid restraints, had completely detached itself from my foot. Indeed, the sole of my boot was on its own. Follow its own manifest destiny. It was flying solo. It was rogue one.

And I’m out of band-aids. Well, shit.

IMG_20170924_161517

View from the Old Bridle Path

I grab my troublesome sole and shove it into my backpack.

For those of you who are curious, hiking down a steep mountain covered in slippery granite boulders in a shoe that has absolutely no traction is about as fun as you’d think it would be. It’s terrible.

Still, I’m a trooper and I’ve been through worse. I pushed on, hoping that if I got to the hut I could find something that would hold my boots together at least for the rest of the hike.

Boot issue aside, the hike down from Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut was enjoyably scenic. It’s fairly exposed for the first half mile or so, then it begins to wind in and out of some low pine forests. Just before the hut, the trail dips down into a small valley by a pond.

It was about here that the sole politely removed itself from my second boot. I assume it didn’t want to be left out of this bid for freedom by sole number one.

I gazed up at the Hut above it. It was my only hope.

As soon as I reached the hut, I started chatting with an Irish couple we’d run into on the ridge. I showed them my boots. Full of concern, they reached into their bag and pulled out a roll of scotch tape. I wasn’t sure it would hold up but thought it was better than nothing. She very kindly told me to keep it, just in case. I thanked her profoundly and ducked inside.

The hut was packed. All the groups of college kids and campers were milling about, getting some snacks and replenishing their drinking water. For those who don’t know, these huts are kind of like rudimentary mountain hotels. They are run by an organization called AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) and offer beds, hot meals, snacks, some supplies, and running water. Reservations are most definitely needed if you want a bed but if you just need somewhere to take a break, you’re very welcome. The huts are open usually from May to October.

I sat down at an open table and started taping up my boots.

“Having boot problems?” I heard from across the table. I looked up and a guy sitting further down had noticed my desperate attempts to reconnect my boot with its sole.

“I think I have some electrical tape if you’d rather use that?”

I accepted. If not duct tape, electrical tape was the next best thing. He handed me a brand new roll of tape and told me to keep it, just in case.

boots destroyed on franconia ridge trail

That, my friends, is trail magic.

Part 4: The Old Bridle Path Home

With my boots now fixed up, mom and I downed our wet, soggy, and unbelievably delicious sandwiches and headed out to finish the hike. A sign inside the hut warned that it would take another 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the bottom. That seemed a bit rich to me, the trail was only 2.8 miles from here! But who was I to second guess the sign?

The Bridle Path

The Old Bridle Path

Going down from the hut, the trail follows a ridge, with some exposed sections of trail offering gorgeous lookouts back up at Franconia Ridge. Steep in places, it was nowhere near as steep as the Falling Waters Trail from this morning.

After just a little under two hours, mom and I had made it back down to the parking lot. We had sore feet but full hearts. We gratefully hopped back into the car and drove back to our condo where warm showers and clean clothes awaited us.

Best Hike in New Hampshire: Franconia Ridge Trail with Falling Waters and Bridle Path At-A-Glance

  • Total Distance: 8.9 miles
    • Falling Waters Trail: 3.2 miles
    • Franconia Ridge Trail: 1.7 miles
    • Greenleaf Trail: 1.1 miles
    • Old Bridle Path: 2.9 miles
  • Total Time: 6 – 8 Hours
  • Highest Point: Mt. Lafayette, 5,260ft (1,600m)
  • Lowest Point: Lafayette Place Trailhead: 1,900ft (580m)

How to get there: From Lincoln, New Hampshire, drive north on Interstate 93 for about 7 miles until the Lafayette Place Trailhead and Campground exit. Parking is on the right. If the lot is full, parking is available on the street or on the other side of the road. U-turns are not possible on the highway, next exit is 3 miles further north on I-93/Rt. 3.


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Franconia Ridge Trail: One of the Best Hikes in New Hampshire, USADiscover Franconia Ridge Trail: A Beautiful Day Hike in New Hampshire's White Mountains

Red Hill Trail: A Scenic Hike Near Lake Winnepesaukee

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, United States

There are few things in life as satisfying as a fall hike in New England. This September, I was lucky enough to hike up Red Hill Trail, an easy hike in New Hampshire near Lake Winnipesaukee.

There is something magical in the scent of the pines, dirt, and the unique smell of deciduous leaves bursting into color. It reminds me of childhood days spent jumping into leaf piles. Of the start of a new school year. Of going for walks in the woods with my high school boyfriend.

As a native New Englander, there is something in my soul which sings when September rolls around. There’s no denying I love a good fall hike in New England.

If you’re looking for easy hiking trails near Lake Winnipesaukee, I recommend visiting the Red Hill Trail. While it isn’t especially long, steep, or difficult, the view at the top is the real reward of this little jaunt. It’s a short 3.5 mile walk total, absolutely doable in a morning or an afternoon.

Red Hill Trail Information

All About the Red Hill Trail in New Hampshire

The best thing about this hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee is the view from the top. But the trail also has an interesting origin story worth mentioning.

Long ago, there were a group of families that struggled to maintain farms on this rocky slope. Red Hill Trail was first built to serve as a road leading up to these houses. Keep your eye out as you hike up the trail and you might find the remaining foundations from one of their root cellars.

Later, the trail was a converted into a jeep road providing access to the fire tower that sits atop of Red Hill. Today, the path is only a hiking trail. But because it was once a road, the trail isn’t particularly steep, though you’ll still feel your heart beating as you walk up the slope.

Red Hill Trail New Hampshire

The trail cuts through 2,000 acres of protected land. The land is protected by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust and covers the towns of Moultonborough and Sandwich. Aside from being a nice place to go for an afternoon hike, this land is also home to a surprisingly wide array of wildlife, including moose, bear, deer, woodcock, songbirds, and ruffed goose.

Named Red Hill for its color in the fall, this trail is an exceptionally good hike in New Hampshire for taking in the fall foliage. Even when I hiked it in mid-September, the trees at the top were beginning to burst into color.

Just a word of warning: camping, overnight use, fishing, and wheeled vehicles are not allowed on Red Hill.

Best Hiking Trail Near Lake Winnipesaukee

Trail Report of Red Hill Trail

Red Hill Trail is only one of a few trails that crisscross Red Hill. It is also probably the most popular, with the somewhat more challenging Eagle Cliff Trail coming in second.

This short hike near Lake Winnipesaukee is only 1.7 miles in one direction, 3.5 miles total. The trail climbs a total of 1,370 feet. So while the trail isn’t steep, you’ll still gain a bit of elevation.

Beginning from the parking lot, the trail meanders through a new growth forest along the bottom of the hill. Cross the fire road and then the ascent begins. The slope is consistent and you’ll be walking uphill the entire way.

As you ascend, you’ll pass through beautiful deciduous forests. Eagle-eyed hikers may be able to spot some wildlife, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. The day that I hiked it, my friend and I heard some rustling in the underbrush but weren’t able to see anything for ourselves.

Near the top, you’ll see a sign for the Eagle Cliff Trail, the second most popular hiking trail on Red Hill. From there, you’re nearly to the top of the hill. Just a bit further on, you’ll pass a wooden shed and you’ve arrived.

View of Lake Winnisquam from Red Hill Trail

Climb up to the platform of the fire tower to take in the breathtaking views from the top of Red Hill. You’ll see Lake Winnipesaukee to the southeast, Lake Squam in the west, to the north is the Sandwich Range, and further afield the Ossipee Range and Franconia Notch are to the east.

I happily spent about 30 minutes up there snapping pictures and basking in the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.

When you’ve had your fill of the view, head back down the way you came to finish off your 3.5-mile hike near Lake Winnipesaukee. All told it took us about 2.5 to 3 hours.

Fall Colors from Red Hill Trail near Lake Winnipesaukee

How to Get to Red Hill Trail

To get to Red Hill Trail from Center Harbor head down Route 25. Just 0.1 miles east of the junction with 25B, turn north into Bean Road at the traffic light. Follow Bean Road for 1.4 miles then make a right only Sibley Road. Follow Sibley Road for 1.1 miles, until it meets Old Red Hill Road. Make a left, and continue down Old Red Hill Road for about 0.25 miles. The parking lot will be on your right and is marked with a small sign.

It took us a comically long time to find the trailhead but it really is very easy to find. I absolutely loved this trail, not too difficult, but not so easy as to feel like a walk in the park. The view from the top was one of the best views I’ve seen in awhile. If you’re in the Lake Region of New Hampshire and you’re looking for an easy hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee, I encourage you to check out the Red Hill Trail.


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Trail Report for Red Hill Trail: An easy and scenic hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire Trail Report for Red Hill Trail: An easy and scenic hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire