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Five Fall New Hampshire Hikes

Trails for beginners and experts in the Granite State


View of the summit of Mount Lafayette. Photo by Chris Berdik. Article photos by Vicky Waltz

Let’s face it — the best view you’re going to get in Boston is from the top of the Prudential building. And you have to take an elevator to get there. But if you want to work a little harder for a breathtaking vista, consider a trip to New Hampshire. From the alpine summit of Mount Washington to the frigid waters of Gem Pool, the Granite State offers some of the best hiking in New England. And whether you’re a day-tripper or a long-distance peak-bagger, an old hand or a novice, you’re likely to find a variety of trails to suit your skills. Here, BU Today outlines five New Hampshire hikes, from easy to extremely challenging. So pick a mountain, lace up your boots, and hit the trail.

Before you head north, bear in mind that, while it may be warm and sunny in Boston, temperatures in the mountains will be a good 10 to 15 degrees lower than temperatures in the city. Although it’s early in the season, hikers will likely encounter snow and ice as they approach higher elevations. Remember to pack plenty of warm layers and food and lots of water. The White Mountains are famous for having the worst weather in the United States. For more information, click here.

Zealand Falls, Twin Mountain
A favorite hike of expert and novice climbers alike, this trail leads past beaver ponds, meadows, patches of trillium and pink lady slipper orchids, blueberry ledges, and marshes before ending at the 25-foot Zealand Falls and an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hut. The easy terrain and low elevation gain make it a perfect hike for children.

Rating: Easy
Distance and elevation gain: 5.6 miles and 650 feet
Book time: Three hours
The route: Take the Zealand Trail to the Twinway Trail, which ends at Zealand Falls and Zealand Falls Hut. Return by the same route.
Essential gear: Sturdy hiking boots, water, and snacks. Trekking poles are helpful but not necessary.
Driving time from Boston: Approximately three hours
Getting there: Take 1-93 North to Exit 35 (Route 3) toward Twin Mountain. At the intersection of Highways 3 and 302 in Twin Mountain, turn right onto U.S. Highway 302 East and follow for 2.1 miles to the entrance of Zealand Campground. Turn right onto Zealand Road, which passes two camping areas before its paved portion ends. The Zealand trailhead is 3.4 miles ahead, at the end of Zealand Road. Parking requires a White Mountain National Forest parking permit or paying a $3 fee.

Welch-Dickey Loop, Campton
A popular hike, in part because of its open ledges, panoramic vistas, and accessibility from I-93, the short but scenic Welch-Dickey Loop affords excellent views for moderate effort. Although the summits are not high (2,605 and 2,734 feet), they are fully exposed — likely the result of a wildfire — and are home to rare alpine plants, such as smooth sandwort, which blooms in late June and early July. The open ledges, although easy to climb when dry, can be treacherous when wet and should be avoided if it is raining.

Rating: Easy to moderate
Distance and elevation gain: 4.4 miles and 1,800 feet
Book time: Four hours
The route: From the trailhead, take the right-hand fork leading toward Welch Mountain. The ledges are steeper on this side and easier to ascend than descend. Follow the trail over Mount Welch and Mount Dickey before descending to the parking lot.
Essential gear: Sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water. Trekking poles could be useful, particularly on the descent.
Driving time from Boston: Approximately 2.5 hours
Getting there: Take I-93 North to Exit 28. Turn onto Route 49 and drive 6 miles. Turn left on Mad River Road for .7 miles, and then make a right onto Orris Road. The parking lot is .6 miles on the right. Parking requires a White Mountain National Forest parking permit or paying a $3 fee.

Mount Cardigan, Alexandria
Mount Cardigan is a great alternative for hikers who don’t want to drive all the way to the White Mountains. The 3,121-foot summit, also known as “Old Baldy,” sits high above the surrounding mountains, lakes, and towns and provides excellent views of the Whites, the Green Mountains, and Mount Monadnock. Cardigan’s bare summit — the result of a forest fire in 1855 — has extensive areas of granite ledges and alpine scrub, which gives it the feel of a much higher mountain.

Rating: Moderate
Distance and elevation gain: Six miles and 1,700 feet
Book time: Four to five hours
The route: From Cardigan Lodge, take the Manning Trail to the Firescrew summit. Turn left onto the Mowglis Trail and take it to the Cardigan summit. Return by the same route.
Essential gear: Sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water and snacks. Trekking poles are helpful but not necessary.
Driving time from Boston: Approximately 2.5 hours
Getting there: Take I-93 North to Exit 23. Go west on Route 104 for 5 miles. Turn right onto Route 3A and follow for 2 miles to a set of blinking lights at the intersection of West Shore Road. Turn left onto West Shore Road and continue straight at the mail routes that point toward Alexandria. Bear right at the junction of Fowler River Road. Stay on the paved Fowler River Road for 3.2 miles and bear left at the intersection with the gravel road. Continue 1.1 miles and turn right onto a gravel portion of the road, then bear right again in .1 mile. Follow 1.3 miles to Cardigan Mountain Lodge. The trailhead is at the lodge near the pond.

Lincoln-Lafayette Loop, Lincoln
This is a classic New Hampshire hike, combining the best that the White Mountains has to offer: a brook crossing, numerous waterfalls, scenic overlooks, three 4,000-foot summits, a ridegewalk, rare alpine plants, and a stop at an AMC hut. Two miles of the hike are above treeline, and extreme caution should be used, particularly in inclement weather. The exposed ridge is susceptible to high winds, storms, and severe lightning strikes.

Rating: Challenging
Distance and elevation gain: 8.9 miles and 3,900 feet
Book time: 6.25 hours
The route: At the trailhead, pick up the Falling Waters Trail and take it to the Franconia Ridge Trail at the summit of Little Haystack (4,780 feet). From Little Haystack, follow the Franconia Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Lincoln (5,089 feet) and the summit of Mount Lafayette (5,260 feet). All three summits provide panoramic views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Ascend Mount Lafayette and pick up the Greenleaf Trail, which leads to Greenleaf Hut. Here, hikers can use the restroom, refill water bottles, and purchase homemade soup and bread. From Greenleaf Hut, pick up the Old Bridle Path and take it to the trailhead.
Essential gear: Sturdy hiking boots, plenty of water and snacks, and lunch. Trekking poles could be useful, particularly when climbing the switchbacks on the Falling Waters Trail and when descending Old Bridle Path.
Driving time from Boston: Approximately 2.5 hours
Getting there: Take I-93 North to Exit 34B (Cannon Mountain Tramway) and make a U-turn. Drive back toward the Lafayette Campgrounds, exit right, and park at Lafayette Place. Walk under I-93 to get to the trailhead.

Northern Presidential Traverse, Gorham
More a concept than a specific hike, the Northern Presidential Traverse gives hikers the option of summiting New Hampshire’s highest mountains, including 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England. This is a rigorous but rewarding hike that should be attempted with extreme caution. Before embarking on the traverse, hikers should check weather forecasts and stock up on plenty of food, water, and warm clothing. Weather patterns in the White Mountains, particularly around Mount Washington, are unpredictable and often severe.

The heart of this hike traverses seven miles of stunning alpine scenery that stretches between Mount Madison and Mount Monroe, passing optional excursions to the summits of mounts Adams, Jefferson, Clay, and Washington. Much of the ridgewalk is completed via the rocky Gulfside Trail, which crosses miles of exposed ridge.

We recommend breaking the trip into three days and staying overnight at Madison Spring Hut and Lakes of the Clouds Hut, which are maintained by the AMC. The huts provide hikers with bunkrooms, dinner, and breakfast. Space is limited, and reservations are required. For more information on the huts, click here.

Rating: Extremely challenging
Distance and elevation gain: 13.5 to 17.5 miles and up to 4,100 feet
The route: Note: This hike requires spotting two cars — one at the Appalachia parking lot off of U.S. Highway 2 and one at the Base Road parking lot off of Route 302. Hikers can also park at the Highland Center off of Highway 302 and take the AMC’s shuttle bus to and from the designated trailheads. For more information on the shuttle, click here.

Day 1: From the Appalachia parking lot, take the Valley Way Trail to Madison Spring Hut. While other trails are more scenic, Valley Way is the most direct, most moderate, and most weather-resistant route. The trail is steep and rocky, with a 3,550-foot change in elevation. Upon reaching Madison Spring Hut, drop your pack and scramble to the 5,366-foot summit of Mount Madison. Descend by the same route.

Day 2: From Madison Spring Hut, take the Gulfside Trail to Thunderstorm Junction, a massive cairn that stands nearly 10 feet high. From here you have the option of summiting 5,774-foot Mount Adams. Continue on the Gulfside Trail to Edmond’s Col, where you can choose to go to the top of 5,712-foot Mount Jefferson. At the Sphinx Col, you can summit 5,533-foot Mount Clay. From there, continue on the Gulfside Trail across the Cog Railway to the summit of Mount Washington and descend by Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds Hut.

Day 3: From Lakes of the Clouds Hut, take the Crawford Path to the 5,384-foot summit of Mount Monroe. Descend by the same route. Take the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to the parking lot on Base Road. The trail crosses many waterfalls, and Gem Pool, a lovely, albeit frigid, swimming hole.

Essential gear: A pack for multiday hikes, enough food and water for three days, a sleeping bag, clothing for all types of weather, and a first-aid kit. Trekking poles are useful.
Driving time from Boston: Approximately 3.5 hours
Getting there:
To Appalachia: Take 1-93 North to Exit 35 (Route 3) toward Twin Mountain. Turn right onto NH-115 and follow for 9.7 miles. Make a slight right on U.S. Highway 2. The Appalachia trailhead is on the left, about 6 miles west of Gorham.
To Base Road: Take 1-93 North to Exit 35 (Route 3) toward Twin Mountain. At the intersection of Highways 3 and 302 in Twin Mountain, turn right onto U.S Highway 302 and take to the trailhead.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

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