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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Six Spectacular Days In New Hampshire's White Mountains

New Hampshire's White Mountains, encompassing more than a quarter of the Live Free or Die state and home to New England's tallest mountain peak, are a wickedly rugged region with more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails, towering granite peaks, crystal clear rivers and beautiful lakes. Its Presidential Range hosts the largest connected area of alpine tundra in the US east of the Rocky Mountains. Here, nine peaks have been named in honor of former US Presidents. Its tallest peak, Mount Washington, at times experiences wind speeds strong enough to quite literally blow hikers right off their feet. 160.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail winds through the state and features more above treeline miles than any other trail state. I've been hiking in the Whites for years and below is my favorite itinerary that I've ever put together. The photos are a patchwork of pictures taken over the years


Day 1: Crawford Notch

Mount Willard (3.1 miles/900')
Arethusa Falls & Beamis Brook (2.8 miles/800')

I started this trip with an easy warm-up for the upcoming days by hiking to the summit of Mount Willard. The trail, starting on the opposite side of the train tracks at Crawford Station next to the AMC Highland Center, is relatively rocky and maintains a steady incline throughout. Once at the summit's cliffs, you'll be treated to a sweeping panorama of the gorge, Saco River, Mount Willey, and Mount Jackson. Renowned as one of the most rewarding hikes for the effort in the White Mountains, Mount Willard is part of a mountain pass situated between the Presidential and Franconia Ridges.


Originally named Mount Tom after Thomas Jefferson Crawford, it was later changed to Mount Willard in honor of Thomas' climbing companion, Joseph Willard. Crawford Notch, initially known as White Mountain Notch, derives its name from Abel Crawford and his sons Ethan Allen and Thomas Jefferson, early pioneers of the White Mountains who played a pivotal role in establishing a tourist industry in the region. In a historical note, Ethan Allen and his father are credited with creating the first iteration of the Crawford Path in 1819, recognized as America's oldest continuously maintained hiking trail. Today, the trail extends from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mount Washington, forming part of the Appalachian Trail.


Mount Willard New Hampshire

After Mount Willard, I took a ten-minute drive south to reach the Arethusa Falls Trailhead. Regarded as one of the most beautiful hikes in the White Mountains, the trail meanders through a dense hemlock forest, culminating in the highlight—the stunning 140-foot Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire's tallest waterfall.


Edward Tuckerman, an American botanist and professor celebrated for his contributions to the study of lichens and alpine plants, first discovered these falls. Mount Washington's Tuckerman Ravine was named in his honor. Arethusa Falls draws its name from a nymph in Greek mythology who fled her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and emerged as a freshwater fountain on the island of Ortygia in Sicily.


Arethusa Falls New Hampshire

Afterward, I ended up camping at the Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park, about forty minutes from Arethusa Falls. This put me within walking distance of tomorrow's trailhead.


Day 2: Franconia Notch

Mount Lafayette & Franconia Ridge Traverse (9.3 miles/3,800')

Considered one of the premier loop day hikes in the country, Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge certainly became one of the highlights of the trip. The trek encompasses Mount Lafayette, the sixth-highest peak in the White Mountains at 5,249' and the highest outside the Presidential Range as well as Mount Lincoln, Little Haystack Mountain, and numerous waterfalls.. The pinnacle of the hike is Franconia Ridge, a 1.7-mile exposed ridge offering breathtaking views of the surrounding White Mountains peaks.


About a quarter-mile into the hike, I encountered a trail split. To the left was Old Bridle Path, and to the right was Falling Waters Trail. Opting for the Old Bridle Path route, I was greeted to a steep ascent before reaching the first view of Mount Lafayette approximately 1.7 miles in. The view was amazing, but there was much more elevation gain to go. Continuing another mile or so led me to Agony Ridge, a minor rock scramble surrounded by subalpine vegetation. After Agony Ridge, the trail leveled out until I reached the AMC Greenleaf Hut, approximately three miles into the hike.


Mount Lafayette AMC hut.

Perched above Eagle Lake, providing a stunning view of Mount Lafayette, this was an opportune spot to replenish my water bottle with cold running water and use the hut's bathroom. After a short break, I faced an even steeper ascent to the summit of Mount Lafayette. Upon reaching the summit, ahead of me was the awe-inspiring Franconia Ridge section of the hike. Here, the wind began to howl and the views were even more incredible than I had anticipated. Along the ridge, I was treated to panoramic views of Mount Moosilauke, the Kinsmans, Cannon Mountain, Mount Washington, and the Presidential Range, as well as the Bonds, Twins, Owls Head, and the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness—a truly amazing sight.


Roughly a mile along the ridge brought me to Mount Lincoln, another official 4,000-footer. After another three-quarters of a mile, I reached Little Haystack Mountain, an unofficial 4,000-footer. The photo below captures the summit of Little Haystack Mountain with Mount Lafayette in the background.


Franconia Ridge New Hampshire

At Little Haystack Mountain, the trail descended along the Falling Waters Trail, a real knee and ankle buster. The initial descent of the Falling Waters Trail can be characterized by steep and very rocky terrain. Hiking poles to balance were extremely helpful. After descending about half a mile, I came across a series of fairly steep switchbacks leading to three consecutive waterfalls. First up was Cloudland Falls, the tallest among the three, cascading approximately 80 feet along Dry Brook.


Franconia Ridge New Hampshire

Following Swiftwater Falls wss Stair Falls. After crossing the stream numerous times and dropping a few thousand feet in elevation, the trail eventually flattened out. About half a mile from the trailhead, I crossed a small bridge over Walker Brook where I stopped to soak my feet in the creek's cold water, which was well received. After that, it was a short walk back to the trailhead.


Later in the day, I visited Kinsman Falls on the Upper Pemigewasset River, accessing it from the Basin Cascade Trailhead, located 1.5 miles south of Lafayette Place Campground. The half-mile one-way trail led to a beautiful 20-foot falls flowing into a deep pool—ideal for cooling off in warmer months.


Kinsman Falls New Hampshire

Again, I stayed at the Lafayette Place Campground.


Day 3: Mount Moosilauke

Mount Moosilauke & South Peak (8 miles/2,500')

After a relatively challenging day yesterday and with a demanding day ahead tomorrow, I thought day 3 would be perfect for a more moderate hike, and Mount Moosilauke fit the bill. Affectionately called the "Gentle Giant," this 4,803-foot peak is the easternmost among the 4,000-footers and one of the easiest to conquer in the White Mountains. It offers a distinctive summit experience—treeless, wind-swept, a rarity in the Whites, providing 360-degree views of endless peaks and, on a clear day, into Vermont. While there are several trailheads to choose from, I opted for the Gorge Brook Trail, which began near the Dartmouth College-owned Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. Unlike Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge, there aren't many views on the way up to the summit, but it's still a great hike.


Mount Moosilauke New Hampshire

Upon reaching the summit, I encountered rocky terrain and panoramic views extending for miles in every direction. After taking in the views, I headed south along the Carriage Road Trail until I reached the Glencliff and Carriage Road Trail junction. Then, I took the short spur trail to reach the 4,523-foot South Peak, which was fairly uneventful. After that, I returned to the main trail, descended the mountain, and finished the hike, pleased with my choice of a lighter day.


One interpretation of Moosilauke's name comes from the Indian "Moosi," meaning "bald," and "Auke," signifying "place." The mountain's inaugural ascent is credited to Waternomee, a subordinate leader of Wanalancet, a 17th-century Native American chief of the Penacook people. It is said that he climbed the mountain with a small group around 1700, en route to the "Quonnecticut" valley. According to legend, "As they sat on the topmost peak, the wind was still, and they could hear the moose bellowing in the gorges below; could hear the wolf, Musquoshim, howling; and now and then the great war eagle, Kenau, screamed and hurtled through the air." The Indians gazed with superstitious reverence until late in the afternoon when a thunderstorm accompanied by wind-lashed hail forced them into the shelter of the dense spruce. "It is Gitche Manito coming to his home angry," declared the chieftain as he led his band below the tree line.


Day 4: Bondcliff

Bondcliff & Mount Bond (20.5 miles/4,800')

After an easy day, I decided to tackle a much longer day hike out to Bondcliff and Mount Bond. The hike to Bondcliff and Mount Bond, while not exceptionally challenging, is notably lengthy. Personally, this ranks among my favorite hikes in the Whites, offering some of the best views in New England.


Starting at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, I immediately crossed the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River via footbridge. The initial 4.7 miles along the Lincoln Woods Trail were long and uneventful, mostly along a flat, muddy trail. Upon reaching the Bondcliff Trail, I began an ascent that would cover approximately 2,600 feet of elevation gain over the next 4 miles. Along this stretch, Black Brook provided a convenient water source for filtering. At around 7.3 miles, crossing Black Brook offered a fantastic view to the south. After another steep ascent and reaching Bondcliff, I was treated to breathtaking views of Mount Lafayette, Franconia Ridge, Mount Liberty, Mount Flume, and others to the west. I walked out to the edge of the cliffs and took in the views for a while, had a snack, and relaxed for about half an hour.


Bondcliff

Continuing onward, Mount Bond lied less than a mile away. I descended the saddle and then ascended roughly 600 feet to Bond's summit at 4,698 feet, where another astounding view awaited to the east. Here, Crawford Notch was situated to the east, and northeast of that, I had views of the Presidential Range, including a snow covered Mount Washington. The view of Mount Washington from Mount Bond was extraordinary. I thought I had enough juice in my legs to get out to Mount Guyot, but decided to leave that for another trip.


Day 5: Kancamagus Highway & Saco River

Kancamagus Highway Scenic Drive
Saco River kayak/canoe
Glen Ellis Falls (0.5 miles/100')

Day four offered a relaxing itinerary with minimal hiking. I traveled east on the Kancamagus Highway, celebrated as one of the finest scenic drives in America and among the world's best for fall foliage. About 3.5 miles from the Hancock Campground, I reached Otter Rocks, where I relaxed and took in the views of the Hancock Branch of the Pemi. The following year returned during the fall and flew my drone above various points along the highway, including a few of the hairpin turns.


Kancamagus Highway

After that, I headed over to the Saco Canoe Rentals Company and paddled nine miles along the Saco River. In the ten years or so of hiking in the Whites, this was the first time that I kayaked in the area. Now, it's become a staple in my itineraries there.


After kayaking, grabbing lunch, and chatting with some other hikers for a while, I headed half an hour north to Glen Ellis Falls, a spectacular 64-foot waterfall cascading along the Ellis River. A short quarter of a mile hike led me to the falls where I sat and relaxed for a bit more.


Glen Ellis Falls New Hampshire

Day 6: Mount Washington

Mount Washington via Tuckerman Ravine (7.5 miles/4,200')

My only plans for day six was to summit Mount Washington, hope for a clear summit, and head back to Boston to see family. I had hiked to the summit twice before, but each of those times the peak was cloud covered, and once the winds were ferocious to the point where it wasn't even enjoyable. The mountain is known for treacherous weather. In 1934, the highest surface wind speed on Earth, a staggering 231 mph, was recorded here. Notably, Gear Junkie ranked Mount Washington as the eighth most dangerous mountain globally, sandwiched between Mount Everest and Denali. How it got to that spot in their rankings, I'm not sure, but it can be a doozy if you're unprepared.


I set off heading up the tallest mountain in New England via Tuckerman Ravine, a steep and challenging route that never seems to let up. After roughly a third of a mile, I crossed the Cutler River via a bridge. Shortly thereafter, I encountered a spur trail leading to Crystal Cascades, a breathtaking 100-foot, two-tier waterfall along the Cutler.


Crystal Cascades New Hampshire

Beyond this point, the trail led me on a gradual ascent, averaging approximately 750 feet per mile, until reaching the Hermit Lake Shelters. This designated campsite is the only legal option on the eastern slope of Mount Washington and serves as the base for Tuckerman Ravine. Continuing from the ravine's base to the summit of the headwall, an actual glacial cirque, I ascended along a narrow yet clearly defined trail.


Mount Washington Tuckerman Ravine

The most demanding and steepest portion of the trail presented itself around 2.8 miles, where l ascended over 800 feet in just 0.3 miles. Climbing the headwall at an angle of somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 degrees, this section was challenging. The final mile to the summit involved a gain of over 1,500 feet, and by this point, my quads were growing middle fingers.


Upon reaching the summit, I was rewarded with unparalleled views of Mount Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and others in the Presidential Range, as well as numerous peaks in the Whites. After an hour or so break at the top at the Glen View Cafe, I headed back down, hopped in my car, and headed to Boston for a home cooked meal with my cousin and his family.

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