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. The White Mountains are also the home of the world's second most summitted mountain, Mount Monadnock, which ranks just behind Japan's Mount Fuji. 160.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail winds through the state and features more above treeline miles than any other trail state. New Hampshire also boasts the second most forested land in the US, just behind neighboring Maine, making it an outdoor lover's dream come true. This guide takes you on a journey through the Whites where you'll experience many of the most beautiful views the region has to offer, paddle one of the clearest rivers in the East, and embark on world-class hike after world-class hike. For those not within driving distance, your best bet is flying into Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and driving up from there. This avoids all of the congestion in Boston and puts you an hour closer to starting your adventure. A high clearance vehicle is not necessary for this trip.
Day 1: Crawford Notch
Mount Willard (3.1 miles/900')
Arethusa Falls & Beamis Brook (2.8 miles/800')
Begin your adventure with an easy warm up to what's ahead in the coming days with a hike to the summit of Mount Willard. The fairly rocky trail begins on the opposite side of the train tracks at Crawford Station next to the AMC Highland Center and is a steady climb the entire way. From the cliffs at the summit you'll have a sweeping view of the gorge, Saco River, Mount Willey and Mount Jackson. This is one of the most rewarding hikes for the effort anywhere in the White Mountains and part of a mountain pass that lies between the Presidential and Franconia Ridges. Crawford Notch, originally known as White Mountain Notch, was named after Abel Crawford and his two sons Ethan Allen and Thomas Jefferson, early pioneers of the White Mountains who helped establish a tourist industry in the area. Mount Willard's original name was Mount Tom after Thomas Jefferson Crawford, but later changed to Mount Willard in honor of Thomas' climbing companion Joseph Willard. On a side note, Ethan Allen and his father are credited with establishing the first iteration of the Crawford Path, America's oldest continuously maintained hiking trail, in 1819. Today the trail runs from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mount Washington and is part of the Appalachian Trail. Make sure to check out Crawford Station after your hike where you'll find a great gift shop, snacks, beverages and more.
A short ten minute drive south on Crawford Notch Rd/US-302 and you'll arrive at the Arethusa Falls Trailhead. One of the most beautiful hikes in the White Mountains in our opinion, this one also has a big reward for the effort. You have the option of taking the Bemis Brook Trail on the way out or back - the choice is yours. We've done it both ways and enjoyed taking Beamis Brook on the way back, but note that it can be fairly slippery in wet conditions. Either way, the trail winds through a dense hemlock forest before reaching its highlight, the beautiful 140' Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire's tallest waterfall. The falls were first discovered by Edward Tuckerman, an American botanist and professor who made significant contributions to the study of lichens and other alpine plants. Mount Washington's Tuckerman Ravine was named in honor of the man. Arethusa Falls were named after a nymph in Greek mythology who fled her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and came up as a freshwater fountain on the island of Ortygia in Sicily. There are several great spots along Beamis Brook to take your shoes off and get the dogs in the water, so keep that in mind on your return.
The falls were first discovered by Edward Tuckerman, an American botanist and professor who made significant contributions to the study of lichens and other alpine plants. Mount Washington's Tuckerman Ravine was named in honor of the man. Arethusa Falls were named after a nymph in Greek mythology who fled her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and came up as a freshwater fountain on the island of Ortygia in Sicily.
There are several great spots along Beamis Brook to take your shoes off and get the dogs in the water, so keep that in mind on your return. If you have some gas left in the tank after your return from Arethusa Falls you can add on Frankenstein Cliff which starts at the same trailhead and travels away from the Arethusa Falls and Beamis Brook trails. This adds roughly 2.5 miles and almost 1,000' in elevation gain, but keep in mind that tomorrow is a fairly strenuous day.
A great place to call it a night is at Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park, about forty minutes from Arethusa Falls. This puts you within walking distance or a very short drive to tomorrow's trailhead. Campsites are reservable, come with a fire ring, picnic table, and parking space, and wood, charcoal, ice, snacks, etc. can be purchased at the nearby lodge. Coin operated showers are available 24-hours here. Book well in advance as this is a very popular campground. The Pemigewasset River, commonly referred to simply as the "Pemi" also flows through the campground and is a great place to relax next to in a hammock. There are also a slew of Airbnbs in the area as well as the Franconia Inn if you're looking for something more comfortable. If you're looking for a solid place for dinner this evening make sure to check out Common Man in Lincoln, about fifteen minutes south of the campground. Great burger, solid pizza and a cozy spot to kick back at. Franconia Coffee House and Polly's Pancake Parlor are two solid options for coffee if staying at Lafayette Place Campground. Both are about fifteen minutes north of the campground.
Day 2: Franconia Notch
Mount Lafayette & Franconia Ridge Traverse (9.3 miles/3,800')
Arguably one of the best loop day hikes in the country, Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge may very well be the highlight of your trip when it's all said and done. On this hike you'll tackle Mount Lafayette, the sixth highest peak in the White Mountains at 5,249' (behind Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe and Madison) and highest not in the Presidential Range, as well as Mount Lincoln at 5,089' and Little Haystack Mountain at 4,760'. The highlight of the hike is Franconia Ridge, a 1.7 mile exposed ridge with mind-blowing views of the surrounding peaks. The trailhead to this incredibly popular and well marked trail begins on the opposite side of I-93 from Lafayette Place Campground and can either be walked to or driven to from camp. Know that the large parking area at the trailhead fills up early in the morning, especially on weekends.
Roughly a quarter mile into your hike you'll be met with a split in the trail. To the left is Old Bridle Path and to the right Falling Waters Trail. The choice is yours in which direction to take and you can't go wrong either way. Both directions are equally steep and equally rocky, but the mountain views along Old Bridle Path are better. Assuming you take Old Bridle Path you'll have a steep ascent before reaching your first view of Mount Lafayette, about 1.7 miles in along an unmissable rock outcropping to your right. Continuing on another mile or so before reaching Agony Ridge, a minor rock scramble shrouded in subalpine vegetation. After Agony RIdge the trail flattens out some until reaching the AMC Greenleaf Hut, about three miles in.
Perched above Eagle Lake with an amazing view of Mount Lafayette, you'll have an opportunity here to refill your water containers with cold running water and use the hut's bathrooms, sinks, and kitchen's oven and stove. There are several picnic tables inside as well. After refuelling, you have an even steeper ascent to the top of Mount Lafayette. This section of the trail can become faint, but following the large and unmistakable rock cairns will lead you up top. Once at the summit you'll notice a large rectangular manmade wind shelter to the right which is a good place to catch your breath. From here you begin the jaw-dropping Franconia Ridge section of the hike and should expect windy conditions. Having a jacket here can be very helpful. Some describe the ridge as a knife edge, but it's far from the likes of Katahdin's Knife Edge in Maine or Colorado's Capitol Peak. Along the ridge you'll have views of Mount Moosilauke, the Kinsmans, Cannon Mountain, Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, the Bonds, Twins, Owls Head and the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness. It's absolutely amazing. Roughly a mile along the ridge you'll reach Mount Lincoln, another official 4,000'er. Another three quarters of a mile you'll reach Little Haystack Mountain, an unofficial 4,0000'er. It's here, at Little Haystack Mountain, that the trail descends along the Falling Waters Trail to your right. The photo below was taken at the summit of Little Haystack Mountain.
The initial descent of the Falling Waters Trail is very steep and rocky, and having hiking poles here can be helpful especially in wet conditions. After descending roughly a half mile you'll encounter a series of fairly steep switchbacks leading to three successive waterfalls. First, Cloudland Falls, the tallest of the three dropping some 80' along Dry Brook.
Next is Swiftwater Falls followed by Stair Falls. During this stretch of trail you'll be crisscrossing the Dry Brook before the trail turns right and away from the water. The remaining three quarters of a mile of trail is fairly flat. With roughly a half mile to the trailhead you'll cross a small bridge spanning Walker Brook. This is a great spot to take off your shoes and socks and give your feet some relief in the creek's cold water. At the Falling Waters and Old Bridle Path junction you'll hang a left and return to the trailhead, completing one of America's greatest day hikes.
A few notes on the hike. Little Haystack Mountain does not qualify as one of the 48 4,000'ers in the White Mountains. To qualify, a peak must rise 200' above any ridge connecting it to a neighboring peak. Because it stands less than that from the col on the ridge from Mount Lincoln it doesn't meet the standard set by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). The 1.7 miles of Franconia Ridge are also part of the popular and much longer backpacking route known as the Pemi Loop, a thirty or so mile route that includes several other 4,000'ers. Lastly, near where the switchbacks begin coming down from Little Haystack you'll notice a signed spur trail to your left. Taking this leads to Shining Rock, a massive rock slab on the side of the mountain worthy of a quick stop. Lastly, Mount Lafayette was named in honor of French General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette who fought with and significantly aided the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and later adopted as an aide to George Washington.
If you're looking for a short hike with a great photo opportunity later in the day check out nearby Kinsman Falls on the Upper Pemigewasset River. The easiest way to reach the falls is from the Basin Cascade Trailhead located a mile and a half south of Lafayette Place Campground along I-93. The half mile one way trail leads to a beautiful 20' falls that empties into a deep pool that's great for cooling off during the warmer months. A sign nailed to a tree along the trail indicates Kinsman Falls is below and a short but steep scramble down to the river takes you to the swimming hole and the best view of the falls.
Stick with Lafayette Place Campground tonight. You'll be thirty minutes from tomorrow's trailhead and already at the best campground in the area.
Day 3: Mount Moosilauke
Mount Moosilauke & South Peak (8 miles/2,500')
With yesterday being a fairly strenuous day and tomorrow being a whopper of a day, today is a good day for a more mild trek and Mount Moosilauke fits the bill. Nicknamed "Gentle Giant", the 4,803' peak is the easternmost of the 4,000'ers and one of the easiest to bag in the Whites. It also comes with a unique summit experience. The treeless, wind-swept summit, not common in the Whites provides 360-degree views of endless peaks and on a clear day into Vermont. There are several trailheads to start from, but the Gorge Brook Trail which you'll take all the way to the summit is the most enjoyable in our opinion. The trail begins near the Dartmouth College owned Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, immediately crosses the Baker River via bridge and proceeds along Gorge Brook for the first mile and a half or so. Your first view comes around 2.1 miles in where you'll have views of Mount Bradley, Mount Waternomee and others. From here you'll have roughly 1,000' in elevation gain over the next 1.2 miles before reaching the summit.
At the summit you'll be greeted with rocky terrain and views that go for miles and miles in every direction. From here proceed south along the Carriage Road Trail until reaching the Glencliff and Carriage Road Trail junction where you'll take the short spur trail to bag the 4,523' South Peak. Return to Carriage Road trail and descend the rocky trail until meeting back up with the Gorge Brook Trail where you'll hang a right and return to the trailhead.
One version of Moosilauke's name origin is from the Indian "Moosi" meaning "bald" and "Auke" signifying "place". The mountain's first ascent is attributed to Waternomee, a subordinate leader of Wanalancet, a 17th century Native American chief of the Penacook people. It's 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.
A solid choice to dine at this evening is Iron Furnace Brewing, about fifteen miles north of the campground off of I-93. Good sandwiches and even better beer, but check their hours as they're closed midweek. Lafayette Place Campground is still a great option for the evening. You'll be twenty minutes from tomorrow's trailhead.
Day 4: Bondcliff
Bondcliff & Mount Bond (20.5 miles/4,800')
Today is a behemoth of a day in terms of mileage, so bring plenty of calories and fluids for the trek. The hike to Bondcliff and Mount Bond isn't exceptionally difficult, but it is tortuously long. On a personal note, this is one of our absolute favorite hikes in the Whites and has some of the best views in New England. We've done this route multiple times, both as a day hike and a backpack. Today you'll be day hiking. Starting at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, located at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center, you'll immediately cross the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River and proceed 4.7 long and boring miles along the Lincoln Woods Trail before reaching the Bondcliff Trail. From here you'll rack up roughly 2,600' of elevation gain over the next 4 miles while ascending Mount Bond. During this stretch you'll be hiking next to Black Brook which is a great source for filtering water. At roughly 7.3 miles in you'll have a solid view to the south while crossing Black Brook. The next 1.2 miles features a brief relief from elevation gain and your final ascent to Bondcliff. At Bondcliff you'll have a drop-dead gorgeous view of Mount Lafayette, Franconia Ridge, Mount Liberty, Mount Flume and others to the west. Take caution while exploring the cliffs as a fall here would be fatal.
After enjoying the ridiculously beautiful views from the cliffs continue on to Mount Bond which is less than a mile away. You'll drop down into a saddle before ascending roughly 600' to Bond's summit at 4,698' where you'll have yet another astounding view to the east. Crawford Notch is to the east and northeast of that you'll find the Presidential Range. The view of Mount Washington from Bond is extraordinary, especially when it's snow covered. If you're up for it, Mount Guyot, another 4,000'er, is 1.2 miles past Bond and comes with minimal elevation gain. Whichever you choose, return the way you came after you've enjoyed some of the best views the Whites can offer.
A few notes. The Lincoln Woods Trail is bike friendly and biking to the Franconia Brook Trail junction shaves off 2.9 miles of hiking each way. There's a large trailhead sign that you can chain your bike to there. If you have two cars a great option is parking one at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, the other at the Zealand Trailhead and hiking from one to the other. This route is roughly 18.5 miles with 4,800' of elevation gain and you'll bag both Mount Guyot and Mount Zealand. If you can swing it, this is the way to go without question. Mount Bond was named after American astronomer and Harvard Professor George Phillips Bond who in 1853 published the first topographical map of the White Mountains.
If you're looking for a bite to eat after make sure to check out Black Mountain Burger or Pub 32 in Lincoln, less than ten minutes from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead. The wings and pizza at Pub 32 are hands down the best we've had in the area and the burgers at Black Mountain are lights out. White Mountain Bagel is a good spot for coffee for tomorrow if you're looking for a spot. Afterwards, make your way to the nearby Hancock Campground for some much deserved rest. The campground is first come, first served but you shouldn't have any problem getting a site during the week. If today falls on a weekend you may want to get to the campground before your hike to snag a site. Flush toilets and drinking water is available here, but no showers. There are some amazing spots to hang a hammock up and relax next to the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River here. If you're looking for a bit more comfort check out the Red Sleigh Inn Bed & Breakfast in downtown Lincoln.
Day 5: Kancamagus Highway & Saco River
Kancamagus Highway Scenic Drive
Saco River kayak/canoe
Glen Ellis Falls (0.5 miles/100')
Today is a fairly easy day with little hiking involved. Head east on the Kancamagus Highway/NH-112 which many regard as the best scenic drive in America and one of the top in the world for fall foliage. If you're here during late September/early October you're in for a treat. 3.5 miles from the Hancock Campground you'll encounter Otter Rocks, a decent stop if you want to kick back and take in the start of your day along the Hancock Branch of the Pemi. We usually skip this, but it's worth mentioning. The Hancock, Pemigewasset, and CL Graham Wangan overlooks are all in the next five miles and all worthy of a stop. There's also a small unsigned pull-off known as Panorama Overlook between the Hancock and Pemigewasset overlooks and worth a quick stop as well.
The Sugar Hill Scenic Vista is 4.5 miles from the CL Graham Wangan Overlook and the last major overlook on the drive. Sabbaday Falls, a two tier waterfall and most popular falls along the scenic drive is 2 miles from Sugar Hill and definitely worthy of a stop. The next stop you'll want to visit is Rocky Gorge, roughly 6,5 miles from Sabbaday Falls. Here, the Swift River narrows and cuts through a flume with rocky cliffs on either side. It's exceptionally beautiful during peak fall foliage. Make sure to catch the view from the wooden bridge spanning the river before you leave. The last stop you might want to check out is the Albany Covered Bridge, three miles past Rocky Gorge. Originally built in 1858, the Albany Covered Bridge is one of the most beautiful in all of New England. The scenic drive ends in Conway, about 8 miles after the covered bridge. The highway was named after the last chief of the Pennacook people who dominated a confederation of Indian tribes living in New Hampshire during the 17th century.
Next, head over to Saco Canoe Rentals Company and check out one of their paddle trips along the Saco River. They offer 5, 8 and 9 mile paddles and all are very easy. The longest does have a few small Class 1 rapids, but are very manageable even to the casual kayaker. We've done the 8 & 9 mile options and recommend them both. The water of the Saco is incredibly clear. If you're interested in grabbing lunch after we highly recommend Fiesta Jalisco in North Conway. Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Company and the farm-to-table Table + Tonic are also great spots that we can recommend.
About thirty minutes north of Saco Canoe Rentals is Glen Ellis Falls, a 64' plunge waterfall along the Ellis River. The most popular waterfall in the Pinkham Notch area requires a short half mile round-trip hike and a few rock stairways to view. There is a cash only parking fee here so be aware of that. Don't be surprised if you see people cliff jumping here.
Two great places for dinner in the area are Tuckerman Brewing and Red Fox Bar & Grille. The brick oven pizzas at Tuckerman Brewing are worth a visit alone, but their beer is excellent as well. Red Fox has a bit more upscale menu including an excellent pot roast dinner. We've always stayed at the AMC Joe Dodge Lodge when visiting the area and highly recommend the stay. Spending the night here also allows you to walk right out to tomorrow's trailhead. Rest up for tomorrow. You'll need it.
Day 6: Mount Washington
Mount Washington via Tuckerman Ravine (7.5 miles/4,200')
Today you'll be hiking the summit of the tallest peak in New England, the 6,288' Mount Washington. If your trip is in July or August you'll be free of snow, but all bets are off any other month. Make sure to check weather conditions on Mount Washington Observatory's website before you begin this hike, especially if you're hiking before July or after August. Weather near and on the summit can be treacherous. The highest wind speed ever recorded on the surface of the Earth was measured here in 1934 at 231 mph and it's not uncommon to experience 60+ mph winds any given day. Weather here can change in an instant and it's not uncommon to experience rain on days with a clear forecast. The mountain's location is at the convergence of three major storm tracts and combined with its elevation and topography create incredible weather extremes unlike anywhere else on Earth. If it holds any weight with you, Gear Junkie ranked Mount Washington as the eighth most dangerous mountain in the world, right after Mount Everest and just before Denali. Needless to say, layers, a rain jacket and fluids are important on this one.
The Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead can be found behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and AMC Joe Dodge Lodge. The ascent up the steep, rocky trail begins immediately. Around a third of a mile in you'll cross the Cutler River via bridge and a few hundred feet later arrive at a spur trail leading to Crystal Cascades, a 100' two tier waterfall along the Cutler. Make sure to take the spur trail as the falls are beautiful.
From here it's a steady climb averaging about 750'/mile until reaching the Hermit Lake Shelters, the only legal campsite on the eastern slope of Mount Washington and the base of Tuckerman Ravine. There's a modest waterfall here for those looking to cool off. From the base of the ravine to the top of the headwall, which is actually a glacial cirque, you'll ascend the narrow but well defined trail, passing Lunch Rocks, a popular spot to rest, along the way.
The steepest and most challenging section of the trail comes at around 2.8 miles where you'll ascend more than 800' in just 0.3 miles. You'll be climbing the headwall at an angle of roughly 45-degrees. Those with a fear of heights will have issues here. Your legs will grow middle fingers. Things don't get a whole hell of a lot easier after reaching the top of the headwall. Your last mile to the summit gains more than 1,500'. The middle fingers now growing out of your legs will be growing middle fingers of their own. Once you reach the summit you'll be greeted with unparalleled views of Mount Madison, Adams, Jefferson and others in the Presidential Range as well as countless others in the Whites. Go ahead and do the touristy thing and take your picture at the Mount Washington summit sign - we did it once ourselves. After you've waited in the inevitable summit sign photo line head inside where you'll find bathrooms and the Glen View Cafe that serves hot food. Return the way you came and enjoy the views on the way down. Grab a few beers after. Hell, grab a bunch.
And that's Six Spectacular Days in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We hope you enjoy your trip and make a ton of great memories along the way!