For something a little more rough and rugged, the Hippo picked two quintessential New Hampshire hikes: a trek up Mount Washington, notorious for its 6,289-foot elevation, and the Franconia Ridge loop, a 9-mile trek that occurs mostly above the treeline (and thus, with mostly unobstructed views on a cloudless day).
An above-average hiker could complete both in a day, but both offer overnight options as well.
As always, especially during climbs that involve 4,000-plus-footers, hikers are advised to be prepared with plenty of water (two to three liters per person), food, provisions, and a map and compass, as weather at these elevations can change instantly, and both of these treks can be extremely dangerous during storms. (If possible, these trails should be avoided entirely during bad weather.)
For the best, most-detailed guide for hiking in both the Presidential Range and Franconia Notch, AMC public relations/social media director Laura Hurley recommends hikers purchase a copy of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide, which includes trail descriptions and maps.
Franconia Ridge loop
Perhaps one of the most highly recommended hikes among avid New Hampshire climbers, the Franconia Ridge loop is strenuous, with a gain of more than 3,900 feet over the course of 8.9 miles and three mountains: Little Haystack Mountain, Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. It involves the Falling Waters Trail, the Franconia Ridge Trail, the Greenleaf Trail and the Old Bridle Path.
The trails for the loop are quite accessible, just off Interstate-93 at Exit 38.
That accessibility is one reason Hurley so highly recommends the loop, but there are plenty more.
“It also has that really unique ridgeline experience,” Hurley said. “I think Lafayette has some of the nicest views in the White Mountains. … The ridgeline is so beautiful, and the trails are so diverse. … You have the waterfalls, the ridge, and the Greenleaf Hut is incredibly convenient, where you can stay overnight or stop by to fill up water. … If you hit it on a clear day, there are spectacular views, similar to those of the Presidentials. It’s an unbeatable experience in the mountains.”
As for the loop, “There are people who can do it in one day, but it is a very long day,” Danielle Jepson, AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Services supervisor, said in a phone interview. (Most estimates are around eight or nine hours.)
“Usually a rule in the White Mountains: if your hiking pace is 2 miles an hour, add an extra hour for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain,” Hurley said.
Jepson recommends starting on the Falling Waters Trail, which begins at the Lafayette Place parking lots located on each side of the Franconia Notch Parkway. The trail passes by several waterfalls as it climbs up to the Franconia Ridge Trail at the summit of Little Haystack mountain. It’s steep and rugged, but she recommends starting the loop on this trail, as it’s even more difficult on the descent.
Then you’ll take the Franconia Ridge Trail, the backbone of the ridge that travels up and over Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. This portion of the trail, as described in the AMC guide book, is not unusually difficult or hazardous except in the case of detrimental weather, as it’s almost constantly exposed to the full force of storms.
At Mount Lafayette, you’ll begin following the Greenleaf Trail, which will lead to the Greenleaf Hut, a nice place to stay, perhaps purchase food and fill up your water bottle. If you want to make this loop a multi-day hike, the Greenleaf Hut is the best way to go, but be sure to make overnight reservations beforehand, as spots fill up fast. There are plenty of area campgrounds at the bottom of the mountains as well. Once you reach the Greenleaf Hut, you’ll take the Old Bridle Path trail back down to the parking lot.
High on the list of most peak-baggers’ hikes is Mount Washington, the highest tip in the Northeast and the place where some of the world’s worst weather was recorded.
“It’s a wealth of history with absolutely spectacular views, if you’re there on a good day. It’s a very unique place,” Jepson said. “I think a lot of people come back because they did it as a kid, and they want to bring their children to do it, too. It’s the tallest mountain in the Northeast, so it’s a big deal to a lot of people and is a huge destination for this area.”
The most traveled path to the summit in the summertime is the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail. It’s usually clear by mid-June or July, but it’s important to call the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center beforehand (466-2721) to check on the conditions, specifically, if there’s still ice or snow on the trail or impending weather.
The trail starts behind the Trading Post at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. This trail will go on for about 2.3 miles until it intersects with the Lion’s Head route, which also goes to the top but which is a bit steeper; this trail will likely be open if Tuckerman’s is closed. One mile after that, you’ll come across the Alpine Garden Trail, which is most beautiful in June, Jepson said.
“There are flowers everywhere,” Jepson said. “They start blooming the first week of June. The area is monitored by Alpine stewards. This trail makes a good backup plan if the weather’s not good enough that day to do a summit.” (The summit is in the clouds about 60 percent of the time.)
What’s nice about hiking Mount Washington — or maybe not nice at all, if you prefer smaller crowds and more nature — is that there’s hot food at the top of the mountain, in addition to an observatory and place to change out of wet or sweaty clothes and refill your water bottles. If you get to the top and find you don’t want to trek back down, you can take a shuttle that runs through the auto road that costs $30 per person.
This year, there will also be guided tours offered through the Appalachian Mountain Club; visit outdoors.org for more information.