With 770,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest, it could take a lifetime to even begin to see it all. Hiking is a wonderful family activity, and best of all, it’s free!
Note that a parking fee is charged when cars are parked at any of the White Mountain National Forest parking areas. Parking passes can be purchased from local businesses or the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Stations in the area, including the Saco District on the Kancamagus Highway in Conway.
Mount Washington: Hiking the "Rock" is the crown jewel, and a must for anyone who owns a pair of Vasques. Experienced hikers can round-trip this arduous hike in four to six hours. Intermediates and beginners in decent shape should allow 8 and 9 hours, which includes a breather and bite to eat at the observatory on top. A 75 degree, sunny day at the base can turn into a 40 degree, biting, very uncomfortable experience at the summit so always bring appropriate, seasonal clothing.
* Tuckerman Ravine: Taking the Tuckerman Trail up and Lion Head back down (or vice-versa) is the classic Mount Washington Route.
To get there start at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on Route 16 in Pinkham Notch near Wildcat Mountain. Walk to the right along the porch to the end of the building. The Tuckerman Ravine Trail starts right there. It is 2.4 miles to Hermit Lake Shelters, known as HoJo's, where there is water and sometimes snacks for sale, and another 0.7 miles to Lunch Rocks, which in the spring serves as a viewing stand to watch skiers take on Tuckerman Ravine, also known as the "Bowl."
The steepest portion is through the Ravine. On top, it flattens out before the last mile and a half or so on the "cone," as sea of large rocks. At the top is the observatory, restrooms, full service snack bar, and a new museum.
Lion Head follows the rim of Tuckerman Ravine and should not be missed. Going up, it starts just before HoJo's. Coming down you'll see signs at the top of the Bowl. Take it either way, although we like hiking into bowl, and taking Lion Head on the way back.
* The Jewel Trail is one of many alternate ways to summit, but our favorite. This is a 10.2 mile round trip hike to the Northeast’s highest peak. The trail starts at a parking lot on the Cog Railroad Base Road. This is reached by continuing on the Mount Clinton Road — used to access Mount Eisenhower — until it reaches the Base Road, and bearing right. In 1.1 miles turn into a parking lot on the right.
• Mount Eisenhower: As for difficult hikes, want to get to the top of a presidential peak? Mount Eisenhower (4,760 feet). To get there, travel up Route 302 through Crawford Notch. Beyond the notch, just after the AMC Highland Center on the left, take the Mount Clinton Road on the right. In 2.3 miles, pull into the parking lot for the Edmunds Path.
The 2.9-mile Edmunds Path is a wonderful trail built by the famous 19th century trail maker J.Raynor Edmunds, who built trails to the peaks at a time when there was great need for the public to see the beauty of the mountains, and protect them from logging. He rebuilt and reconstructed this trail in 1909, just a few years before the establishment of the White Mountain National Forest. The comfortable grade of the trail is still obvious.
The trail emerges from the trees just before a saddle and connects with the Mount Eisenhower Loop, which you follow to the summit in 3.3 miles.
• The UNH Trail/Mount Hedgehog: Ready for an intermediate hike? How about getting out into the wilds on the Kancamagus Highway. The 4.8-mile loop hike around the UNH Trail on Mount Hedgehog (2,532 feet) is a great outing. To get there, travel out the Kancamagus Highway, which begins on Route 16 just south of Conway.
But first you might be interested in stopping at the Saco District office of the U.S. Forest Service, at the beginning of the Kancamagus Highway on the right. A free flyer for the Mount Hedgehog hike, as well as other hikes off the Kancamagus Highway is available there.
Continue out the highway. After passing the Bear Notch Road on the right, in two miles look for a sign on the left that says “UNH, Downes Brook, and Mount Potash Trails.” This is located directly across the highway from the Passaconaway Campground.
Drive in and park, walk in a few feet and bear left on the UNH Trail. The trail follows an old railroad bed and reaches a junction. I prefer to take the right hand loop to the summit, then continue on the loop after that down the beautiful South Ledges. The view of Mount Passaconaway from Hedgehog is spectacular.
* The Moats: This series of mountains run along the western edge of the Valley, and can be seen from Route 16 on the strip or North Conway Village. The South Moat and North Moat can be hiked separately or you can spot a car and start at one, hike the Middle Moat, and end at the other.
The South Moat summit affords an amazing 360 degree view. It is a 5.3 hike and starts on the Passaconway Road off the West Side Road.
The North Moat Mountain is one of the lesser traveled peaks in the White Mountains. It has a rocky 3196 foot summit with many ledges and unobstructed views in all directions. The loop hike from Diana’s Baths parking area is just over 10 miles and around 2800 feet elevation gain to make for a solid 5-7 hour day. This is an all terrain hike which includes dense forest, brooks, a summit and a half-mile of ledge. Super all around hike.
* Mount Crawford: This is our favorite intermediate hike in Crawford Notch. Easy to find. Take the Davis Path off the big parking lot across Rt. 302 from the Notchland Inn, this 3.1 mile hike takes about five hours. Great 360 views of Mount Washington and the Stairs. If it's a hot day, treat yourself to a swim on the way home at Fourth Iron, which can be found off Rt. 302 a three or four miles south. There is a small parking lot near small bridge.
Beginners, and for anyone looking for a short, quality hike
• Black Cap Path: This trail through spruce and beech forests to the bare summit of Black Cap offers great views to Conway Lake. 2.4 miles. From Route 16 in Intervale, turn right onto Hurricane Mountain Road. The trail heads right, 3.7 miles from Route 16.
• Boulder Loop Trail: Pick up a brochure at the Saco Ranger Station about this self-guided nature trail. There is a gradual climb with some steep pitches. Offers spectacular views of Mount Chocorua and the Swift River. 2.8 miles. The trail begins near the Covered Bridge Campground on the Kancamagus Highway, east of Conway.
• Mount Willard: Easy grade, good footing and great views of Crawford Notch. 2.8 miles. The trail head is near AMC’s Crawford Depot on Route 302 in Crawford Notch. This is a must hike for beginners that yields an incredible view of Crawford Notch.
* Peaked Mountain-Middle Mountain loop: This fav is right in North Conway and is a great pre-brunch hike. It is a 4.2 mile loop trail and is good for all skill levels. Off the North-South Road, go up Artist Falls Road .4 miles, then right on Thompson Road .3 miles. Signage and off-road parking is on the right.
One hour or less
* Diana's Bath: Iconic walk in the woods. Off the West Side Road, near North Conway Village, this stroll along a gravel path follows the Lucy Brook. During the summer the baths are a great place for children and grown-ups alike to enjoy the tranquility of nature, and explore the many rocks, ledges, cascading falls and pools in the brook. The cascading falls measure Aprox. 75 feet in total height.
•Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary: Tucked away at the southern end of the strip on Route 16 in North Conway, this 64-acre wildlife refuge has easy walking trails and is easily accessed from the parking lot at L.L. Bean. Three trails on the property offer a choice of 1/2 and 1 mile walks, leading through forest, open fields and along the Saco River and are good for viewing rare plants, as well as birds and other wildlife in a variety of habitats.
• Jackson Loop: This loop has sidewalks the entire way. Expect to share the path with joggers, roller bladers, bikers and cyclists. 1 mile or 30 minutes. The loop runs along Route 16-A and Route 16 in Jackson. There’s ample parking along the way.
• Nature Trail Walk at Wildcat Mountain: The Way of the Wildcat. Learn the tales that Wildcat Mountain has to tell. Take this 20-minute walk through the woods, following the Peabody River. Once on this footpath, you may walk the Half Mile Trail to the base of Thompson Falls. Take Route 16 through Pinkham Notch to Wildcat Ski Area.
• Rail and River Interpretive Trail: A self-guided tour with interpretive signs to explain natural features of the area. An easy 1/2-mile walk, fairly flat with a few stairs. The trail begins behind the Russell-Colbath House on the Kancamagus Highway, east of Conway.
• Deer Brook Pond: This trail parallels the Swift River and has many side loops. It’s recommended for “watchable wildlife” opportunities. Go 6 miles west from Conway on the Kancamagus Highway. Park near the covered bridge and the trail is to your left.
• Lost Pond & Square Ledge: The trail takes you to a scenic pond and past beaver ponds, along a stream, then ends with spectacular views of Mount Washington and Pinkham Notch. The trail begins at the pond across the road from the Appalachian Mountain Club Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on Route 16.
Try a number of hikes throughout the Presidentials starting at the AMC’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center or try these wonderful hikes for plenty of scenery and to experience the exhilaration of The White Mountains. For more information, go to the AMC’s www.outdoors.org and obtain a copy of the 29th edition of the “AMC White Mountain Guide.”