This cherished natural attraction surrounds Mt. Washington Valley, making our region a mecca for outdoor adventurers who never tire of discovering the natural beauty, diverse wildlife and vegetation, and recreation that runs the gamut from easy going experiences to challenging extremes. Home to 1200 miles of trails, 400 miles of snowmobile trails, 160 miles of Appalachian Trail, and 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation, it’s no wonder that hikers from around the world flock to Mt Washington Valley and the White Mountain National Forest for their trail and back country fix.
Below are fifteen hikes that take you off the beaten path. Be sure to assess your abilities honestly, as playing in nature comes with inherent risks. There are many hikes within this list that match a wide variety of interest level and ability, from short and sweet to attempting a “4,000 footer” which can take you anywhere from 6-8 hours, depending on your ability.
If you’re looking for something a bit more approachable, we have outlined ten easy hikes, here.
Off the Beaten Path: Imp Face: The Imp Face gets its impish name from the shape of the rock outcropping that sits in the middle of this loop hike. It’s a 6.3-mile loop (plus a couple tenths of a mile on the road to return to your car), or a 4.4 mile ‘out-and-back’ (one half of the circle) brings you to the top of this cliff (the Imp’s Face) with stunning views! The trailheads are on Route 16 just south of Dolly Copp Campground.
Off the Beaten Path: Mount Pickering: While considered ‘off the beaten path’ this hike is not far from the ‘beaten road’. It is accessed by a 2.1-mile trail (one-way) over the summit of Mount Stanton. Take Covered Bridge Lane from Route 302 in Bartlett to the trailhead. Please be considerate with the roadside parking for this trail and enjoy the amazing views!
Off the Beaten Path: Glen Boulder: Off the heavily trodden paths of “The Rockpile”, on one of Mount Washington’s lesser-traveled regions is the massive glacial erratic known as Glen Boulder. You can see this boulder up on the ridgeline as you drive north into Pinkham Notch. Park at Pinkham Notch, to take the Direttissima to the (very steep) Glen Boulder Trail 2.6 miles (one way) to this geological phenomenon. Be sure to bring your camera! This hike is well suited for experienced hikers. Be sure you have good footwear.
Waterfall hike: Winniweta Falls: Bring along your water shoes for this one, because this short 1.8-mile round trip to Winniweta Falls includes wading a shallow, but wide, stream shortly after leaving the trailhead. After arriving and taking pictures of some stunning waterfalls and working up a light sweat, you can cool your feet off in the stream. Park at a roadside pull-off on the West side of NH Route 16 just north of Jackson. Note: one must hike attentively to find Winniweta Falls. The trail follows the Jackson Cross Country Trail Network, so you must follow the signs and remember the course you took. Furthermore, listen for the falls, because they are about 100 feet off trail and there is no sign! Once found, however, enjoy the treasure - some of the most beautiful falls the valley has to offer.
Waterfall hike: Nancy Cascades: Considered by some as a bit of a hike in, the beauty of Nancy Cascades, is well worth the walk! It’s 2.4 miles (one way) with about 2,200’ of elevation gain along the Nancy Pond Trail. Your hike brings you to this thunderous cascade. The Nancy Pond Trailhead is on Route 302 about five miles west of Bartlett Village.
Waterfall hike: Bemis Brook Trail & Bemis and Coliseum Falls: Bemis and Coliseum Falls are a pair of stunning waterfalls accessed by the Bemis Brook Trail in Crawford Notch. With less than a mile of hiking to Coliseum Falls, and Bemis Falls on the way, and with negligible elevation gain, this hike is more of a nature stroll for those seeking an easier hike. Yet, for those looking for a little added challenge, a couple miles of uphill hiking will bring you to Arethusa Falls, a jaunt not for the faint of heart. This trail head is accessed from route 302 in Crawford Notch State Park on the left-hand side driving north, in the same parking lot for Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliff. Note: while easier, this is not a stroller friendly choice, so all hikers should be walkers too.
Kid friendly Frankenstein Cliff: Frankenstein Cliff offers up beautiful views accessed by a 2.1-mile hike (one-way) in Crawford Notch State Park. Park in the same parking lot as you would for Arethusa Falls (and add them on for a nice loop hike!) on the left side driving west on Route 302, shortly after entering Crawford Notch State Park. Enjoy a couple miles of climbing, and you’ll be treated to a breathtaking clifftop view down the notch. This is particularly scenic during fall foliage season, as the view is filled with harvest hues.
Kid Friendly: Lovequist Loop: This one-mile loop around Falls Pond just behind the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area on the Kancamagus Scenic Byway is ideal for those seeking more of a stroll than a hard hike. The walk around the pond is great for the younger kids and is easily coupled with amazing pictures at Rocky Gorge, a picnic, and a scenic drive along the byway itself! Park at Rocky Gorge on the Kanc and on a warmer day, enjoy a view of the falls, but leave the bathing suits behind. Swimming is not allowed here.
Kid Friendly: Mountain Pond: This 2 mile, mostly flat loop around Mountain Pond is a wonderful introduction to the natural landscape of the Mt Washington Valley. The pond is shadowed by the Doublehead Mountains in Jackson and is a frequent site for owl, loon, and
other wildlife sightings, something that will thrill the kids. To arrive, drive all the way down Town Hall Road off Route 16A until reaching the trailhead on the right-hand side. Note: if the gate is closed, this adds a couple miles each way along a nice dirt road on the river (a nice nature walk by itself).
A 4000-footer: Carter Dome: The southernmost (and tallest) mountain of the Carter-Moriah Range, Carter Dome, this week’s 4,000-footer is a challenge. The most common way to do this hike is via a ten-mile loop that also includes Mt Height, Carter Dome’s neighbor with a considerably better view. Take 19 Mile Brook Trail (don’t worry, it’s not 19 miles long) to Carter Notch (an AMC Hut offers snacks and water-bottle refills!) and then take the Carter-Moriah Trail along the Appalachian Trail to the Carter Dome Trail, which will bring you back to 19 Mile Brook and back to the Trailhead. Parking for 19 Mile Brook is on Route 16 north of the Mount Washington Auto Road.
4000-footer: Mount Jackson: Contrary to popular belief, Mt Jackson is not named after President Andrew Jackson, even though it is adjacent to Mount Pierce and the rest of the Presidential Range. It is named after the NH state geologist in the 19th century, Charles Thomas Jackson. Even though it’s not Presidential in its namesake, it is no less stunning of a mountain. Access Mount Jackson from the Jackson-Webster trail in Crawford Notch, and add Mount Webster for a beautiful loop hike!
4,000-Footer: Mount Bond: Not the most quickly accessed 4,000-footer, but it is worth the trek, and that it is – a long hike. From Lincoln Woods on the other side of the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, walk about 4.5 miles along the East Branch of the Pemigewassett River on the Lincoln Woods and Bondcliff Trails, before turning up to begin the long climb up to Bondcliff. Bondcliff, another 4,000-footer, features a stunning rock outcropping that is one of the most spectacular views in the Whites. From there it’s another 1.2 miles to the summit of Mount Bond. This is a very long hike, but may be turned into a two-day adventure by spending the night at the nearby Guyot Shelter with the proper gear.
Short and Sweet: Albany Town Forest: If you are you thinking more of a nature walk than an uphill battle, and enjoy more of a quaint riverside stroll rather than to push your aerobic limit on a 4000-footer, the Albany Town Forest is a great choice. This treasured plot of land is behind the Saco District Ranger Station on Highway 112 in Albany, but you might find better parking at Kennett Middle School/Conway Elementary School on Route 16 in Conway Village. Behind the athletic fields, on the other side of the farmland plots, are the trails that meander the Albany Town Forest along the Swift River. Out here you can choose your own adventure and do a 3-mile loop, or just walk out until you feel like coming back. The Albany Town Forest welcomes dogs, but please keep them leashed near the farmland! The farmers have had trouble with pups digging’ up their crops.
Short and Sweet: Church Ponds: Church Ponds is a nice 2.2 miles (round trip) hike into the woods from the Passaconaway Campground on the Kancamagus Highway. It is perfect for those looking for a nice mellow adventure or are short on time (in case you’re trying to get to church on time!)
Short and Sweet: Eagle Mountain: Guests at the Eagle Mountain House Hotel and other Jackson Village lodging will be pleased to see the proximity of this trail! Parking access is just behind the Eagle Mountain House (the upper, dirt lot) off Carter Notch Road in Jackson. Take the 0.9-mile gradual climb past a vernal pool (tell the kids to look for frogs and salamanders!) and to the summit of this mountain right in the center of Jackson.
To plan your Mt. Washington Valley vacation, be sure to call 800-367-3364 (800-DO-SEE-NH) for vacation planning advice. To learn more about visiting New Hampshire, go to www.VisitNH.gov.