Every year, millions of people discover the beauty of the western White Mountains by foot. With incredible panoramic views, classic New England hiking trails, and beautiful native wildlife, the area has become a popular year-round destination.
Home to the world-famous Franconia Ridge, Lonesome Lake, Old Man of the Mountain, Flume Gorge, and countless miles of recreational hiking and biking trails, there are many reasons why so many people flock to the Western White Mountains to recreate. The Appalachian Trail crosses through our quaint towns in numerous places, leading to a vibrant hiking community formed by both locals and visitors. Please note that trailhead parking can be challenging, and inexperience paired with unpredictable weather has led to many tragedies over the years. The most important part of planning a hike in the Western White Mountains, regardless of the season, is being prepared. Always have a back up plan, and always do your research ahead of your visit.
The White Mountains Attraction Association, along with the White Mountain National Forest, has created a Winter Hiking in the White Mountains resource as well as a 10 Essentials Gear List that all hikers should be familiar with prior to hitting the trails, again, regardless of the season:
Checking the weather actively is extremely important to any successful hiking trip. The Mount Washington Observatory provides a multi-day Higher Summits Forecast, which is a great and sometimes life-saving resource for hikers. Please note that this forecast can change drastically even over a period of a few hours, so checking it frequently is highly recommended.
The White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire State Parks, and Appalachian Mountain Club manage many of the natural areas in the Western White Mountains. When in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to them prior to a hike if you have any additional questions. They can be reached at the following:
White Mountain National Forest
Pemigewasset Ranger Station
71 White Mountain Drive
Campton, NH 03223
(603) 536-6100 Main Desk
(603) 536-3665 TTY
Androscoggin Ranger Station
300 Glen Road
Gorham, NH 03581-1399
(603) 466-2713 x 0 Main Office
(603) 466-2856 TTY
Saco Ranger Station
33 Kancamagus Highway
Conway, NH 03818
(603) 447-5448 x 0 Main Office
(603) 447-3121 TTY
New Hampshire State Parks
Franconia Notch State Park
260 Tramway Drive
Franconia/Lincoln, NH 03580
Appalachian Mountain Club
General information or questions:
Thanks to a couple of our local experts, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best hiking trails that can offer both novice and experienced hikers an exceptional day out, and don’t require waking up at 5 am to find a parking spot – although that’s never a bad idea!
The Best Hiking Trails in the Western White Mountains
Franconia Falls and Black Pond
The Lincoln Woods Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the White Mountains. Located off the Kancamagus Highway, the Lincoln Woods Trail parking lot, which can fit 170 vehicles, is about a few miles from the center of town. The 2.9-mile out-and-back trail follows the path of the old East Branch and Lincoln Railroad along the Pemigewasset River. If you’d like a longer hike, then you can take one of the many side trails off the Lincoln Woods Trail.
At about 2.6 miles, the Lincoln Woods Trail meets with the Black Pond Trail. Here you can hike another 0.8 miles until you come to the tranquil Black Pond. Surrounded by conifers, Black Pond is a great place to enjoy a snack and cool off in on those hot summer days. Another great option is the Franconia Falls Trail. Located about 0.2 miles from the Lincoln Woods Trail and Black Pond Trail junction, this 0.4-mile trail ends at the picturesque Franconia Falls. If you choose to hike all three trails, you’ll end up hiking approximately eight miles.
The Flume is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of Conway granite rise to a height of 70 to 90 feet and are 12 to 20 feet apart. The Flume Trail is a 2-mile loop starting at the check-in booths located in front of the Flume Building. The Short Trail/Rim Path is closed and the only option is to complete the full 2 mile loop. The entire loop takes approximately 1.5 hours and finishes at the Flume Building. The walk includes uphill walking and lots of stairs. The boardwalk allows you to look closely at the growth of flowers, ferns and mosses found here. Please note that the Flume Gorge is closed to hikers for the winter season as the boardwalks have been removed, but the Flume Trail remains open for use.
The Lonesome Lake Trail, a moderate 3.1 mile loop, is accessed through the south parking lot of Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail follows yellow blazes and switchbacks approximately 1.5 miles up to Lonesome Lake, located on the side of Cannon Mountain. From the lake, enjoy incredible views east towards Franconia Ridge. Take a stroll around the lake, and make sure to visit the Lonesome Lake Hut while you’re up there!
Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves
Looking to get into hiking but prefer the safety of a paved path and stairways? You won’t be disappointed with a visit the the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves (closed in the winter). Here you can follow the Lost River amongst giant boulder caves, cascading waterfalls, a suspension bridge and more, all located in spectacular Kinsman Notch.
Mt. Flume via Osseo Trail
From the Lincoln Woods Trail, you’ll hike about 1.4 miles until you meet the Osseo Trail junction on the left. From the junction, you’ll hike another 4.1 miles where you’ll take a short portion of the Franconia Ridge Trail to the summit of Mt. Flume, where you’ll be rewarded with incredible views. The Osseo Trail is relatively flat before it turns steep with multiple switchbacks and a few wooden staircases. Roundtrip, you’ll cover roughly 11 miles. Remember to bring plenty of food and water and the 10 essentials for this challenging hike!
Beaver Brook Cascades on Beaver Brook Trail
Located in Woodstock, the Beaver Brook Trail is one of the most challenging sections of the Appalachian Trail. The trail runs along a set of unnamed cascades until you climb up to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke at 4,802 feet. From the top of Mt. Moosilauke, you have panoramic views of New Hampshire, Vermont, and even as far as New York. The trail to the first cascade is easy (one-mile roundtrip), but the trail quickly turns steep and difficult above that. It’s approximately two miles roundtrip to the upper cascades. Another great alternative to the Beaver Brook Trail is hiking Mt. Moosilauke from the Dartmouth Ravine Lodge off Rt. 118. It’s a 7.5-mile roundtrip loop trail.
Mt. Pemigewasset via Indian Head Trail
The Indian Head Trail is a 3.5-mile out-and-back trail that summits the peak of Mt. Pemigewasset. Due to a nearby waterfall, the trail does tend to be wet, especially after a bit of rain. There is a steep climb towards the top, but once you see the views from the top, you’ll forget all about the difficult parts.
Bridal Veil Falls via Coppermine Trail
Bridal Veil Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the region. The five-mile roundtrip hike leaves from the small parking lot on Coppermine Road. Get there early as the lot fills up quickly. The path is relatively easy and crisscrosses the Coppermine Brook several times. Bridal Veil Falls’ main cascade shoots water from a 50-foot cliff into several nearby pools. Pack a picnic and enjoy an afternoon at the falls.
Mt. Garfield via Garfield Trail
Standing at 4,501 feet, Mt. Garfield is one of the 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains. The main trail, Garfield Trail, is a 9.3-mile out-and-back trail that is rated as moderate due to some steep sections. The views from the summit are spectacular, and you’ll often find Jays willing to eat out of the palm of your hands.
Despite just making the cut at 4,003 feet, Mt. Tecumseh might be the smallest 4,000-footer, but she is a moderately strenuous hike. The Mt. Tecumseh Trail from Tripoli Road is a more gradual and quieter ascent compared to the trailhead from Waterville Valley. While most of the trail is smooth, the 3.1-mile trail to the summit ends with a steep, rocky climb right before you reach the top. Total hiking distance from Tripoli Road is roughly six miles roundtrip.
Still not sure where to go on your next hiking adventure? Just ask one of the many locals in town. Steve at The Mountain Wanderer on Main Street in Lincoln will be more than willing to share his favorite hiking trails. While you’re there, make sure to pick up a few hiking guidebooks and trail maps. If you’re looking to conquer the 4000-footers this summer, don’t forget to purchase your White Mountain 4000-Footers Passport!
If you’re looking for a place to stay after a long day of hiking and interested in meeting some fellow hikers, hunker down for the night at The Notch Hostel and plan your next adventure.
So now you’ve got the hiking bug, huh? Here’s some more resources to safely guide you on your next adventures – Happy Trails!
First Five 4,000 Footers-Burgeon Outdoor
Hike Safe Card-NH Fish & Game
The Mountain Wanderer Book & Map Store-Lincoln, NH