White Mountain National Forest Hiking and Backpacking Overview

White Mountains National Forest
White Mountains National Forest (Martin Ruegner/Photographer's Choice/Getty)

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

  • New Hampshire's best hiking experience is traversing the Presidential Range, staying in the European-style Appalachian Mountain Club huts, and climbing as many as eight 4,000-footers. Start at Pinkham Notch near Gorham, and stay at Madison, Lake of the Clouds, and Mizpah huts.
  • Climb 4,000 feet from temperate forests to alpine gardens on the nine-mile loop (Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, and Greenleaf trails as well as the Old Bridle Path) from Lafayette Campground to Lafayette Peak, where you'll have stupendous views of the Presidentials to the north. Break it up by staying overnight at Greenleaf Hut.
  • The Baldface Circle loop near Berlin never tops 4,000 feet, but it offers stupendous alpine views, a three-mile above-treeline trail segment, and extremely challenging rock scrambling that's not for the faint of heart. Eagle Crag, North Baldface, and South Baldface provide everything the Whites are famous for in a nine-mile loop.
  • Reaching nearly 5,000 feet, Mount Moosilauke is the first mountain above treeline northbounders will reach on the Appalachian Trail. The loop, linking the Ridge, Beaver Brook, Carriage Road, and Hurricane Trails, takes you up over the summit on a challenging, scrambling 11-mile adventure.

Hiking the White Mountains is a venerable tradition and probably the most popular activity in the Forest. There are over 1,200 miles of trails available, from scenic day hikes to rugged multi-day treks through dense hardwood forest and across barren peaks.

By far the most popular hiking in the region is in the Presidential Range, topped off by the famous Mount Washington. Rounding out the list of prominent peaks are Mount Jefferson, Mount Madison, and Mount Adams, making four unique alpine challenges that will test the endurance and, perhaps more importantly, the wits of any seasoned climber.

The Appalachian Trail runs through the White Mountain National Forest for 170 miles, crossing many of the regions major peaks as it goes. Along the way, the AppalachianMountain Club staffs eight huts, each about a day's hike from the other, that are the lap of luxury, at least by backcountry standards. Able to host between 36 and 90 people depending on the hut, these oases offer running water, full-course meals, and a roof. Lodging at AMC huts is by reservation only.

Besides the AMC huts, the Forest Service and many area trail clubs maintain numerous lean-tos, tent platforms, and cabins, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. These facilities tend to be popular; the Forest Service recommends that hikers bring tents in case established shelters are taken, which they often are.

Mount Moosilauke
(Western Region)
Mount Moosilauke is the westernmost 4,000-foot-plus summit in the Forest. One of the earliest peaks in the White Mountains to be climbed, it commands expansive views of the spectacular ridges to the east. One route up Mount Moosilauke is Benton Trail, which travels through the four major White Mountain ecosystems en route to the top. Kinsman Ridge Trail is a long, moderate trail that crosses four peaks and ends in Franconia Notch State Park, home of the famous Old Man of the Mountain.

Sandwich Range/Kancamagus Highway
(Southern Region)
The Kancamagus Highway is a scenic east-west traverse of the White Mountains and the major access road to trails in the Forest's southern half. Among the hikes there are Boulder Loop, a National Recreation Trail featuring numbered markers keyed to an interpretive nature guide, and the Lincoln Woods Trail, a popular trail that leads into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Pemigewasset Wilderness/Presidential Range
(Northern Region)
The Presidential Range is the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, home to some of the highest peaks on the East Coast and mountain terrain as rugged as almost anywhere in the United States. The trails up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast at 6,288 feet, lead to a summit subject to some of the worst weather in the world. Other peaks in the area include Mount Madison and Mount Jefferson.

The Pemigewasset Wilderness is one of the largest unspoiled spaces in the East, covering 45,000 acres. There are few trails in the wilderness itself, which means that the ones that are there all receive heavy usage. Just to the west of Pemigewasset, the Old Bridle Path-Falling Waters Loop rises to Franconia Ridge, which forms part of the wilderness' border.

The Kilkenny region of the White Mountain National Forest lies separate from and to the north of the rest of the Forest. The area is lush and rich with wildlife. The major trail here is the Kilkenny Ridge Trail, a meandering traverse across many summits, including the 4,006-foot Mount Waumbek.

Evans Notch/Caribou-Speckled Mountain
(Eastern Region)
The Evans Notch region includes the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area, which lies in the Forest's Maine section. The Basin Trail here is a relatively easy hike that leads to some jagged cliff ledges and is easy to reach from nearby campgrounds. Hikers on the Bickford Brook Trail, which leads into the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, will find themselves rewarded on a clear day with views of the summits of East and West Royce and Caribou Mountains as well as the Carter, Mahoosuc, and Presidential Ranges.

Trail Distances

Mt. Moosilauke
(Western Region)

Benton Trail - 3.5 miles
Kinsman Ridge Trail - 16.9 miles

Sandwich Range/Kancamagus Highway
(Southern Region)

Boulder Loop - 3 miles
Lincoln Woods Trail - 2.9 miles
Mt. Hedgehog Trail - 5 miles

Hikes on the Kancamagus Highway
Mt. Chocorua Hikes

Pemigewasset Wilderness/Presidential Range
(Northern Region)

Ammonoosuc-Jewell Trail Loop - 9 miles
Caps Ridge Trail - 2.5 miles
Crawford Path-Edmands Path - 10.2 miles
Kilkenny Ridge Trail - 20.6 miles
Mount Avalon Trail - 2.7 miles
Mount Adams - 9 miles
Mount Jefferson - 5 miles
Mount Madison - 10.5 miles
Mount Washington - 9 miles
North Twin Trail - 6.4 miles
Old Bridle Path - Falling Waters Loop - 8.7 miles
Pine Mountain Trail - 4.1 miles

Day Hikes in the Presidentials
Hikes in Crawford Notch State Park
Pinkham Notch Day Hikes
Zealand Valley Recreation Area

Evans Notch/Caribou-Speckled Mountain
(Eastern Region)

Basin Trail/Basin Rim Trail - 4.5 miles/3.7 miles
Bickford Brook Trail - 4.1 miles
Blueberry Ridge Trail - 3.6 miles
Mt. Kearsarge North - 4.9 miles

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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