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Franconia Ridge Loop | The Perfect White Mountains Hike

This Franconia Ridge hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire offers beautiful views (weather permitting!) and outdoor adventure for hikers of all ages.

In a National Geographic article promoting the “World’s Best Hikes: 20 Dream Trails,” co-author Jonathan Waterman includes on his list the beautiful Franconia Ridge hike (also known as the Franconia Ridge Loop) in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park.

The Franconia Ridge Loop — the nine-mile, seven-hour Franconia Ridge hike that traverses Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln, and Little Haystack, along the second highest range of peaks in the White Mountains — is arguably one of the most popular and best hikes New England has to offer, with breathtaking views in the White Mountains. This Franconia Ridge hike sees up to 700 hikers a day, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club [AMC]. From my experiences on this hike, seeing people of all ages and a full parking lot in any weather, I would have to say I not only agree with this being a hotspot for hikers, but also one of the most beautiful hikes in the White Mountains. Who wouldn’t want to see these picturesque views and only have to drive two hours and ten minutes north of Boston?

View of Franconia Ridge from Greenleaf Hut, en route to Mount Lafayette.

View of Franconia Ridge from Greenleaf Hut, en route to Mount Lafayette.

Taylor Thomas

This Franconia Ridge hike stays well above the tree line for more than a mile and a half, leaving hikers exposed to the elements, which is why the Franconia Ridge is not only known for amazing views, but also for its dangerous weather. The Mount Washington Observatory website, which AMC recommends hikers check before setting out, warns that “Mountain weather is subject to rapid changes and extreme conditions. Always be prepared to make your own assessment of travel and weather conditions.”

For my fall Franconia Ridge hike, the forecast looked ideal (65o and sunny) up until the day of our hike, when the MWOBS showed fog and wind speeds of up to 50 miles-per-hour. Having done this hike before, I knew the views were spectacular. Hoping the weather would change, I made my way up to the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot, (right off of I-93 North after it becomes Franconia Notch Parkway) to start my seven-hour adventure. As usual, I was the only girl on the hike, accompanied by four friends and my favorite four-legged hiking partner, Jack.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t change. But we were prepared, so we decided to continue, facing 40 mile-an-hour winds and thick fog.

Author explores Franconia Ridge on a July day with clear views.

Author takes on a Franconia Ridge hike on a July day with clear views.

Taylor Thomas

Author's second trip to Franconia Ridge, without optimal conditions. Previous picture taken at same location.

Author’s second Franconia Ridge hike, with less than optimal conditions. Previous picture taken at same location.

Taylor Thomas

I have included pictures from both of my Franconia Ridge hike experiences to highlight the varying weather conditions of the White Mountains, and show why you may want to reconsider the Franconia Ridge hike if the weather isn’t favorable for clear views.

Useful tips, warnings, and trail information before the adventure begins.

This sign provides useful tips, warnings, and trail information before the adventure begins.

Taylor Thomas

The trail begins just to the right of the information sign and starts as a cement path that leads to bathrooms, then turns to dirt where the trail begins.

Steep & rugged terrain is the reason the hike is rated "difficult" in many hiking guides.

Steep & rugged terrain is the reason the hike is rated “difficult” in many hiking guides.

Taylor Thomas

Although this Franconia Ridge hike is popular, it is recommended for people (and dogs) with good stamina, because the elevation increases 3,480 feet in just 4 miles. Most choose to take the Falling Waters Trail up, but I prefer taking the Old Bridle Path, which is usually less crowded and  offers amazing views and opportunities to photograph the ridge you’ll soon be hiking.

Hiker Ken Carr looks to Franconia Ridge from a scenic viewpoint on The Old Bridle Path Trail.

Hiker Ken Carr looks to Franconia Ridge from a scenic viewpoint on the Old Bridle Path Trail.

Taylor Thomas

Hikers Ken Carr, Tony Quintilliani, and Brian Briggs stare into the foggy abyss from the same scenic viewpoint in previous picture.

Hikers Ken Carr, Tony Quintilliani, and Brian Briggs stare into the foggy abyss from the same scenic viewpoint in previous picture.

Taylor Thomas

After the scenic viewpoints and passing the AMC Greenleaf Hut, hikers begin the rocky assent to the top of Mount Lafayette, which stands at 5,260 feet.

On a clear day hikers can see 360-degree views of the White Mountains from the top of Mount Lafayette, including views of Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range.

On a clear day, hikers can see 360-degree views of the White Mountains from the top of Mount Lafayette, including views of Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range.

Taylor Thomas

The author and her team of adventurers at the top of Mount Lafayette. Picture taken from same location as previous photo.

The author and her team of adventurers at the top of Mount Lafayette. Picture taken from same location as previous photo.

Taylor Thomas

The author and her favorite hiking partner, Jack, in good spirits despite the not-so-good weather.

The author and her favorite hiking partner, Jack, in good spirits despite the not-so-good weather.

Taylor Thomas

The differences in my two hiking experiences on this trail illustrate how important it is to check the MWOBS when planning a hike. I’m not suggesting that you don’t hike on foggy days, because I think hiking is fun regardless of the weather. But make sure that you are prepared for the conditions you’ll be walking into, and understand that weather conditions will dictate much of what you see. But enough about the weather. From this point forward, let’s focus on the beauty of this hike on a clear day.

The narrow ridge, which some refer to as a knife edge, extends from Lafayette to Little Haystack for 1.7 miles.

The narrow ridge, which some refer to as a knife edge, extends from Lafayette to Little Haystack for 1.7 miles.

Taylor Thomas

The trail from Mount Lafayette to Mount Lincoln to Little Haystack is the most exposed, most beautiful, and most dangerous part of the hike. Although it looks like a straight route from here, the trail dips and climbs more than it appears to.

Much of the trail is also wider than it appears and offers endless views, photo opportunities, and great spots to take a break and eat lunch.

Much of the trail is also wider than it appears and offers endless views, photo opportunities, and great spots to take a break and eat lunch.

Taylor Thomas

Cairns, or man made piles of stones (to the right of the photo), are there to guide your way.

Cairns, or man made piles of stones (to the right of the photo), are there to guide your way.

Taylor Thomas

On the last peak, Little Haystack, there is a sign for Falling Waters Trail which begins your descent and leads you away from the mountain views. But don’t get discouraged. Although the trail is steep, there is plenty still ahead, including some marvelous waterfalls.

Cloudland Falls, an 80-foot cascade, is 1.4 miles away from the parking lot and offers a great place to relax and cool off after a long day of hiking.

Cloudland Falls, an 80-foot cascade, is 1.4 miles away from the parking lot and offers a great place to relax and cool off after a long day of hiking.

Taylor Thomas

After completing the Franconia Ridge Loop hike you’ll be able to say you’ve hiked two of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-foot peaks (Mount Lafayette and Mount Lincoln) in one day! Congratulations!

After a long day of hiking it is important to re-hydrate, recover, and rest. My favorite form of “recovery” is snacking on a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but others have their own therapies, such as a nap on the couch.

Jack taking a well-deserved nap on the couch after a long day of hiking.

Jack taking a well-deserved nap on the couch after a long day of hiking.

Taylor Thomas

Have you ever embarked on a Franconia Ridge hike? What are your picks for the best hikes New England has to offer? Let us know!

This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated. 

SEE MORE:
The Best Scenic Hikes in the White Mountains | The Best 5
Flume Gorge | Hiking Through History
The White Mountains of New Hampshire | Featured Photographer Joe Klementovich

Comments
  • I concur with one of the previous commenters experience. New Hampshire was a twice yearly trip for me and a friend, summer and winter. Love the White Mountains, many memorable times in this scenic wonderland. I climbed Monadnok a long ways back in the early 80s, and that was an experience. This Franconia Notch hike looks a bit more challenging, but it sure looks amazing. I just turned 65, and I join the ever growing list of seniors who ask themselves, all the same question, “Where did the time go?” It seems like just a little while ago when I……

    Reply
  • I am 80 now but would go to the whites every summer for years cant do anymore sure miss it

    Reply
  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for taking us back to the trail with this great account. We knew we were lucky to have clear balmy weather for our hike and feel all the luckier seeing the photos from your less perfect day.
    I wanted to share one unforgettable experience we had in the hopes it might help dog owners with their planning. About halfway down Falling Water trail, we met up with a man who was amazingly and heroically carrying his 100-pound dog over his shoulders. The pads of the dog’s paws had been rubbed raw by the rough surface of the rocks, and he couldn’t continue. Together with the man’s girlfriend, we did what we could to help him navigate his way down the trail, and he and the dog did make it successfully back.
    I’m writing this after reading that a chocolate lab made news just days before our hike when he was rescued from the Old Bridle Path by the local Search and Rescue crew, due to the same problem of scraped up paws. The article mentions, as well, another dog being carried down on the shoulders of its owner (different from our encounter). This made me wonder how many owners have faced this same problem, when they realized mid-hike that their dog’s paws weren’t toughened up enough for a long scramble over granite.
    We’ve thought a lot about that courageous man and the grit he displayed to get his dog safely home, but here’s hoping that his story might save others that same fate!

    Reply
  • Yes, it’s gorgeous – but yes, it’s crowded. Get there early or you’ll be hoofing it a mile from where you park your car.

    Reply
  • What an author! 🙂 Thanks so much… i was there last week, it was cloudy and since I was there to see ‘color’, I avoided this trail…. its a great idea to present contrasting pictures under different weather condition for which I’m eternally grateful! Looks like one I should try on my next trip from California next summer… Blessed to live in this country.

    Reply
  • Thank you for a refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable article. I’m considering this hike myself this July, and wondering if I was to continue from Lincoln to mount Liberty and Flume before retracing my way to the falling waters trail, what would the duration of the entire trip likely be?

    Reply
  • Gotta love NH, especially the white mountains. Been going up since about 1985. I think we’ve hit most of the easy to medium hikes/climbs from west rattlesnake up to the Balsoms area. Also did a couple of more difficult terrains, but never more than a days worth of hiking. I’ve gone through one Shepard/husky mix, and two red dobies along with my daughters pooch now days. We’ve hit some of the area that you have discussed here and recognize the views.
    We lived in NJ and had a ski house in Lincoln and would come up about five times a year. Unfortunately we only make it up about once a year now. I did break my son and daughter in though, just as my father in law broke me in to the White Mountains. My wife and I are still in good shape and enjoy the hiking when we get to visit.
    You did a very nice job with your article, good luck to you and thank you for bringing back awesome memories. BTW….Jack looks like my daughters pooch…Onyx.

    Reply
  • Charles, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I’m sorry for not making my route clear. Yes, we went up via Old Bridal Path and down Falling Waters trail. This is definitely reverse of the route many take, but I love the views of Franconia Ridge while hiking up Old Bridal Path. Also, seeing the waterfall near the end of the hike is a great way to end the day. Falling Waters trail doesn’t offer many scenic views, which can make the steep hike up seem long. That’s just my opinion though. Either way you do it you are going to have an amazing hike! Thank you & enjoy!

    Reply
  • Taylor, I really enjoyed how you assembled this article, with the contrasts of sunny vs. foggy hiking conditions, and wonderful photos. I was also delighted to see you have an anthropology minor. But I was disappointed you didn’t indicate your route of descent, since you went up via the Bridal Path. Does this mean you came down via Falling Waters trail (I think that’s the name)? This is generally considered a more difficult way to come off the ridge, and I’m curious as to your thoughts and advice. Best wishes for your career.

    Reply

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