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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.