Get out and safely explore the great outdoors with this collection of vista-filled White Mountain day hikes.
By Ian Aldrich
Sep 02 2022
Please note that businesses, attractions, and events throughout New England have been modified, closed, and/or canceled in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. Please check with state guidelines and individual businesses and organizations before making travel plans.
Generations of hikers have flocked to New Hampshire’s White Mountains region for a wilderness retreat — and for many, that means a good day hike. So what are the best White Mountain day hikes? There is no shortage of options, and several routes are among the most scenic in the Northeast. For insight, we turned to Steve Smith, who has owned the Mountain Wanderer bookstore in Lincoln, New Hampshire, since 1998. Smith knows the region as few others do: He’s hiked virtually every square inch of the White Mountains and has also edited the last four editions of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide. Read on for his favorites, as well as a few of our own.
To be sure, this nine-mile round-trip trek is challenging — but oh, the rewards. Hikers traverse Franconia Ridge from Little Haystack Mountain before venturing on to Mount Lafayette. With a healthy share of the trip above treeline, it’s one of the most eye-popping day hikes in the entire region.
SEE MORE: Franconia Ridge Loop | The Perfect White Mountains Hike
The show-stopping spectacle of New Hampshire’s tallest waterfall marks the conclusion of this 1.5-mile (one-way) trek. While sections of the trail require some careful navigation over tree roots, this family-friendly hike offers prime territory for young hikers and those rediscovering their nature legs.
SEE MORE: Discover Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire’s Amazing 140-Foot Waterfall
Smith loves this strenuous 10-mile loop. “It’s a little out of the way, and hard, because there’s a lot of elevation, but there’s so much open ledge walking,” he says. “It’s great.” Hikers scale two summits, and peak views include a distant shot of Mount Washington, the Northeast’s tallest peak and famously home to the “world’s worst weather.”
“Nobody ever goes wrong with Chocorua,” says Smith. The Mount Chocorua Loop Trail is an 8.5-mile route that brings hikers to the top of one of the most striking-looking peaks in the Whites. The easily identifiable cone-shaped top is visible from miles away, and its 360-degree views extend deep into the region.
Hikers get their money’s worth on this 3.2-mile round-trip hike. “There are some fantastic views of Crawford Notch to be found here,” says Smith. The trek departs from a lofty neighborhood — which includes the source of the Saco River, a train depot, and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center — and ends at an open perch showcasing the towering Webster Cliffs, historic Willey Slide, and more.
“Another one of my favorites,” says Smith. The eight-mile loop takes hikers up the Gorge Brook Trail to the summit of Mount Moosilauke, then follows Moosilauke Carriage Road and the Snapper and Gorge Brook trails for the return trip. On a clear day, views extend into Vermont and sometimes even New York’s Adirondacks region.
This 8.4-mile round-trip hike is rugged and demanding. But if you’re up for the challenge, it’s also one of the most rewarding hiking experiences you’ll find east of the Mississippi. Tuck’s dramatic landscape looks like something an overzealous designer created in Photoshop. Its ravine attracts visitors throughout the year, most notably in spring, when daring skiers test their skills against its headwall. The Ravine Trail continues to the top of Mount Washington. But come prepared: A good portion of the hike is above treeline, and the weather up top can change in an instant. During the summer season, water, food, and other supplies can be picked up at the visitors center atop the peak.
SEE MORE: Doing the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains | Tips
This magnificent loop connects the Welch and Dickey mountains near New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley. Rock scrambling, ledges, and some stunning views of the Mad River Valley are all featured attractions in this 4.5-mile trek. It’s family-friendly and, during prime hiking weather, somewhat busy. “It’s a real joy to walk, because you’re in the open so much without having to work as much,” says Smith. “It’s not easy, but it’s a real classic.”
The featured hike here is the modest Mount Pemigewasset Trail, a 3.6-mile round-trip journey that puts nature lovers atop a 2,500-foot peak in the heart of the Franconia Notch region. For families with young children, this is an excellent introduction to New Hampshire’s White Mountains region. Wildflowers, wild birds, and stream crossings predominate.
For those looking for a relatively easy introduction to the White Mountains, this 1.5-mile loop trail is a wonderfully accessible option. The end point is an overlook that offers photo-worthy views of nearby Echo Lake and the surrounding Franconia Notch State Park.
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.