Getting out into the great outdoors is one of the finest experiences a human can have. Unless of course you prefer sitting at home eating your 7th takeaway pizza while currently 120 hours deep in a marathon Grand Theft Auto session. The wilderness is a place you can escape from everyday life, pack up your troubles and leave it all behind as you explore some of the most stunning natural habitats this planet has to offer.
As long-term travellers and fitness fans, it’s always a joy for us to step outside and explore, and hiking is one of the best ways to do it – with the added bonus of getting fit at the same time. And one of the finest destinations to hike on earth is the famous Appalachian Trail – which covers a whopping 14 states in the US. We don’t have space to include it all this time, so we’re focusing on some the best routes to hike in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Where are we?!
You’ve heard of the Appalachian Trail, but you might not have heard of the White Mountains. You’ll find them about 110 miles north of Boston, taking up a large proportion of New Hampshire. The White Mountain National Forest boasts some truly breathtaking scenery, with around 100 miles of the Appalachian trail traversing through here. As such, many of the peaks are over 4000 ft high, but there’s also an awesome selection of other activities and pursuits, such as white-water rafting, horse-riding and golf – for those who like their “hikes” a little less strenuous.
What do we need?
Now we’d be a miss if we didn’t take this opportunity to remind you to take precautionary measures should you decide to venture on one of these trails – as hiking in the White Mountains isn’t a cakewalk. They’re infamous for being particularly challenging, so make sure you check out the American Hiking Society for some top-tips on the kind of gear you’re going to need. Flip-flops just aren’t going to cut it.
Where to begin?
We’re glad you asked! We’ve put together a bite-sized guide of some of the best hikes in the White Mountains, so feel free to pick one of these and get cracking. Remember to prepare for changes in weather – as the average wind speed on some of the peaks can be 35 mph and snow falls every month of the year. The trails can be steep and treacherous, and there’s a real danger of avalanches in places – so take the appropriate steps to keep you and your travel buddies safe. Hike within your capabilities and you’ll keep coming back for more!
Close to the village of Conway, you’ll discover an easy trail that shouldn’t take you more than an hour and is perfect for all ages and abilities. You’ll be following a stream known as Lucy’s Brook, which will eventually cascade as a series of small waterfalls known as Diana’s Baths. It’s a charming walk with a high reward for very little effort. The name comes from the Roman goddess of nature – but you knew that already didn’t you?!
Artist’s Bluff and Bald Mountain
Increasing the effort just a ridge and we’ll include the Artist’s Bluff and Bald Mountain hike – which will ease you nicely into more challenging terrain later on. Located towards the Cannon Mountain Ski Resort you’ll find the beginnings of the trail well signposted. It’s a moderate trail with some fantastic views and should take you around 90 minutes to complete. But be warned its family-friendly reputation can mean its regularly overcrowded.
Black Cap Path
North Conway is the location for the Black Cap Path, a 2-3-hour excursion through spruce and beech forest. You’ll find it halfway along the rather ominously named Hurricane Mountain Road. As you might expect, the trail will meander up to the summit of Black Cap Mountain, with an exposed peak at 2,350 ft. It’s a wonderful hike to do in the fall – with all the stunning colours depicted by nature’s paintbrush.
Located off the Kancamagus Highway is this trail, coming in at just over 7 miles – there and back again. Like Bilbo Baggins. It’s a moderate hike and muddy in places so check your footing. You’ll be rewarded with two beautiful mountain ponds that are attractive to swimmers in warmer temperatures. It’s also an excellent place to fish, but check if you need a permit or risk the wrath of a park ranger.
Welch-Dickey Loop Trail
Upping the ante further we’ve included this humorously named trail – which will set you back 4 to 5 hours of your time. You might not be laughing after that! Head towards Waterville Valley and you’ll find signs to the beginning of the trail in the region. As the clue is in the title, it is a loop hike, and experts advise to walk counter-clockwise for the best experience and to not annoy other hikers. Expect to see some wonderful views and an abundance of wildflowers.
Falling Waters Trail
Once again, the clue is in the name and you’re likely to get wet on this one – so wear waterproof boots. Located in the Franconia Notch State Park is the Falling Waters Trail, which will lead you through a number of waterfall crossings eventually to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain. It’s a more demanding hike that can take up to 8 hours on a round trip of 6-12 miles. Remember – the waterfalls make the rocks a significant hazard – so watch where you’re putting your feet.
Leave no trace
This lot should keep you busy for some time, but before we sign off, please remember one of our favourite mantras: take only pictures and leave only footprints. The White Mountains – like every national park – deserves to be treated with respect and left in the way you found it for other hikers to enjoy for years to come. So, don’t you dare drop that bottle of Gatorade! Have you ever hiked on the Appalachian Trail? Let us know your experiences!