New Hampshire is a state that is serious about hiking, and even the government is in on it: they’ve had a “First Day Hikes” program going for ten years running, where state parks workers organize January 1 hikes at five of their most popular locations and providing hot drinks and snacks for hikers at the end.
We compiled a list of New Hampshire’s 29 Most-Googled hikes, and then reached out to some local hiking experts to find out more about each place.
Two of the people that help make New Hampshire a special place for hiking are Ken Smith, the chair of the Development Committee of the White Mountain Trail Collective and President of the Chocorua Mountain Club, and Sue Barnett, a safety instructor and first responder who provides aid and rescue to people who are injured on the trails with SOLO Wilderness.
Before we get to the list, we’d like to share a couple of things. Sue wanted to remind anyone who’s planning on going to hiking that “getting to the summit is optional, but getting home is mandatory. A lot of people underestimate the trails and overestimate their abilities. Even a day hike can turn bad with a small amount of bad luck. Carrying the “ten essentials” goes a long way, and having a basic understanding of first aid will keep you safe.”
We also wanted to mention NH’s cozy system of huts that are located on some of the more remote hiking destinations, which have been around for over 125 years. The huts are staffed and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. As described by Sue:
“It depends on the season, but they’re all kind of indoor bunkhouse style. If you’re going to spend the night, there are rooms with multiple bunks in them. They have blankets, you can bring a sleeping mat, or an inflatable mattress, sleeping bag and sheets. There are multiple bunks in the unit. You get there and find your spot if you’re going to spend the night. There’s a big open lounging/dining area. There are libraries filled with an amazing assortment of books, and books that accumulate over the years. They’re staffed by the hut crew, who are incredibly creative and entertaining, wonderful. They cook, they put on skits, they tend to be pretty knowledgeable. One of my friends is a trail maintainer for a section of the trail. The food they have is amazing, and they can even accommodate vegetarians. They have tea and hot chocolate and coffee. The crew is an interesting community of people. It’s surprisingly expensive, until you spend the night and see how much work goes into it, it makes a lot more sense.”
Onto the list!
1. Cannon Mountain
17,000 Monthly Searches
Sue: I’ve hiked, rock or ice-climbed Cannon several times. It’s a great mountain in an amazing location with an amazing view. What’s really kind of unusual about it, is there’s access via the ski lifts. It’s one of those mountains where you hike up, you get to the top and there are all these people up there. You get a little bit of surprise especially in the more summertime months. In the winter there are ski trails, so you expect it.
The nice thing about Cannon is its accessibility. The parking is an issue for a lot of places in the Whites, just trying to get access to the trailhead. There are a number of trails up that vary in difficulty. It’s a good mountain to be really careful on. There are a number of lookouts and falls, and there have been a number of serious accidents from hikers that didn’t realize they were close to an edge. There’s definitely a number of places where people can get themselves in an unsafe position.
Ken: A wonderful mountain, I haven’t hiked it in many years. The US Olympic team trained there in the 30s. Cannon always has snow, because it’s so cold. The portion of the mountain where the ski area is comes down into Franconia Notch. If anyone gets any weather, Cannon gets weather. It’s a very nice hike, very accessible from a couple of different areas. People remember it because it’s so close to the Old Man of the Mountain, which is now gone unfortunately.
2 . White Mountain National Forest
16,000 Monthly Searches
Ken: That’s the whole forest, that includes Chocorua, the entire presidential range, Franconia Ridge, North Conway. I don’t know how many acres it is, but it’s millions. It encompasses the heart of the White Mountains. They have three districts; the Pemigewasset, Saco, and Androscoggin, and one other that i can’t remember. They do a great job. There’s also a group called the White Mountain Trail Collective; they’re maintainingt human powered trails that need a lot of work. (I happen to be the chair of the development committee for the collective).
3. Flume Gorge
13,000 Monthly Searches
Sue: I’ve only been in the winter to ice climb. I personally don’t want to pay a lot of money to see the sights, having seen it in the winter. The feature is so cool. It’s really nice for people who maybe aren’t doing a steep hike. It’s a little more accessible and yet just a really cool feature in the mountains.
Ken: Flume is a fantastic little cataract off of Route 3 just north of Lincoln. It’s got a wooden walkway that I assume the forest service put in. It’s a five to ten minute walk off of the parking lot. It’s one of those things right off the highway. Flume Gorge is a great place to go with kids.
4. Mount Monadnock
11,000 Monthly Searches
Ken: Haven’t done that one in a long time. It’s a classic hike. It’s over by Keane, a pretty large town. One of those nice hikes, you’re up in an hour or so, and you have a nice 360 view. There are several very nice camp sites, and there must be eight or ten trails that get you up to the top there. You can get there from Boston in an hour or so.
5. Franconia Notch State Park
8,700 Monthly Searches
Sue: Tons of hiking there. There’s a lot of variability along the notch. Just up the road from the Flume Gorge is the basin, and it’s really accessible with a wheelchair accessible path along it. It’s a reasonably short walk along the road, for anyone looking at the flume. The Basin is the next exit up the road. It’s really cool, and there’s a bike path all through Franconia Notch. The caution I would give anybody is that Franconia sees a ton of traffic. It’s right on 93, really accessible from NYC and Boston, and it’s at really high at risk at being loved to death. They’ve cracked down on people parking outside of designated lots. It’s frustrating to me to see how people disregard the edges of the natural places trying to get to the natural places they want to enjoy. It just is overrun. The parking for people to get there results in more damage along the road.
6. Pawtuckaway State Park
6,200 Monthly Searches
Sue: I was down there in 2010, so it’s been a while. My memory is that there was rock climbing, hiking, water, and I was picking blueberries. I haven’t explored all around it. It’s family-friendly, a day-use kind of place that’s good for people that just want to not have a really committing day. Nothing steep and dangerous, nothing really remote.
7. Bear Brook State Park
5,700 Monthly Searches
This is the largest developed state park in New Hampshire, and is home to the only surviving New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps work camp left in the state. From 1935 until 1942, “unemployed, unmarried men” aged 17-28 lived in thirteen structures to help convert the land from underutilized farmland to recreational uses.
8. Arethusa Falls
5,100 Monthly Searches
Sue: We have a lot of really pretty waterfalls around here. It’s a 1.6 mile hike into the falls. The falls are a great hike any season of the year. It’s a nice moderate path. The good thing about it is a lot of the trails you find are rocky and rooty and bouldery, but the footing is good. You can do an out and back up to the falls, and there’s a loop through the woods that brings you back down to the train trestle, which is the Conway scenic railway, which is an active train track so you have to be careful with that. The falls themselves are great for a day trip, have a picnic by the waterfall. It’s a nice moderate trail with pretty good footing for most of it.
9. Presidential Traverse
3,200 Monthly Searches
Ken: That’s the hike in the White Mountains. Depending on which way you want to go… you generally want to go from north to south. That covers all of the summits and all of the presidentials. You’re well above 4,000 feet for most of the hike, in some of the worst weather. There are three AMC huts along the hike, on the weekend you will definitely need a reservation. You get to the hut, spend the night, and then you begin your traverse. You start at Madison Spring hut, go south over Sam Adams, Jefferson, Clay, and up to the big one, Mount Washington, with the observatory. Drop down to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, which is right below Mount Washington, gorgeous views. You’d continue down the Crawford Path to Mizpah. It can be done in two days.
Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared. The weather will turn on you in a minute. The temperature can be 20-30 degrees different from down in the valley. Mount Washington creates its own weather. If you look at the topo, if you go west, there is nothing above about 1500 feet between the Canadian Rockies and Mount Washington. A lot of people have been pulled off of that mountain. You need to go up with full weather gear. People stand down below it on the highway, it’s 70-90 degrees, but not up there. That is a serious hike.
10. Tuckerman Ravine
3,200 Monthly Searches
Ken: That’s part of Mount Washington. It’s one of the last North American glaciers in this area. The snow is known to stay until June. It is virtually vertical at the top. Ski hikers go there, and there’s no chair lift. A lot of the great skiiers from the 1930s through the 1950s cut their teeth there. That is one part of your ascent to Mount Washington.
Have really good boots and a lot of patience. When you get to the headwall, which is the nearly vertical section, Tuck gets a lot of activity. It’s not a wide trail. If someone is coming down with a big overnight pack, you may need to step aside to let them pass, and there’s not a lot of room. If it’s a weekend, you won’t be alone. It’s a tough trail.
11. Mount Major
3,000 Monthly Searches
It’s said that this is one of the most popular hikes in NH’s Lakes Region, and is a reasonably short hike that has a major payoff of panoramic views of Lake Winnipesaukee within a couple of hours.
Be advised; the parking here can fill up quickly, but on hot summer days, there may be an Italian ice vendor in the parking lot.
12. Diana’s Baths
2,900 Monthly Searches
Ken: An absolutely wonderful place to take the family. It’s about a half hour outside of North Conway. It’s basically a waterfall cascade, very shallow, with a bunch of little bathtubs that have been carved out of a rock. You walk out in less than ankle deep water, and it’s like a bathtub. These little bathing areas have been carved out, you sit down and the water rushes over you. It’s really fun with the kids. However, it’s the #1 visited area among the hotels in the area, it’s an area of significant concern. The parking lot holds 50; but the parking lot has 250 cars. If you can, go during the week, not during the weekend. It’s a 10 minute hike in. It’s about a quarter mile long.
13. Franconia Ridge Loop
2,600 Monthly Searches
Sue: One of the more popular hikes within Franconia Notch State Park. Incredible exposure, incredible views. The parking lot is a huge issue because so many people want to do it. You’re well above treeline, you’re only a couple of miles from the road. We see a lot of rescues up there just because of the number of people who go up there. There are a number of points in and out, so you can do a short loop.
Some people will make a shorter loop of just a few mountains. It’s a good place to spend a weekend and get a lot of 4,000 footers in. Tons of beautiful mountains with incredible views out there, looking off the ridgeline looking into the Pemi Loop wilderness.
14. Mount Chocorua
2,600 Monthly Searches
Ken: There are five or six ways to get up. What makes it such a wonderful hike is that it’s easily accessible from a couple of different areas. The parking lot for the trails is in some cases 50-100 yards off a major highway. The hikes are not easy, and people feel like they’re getting a really good hike. The top is completely open and bare. When you get to the summit, you get one of the greatest 360 views of anywhere in the White Mountains. If you’re going on book time, you’re up over three and a half hours, and down in two. It’s a very lovely day hike.
15. White Lake State Park
2,500 Monthly Searches
Ken: That’s not too far from Chocorua. It’s a nice little lake with a campsite, you have a nice little view of Mount Chocorua. You drive in maybe a half mile to the campsite and you feel like you’re a million miles away, you drive out to Route 16. There’s a chinese place right there, there’s family fun and entertainment. It’s a really well centrally located park area; the view is over the lake to the mountain.
16. Mount Washington
2,500 Monthly Searches
Ken: The rock pile. That is the highest point on the eastern seaboard. In the winter, have your ice packs with you. The traverse is spectacular. You could be faced with 50 mile winds. It’s kind of getting loved to death. The routes up are about four to five hours for the average hiker, and you’re gonna be tired if you want to do it in a day. You can also drive your car up.
When you get to the summit, don’t be surprised that there’s people there. There’s a large cafeteria and there’s a large museum about all the flora and fauna and the history. It’s a wonderful little museum. Give yourself an hour or two on the top if you have kids.
17. Mount Moosilauke
2,500 Monthly Searches
Sue: It’s another really popular one. It’s been a while since I’ve been there; it was kind of misty and foggy and icy. It’s very popular with a lot of variability in the trails there. There’s a lodge down at the bottom that was fairly recently renovated.
18. Mount Lafayette
2,400 Monthly Searches
Ken: It’s along one of the ridges that makes up Franconia. It’s not one of the Presidentials, it’s 5th or 6th highest. It’s a difficult scramble at the top, a good four hours up. It’s best attacked by doing a ridge run. Most people do the ridge run at the top. If you’re a strong hiker, there’s a bit of scrambling at the top. The views are fantastic and make it worth it. It’s not a modest trail by any means.
19. Pemi Loop
2,400 Monthly Searches
Ken: Coming from the loop, you’re probably staying over at Zealand Falls Hut. One of the great huts, it’s a two to four mile hike in, but it’s virtually flat, so it’s really easy skiing. You pop up 200 yards maybe, and the Zealand Falls River is there, and it’s a great place. If you want to do wilderness, do the Pemi Loop. If you’re on the Bond Cliff Trail, coming up the Pemi Valley up to Mount Bond, there’s a neat moment: you pitch up, you’re in the woods, and there are big trees, and you get faced with a pretty good sized rock outcropping. You get to the top and you turn around, and the entire valley falls away from you. It’s a 10 out of 10. It’s one of the moments you hike for. It’s a tough slog to get to that point, and then you turn around and you’re looking down at the highway, you’re looking at the Lincoln region, it’s gorgeous. Go about another three miles, you get to Guyot Shelter. You’re facing east, and the sun comes up over Maine, and it’s a glorious sunrise.
20. Greenfield State Park
2,200 Monthly Searches
This is the home of Mount Monadnock, which is profiled in #4 of the list list. The park also has 400 acres of bogs, ponds and forests with hiking trails throughout, so if you don’t feel like tackling a mountain there’s plenty of other things to do.
21. Mount Kearsarge
1,300 Monthly Searches
Ken: Great hike. It’s maybe 15 minutes north of North Conway. It’s a nice hike, maybe 90 minutes to the summit. It’s one of these perfectly conical mountains, and you get to the top and you’re touching the summit and the Presidentials. It’s a relatively easy hike. It’s not flat, but it’s pretty darn easy.
22. Lonesome Lake
1,200 Monthly Searches
Sue: You can have a nice hike that’s reasonable. They have a hut with caretakers. The trails tend to be relatively reasonable not as steep and terrible. Being able to go, hang out at the hike, talk to other hikers and the caretakers, maybe eat some brownies is always a nice experience.
23. The Basin
1,200 Monthly Searches
This is one of the most popular hotspots of Franconia Notch, which is talked about in item 5 of this list. The basin is the destination of a 2.2 mile out and back trail.
24. Mount Willard
1,100 Monthly Searches
Sue: Willard is another super popular one, right at the top of Crawford Notch, it’s an incredible value hike.The view almost looks all the way down the notch. The trail is moderate and greyed. It’s not rocky. I hiked it with my best friend and her 7 year old and had a great time.
You tend to see a lot of dogs, a lot of people, but it’s a nice trail. There are great views at the top. You have the AMC highland center right there. You can get down and have a cup of hot chocolate and sit by the fireplace. It’s also great for carrying people off of, the trail is roomy enough to carry people off the trail. Every trail I’m on, I’m thinking oh, this would be bad, or not so bad, for carrying a litter with a person on each end.
25. Welch Dickey Loop
1,100 Monthly Searches
Billed as a 4.5 mile loop trail, this provides “many views along the way as the trail winds its way across open edges.” It’s located in Thornton, NH about 10 minutes east of I-93, and is officially part of the White Mountain National Forest.
26. Mount Garfield
1,100 Monthly Searches
Ken: Garfield is over by South Twin. I would put Garfield on the list next to Lafeyette and Lincoln. If you drop down Garfield you get to Zealand. I don’t know if it’s inside the Pemi Wilderness, it might be. If you are ridgerunning, you go down to Garfield South, the next one is Lincoln, and Lafayette, Garfield would be part of a ridge run down to Lafayette. There’s Greenfield Ridge, and the AMC Greenfield Hut. You get to Garfield, stay overnight, hike south, you’re in the trees for a bit, then you break out, heading south, then you bag Lafayette, Lincoln. There’s one down. It’s gotten really filled with skree, you’re slip-sliding away on that trail. That’s one of the wonderful ridge runs. You’re out there. No cog railway, no auto road, there’s a couple of huts. If you bump into people on that ridge, they are one day out.
27. Twin Mountain
1,000 Monthly Searches
Sue: That is what I look at out my window. North and South Twin, they are definitely easier to access in the summer before the forest roads close. Access becomes trickier in the winter. They’re both 4,000 footers, the trails are pretty well identified. It’s a nice hike up from the gale head hut. People can go spend the night in the hut, go see some peaks from there. Have some snacks and cocoa, a nice rest on the deck, refill a water bottle, that sort of thing. South Twin being right on the Pemi Loop, people sometimes incorporate that into a huge day. South Twin has the best view, really nice big open summit, really pretty. A view off into the Pemi wilderness again.