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Appalachian Trail – Ashby Gap to Front Royal

January 19, 2016

This 21.2 mile route along the Appalachian Trail crosses Sky Meadows State Park and the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area.  There are a couple nice vistas along the way, but it is mostly a quiet, wooded walk. This section of the trail has three shelters – one of the most luxurious (Jim & Molly Denton) and one of the oddest/smallest (Dicks Dome).  Christine is going to cover the first day and Adam will pick up the second.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

The View from Sky Meadows

If you take the Ambassador Whitehead Trail off the Appalachian Trail in Sky Meadows, you will get some nice views of the Piedmont. Below: Adam crosses the four lanes of Route 50; Making our way uphill to the high point of Sky Meadows; Once you finish climbing, you clear the woods and come out into the open fields of Sky Meadows State Park.

Crossing Route 50 Uphill Climb Sky Meadows Opens Up

Day One (6 miles total – 4.8 on the Appalachian Trail and 1.2 walking around Sky Meadows State Park)…

Most typical couples want to spend their anniversary in a cozy bed & breakfast inn or possibly out for a fancy multi-course dinner.  Not us — we go backpacking — especially when we’re given a sunny weekend in the middle of peak fall color season!  We took a Friday off of work so we could have two nights out on the trail.  I was coming off a knee injury, so we picked a section with gentle terrain and several shelters/campsites spaced to allow for shorter mileage each day. The section between Ashby Gap and Front Royal fit the bill perfectly. It was also a good chunk of miles we hadn’t hiked before.

To make transportation easier, we hired a shuttle driver for this trip.  None of the recommended shuttle drivers listed in our AWOL Guide were available, so we turned to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s list of shuttles.  ‘Sharon’s Shuttles’ was prompt and affordable.  The mother-daughter team has been shuttling hikers for over a decade now.  We also arranged for a parking spot at the Mountain Home Bed & Breakfast in Front Royal.  For just a couple bucks a day, Mountain Home will give you safe, off-road parking spot at their inn. (There is a small AT lot on Rt. 522, but we don’t recommend leaving a car there overnight.) Mountain Home also has a clean, well-equipped hiker hostel! The proprietors are past thru-hikers, so they’re a great source of information for the trail and the local Front Royal area.

Views from Sky Meadows

Pretty views at our lunch spot. Below: It’s nice to have a table to sit at for lunch;  Leaving the high meadows area of the park; Hickory Tussock caterpillar.

Picnic Table at Sky Meadows Leaving the Meadows Hickory Tussock

We met our shuttle driver at the inn around 10 a.m.  She drove us the 20 miles to our start point at Ashby Gap.  As she pulled into the parking area above Ashby Gap, she said ‘I’m going to drop you off here because someone left a headless deer at the other end of the parking lot’.  Gross! I am glad she gave us the warning because that is not something I want to see! I imagine the headless deer had a nice set of antlers that somebody wanted to keep.  :-(

By 11:00 a.m., we were on our way! We followed a short spur trail from the parking area downhill to its junction with the Appalachian Trail.  Headed south, we reached the busy road crossing of Rt. 50 after just several hundred feet. Cars were zipping by at 55+mph, so we made a run for it as soon as it was safe. After crossing the highway, we had a steady 1.75 mile climb up to the high point of Sky Meadows State Park.  Most AT hikers probably walk across the high meadows of the park without detouring, but we decided to turn onto the Ambassador Whitehead Trail and enjoy a scenic view while we ate our packed lunch.  At the viewpoint, there was a picnic table and a nice look down into a valley dotted with farm houses.  I had been warm enough hiking in short sleeves, but as soon as we  stopped I got cold really quickly.  The brisk wind across the open meadow was enough that I pulled out my down jacket!

After lunch, we hiked the remaining mile within Sky Meadows, crossing into the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area.  Near a trailside campsite, our paths crossed with two young guys hunting small game.  They came out of the thick woods, and totally startled us.  They were friendly enough, but it was pretty obvious they were mostly out to smoke pot and drink beer rather than actually hunt!  As we walked along, we passed thick tangle of old grape vines.  Some of the vines still had bunches of grapes.  I tried a couple – they were very sour!

Tangles of Vines and Weeds in the Wildlife Management Area

The G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management area. You can probably make out some of the old grape vines in this photo. Below: Arriving at Dicks Dome; The rickety bridge across Whiskey Hollow stream; The shelter is small and oddly shaped.

Arriving at Dicks Dome Crossing the Rickety Bridge to Dicks Dome Dicks Dome Shelter

We descended from higher, more open areas back into the woods.  Over the last mile of trail before reaching our first campsite at Dicks Dome, we passed under power-lines and crossed a shallow spring.  A small sign marked the spur trail to the shelter.  The path was heavily covered with leaves and a little hard to follow.  It looked like no one had passed by in days.  Dicks Dome sits almost a third of a mile off the AT.  A rickety, sagging bridge takes hikers across across Whiskey Hollow stream to the front of Dicks Dome Shelter.  The shelter is a tiny, geodesic dome that might comfortably sleep three people.  It was built by a scout group in 1987 and has seen better days.  It’s so run down and small that the PATC is currently working on building a new shelter uphill from the dome.  When it’s complete, it will be called Whiskey Hollow Shelter.

When we’re out backpacking, we leave the shelter space for thru-hikers and sleep in a tent.  We spent some time looking around the shelter area for a decent tent site.  There was nothing – everything flat was mucky and wet and everything else was on a slope.  Because of the lack of tent sites, we ended up setting up camp on the completed deck of the unfinished shelter.  There were no signs saying ‘keep out’ or ‘do not use’, so we figured the deck would be the easiest and most comfortable place to pitch our tent.

It was still really early in the afternoon – maybe 2:30, so we set up camp and filtered water.  I took a nap while Adam read a book.  Around 4:30, we collected a stack of small firewood so we could have a campfire that evening.  The new shelter had a nice firepit with benches around it!  We relaxed, played cards, and made spaghetti for dinner. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the temperature dropped quickly. What had been a warm, pleasant day turned into a cold night. We started our campfire and tried to stay warm!

Campfire

Our little campfire next to the shelter. A nice fire ring and benches were already there.  Below: Our camping deck; The woods around the new shelter site were lovely; Cards at camp.

Our Campsite Around the Shelter Cards at Camp

We climbed into our tent around 8:30.  It was already completely dark, and we wanted to put the fire out completely before it got too late. We knew the nighttime lows on this trip were going to be unseasonably cold, so we had both borrowed 0 degree sleeping bags from the Adventure Program at JMU.  Isn’t that a great work perk?  I was able to rent a nice-quality Big Agnes bag for just a few dollars!  We normally don’t backpack when it’s cold, so we both just have summer bags rated for 32 degrees.  I’m a cold sleeper, so I knew it wouldn’t be enough to keep me warm on this trip.  I was thankful I had rented the bag… because it was COLD!  I slept in a hat, gloves, thick socks, and a silk baselayer.  I was comfortable and warm enough.  It took me a while to fall asleep, but I eventually did.  I think I ended up sleeping over ten hours that night.  I guess that’s what happens when you sleep and wake by the natural light!

Day Two (15.2 miles)…

We woke up in the cold at the first sign of daylight  and made a warm breakfast of granola, Nido, and hot drinks (coffee for Christine and cider for me).  We packed up everything quickly and made our way back on the trail.  Some people like to have a leisurely morning when backpacking, but we like to be up at sunrise and back on the trail as soon as possible.  The cold helped us get moving quickly since we knew we would warm up once the blood started flowing.

Golden Woods

The woods were beautiful in their golden leaves. Below: Manassas Gap Shelter; The spring is located downhill from the shelter; Hot lunch of buffalo chicken mac and cheese!

Manassas Gap Shelter The Spring at Manassas Gap Yum - Lunch

From Dicks Dome, we had only had a few tenths of a mile before we were back on the AT.  The hike started off with some ups and downs, enough to get my blood going enough that I wanted to take off my outer fleece.  After 2.5 miles, we reached a junction with the Trico Tower spur trail which leads to a communication tower.  From this junction the trail descended a bit and at 3.2 miles, we passed a reliable spring.  While a lot of the hiking in the morning was uneventful, we marveled at how beautiful the trees looked in the fall.  The ground was covered with color and the sun shining through the tree tapestry gave us a reminder that the hard work of carrying packs was worth it.

At 4.5 miles, we reached the Manassas Gap Shelter.  It was a little early for lunch, but we decided to stop and eat since we knew there was a reliable spring and a table to cook.  We combined a macaroni & cheese meal with a buffalo chicken meal and topped it with bacon to make a glorious warm lunch.  Once we had stopped, we could feel the chill of the wind, so it was back into our outer layers while we stopped.  After resting a bit at the shelter, we pushed on.

Barringer Point

A sign and a short spur trail led out to Barringer Point. The view was mostly obstructed. Below: Adam hikes along the trail; Old stone walls; Passing under I-66.

Hiking Along Old Stone Wall Passing Under 66

Descending from Manassas Gap, we came upon a large stone wall at 5.5 miles, which skirted the trail for a good distance.  The trail continued to descend and we reached Tuckers Lane at 6.8 miles, which had some parking for the trail.  Here, we hung a left and passed some houses with people doing yard work.  I’m sure they are used to seeing lots of hikers, but it would strike me funny to see people coming out of the woods often right across from my house.  You walk along the road for a while until you pass underneath I-66.  The loudness of all the traffic made me feel eager to escape back into the wilderness.  At 7 miles, you cross US-50 and continue on to a footbridge to stay on the AT.  You pass over some railroad tracks before your hike begins a steep ascent.

At the top of the ascent, the trail opens up to a beautiful grassy bald with a bench at the top of the hill.  The views were somewhat obstructed, but this is a nice stop for a picturesque scene.  My guess is that a lot of people park at Tuckers Lane and do this as a short out-and-back of about 2 miles, a nice spot for a picnic.  Due to the cold wind whipping along the bald, we didn’t stay but a minute.  At the top of the ascent, the AT enters the woods and descends again.  On the descent down, the trail did open up through some gorgeous farmland.  We walked along the trail and enjoyed the views – the scenery exemplifies Virginia mountains and farmland.  At 8.8 miles, we reached VA 638.  We crossed the road and rock-hopped a small stream at 8.9 miles.

A Meadow View

The nice view after Tuckers Lane. Below: Train tracks near I-66, Some color along the trail; Rolling landscape.

Train Tracks Colorful Woods Farmland Views

At 10 miles, we arrived at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter around 2:30 p.m.  The temperatures were supposed to rise more that day, but the heavy cloud cover and brisk wind kept it from warming up at all during the day.  Our plan was to stop for the night here and we found a nice campsite away from the shelter.  This shelter is one of the plushest we’ve seen along the trail – it has a solar shower, separate cooking pavilion, nice Adirondack chairs, and even horseshoes to keep you entertained.  We stopped for a snack before working on setting up camp.  There, we met a very nice lady by the trailname of Puddles.  She had thru-hiked the trail several years ago.  We struck up a long conversation with her and loved her outlook on life; she has had a lot of trials in her life, but her positive attitude and love of nature keep her going.

The temperatures were dropping quickly while we ate our snack.  With the foreboding skies and whipping wind, we knew we were going to be in for an even colder night.  I really didn’t feel that the sleeping bags we rented were any warmer than what we personally owned (I know bags are often debated about how warm they stay with the gear-reviewing community).  We talked it through and felt it may be best to try and push on to see if we could make the rest of the trip before it got dark.  It was a shame to leave such a perfect spot, but we felt it was the best decision.  As we had lollygagged a bit, we knew we needed to get going right away.

Descending the AT

On our way to the third shelter along this section. Below: Passing through a fence opening; The Jim and Molly Denton shelter (check out the full photo album to see more photos of this luxurious stop!); The Mosby Campground.

Old Fence Jim & Molly Denton Shelter Mosby Campground

From the Denton Shelter, the trail was a gradual uphill.  We passed a powerline at 11.1 miles and then arrived at the spur trail for the Mosby campsite at 11.8 miles.  Christine checked out the campsite while I waited on the trail.  She came back and talked about how nice and spacious the campsite looked.  What I didn’t know was that Christine wanted to camp here for the night because her knee was hurting and she wasn’t sure she had any more miles left in her.  However, I didn’t pick up on her subtle signals and suggested we move along.  When we’re backpacking, we both reach a threshold somewhere between 10-12 miles when things start being less fun for both of us.  When you’re a weekend backpacker, you never really get the chance to build up the trail legs you need to easily carry a pack 15-20 miles a day.

At 12 miles, we crossed a forest service road.  The trail stayed level for a while before a long descent that leads to Bear Hollow Creek.  The sound of the creek was nice to hear and we soon came across a large fence to our right of the trail.  This serves as the boundary for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute land, an area used to preserve and study animals.  We kept hoping to see elephants or cheetahs through the chain-link fence (not that they necessarily house any), but nothing was to be seen.  We knew we were at the end of the trail as we reached this fence area and at 15.2 miles for this day, we reached US 522.  We took a left on the road and reached Mountain Home in a short distance.  We shambled into our car totally drained.  We made our way to Spelunkers in Front Royal, our favorite place for a burger and shake after a long hike in the nearby area.  We knocked off another section of the AT in Virginia and that is something we were proud of as we slurped up the last remnant of shake from the bottom of our cups.

Smithsonian Conservation

Walking along the fenceline of the Smithsonian Conservation facility.  Below: Back at Mountain Home B&B; Their cute hiker hostel; The inside of the hostel is clean and well-equipped.

Mountain Home Mountain Home Mountain Home

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 21.2 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike [Day One] [Day Two – Part 1] [Day Two – Part 2])*
  • Elevation Change – 3717 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  The (unexpected) distance we covered on the second day was challenging, but overall this was a relatively easy backpacking trip.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in great shape with pleasant, non-rocky conditions.
  • Views  3.  We had nice views from Sky Meadows State Park and then some slightly obstructed field views on the second day.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 2.  There were only a couple very small streams on this section.  They were sufficient as a water source, but not that scenic.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We saw one deer on the second day, but that’s about it!
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The White Blazes are frequent and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 2.  We saw relatively few people along the section.  We saw two people hunting small game in the wildlife management area.  There were two weekenders and one SOBO thru-hiker at the shelter.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  To get to Mountain Home, take exit 13 off I-66W to get on VA-55W.  Turn right on to VA-55W and follow it for 4.7 miles.  Turn left on to US-522S and go 3.5 miles until you turn on to Remount Avenue and reach Mountain Home.   To get to Ashby Gap from Mountain Home, head back on US-522 and now go north.  In 3.5 miles, take a right on to VA-55E and follow that back to I-66.  Head east on I-66 from 9.1 miles before taking exit 23/US-17N.  Turn left on 55-E and go .5 miles before turning left on US-17N.  Follow US-17N for 7.1 miles.  Turn left on to US-50W and go 1.1 miles.  Turn right on 601/Blue Ridge Mountain Road.  About 1 mile up the road, you will see a small gravel parking lot on the left to park.

Cascade Falls

January 2, 2016

This four mile hike takes you by one of Virginia’s most beautiful waterfalls.  The trail is engineered and mostly flat, so this hike is suitable for hikers of all levels.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Cascades Falls in Giles County

The Cascades in Giles County.

Adam Says…

Cascade Falls is one of those must-do hikes in Virginia, featuring one of the most picturesque scenes of a waterfall that you’ll get.  We had been meaning to do this hike under more pleasant circumstances, but life doesn’t always work out that way.  We were picking up our pug, Wookie (who many of you may remember has contributed his thoughts to some of our posts) from the Virginia Tech Veterinary Hospital.  He has been suffering from chronic bronchitis – which is like COPD in humans – and had to have surgery to remove two of his lung lobes.  We had a late afternoon pick-up for him, so we decided to go on a hike that morning while we were in the area.

Pretty Stream Scenery

There was tons of stream scenery along the hike. Below: The parking lot was packed; There were several wooden bridges along the hike; The trail was well-developed and engineered.

Busy Parking Bridge on the Cascades Trail On the Way to the Cascades

We arrived around 10:30 in the morning and found ourselves in a line of cars that were waiting for parking spaces.  The tobacco-spitting parking lot attendant said it wasn’t like this a few years ago, but since Virginia Tech added this hike to a bucket-list during orientation for all of their incoming freshman, the place has been packed.  Of course, we were doing this hike on the weekend before classes started at Virginia Tech, so there were students by the carload here.  Only about eight cars back in line, we still had to wait about 45 minutes before we could park. I can only imagine that people that arrived around 11:00 would be waiting an eternity for a parking spot.

The trail starts at the end of the parking lot behind the information center and restrooms.  Soon, you arrive at a bridge.  The trail splits for an upper trail and lower trail.  The attendant had suggested that we approach from the lower trail and then make a loop and return on the upper trail.  We started on the lower trail, which hugs closely to Little Stony Creek the entire trip.  Little Stony Creek has tons of spots to enjoy the views of the creek. You may even see a few paths that crossed the creek that were wiped out during a flood in 1996.  The trail has been re-routed since then on the path you take now.  There are some ups and downs as you go along the creek, but overall you are climbing along the trail.

Adam Along the Stream

Adam enjoys the stream.

At 2.0 miles, you will reach the large Cascade Falls.  The water plunges 69 feet from the top over a large, wide wall making for an impressive scene.  We saw probably over 100 Virginia Tech students at the falls, some were swimming in the always-cold water while others were climbing on the rocks (or the large rock slide to the right of the falls).  It was nearly impossible to get any pictures without someone in it, but the shots do provide the sense of scale of the scene.  We enjoyed watching the falls for a while and then proceeded up the stairs to the left.  One path leads to another vantage point from next to the top of the falls, but this was more obstructed.  We ended up taking the trail from the top of the steps, heading to the left,  which came to a junction in a short distance.  To the right, the trail continues on to Barney’s Wall, but we decided to just descend the upper trail since we were out of time.  The upper trail consists of mostly a large fire road, making for much easier footing than the lower trail; however, you don’t get the views of Little Stony Creek like you did on the lower trail.  The return trip was a nice walk through the woods on the trail until we reached our car back at 4.0 miles.

Approaching the Falls

Adam makes the final approach. You can see the falls and the crowds if you look closely. Below: Some of the big trees from past flood damage still lay across the stream; Passing through dense mountain laurel and rhododendron; Virginia Tech students swimming in the plunge pool.

Storm Damage Rhodies Swimming Hole

We hopped in our car quickly to allow for the next waiting person to be able to take our spot.  The line of cars was quite long by this point.

Christine Says…

Cascade Falls – known better as ‘The Cascades’ – is a beautiful, easy hike to one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve seen!  The parking lot and trail were both insanely crowded, but I think we were probably there on one of the year’s busiest days.  It was a weekend, the weather was cool and sunny for August, and the new school year was about to start at nearby Virginia Tech.

I’ve never hiked anywhere that I’ve had to wait in line for a parking spot, but that was the case here!  Fortunately, we had all day to wait before our dog was discharged from the hospital, so we weren’t in any rush.

Cascades Close Up

People love to stand at the bottom on the falls. Below: Crowds at the falls.

Crowds

We walked the lower trail on our way to the falls.  It was more of an engineered pathway than a classic, dirt hiking trail.  There were paved walkways, stone stairs, and bridges most of the way to the falls.  All along the way, the trail followed a scenic stream.  There were tons of small waterfalls and cascading rapids to enjoy along the route.

A couple tenths of a mile before we reached the main waterfall, the trail passed through a dense mountain laurel and rhododendron thicket. After that, the path opened up onto a lovely grotto like scene.  The falls cascades over a cliff into a large plunge pool.  There were MANY kids swimming and sunbathing around the falls.  I think I still managed to get a couple decent photos.

Vertical View

A vertical view – without people! Below: The upper trail is accessed by a staircase above the falls; The hike back passed a cliff formation; Most of the hike back was on wide fire road.

Hiking Back Hiking Back Hiking Back

On the way back, we took the upper trail.  It was basically a wide, gentle fire road that led back to the parking area.  After the hike, I cleaned up in the parking area restroom.  It was nice!  Instead of a pit toilet, it had flush toilets, running water, and soap!  We stopped for beers and lunch at Bull & Bones Brewhaus, while we waited on the call to pick Wookie up from the vet.

I’d like to do this hike again sometime on a quieter day.  I’d also like to hike it when my mind isn’t preoccupied with worrying about my dog.  It was really a beautiful spot!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.0 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  742 feet
  • Difficulty –  1.5  Not much climbing and most people can make this.  This is a great family hike.  
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5  There are spots where things can be quite rocky/muddy.  Due to the traffic, some of the rocks are quite slick.  
  • Views – 1.5  The one path to the top of the waterfall gives a nice view of the scene below, but not the best view of the waterfall.  
  • Waterfalls/streams  5 The waterfall is amazing and one of Virginia’s best.  The views along Little Stony Creek are great also.  
  • Wildlife – 1  Due to the popularity, you will likely only see birds in the trees.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5  There aren’t any blazes on the trail, but the trail is evident.  We were a little confused trying to find our way to the upper trail since there are no signs marking the way.  
  • Solitude – .5 Due to the popularity, you will likely see a lot of people on this trail and especially at the waterfall.  Time your trip for a weekday, overcast or rainy day, or very early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Take exit 118A-B-C on I-81. Take US-460W.  After 25.9 miles turn right onto Mill Road.  In .6 miles, take a right onto Cascade Dr (SR-T623) in Pembroke. The parking lot is in 2.9 miles.  Parking is $3 and cash is required (they noted they do not give back change).

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

 

Mount Osceola

December 13, 2015

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This moderate 6.4 mile hike with take you to the top of 4,315′ Mount Osceola.  The trail is very rocky, but the ascent is moderate and non-technical.  It’s a great choice for newer hikers looking to bag their first 4,000-footer in New Hampshire.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mount Osceola Summit

Mount Osceola is one of New Hampshire’s most accessible 4,000-footers.

Christine Says…

For our final hike of the week in New Hampshire, we wanted to do another 4,000 footer.  We settled on the 6.4 mile hike of Mount Osceola.  The mountain stands at 4,315 feet, but the hike only requires a little over 2,000 feet of vertical gain to reach the summit.  It’s a very moderate climb. We also read in our guidebook that it was also a rocky hike – even by New Hampshire standards.

Located off Tripoli Road, the hike was quite close to my parents’ house.  It was nice to have a short drive after spending so much time in the car on our Mt. Washington day.  We were also blessed with another beautiful weather day –sunny, warm, and a blue sky full of big, puffy clouds.

On the way to the trailhead, we passed so many fantastic backcountry campsites.  I think next time we visit New Hampshire, we’ll bring our overnight gear and do something multi-day.

The route up Mt. Osceola is about as straight-forward as you can get.  The trail goes all the way to the top without crossing a single trail junction.  It would be nearly impossible to get lost!

As our guidebook promised, the trail was rocky.  Personally, I didn’t think it was any rockier than other local trails.  I suppose the rocks were smaller and looser than a lot of the other area trails.  It would be easy to lose your balance or turn an ankle on this terrain.  In fact, I recently read on Facebook that a woman had to be carried off the Mount Osceola trail by local search and rescue after slipping and breaking her leg.  Still, I think I prefer this kind of rockiness to slippery slabs and boulder scrambles.

Hiking Mount Osceola

The hike up Osceola was quite rocky. Below: Trailhead signage;  Slabs of granite; Views of Tecumseh mountain skiing.

Mount Osceola Trailhead Granite Slabs on Mount Osceola View of Tecumseh Slopes

Generally, the climb up to the summit was very gradual and (dare I say) easy compared to other hikes we’d done recently.  We passed a forest service crew working on trail improvements.  We also passed quite a few slower hikers.  Mount Osceola and Mount Garfield are believed to be the easiest and most accessible of the 4,000 footers.  A lot of novice and not-regular hikers choose these mountains to garner experience before moving onto bigger things.

As we climbed, we got some nice views of the Mount Tecumseh ski area.  Near the top, the trail flattened out.  We passed remnants of an old fire tower and then came out on a wide, open ledge.  The view is first rate!  I read somewhere that you can see 41 of 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers from the summit.

We spent more time than usual at the summit.  We ate snacks and took photos.  We were both really grateful for having over two weeks of vacation time, beautiful weather, and the chance to hike lots of new places.  New Hampshire and New York are places we both want to visit again!

After a long stay at the summit, we hiked down the mountain.  It was over before we knew it!  I always feel a bit sad on final hikes of vacation weeks. We made the short drive back to my parents and spent the afternoon packing and getting ready for the long drive back to Virginia.  We decided to have one final celebratory meal out at the Six Burner Bistro in Plymouth.  The food there was creative and amazing.  It was the perfect end to our time in the Granite State.

Forest Near the Top of Mount Osceola

Tangled forest near the top of Mount Osceola. Below: First views from the trail; Passing the base of the first fire tower ruins; Views over the evergreens from a spur trail near the summit.

First Views from the Trail First Fire Tower Ruins View Over the Evergreens

Adam Says…

As Christine mentioned, the hike up Mt. Osceola is an accessible trail for those that want to try their hand (or feet) on a 4000-footer .  New Hampshire has 48 mountains that are 4000 feet above sea level and Osceola is the 24th highest of the 48 4000-footers, coming in at 4,340 feet.  This was named for the 19th century Seminole leader.   I’m not sure why they decided to name a mountain in New Hampshire after a Native American in Florida, but his name is also the name of cities in Missouri and Wisconsin.

The hike up Osceola was quite rocky.  This is one of those hikes where you do have to watch every step you take and your feet and knees will feel it after the hike, especially if you aren’t wearing good shoes and using trekking poles.

Nice View at the Top of Osceola

Christine takes in the nice summit view. Below: Muddy dog; View into Waterville Valley; Crowds atop the summit.

Muddy Dog on Osceola Waterville Valley View Popular Mount Osceola

The trail starts off in a lush forest area and continues a steady, uphill climb until you reach the summit.  The trail is fairly slow-going with the rockiness of the terrain.  We were one of the first of the day to start the trail, but we were passed by someone that was trying to get to his work-crew assignment.  The forest is so thick along the way.  I felt I should get some views earlier on in the hike, but the tall trees keep the scenery at bay.  Some of the rocky sections are larger flat rock faces that become very slick after heavy rains.

As Christine mentioned, there is just one straight trail here until you reach the summit.  At 3 miles, after ascending some larger rock face sections, the trail begins to rise as you reach the top of the tree line.   Right before the summit, there are a few side trails on both sides (one to an obstructed view and the other to a rough campsite), but the summit was absolutely gorgeous.

Hiking Down

Some scenes hiking down the mountain. Below: Whorled Asters (I think!)

Aster

As we got to the summit, we were amazed at the views of the ridgeline of mountains to the left.  This is scenery that pictures will never do justice.  We climbed down to a lower rock shelf to get some of the dramatic shots above.   This was one of those hikes that it was hard to convince ourselves to leave.    We made our way down with a faster pace and made it back to our car in under 1.5 hours.   It was a great finish to our vacation and covering a few new hikes in New Hampshire.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 6.4 miles
  • Elevation Change –  2010 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.  This is a squarely moderate hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  Everything in this area is rocky and challenging.
  • Views – 5.  Very beautiful and expansive!
  • Waterfalls/streams  0.  Other than a few trickles down the mountainside, this hike was dry.
  • Wildlife – 2.  Birds, chipmunks, and squirrels
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5.  Very easy to follow – pretty much a straight shot on the one trail in the area.
  • Solitude – 2.  This is a popular hike due to it’s moderate climb.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From I-93 North, take exit 28 for NH-49 toward NH-175/Campton/Waterville Valley.  Turn right and go 10.2 miles before turning left on Tripoli Road.  Tripoli Road is closed during the winters, so plan ahead.  Go 3.9 miles on the gravel Tripoli road until arriving at the parking lot on the left.  The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot.  There is a parking fee of $3 to park here at the Osceola trailhead.

 

Mount Monroe

November 29, 2015

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

Mount Monroe is the fourth tallest peak in New Hampshire’s Presidential range.  You can hike to its summit from the valley floor – the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail is the most popular route – or you can make it an easy day hike by driving the auto road and starting from the summit of Mount Washington. This option makes a 3.8 mile hike with just 1,343 of climbing.  It’s a laid back way to visit this area with minimal effort.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mount Monroe Summit

Clouds cleared as we stood on the Mount Monroe summit.  From the top of Monroe we could see the weather towers atop Washington.

Adam Says…

We hiked just about every day on our vacation, and hiking in the Adirondacks and the White Mountains usually involves tough climbs along granite-filled pathways.  We wanted to do one of the mountains in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, but our bodies were asking something easy. So, we decided to drive up to Mount Washington and hike down and over to Mount Monroe.

We got an early start to try and beat the traffic and crowds on the slow-going Mount Washington Auto Road.  The drive up can be a harrowing experience.  As you are skirting the edges of precipitous drops, you are praying that another car isn’t coming down the mountain (another reason to get an early start).  The views are breathtaking on a clear day, but the driver may have to focus on the road more than the scenery.

Descending the Crawford Path

We made our way down the Crawford Path/AT from Mt. Washington.  You can see the area is extremely popular on pleasant summer days.  Below:  Adam at the Crawford Path;  One of the Lakes of the Clouds Croo members carries supplies; MWOBS equipment in the fog.

Crawford Path Sign Croo Observatory Towers

We found our way to the weather observatory building and found the white blaze which signified the Appalachian Trail (here called the Crawford Path).  The fog was thick on the mountain as it often is.  We made our way descending on the Crawford Path, following the cairns that guided us down a path off the summit.  There are people that have gotten lost and died on this mountain and I can understand why.  With limited visibility a person could easily miss a cairn.  Add the high winds and quick weather changes and this can truly be a dangerous place.  We had enough visibility to see the next cairn ahead and once we were off the highest parts of the mountains, we had better visibility of the trail.  At .2 miles, we came to a sign that showed that we had 1.4 miles to the Lakes of the Clouds hut, one of several huts maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

The descent was very rocky and slow-going, but we managed to make it to Lakes of the Clouds fairly quickly.  The fog had us completely socked in and we couldn’t even see Mount Monroe when we arrived.  Lakes of the Clouds is probably our favorite of the huts in the White Mountains.  The remoteness of the hut, the serenity of the mountain-top lakes, and the views of the valley and Mount Washington make this such an amazing experience.  We ate some lunch inside the hut and decided to wait a while.  We eventually got some glimpses of Mount Monroe from inside the hut.  The clouds started to blow off somewhat.  At one point, I told Christine that I thought we should make an attempt to reach the summit.  My thought was if the clouds continued to blow, we may get a glimpse of views from the summit.   So, we gathered our gear and hiked up in the fog.  The wind had picked up, but we were hoping this was a good thing as it would carry some fog off with it.

Hut Comes into View

The hut comes into view. Below: Lakes of the Clouds Hut with Mount Monroe looming in the background; Christine arrives at the hut; Inside the hut… it was surprisingly uncrowded!

Lakes of the Clouds Arriving at the Hut Inside the Hut

The hike up Mount Monroe was steep but only a short few tenths of a mile.  We got to the top (the summit marker is only a small metal nub sticking up from a rock) and within minutes the clouds began to part and we got gorgeous views down below. We timed our trip perfectly and there was only two other people at the top.  Our ability to see views for a while seemed to rotate in patches around the mountain as clouds continued to pass.  It eventually opened up all around us and we were glad we made the break for it when we did.  After taking an ample number of photos, we descended back to Lakes of the Clouds and then back up to Mount Washington.  The fog got thicker again as we made our way back to the summit of Mount Washington.  We posed for our ceremonious summit photo and then got back to our car to descend back down the mountain.

Christine Says…

Many people think a hike only counts if you start from the bottom of the mountain. Call me a cheater, but I don’t care!  This summer, we took the auto road to the top of Mount Washington so we could enjoy exploring the alpine zone without doing all the work.  In 2013, we hiked up the Ammonoosuc Ravine and on to the summit of Washington.  On that trip, we skipped summiting Mount Monroe due to time constrictions. This trip gave us a chance to make up for what we missed!

Climbing Mt. Monroe

Adam makes his way up Mt. Monroe. Below: Climbing the mountainside; Tiny people perched on an outcropping; Christine near the summit.

Climbing Mt. Monroe Climbing Mt. Monroe Climbing Mt. Monroe

All week long, we had been checking the MWOBS higher summits forecast. Thursday, August 7 looked like it would be the best chance – with clearing skies, calm winds, and warm temperatures. We paid our toll and made our way to the top. The auto road has been open since 1861 and climbs 4,618 feet over 7.6 miles.  It’s a beautiful drive with great views for much of the way – only problem… we were in the clouds! Our clear day turned out to be not-so-clear at all!  Every now and then, the veil would thin enough that we could make out the hulking shapes of Clay, Adams and Madison across the gulf.

We were both a little disappointed with the clouds, but you never know how the weather is going to change on Mount Washington.  We pushed forward with hopes for clearing skies.

Climbing Mt. Monroe

Nice views from the summit.  The Appalachian trail is the ribbon of path in the distance.  Below: Descending the mountain; The lake comes back into view; View behind Lakes of the Clouds Hut.

Mt. Monroe Descending Monroe Passing Back by the Hut

From the summit buildings, we looked for white blazes and found our way to the marker for the Crawford Path (which is also the Appalachian Trail in this part of the state). From there, we hiked 1.5 miles to Lakes of the Clouds Hut.  The trail is all rocks and is marked with a combination of cairns and blazes.  The clouds were so thick it was almost like walking through white cotton candy.  The oddest part was the warmth and utter windlessness of the day.  I’ve never been in the Presidentials on a dead calm day.  I think the lack of a breeze was a big part of the reason the clouds were able to linger on the summits for such a long time.

Even in full cloud cover, the terrain of the mountain is incredibly beautiful!  It feels almost other-worldly.  Eventually, the clouds cleared enough that we could make out Lakes of the Clouds Hut in the distance.  There were many, many people scrambling both up and down the mountain.  It’s definitely earned the nickname ‘Lakes of the Crowds’.  Adam and I decided to hang out in the hut for a while and see if we could outlast the clouds -they did seem to be thinning.

Lakes of the Clouds

The lake was even prettier on the hike back. Below: Climbing back up Mount Washington with Monroe in the background; Christine takes a final look back;  The cog tracks at the Washington summit.

Hiking Back Up Hiking Back Up Cog Tracks

As we sat at one of the long tables, we saw the side of Mount Monroe emerge from the clouds.  If we were going to get a view, our time was now!  We made the short half-mile climb to the top of Monroe.  Although the mountain is a short, easy climb from Lakes of the Clouds, it’s still New Hampshire’s fourth tallest peak at 5,384 feet.  The summit was still in the clouds when we got to the top. But as we sat on the summit, a breeze picked up and within a matter of five minutes the view had completely opened.

We could see Mount Washington with the observatory towers on top. We saw Franklin and Pierce off in the distance.  We could see the cog station and the grand Mount Washington Hotel.  We could even see tiny hikers walking the Appalachian Trail below the summit.  It was breathtaking!

After a while, the clouds started to filter back in.  I was so grateful they opened for the briefest few minutes for us to enjoy!  We made our way back down to the hut, which had emptied out of the crowds from just 45 minutes earlier.  I guess everyone took advantage of the same opening in the weather!  We snacked on cake made by the Croo and then set out to climb back up Mt. Washington.

Summit of Mount Washington

Summit of Mount Washington.

On the way back up the mountain, the cotton candy clouds dropped over us once again.  By the time we reached the top of Washington, they had partially cleared off again.  We had our photo taken at the summit marker.  We spent a little time in the summit building, too.  Over the summer, they completely renovated the weather observatory museum.  It’s really nice and spacious, but they took away a few of our favorite exhibits – including the funny video of people trying to eat breakfast in famous Mount Washington winds.

The high summits went in and out of the clouds all day, but I still think we chose the best day of the week to visit.  Other days had thunderstorms and hail.  Compared to that, passing cloud cover is no problem!  All in all, we ended up hiking about 4 miles with 1,350 feet of climbing.  It was a fun and easy way to visit a challenging mountain.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.8 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  1343 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.  The elevation isn’t too tough, but the rockiness of the terrain adds to the difficulty.
  • Trail Conditions – 2.  Very rocky and many of the rocks are quite loose.  You have to always watch your feet.  
  • Views – 5.  On a clear day, they are quite spectacular.  
  • Waterfalls/streams  0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 1.  You won’t see any wildlife above treeline here other than a few birds.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.5.  Marked down because you have to follow cairns and occasional blazes.  This can be extremely tough in foggy or bad weather.  On a clear day, this will be much easier.
  • Solitude – 2.  In the summer, you will always find people along the trail.  Mount Washington always attracts a lot of people.  You will likely also find many people in Lakes of the Clouds.  

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From Gorham, NH head south on NH-16 for 7.8 miles.  Take a right to get on to the Mount Washington Auto Road.  Pay at the gate (in 2015 was $28 per car and $8 for each additional passenger) and follow the road to the parking lot at the top.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

 

Hedgehog Mountain

November 9, 2015

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

Hedgehog Mountain is tiny compared to most of its neighbors, but this 5-mile hike still packs in tons of scenery and great views.  The ledges are also a super place to stuff your face with wild blueberries!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Hedgehog Mountain

The ledges along the side of Hedgehog Mountain offer great views of bigger mountains.

Christine Says…

After arriving in New Hampshire and hiking Mt. Major, we took a couple days off hiking to relax and spend time with family. The combination of daily hikes in New York paired with not sleeping or eating enough really wore me out.  So we took it easy and did other fun things like exploring Franconia Notch State Park, paddling kayaks across quiet ponds,  sampling craft beer at Schilling (Littleton, NH) and Long Trail (Bridgewater Corners, VT), and stuffing our faces with Cabot cheese and pastries from King Arthur Baking Company. By Wednesday, we were ready to hike again.  Our second hike in New Hampshire was a repeat trip to visit beautiful Lonesome Lake.  Our third hike was something entirely new – Hedgehog Mountain. It’s the most diminutive of New Hampshire’s ’52 With a View’ – a collection of the state’s nicest view hikes on mountains under 4,000 feet.

We started out the morning with a big breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor.  Then I went for a short paddle with my dad across and around Echo Lake.  By 10:00 a.m., Adam and I were on our way across the mountains on the scenic Kancamagas Highway.  We parked at the Downes Brook parking area and paid our $3 parking fee.  The summit of Hedgehog is accessed by the UNH Loop Trail.  The trail gets its name from an old University of New Hampshire forestry camp that operated at the mountain’s base from the mid-1940s until 1964.

Old Railroad Grade

A railroad used to run along this section of wide, flat, open trail. Below: Early in the hike we passed this clearing.  The clearing work looked recent, but we’re not sure what’s planned for the land; Pretty forest along the trail; Everything was so shady and green.

Clearing Along the Trail Pretty Forest Along the UNH Loop Walking the UNH Loop

There were just a few cars in the lot, so we knew we would have a relatively quiet hike. We decided to hike the loop clockwise, allowing a more gradual ascent followed by views of the Presidentials on the way down.  The hike starts off along a lovely pine-shaded trail following the route of the old Swift River Railroad.  The hike climbs gradually, passes a clearing, and soon reaches a sign indicating the beginning of the loop portion.  We chose to turn left and cross the east ledges before reaching the summit.

For 1.2 miles we walked through a peaceful pine forest.  The climb was steady, but quite gentle.  There were roots and rocks, but they were always padded by fallen pine needles.  As we hiked on, the route became steeper and rockier and eventually opened onto bare cliffsides and ledges with magnificent views of so many big mountains – the Tripyramids, Carrigain, Chocorua, and Passaconaway.  Most of the ledges were wide and generous, but one section in particular was narrow and precipitous.  There were blueberries growing everywhere!  From the ledge, we could also see the last steep section of trail we had to climb to reach the summit.  The ledges were definitely my favorite part of the hike!

The last bit of climbing to the Hedgehog summit was steep – definitely more challenging than I expected on this loop!  At first we passed through a tangle of roots and boulders.  The higher we climbed, the roots gave way to smooth granite slabs and boulders that required scrambling.  I told Adam at one point that I was very tired of putting my knees down on granite!  Granite gives me so many bruises. The actual summit had nice views, but (in my opinion) the view from the lower ledges had been nicer.

UNH Trail Rocks and Roots

The trail became more covered with rocks and roots as it climbed. Below: Christine climbs toward the ledges; Towering pines; Adam finally clears the woods to get our first views of the day.

Climbing Toward the Hedgehog Mountain Ledges Pretty Pines First Views on the UNH Loop

Leaving the summit, we spied glimpses of the Presidentials off in the distance.  Evidently, on clear days one can even see the weather observatory atop Mount Washington.  We weren’t that lucky.  The descent was much rougher and steeper than the climb up.  I was really glad we had gone clockwise!  On the way down, we took the short spur trail to Allen’s Ledge.  The rocky outcropping offers a chance to take in a final sweeping view of many of the area’s bigger mountains. From Allen’s Ledge, the rest of the hike was a moderate descent back to the old railroad grade.

Over the course of the day, we only saw three small hiking groups.  That’s great solitude for a nice summer day in the White Mountains!  We would definitely recommend this hike if you’re looking for great views and don’t feel like tackling a 4,000-footer.

After the hike, we decided to drive into North Conway and look around the shops and have an early dinner at one of our favorite stops – Moat Mountain.  They brew a nice selection of beers and have fantastic food.  It was so tasty; I think I finished an entire half pound burger and all my fries!

Nice Views from the Ledges

Christine enjoys nice views from the ledges. Below: There were lots of slab of granite to traverse; In one place, the trail across the ledge was quite narrow; Walking across the ledges, you can see the rocky summit of Hedgehog Mountain.

Adam Crosses Slabs and Roots Traversing Narrow Ledges View of Hedgehog Summit

Adam Says…

As Christine mentioned, we started our day off a little later than normal.  It was a gloomy morning, with fog settled in.  Since Polly’s Pancake Parlor and Echo Lake were quite a distance from our home base, we decided to take a separate car from her parents and take off on our hike after we had done our morning activities with them.  When Christine and her dad went paddling earlier on Echo Lake, it was cold and there was a little bit of drizzle.  I can’t swim so I don’t like being on a canoe or kayak.  I was quite content to watch Christine and her dad go out paddling on the peaceful, yet foggy waters.

We were worried it wouldn’t warm up or be able to see the sun on our hike.  Two things that hiking in New England has taught me is to be patient and be an opportunist.  There have been a lot of hikes that we have done in the White Mountains that if you wait a few minutes, clouds may break.  So, we took our time that morning knowing that our best chance of seeing views would be a little later in the day.

Wild Blueberries

The ledges of Hedgehog Mountain were covered with wild blueberries. Below:  There was a wooded saddle between the ledges and the summit; The last bit of climbing to the summit was very steep and slick.

Saddle Between Ledges and Hedgehog Summit Granite to Climb

The trail started off very flat through a tunnel of pine trees.  After a short distance, it takes a sharp right and begins to ascend.  Within a few tenths of a mile, the trail crosses over with a clearing, but stay straight on the trail.  The trail continues on an ascent, but the terrain wasn’t too difficult.  With the morning activity of paddling, Christine bonked a bit so we paused to eat an energy bar before continuing onward.  The trail became a little steeper and more narrow as we navigated through some interesting terrain with pine trees and granite steps.  There were a few obstructed views along the way.  The woods were so quiet it was eerie – we felt a bear would jump out at any minute in this deep wilderness.  Eventually the trail became quite steep and rocky, leading to larger granite steps.  The trail soon popped up to some gorgeous cliffside panoramic views.  Not reading about this on trail reviews we found online we were quite surprised.  We navigated the cliffsides, going back into woods for a short time before coming out onto a large shelf of granite.  We spotted the summit above us, but below us were tons of blueberries.  We picked a few and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain and valley views around us.

View from the Hedgehog Mountain Summit

The summit view was not as nice as the view from the ledges. Below: On the way down, we could see a glimpse of the Presidentials.

Presidential View

The trail ducks back into the woods and descends a short bit through some thick forest.  There were blowdowns across the trail and the cobwebs were thick in places, making me think that many people don’t come on this section of trail to make it a loop.  The trail then began to ascend again through some very steep and rocky sections, requiring us to pull ourselves up with our hands in a few areas.  We finally reached the summit.  We ate a snack, talking with a woman who had done much hiking in the Whites while enjoying some obstructed views from the summit.  We both agreed that the views from below were more exceptional than the summit views.

As we were making a loop hike, we continued on and found another obstructed viewpoint to give you views of many of the Whites.  As Christine mentioned, we couldn’t see the summit of Mount Washington but we could spot a few of the Presidential range in the distance.   The return trip was quite steep and we were treated to a few views on the climb down, which you would likely miss if you did the loop in the opposite direction.  On our descent, we found a small side trail that led to Allen’s Ledge.  Allen’s Ledge also had some nicer views than the summit.  We relaxed at this spot for a few minutes before rejoining the UNH trail and making our way back down the mountain.  Before too long we had rejoined the loop where it split and returned to the parking area.

Steep Descent of Hedgehog Mountain

The descent of Hedgehog was quite a bit steeper than the climb up. Below: Allen’s Ledge; Eventually the descent leveled out.

Views from Allens Ledge More Gradual Descent of Hedgehog

While it isn’t as popular as some other hikes in the area, if you want some seclusion with great views, check out Hedgehog Mountain.   We were pleasantly surprised at how gorgeous the views were and the interesting terrain along the trail makes this a rewarding hike.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5 miles
  • Elevation Change –  1312 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.5.  There are a few steep, rocky sections, but most of the trail is gentle.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail is adequately maintained, but expect lots of rocks and roots.
  • Views – 4. In Virginia, these views would warrant a 5, but there are even grander views in this area.
  • Waterfalls/streams  0. None.
  • Wildlife – 2. Other than birds and squirrels, we didn’t see wildlife.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.  There were a couple tricky spots, like the clearing early on the trail, but generally this was an easy route to follow.
  • Solitude – 4. By White Mountains standards on a nice summer day, we enjoyed quite a bit of solitude on this hike

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 93, take exit 32 (NH-112E).  Follow NH-112E for 22 miles.  Parking is on the right in the Downes Brook – Mount Potash lot.  Parking Coordinates: 43.9960876,-71.3688126

Mount Major

October 25, 2015

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

Mount Major is a short, extremely popular hike in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.  The summit offers excellent views of Lake Winnipesaukee.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mount Major Summit

The summit has superb views of Lake WInnipesaukee. Below: Parking issues at the Mount Major Trailhead; The trail is well-marked and blazed blue; The lower part of the trail is very eroded.

Parking Issues at Mount Major Start of the Mount Major Trail Erosion on Mount Major Trail

Adam Says…

Hiking Mount Major seems to be a rite of passage for anyone that is visiting the lakes region of New Hampshire.  This has been a popular spot for hiking for a long time.  We had just hiked Mount Marcy two days before and our muscles were still recovering, but it was my 44th birthday and I wanted to celebrate with the views from a summit.

We got to the parking lot fairly close to 10:00 a.m. and the lot was completely full.   We began to see how popular this trail actually was.  We parked along the side of the road and then proceeded through the parking lot to the trailhead.  We noticed one car that was parked in a way that took up three spots.  Someone had left a note on their windshield letting them know just how they felt about their parking job.  New Englanders don’t mess around.

From the parking lot, we followed the main blue trail.  The trail was a wide, worn path through the woods.  When you are walking on a clear, dirt path you know this is a well-used trail.  The hike was uphill for the first few tenths of a mile, but levels out at .3 miles.  We enjoyed some flat walking through the trees.  At .7 miles, the trail reaches a junction.  Take a left to stay on the main, blue-blazed trail.  The trail begins to steepen at this point and becomes more rocky.  As we climbed up on our approach to the summit, you approach some more exposed large sections of rock that you can walk up or you can take a rugged trail up the side.  We opted to walk on the open rock surface on the way up, but chose the path on the way down.  As you walk on this open rock surfaces, you can look behind you to see the beginnings of some great views of Lake Winnipesaukee.    The trail was quite steep at this point and you have to be careful as you navigate up these large, rocky areas.

Wide Flat Mount Major Trail

For a time, the Mount Major trail is wide and flat. Below: The trail junction of Mount Major and the Brook Trail; The trail gets rockier; The trail went back and forth between open rockiness and shade.

Mount Major Trail Junction Rockier Trail Spots of Trees

Around the 1.6 mile mark, we reached the large open summit.  There were tons of people at the top, but because of the large area, you can always find a place to enjoy to yourself.  The wind was whipping across the summit.  We went to the summit marker that has a large rock foundation built around it.  We sheltered ourselves from the wind and ate a snack at the summit.  After eating, we walked around in all directions to enjoy the views around us.  While staring out at the gorgeous views, you can easily lose track of time.

We descended the way we came, but there are many options to make this a larger loop hike if you so desire.  Sometimes I feel that popular hikes are often over-hyped, but this hike didn’t disappoint.  We saw plenty of families hiking together on this hike of all skill levels.  Just take your time and most people should be able to make the hike that are in decent shape.   This was a great start to a birthday celebration and the views of Lake Winnipesaukee are some of the best you will get.

Christine Says…

Hey – it’s great to be back in New Hampshire! We had a spectacular, sparkling, bluebird day to hike Mt. Major.  It was a perfect hike for Adam’s birthday.

Mt. Major is probably the most popular dayhike in the Belknap Range – and no wonder, with its relatively short distance and commanding views of Lake Winnipesaukee.  We hiked on a Sunday morning.  Arriving by 10:00 a.m., we found the parking lot already jam-packed with cars. Adam and I had to park our car on the shoulder of the busy main road.

Opening Views on the Climb Up

The views got nicer the higher we climbed. Below: Rock piles on the summit; People gather around the Phippens’ cottage; Birthday photo!

On the Summit Summit of Mount Major Posing on the Summit

The Mount Major trail is blue blazed and begins climbing uphill on an extremely eroded fire road. The erosion is so deep it makes the trail look like a chute.  The trail eventually levels out and follows a pleasant, nearly flat path.  At around the .7 mile mark, the trail splits into two – the Mt. Major Trail is sharply to the left and the Brook Trail continues straight.  We continued on the Mt. Major Trail – this is when the real climbing began.  The entire 1.6 mile hike only has 1,150 feet of climbing – most of it packed into second half.

After about a quarter mile of climbing along rocky trail, we passed a family taking a breather on a large boulder jumble. The adult couple was bickering bitterly about turning around or continuing to the summit.  We could tell by their clothes and shoes that they were not regular hikers.  When the man made the decision to quit, we overheard his young son exclaim loudly ‘Daddy… you’re a FAILURE!’  Poor guy!

The last bit of climbing was tough, so it probably was for the best that the family turned around.  I think a lot of novice hikers see a short, popular hike and don’t realize how challenging it can be to ascend 1,000 feet in three-quarters of a mile. There were lots of steep rock ledges and smooth domes of rock, punctuated by short passes through trees.  There were two trail choices for the last quarter mile – ledges or ledge detour.  To be honest, the trails were both pretty haphazard with people blazing all kinds of different paths to the summit.  As we made our way up, we paused to look back and enjoy the ever improving view.

Phippens Cottage

George Phippens built a summit cottage in the early 1900s. Below: A view off the other side of the Mount Major summit; The rocky descent; Christine takes in one last view on the way down.

View off the Back Descent of Mount Major One Last View from Mount Major

At 1.6 miles, we reached the rocky summit of Mt. Major.  SUPERB!  Lake Winnipesaukee, framed by distant mountains, sparkled all across the horizon. As expected, the summit was very crowded. At the top of the mountain, there are remnants of an old stone cottage.  Later, I did some research into the history of the structure.  The summit of Mt. Major was once owned by a private citizen. New Hampshire resident, George Phippens, bought the mountain summit for $125 in 1914.  He loved the views and the blueberries, and kept the mountain open to all. He built a cottage at the top for hikers to use as shelter, but the roof kept blowing off in the winter.  Eventually, the Great Depression came along, and ownership of the summit reverted to the Town of Alton to cover Phippens’ taxes.  Read more about Mr. Phippens and his love of Mt. Major.

Adam and I spent some more time enjoying the views before making our way back down the mountain.  Many people descend via the Brook Trail, but we just went down the way we had come. By the time we got back to the car, we were starving!  We decided we would eat at the first restaurant we passed – which ended up being the Wise Owl Restaurant and Country Store in Alton, NH.  It was late for lunch, so we were the only diners there.  The food was good, but it took nearly an hour to get a simple lunch.  I almost passed out from hunger while we waited! Reminder to self: eat more snacks!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Change –  1150 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  There are some steep and rocky sections of the trail.  Most people can make it if they take their time.  Keep an eye on children along the trail. 
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  Most of the trail is open and easy to navigate.  Some of the rock surfaces are slick, so be careful especially on rainy days. 
  • Views – 4.5.  Panoramic views from both sides of the summit. 
  • Waterfalls/streams 0.  Non-existent. 
  • Wildlife – 1.  This is a popular trial so wildlife know to stay away. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  There are a lot of paths to make it a loop.  Consult the map and pay attention to blazes along the way. 
  • Solitude – 0.  This is one of the most popular hikes in New Hampshire, so you will likely see lots of people.  Go during the weekday or early mornings to avoid crowds.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From Laconia, NH, take NH-11A for 11.1 miles.  Turn right on to NH-11 and go 3.1 miles until you reach the parking lot on the right for Mount Major.  The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot.  Take the main, blue-blazed Mount Major trail using the trailhead at the back right of the parking lot.  Parking coordinates: 43.519676, -71.272813

Mount Marcy

October 5, 2015

adirondacks

This 14.5 mile hike follows a moderate route to the summit of New York’s tallest mountain. At 5,343 feet, Mt. Marcy offers commanding views of the region from her above-treeline summit.  This is definitely the crowning jewel of a hiking week in the Adirondacks!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mount Marcy Summit

The summit of Mount Marcy offers a spectacular view of the High Peaks region.

Christine Says…

For our grand finale in the High Peaks, we decided we had to hike New York’s tallest mountain – Mount Marcy!  After a day of rain (that caused us to bail out a mile short of the summit of Mt. Van Hoevenberg), we woke to bluebird skies and crisp, cool temperatures.  After a week of hazy, muggy conditions, we were going to get the prettiest day of our entire vacation week to hike the big mountain.  Perfect!

The hike of Mt. Marcy is almost 15 miles round-trip with 3,200 feet of climbing.  The trail is never horribly steep, but it’s still a long, challenging day for most hikers.  We set out early with our backpacks stuffed with essentials – several liters of water, multiple snacks, and warm layers for the summit.  We (once again) parked at the Heart Lake Program Center.

Despite our early start, there were crowds of hikers setting out for the day.  We never really had the trail to ourselves or experienced much solitude – not that we were expecting it on such a popular trail.  It was also one of those hikes that made me feel guilty each time I paused to take photos. At every photo stop, the slightly slower hikers behind us would catch up and pass us; only to have us on their heels saying ‘excuse me… may we pass?’ ten minutes later.  Because the crowd situation was a little stressful, I didn’t take a ton of photos on the ascent.

Marcy Dam Stream

Even though the pond disappeared when Hurricane Irene washed the sluicegate away, Marcy Dam is still very scenic. Below: Early parts of the hike were gentle and easy; The footbridge across the Marcy Dam; The dam spillway.

Early Flat Trail to Marcy Marcy Dam Bridge Marcy Spillway

The first couple miles of the hike were easy going – it was mostly flat trail through lush mixed forest.   The first notable landmark we reached was Marcy Dam.  Until Hurricane Irene struck in 2011, the dam held back the waters of a scenic pond.  When the monster storm passed over, it washed away the sluice gate leaving behind a nothing but a mud flat with a stream passing through.  When we hiked by, I was unaware of the history and still found the dam extraordinarily beautiful!  Mount Colden, Avalanche Pass, and Wright Peak still stood tall over still water full of cloud reflections.  The New York DEC is planning on removing the dam completely over the next few years, so who knows how the vista will change. Read more about the dam.

On the far side of the dam, we signed the trail register and began the climb toward the summit of Marcy.  The terrain was extremely varied – there were stream crossings, boulders, cobblestones, root jumbles, muddy spots, plank bridges, logs pressed into mud, and basic dirt trail.  The climbing was steady, but gentle almost the entire way to the summit.  One odd thing about the hike was that it was not very well-marked.  There were several major trail junctions that simply did not list the Marcy summit on the signs.  We consulted our map and hiking guide and were able to find the right way, but we met confused hikers at each junction.

Stream Crossing on Marcy

This stream crossing came shortly after passing Marcy Dam. Below: It was odd to see big signs stating ‘TOILET’ in the woods; The check-in station after crossing Marcy Dam; There was a bit of smooth granite early in the hike.

Toilets in the Woods Marcy Sign In Granite on Marcy

After passing through a stretch of trail with big logs pressed into the mud for footing, we reached a saddle on the mountain’s shoulder.  Plank bridges passed across an open, grassy marsh, giving us our first clear view of the bald, granite summit of Mount Marcy.

From there, the climbing became a bit more intense and steep.  We scrambled across granite faces and over boulders, following blazes and cairns along the way.  I didn’t particularly enjoy climbing up this part of the mountain.  I always feel like I’m slipping on smooth granite.  Also, my legs were covered with bruises from all the other rocks I’d climbed earlier in the week.  I’m like a ripe peach when it comes to bruising! At one point, I looked back at Adam and said ‘Seriously… more rocks.  I already look like an accident victim’.  Of course, Adam caught my expression on camera.  I’m not including that photo in the post, but it’s in the Flickr album if you want a good laugh.  I was not a happy hiker at that moment!

Marcy Cobbles

Much of the hike to the summit of Mount Marcy is covered with cobbles. Below: But there are also planks; And root tangles; And a bit of smooth, dirt trail.

Marcy Planks Marcy Roots Marcy Dirt Trail

We slowly but surely made our way to the top – and it was so worth it! What a spectacular view!  The Adirondacks almost rival the White Mountains of NH for their terrain and views.  The wind was whipping across the summit, so I put on my jacket and found a place to eat lunch.  I had tired of PB&J, so I had pepperoni, cheese, and crackers and half of the biggest cookie I’ve ever seen.  The day before hiking Marcy, we had stopped for lunch at the Big Mountain Deli and Creperie.  In addition to amazing sandwiches (all named after the High Peaks) and crepes, they also sell giant cookies perfect for giant hikes.  I definitely recommend a stop there if you’re in Lake Placid!

After a while on top the world, it was time to climb down. We slithered and slid down the steepest parts, enjoying views all along the descent.  When we got back to the marshy saddle that had given us our first view of Marcy, I noticed that one of my trekking poles felt shorter than the other.  I figured that heavy use on the descent, had forced the pole to retract.  However, when I went to adjust it, I found the entire bottom third of my pole was GONE. It was too late and we had covered too much ground to go back for it.  I was able to extend the middle third and use the remnant of my pole the rest of the way down, but I was so bummed.  Those were great Komperdell poles and they carried me over many miles.

The rest of the descent was pretty easy and passed by quickly.  Sometime after Marcy Dam, my right foot decided it had enough for the day and started cramping.  It really hurt, but I was able to hobble my way back to the trailhead parking. We were both pretty happy to see the car!  What a great day and what a fitting end to our first week in the Adirondacks.  We can’t wait to visit again!

Marcy Log Trail

In the wetter, muddier areas, layers of logs were used to create a passable tread. Below: Signage was sometimes sporadic and incomplete;  As we climbed higher we started getting views of the mountains; Entering the Alpine Zone; From a marshy area, we got a nice view of the summit of Mount Marcy. (sorry for the hazy smears on the photos – the lens got wet!)

Marcy Signage Starting to Climb
 Marcy Alpine Zone Marsh on Marcy Flank

Adam Says…

When we first planned our trip to the Adirondacks, we both had put on our goals to hike Mount Marcy.  Being the tallest peak in New York, it is a big draw to people living or visiting the North Country of New York.  When we arrived in the parking lot early in the morning, we kept seeing groups upon groups of people hitting the start of the trail.  I felt pressure to try and get started as we knew more and more people were going to get on the trail as each minute passed.  This was a beautiful day, so we knew it would be a little more crowded than normal.

At the beginning of the trailhead there was a large stack of rocks with a sign asking to carry one to the top of Mount Marcy.  We didn’t realize the full purpose until we got to the summit, but the goal was to bring some small rocks up for preservation projects.  We both grabbed a rock, signed the registry at the kiosk, and started the hike.  The trail starts off mostly flat, with very little elevation gained.  The trail began as a beautiful path through thick woods.  We crossed a footbridge through a marshy area.  Further up the trail, we passed a sign that pointed towards Fangorn Forest.  As big Lord of the Rings fans, we quickly got the reference – I said to Christine, “What madness drove them in there?”, a quote from the movie The Two Towers and we both chuckled.  Staying on the main trail, we came to a large junction at the one mile marker.  There are a lot of trails that criss-cross through the hike up Mount Marcy.  We saw a lot of people consulting maps trying to decide what to do.  We did the same and I bore us left at the junction following the direction to the Marcy Dam lean-tos.  The trail begins to climb a bit here.

Scaling the Summit of Mount Marcy

More views of the summit above treeline. Even though it appears tree-covered, the trees are stunted and leaned to the side.  The remainder of the climb from this point traversed granite boulders and ledges. Below: Lots of granite to climb on – some of it was quite steep!

Climbing Mount Marcy Scaling the Granite on Marcy
Climbing Mount Marcy Almost to the Top of Mount Marcy

At 2.3 miles, we arrived at Marcy Dam, a very picturesque spot to enjoy some reflective water with mountains ahead.  The trail winds down and then crosses the water on a longer footbridge, before leading to the other side with another perspective view.  You will come across signs on this side of the water crossing that are pointing to several lean-tos, bathrooms, and campsites along the way.  We found it strange to have toilets this far off the main trail.  We didn’t realize until our return trip that a ton of people like to camp out here.  Many of the groups that we saw heading on the trail go no further than to one of these campsites, so numbers on the trail can be misleading.

From the other side of the dam, we found another kiosk which we signed again and followed the signs that pointed us to Mt. Marcy.  The trail starts off with a gradual climb here.  At 3.0 miles, we reached a junction with a side trail that led to Phelps Mountain.  Peakbaggers seeking all of the 46 mountains over 4000 feet would follow this side trail to summit Phelps Mountain, #32 on the list, in 1.2 miles (2.4 miles roundtrip from this point).  We skipped Phelps and continued up the trail.  The trail became steeper and rockier.

Looking Back at the View

Along the way, we took lots of opportunities to pause and take in the view behind us. Below: We deposited our small stones on the collection pile.  They’ll be used to build up the protected alpine environment; View from the summit; Adam is happy to be at the top!

Rock Collection on Mount Marcy Descent View Adam on Summit

At 4.2 miles, we reached another junction, which seemed to be the most confusing.  There were no signs stating which way went to Mt. Marcy.  The sign was weathered and half of the letters were hard to read, which only added to our confusion.  We saw several people at this junction trying to figure out the correct path.  Staying straight on the trail would lead you to Table Top Mountain, but we had to take a right on this trail and up a few rock stairs to stay on the trail to summit Mt. Marcy.  At about 4.4 miles, we came to another junction,  We bore to the left, which was the correct path.  The trail continued to be rocky and wet from recent rain.

At about 6.2 miles, we reached a large clearing, which gave us our first views of the summit.  At about 6.6 miles, we arrived at another junction, bore right, and the views above began to open up as we headed above treeline.  The last .6 miles were challenging, with some areas requiring you to scramble up using your hands as well as your feet.  There were also some sheer, slick granite faces, so you had to pay attention and take care.  We finally reached the top at 7.25 miles.  The wind was whipping around us fiercely, but the views were absolutely breathtaking.  I would say these views compare very similarly to some of the views we have seen in Mount Washington and Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire, two of our favorite all-time hikes.

Summit of Marcy

We made it to the summit! Below:  Summit scenery; A well-earned giant cookie!

Summit of Marcy Summit Descent giant cookie

At the summit, there was another sign asking for everyone that carried their rock to drop it here.  While we stopped to eat a snack, we were greeted by a summit steward.  The Adirondack Mountain Club has hired people to talk to others at Mt. Marcy and other summits to educate people about the ecosystems and fragile plants that live on the top of these mountains.  They explained to us how the rocks we brought up would be placed to form barriers to protect plants from the wind and people.  I was amazed the ADK has people that hike Mt. Marcy every day to keep counts of people and talk to people at the summit.  We told the summit steward we have always wanted to be paid to hike and she was getting that dream job of ours. Read more about summit stewards.

We knew we had a long way back down, so we eventually pulled ourselves from the summit to make our way back down.  The views were so stunning coming down also.  On the way back down, I slid and pulled a muscle in my shoulder trying to stop my fall.  The mountains are no joke up here.

Summit Descent 3

After a nice stay, it was time to head down. Below: Steep descent and the last confirmed sighting of the bottom third of Christine’s trekking pole, Adam enjoys one last lofty view; Back into the woods for the rest of the climb down.

Summit Descent 4 Summit Descent 2 Adam Descending Marcy

We finally got back to our car after a long hike downward at 14.5 miles.  After the hike, we were completely beat.  We drove to Lake Placid and stumbled into Johnny’s, a pizza place.  I hobbled in and we ate in a pure exhausted state.

The memories on Mt. Marcy will last with me for the rest of my life.  It is an iconic mountain that definitely won’t disappoint if you can handle the climbing and distance.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 14.5 miles
  • Elevation Change – 3200 ft.
  • Difficulty – 4.5.  It’s hard to give this a 5, because while the hike is long, it’s never a difficult hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 3. Parts of the trail are fantastic, other parts are a mess.
  • Views  5.  Spectacular, panoramic, top-of-the-world.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3. There are a few pretty streams along the hike.
  • Wildlife – 3. Red squirrels and lots of birds.
  • Ease to Navigate – 1.5.  With several junctions not giving good directions on which way to Mt. Marcy, bring along our map below and consult at every junction. 
  • Solitude – 1. This is a popular trail and you’ll see lots of people.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From Lake Placid, go east on Rt. 73 to Adirondac Loj Rd., which is the first right after the ski jumps. The parking lots are 5 miles from Rt. 73. There is a $10/day parking fee. Park in one of the large lots near the High Peaks Information Center.  The trailhead is on the far side of the parking lot directly across from the High Peaks Information Center. GPS coordinates for this hike are: 44.1830461,-73.9644678

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