This is a great alternative to the ‘classic’ ascent of Old Rag. You still get the same stunning summit, but this 5.4 mile route lets you bypass all the road walking, lessens your vertical gain, and skips the famous rock scramble (which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about rock scrambles!)
Old Rag is one of those classic Virginia hikes that most avid hikers in the state want to do at some point. The views are truly spectacular, but the most popular route up Old Rag includes a technical rock scramble with exposed ledges and big drops. Some people might have a fear of heights or not be fit enough to tackle the scramble. The route via Berry Hollow is perfect for people wanting a ‘low key’ route to the peak.
We were on our way to hike White Oak Canyon, but the parking lot was completely full. Not wanting to give up for the day, we consulted our maps and noticed we were right next to Berry Hollow and the alternate route up Old Rag.
We arrived at the small parking lot at Berry Hollow and also found a very full lot. However, after waiting just a few minutes, some hikers came down the trail and said about 3-4 cars would be leaving in the next ten minutes as they were returning from an overnight/sunrise hike. So, we waited and sure enough, several spaces cleared up. I would recommend arriving at the lot early in the morning, because there is only space available for about 12 vehicles.
You begin the hike by making your way past a closed gate. You can see the path marked on the kiosk to the right of the trail. This route starts on the wide Berry Hollow fire road, which goes along the Berry Hollow stream for a while. Hiking the trail during a peak fall day, we were surrounded by brilliant yellows from fallen leaves on the trail and up above. At .8 miles, you reach a junction with the Saddle Trail. Take a right on to the Saddle Trail, which you will take all the way to the summit.
The Saddle Trail is more narrow and rocky, but is mostly a moderate climb. The steepest part of this trail comes between 1.2 and 1.5 miles as you gain about 300 feet of elevation in .3 miles. At 1.4 miles, you will pass by the Old Rag shelter which is only available for day use. At 2.15 miles, the trail gets another steep push to the summit. Continuing up the trail, you will also pass the Byrds Nest Shelter at 2.25 miles, another day use shelter. The trail does start to open up to some views along the way as you’ll pass a couple of rock outcroppings that give you nice views or a good excuse to stop if you need a breather.
You arrive at the base of the summit which is marked by a sign. A short path leads up to the rocky summit. At this point, you can decide how adventurous you want to be at the summit. There are lots of nice ledges to enjoy the views, but some will want to scramble up the boulders to try to get even higher vantage points. Be very careful at this summit, especially if you have kids. People get injured often on this trail, most often at the rock scramble or at the summit.
The wind was incredibly strong on this day at the summit. It is usually quite windy at the summit, but with the colder temperatures, it was freezing at the top. We ate some snacks at the top, trying to shelter us from the wind, but decided quickly to get away from the exposed ledges to try and stay a little warmer.
We headed back the way we came. When we arrived back at our car, the lot was still at capacity, so we did luck out with a spot. After our hike, we went to one of our favorite places to eat, The Barbeque Exchange, in Gordonsville, VA and then hit Horton Vineyard for wine sampling on our way back home.
We were so pleased with this alternate route up Old Rag. I think we will probably use this as our go-to route for future hikes up the mountain.
I make no secret of the fact that I am not a huge fan of the Old Rag Ridge Trail. Scrambling is not my favorite, but my primary issue is simple trail overuse. I think the park lets too many people hike the trail each day and that the mountain is becoming damaged beyond repair. We’ve hiked Old Rag on days that people are queued up all across the ridge, waiting in line for the people ahead of them to tackle obstacles. I wait in line in daily life enough that I’m simply not willing to wait in line on a mountain trail. It feels wrong! I also don’t prefer the significant amount of road walking necessary to complete the route via Weakley Hollow. In the end, more than half the trail is road walking. That said, I did really enjoy this ascent via Berry Hollow.
It was our anniversary weekend, peak fall color, and a perfect bluebird day to boot. We were sort of nuts to try hiking any of the park’s most popular trails, but somehow we were lucky enough to score a parking spot.
The walk up Berry Hollow fire road was gorgeous. The sun filtering through the fall leaves made a canopy of warm golden light. The road was carpeted with leaves of every color. We really didn’t see many people at all until we reached the junction of the fire road and the Saddle Trail.
The Saddle Trail is a moderate ascent. There are rock steps and interesting boulder jumbles to admire along the way. Through the trees we could see the rocky summit looming ahead. As we climbed the views became more impressive. After passing the second shelter (Byrds Nest), the trail passes out of tall hardwood forest into stand of stunted, windblown trees and tangled rhododendron.
There are a couple nice views from the trail before you reach the actual summit. We took time to enjoy each of them. At the summit, there was a large crowd already congregating. Most people posed for photos and then found places behind the boulders to shelter from the wind. We stayed and enjoyed the summit until it became too crowded.
The way down was quick and easy! We even did our traditional ‘Old Rag Jog’ – it’s basically a slow run to make the fire road terrain pass quicker. On our way out, we stopped by Graves Mountain to get apples, pumpkin, and cider. Then we headed for a big barbecue feast and a wine tasting. It was a perfect fall day and a great way to celebrate our anniversary.
- Distance – 5.4 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1725 ft.
- Difficulty – 3. This is a solid, moderate hike.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape in most places. There were a few muddy, mucky places between Byrds Nest and the Old Rag Shelter.
- Views – 5. Gorgeous views at the top and several nice views along the way.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 1. There is one small stream along the fire road.
- Wildlife – 2. We didn’t see anything but squirrels, but there is apparently a nuisance bear near the Old Rag shelter.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. There is just one well-marked junction.
- Solitude –0. It’s Old Rag… expect to see many, many people.
Directions to trailhead: From Madison, VA on Route 29, take US-29 Business Route into Madison, VA. Turn on to VA-231 north. In 5.4 miles, take a slight left on VA-670. Follow this for 3.6 miles and take a slight right on to state route 643/Weakley Hollow Road. Follow this road for about 5 miles, which becomes a gravel, fire road and ends at the parking lot for the trailhead.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This hike is easy for a 7-miler! Gentle grades along an old roadbed take you to a lovely view of the Shenandoah River and mountains beyond!
Throughout fall 2014, our employer (and alma mater), James Madison University, participated in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. Basically, students and employees accrued points for outdoor activities. The school that compiled the most points in the end won a prize of cash and outdoor gear. One component of the competition was completing a collection of eight local hikes. The list included many hikes we had already done (Old Rag, Humpback Rock, Fridley Gap, High Knob Fire Tower). Veach Gap was one of the only hikes on the list we hadn’t done, so we decided to check it out.
From the end of Veach Gap Rd. in Fort Valley, the hike begins along the Veach Gap Trail (blazed in gold), which is an old road bed. Supposedly, this trail is what remains of the historical Morgan’s Road. General George Washington requisitioned the road during the Revolutionary War. It was built to be used as a path of retreat from Yorktown. As we all know from history, the war went America’s way, and the retreat route was never needed. The road was still used locally for many years before falling into disuse and transitioning into a trail.
At one mile in, the Veach Gap trail crosses Mill Run. This is really the only potentially confusing spot to navigate on the hike. The trail crosses at a diagonal, so look carefully for the gold blazes on a tree slightly upstream. Shortly after crossing the stream, you may notice a rock formation in the shape of an upside down ‘U’. This is called an anticline, and it’s a very unusual geological feature in our area. I’m kind of ashamed to admit this, but we didn’t even stop to look at the anticline. I forgot it was there, and my mind was more focused on fall colors, lofty views, and potential wildlife sightings. But, if you’re a geology buff – don’t miss this feature!
A short distance after crossing the stream, the Veach Gap trail merges and becomes jointly blazed with the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail and the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail. The three trails share the route for (at most) a couple tenths of a mile. AT 1.2 miles, you’ll come to another trail sign. To the right, the trail heads in the direction of the Little Crease Shelter. Stay to the left (blazed orange and blue), headed up Little Crease Mountain and toward Sherman Gap. About a half mile after this intersection, you’ll pass a marked group campsite on the right.
Continue meandering uphill along a gentle grade. At three miles, the trail becomes a bit steeper with switchbacks. There was a significant forest fire here in 2012, so the canopy is thin and allows nice views along the climb. We saw lots of charred stumps and blueberry bushes along the increasingly rocky trail. Eventually, the trail leveled out along the ridge. We soon reached The Point Overlook – a small outcropping of rocks overlooking a sweeping bend on the Shenandoah River.
We had a snack, took a few photos, and spent some time chatting with a fellow hiker (Hi, DJ!) before heading back down the way we came. Veach Gap was really a lovely hike to enjoy at the peak of fall foliage season. After getting back to our car, we made the short drive into Front Royal so we could enjoy burgers and shakes at Spelunkers. Great day!
When we were reviewing the peakbagging hikes that were listed for JMU students/faculty to try for the Outdoor Nation competition, we were surprised to see this one on there. My guess is the coordinators looked up hikes that were close to Harrisonburg without thinking of what would be seen on the hike. We initially thought this wouldn’t be that nice of a hike, since we hadn’t heard anyone mention it before to us, but the views made this a pleasant surprise.
When we pulled up to the parking lot, we saw a few cars already in the parking lot and a group getting ready to hit the trail when we did. Of course, we saw vehicles for hunters, so we were a little worried about how this trail was being used overall. We were glad that we had brighter clothes on, which is always a precaution to consider during hunting season. We started off on the gold-blazed Veach Gap trail by crossing through the gate and walking on the fire road. The trail was very flat and passed through some younger forest. We were greeted with sights and sounds of Mill Run to the left of the trail.
We soon came across two bow hunters, that seemed to be milling around, more about enjoying the outdoors than they were about hunting. At .35 miles, the fire road turns into trail. At 1.2 miles, take a left at the junction and join the blue and orange-blazed Massanutten Trail. The trail continued a slow, gradual climb heading northeast. At 3.0 miles, the trail takes a sharp, southern route and at 3.2 miles, it switches back to the normal northeastern direction. On our climb up, we passed by a large group of boy scouts that were covering some miles over the weekend, but were looking to camp near the crossing at Mill Run. The slightly-obstructed views of the mountains beside us were so colorful in this peak fall setting.
As you climb up to the ridge, you start seeing a lot of the forest fire damage. Since this happened in 2012, you start seeing some of the plants starting to grow in place of those that burned. We reached the ridge and followed it for about .15 miles. At 3.5 miles, we found a pile of rocks marking a short climb to the overlook where we stopped. The true highlight of the view is seeing the bends of the Shenandoah River from this rocky perch. There wasn’t a ton of room at the top that was unobstructed, but it was enough for a few people to take in the view.
If you feel like you would like a view hike with a good amount of solitude, this may be a great selection.
- Distance – 7 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1100 ft.
- Difficulty – 2. This is an easy hike to a nice viewpoint.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape in most places. Dry, fallen leaves made some of the descents slippery.
- Views – 3.5. The view of the bends of the Shenandoah River is nice, but slightly obstructed.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. The stream along the early part of the trail is really pretty.
- Wildlife – 2. We didn’t see anything but a few birds and squirrels.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. There are a few junctions and a few unmarked trails that cross the route, but you should be fine if you follow the blazes.
- Solitude –4. We did see a troop of Boy Scouts and a handful of others hiking in this area on a perfect fall weekend near peak foliage color, but generally this area is very quiet.
Directions to trailhead: From Luray, VA, take SR 675/Camp Roosevelt Road. Go .8 miles and take a left to stay on SR 675. In 2.2 miles, take a right to stay on SR 675. In 7.8 miles, take a right on to SR 678/Fort Valley Road. Follow this for 9.7 miles and then take a right onto SR 774/Veach Gap Road. Follow this about .75 miles to the end of the road, where you arrive at a parking area. The trail starts after you walk around the gate.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This 17 mile overnight backpacking trip had beautiful views from Cole Mountain within the first two miles of the hike. The rest of the hike was less scenic – mostly walking through quiet woods and along seasonally low streams. The Lynchburg Reservoir and the swinging bridge over the Pedlar River were noteworthy features on the second day.
We started off our trip by leaving one car where the AT crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Punchbowl Mountain overlook. From the lot, we could see the AT southbound, but we didn’t see where we would return to our car from the north. It turns out it was just below us on the other side of the parking lot, but the morning fog made it a little hard to spot. We dropped our car off and then headed to Hog Camp Rd, to start our journey.
From Hog Camp Gap, we headed south on the Appalachian Trail. The trail started off through a wooded section uphill, fairly steeply in some parts. Around 1.1 miles, the trail opened up to the beautiful, wide-open bald clearing that is Cole Mountain. We have hiked Cole Mountain before as a loop and I do think it is one of the more under-appreciated hikes in Virginia. The panoramic vistas make this look like something you would picture in an outdoors magazine. You can’t help but want to stop and take a look at the scenery around you. The way we split this section might not have been the best plan for enjoying vistas. We knew we had the best views of the trip done in the first 1.5 miles of the hike. But that is one of the biggest lessons I learned from hiking this section – you have to hold on to what you may have just seen, because there is no certainty about what is to come ahead.
After reaching the summit of Cole Mountain, the trail descends and again enters the forest. Around 2.5 miles, we reached a junction with a spur trail that led to the Cow Camp Gap overnight shelter and a water source. We continued on the trail which starts an ascent up Bald Mountain. We reached the summit at 3.5 miles and were hoping for some nice views at the top, but found that Bald Mountain wasn’t very bald (there were a few obstructed views through the trees). We found a clearing and camp spot and had our lunch there before continuing on. The rest of the day, the trail was a descent so our climbing was done (at least until tomorrow).
We crossed over USFS 507 at 5.5 miles and eventually came to US 60 and the Long Mountain wayside at mile 6.3. We stopped at one of the picnic tables and took a break to eat a snack and give our backs a relief from the weight. Local people just park on the roadside here and have a picnic at this spot. It is also a way to do a longer out-and-back to Cole Mountain without parking or driving on a rough, gravel road. After resting, we crossed US 60, spotting a sign for the continuation of the Appalachian trail to the right. We continued our descent and at 7.1 miles, we reached Browns Creek, a reliable water source for a good stretch of trail. At 8.2 miles, we reached the Brown Mountain Creek Shelter, our stop for the night.
The Brown Mountain Creek area is interesting from a historical/archaeological standpoint. Much of the land along the creek was part of a large plantation predating the Civil War. After the war, the land was primarily a settlement for freed African-Americans. Houses, farms, orchards and even a gristmill could be found along the creek. You can still see stone walls/stairs, pieces of metal, and other artifacts along the creek. If you’re interested in reading more, this online article had a good overview of the area.
When we first got to the shelter, there was still a smoldering fire in the fire pit, so we realized someone had been there recently. We also noticed a large pile of fresh bear scat next to the shelter. While we didn’t think a bear had been roasting marshmallows by the fire, we felt it may be wise to not set up camp directly at the shelter. We found a nice campsite right by the creek and decided that would be a better spot. There was a boy scout troop that was camping on the other side of the creek. We worried about them being too loud over the course of the night, but they were fairly well-behaved (except for trashing the privy – but that’s another story). We set up our tent, filtered water for tonight and tomorrow, and began to unwind.
We cooked dinner up at the shelter (Good To-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto)* and played Zombie Fluxx, a card game where the rules and objectives for winning constantly changed. I always enjoy bringing a card game along the trail – the weight isn’t too bad for the entertainment it can provide. We played a few hands (I recall Christine being better at killing zombies than I was) and then went back to our campsite after I hung our bear bag. We started off reading books by headlamp outside our tent (continuing with the zombie trend I was reading Night of the Living Trekkies), but the bugs were awful. We retired to our tent probably around 7:30, read for a little while longer, and went to bed very early. We always typically go to bed around nightfall when backpacking, but hiking with the extra weight always makes you feel a little more physically exhausted.
* Good to Go is a new backpacking food manufacturer. They use healthy ingredients and much less sodium. We thought it was one of the best dehydrated meals we’ve had on the trail! We added a foil packet of chicken breast to our dinner.
Day two started earlier than expected (and with the added bonus of a huge, swollen mosquito bite on my eyelid – I looked like I’d been punched!) Like most Boy Scout troops we’ve met along the trail, the one camping near us on this trip was awake, packed up, and on their way before sun-up. This had pros and cons. One con was all the crunching boots and headlamps moving around our tent in the dark. A pro was the opportunity we had to enjoy the creekside in peace and solitude before starting our hike for the day. The solitude also meant I could find a place to dig a cat hole in complete privacy without having to worry about Boy Scouts spotting me! I would have used the privy near the shelter, but let’s just say the privy turned out to be another con of camping near a big scout group. One of them had completely defiled the privy and there was no way I was going in there!
Breakfast was instant oatmeal, honey buns and coffee. I’ve learned the hard way after running out of gas on past backpacking trips that one packet of instant oatmeal (140 calories) is not enough to fuel me across nine miles. The Little Debbie Honey Bun has been a revelation for me. I think it has the magical balance of fat and sugar I need to power through my morning miles. They also hold up great in my pack – no smushing and no crumbling. Some people like a healthier, protein-packed breakfast, but give me a honey bun!
The first five miles of our second day were easy. The terrain was a very gradual overall descent with a couple brief uphill climbs. The first mile or so followed Brown Mountain Creek. The trail followed roughly parallel to the stream for much of the way. I kept thinking how beautiful this area would be when water levels were higher. We eventually crossed the creek via a wooden footbridge. At this spot there was a small, but pretty, waterfall cascading into a plunge pool. The flow was down to a trickle, but it was still a lovely spot.
Departing Brown Mountain Creek, we walked through serene, quiet forest for a couple more miles. There were two small stream crossings along the way. The first didn’t seem to have a name, but the second was Swapping Camp Creek. Both of these creeks end up flowing into the Lynchburg Reservoir. At around 3 miles into our hike, we started seeing glimpses of the reservoir through the trees. We followed an off-trail footpath steeply down to the shores of the water for a couple photos. We saw several herons hunting in the mud. There were ‘no camping’ signs posted everywhere, but there were also several well-used fire rings. I’m guessing there are quite a few people that ignore the regulations and attempt to stealth camp in this area.
We climbed back up to the Appalachian Trail and continued south, skirting the eastern side of the reservoir. At around 4.8 miles we came to the lowest elevation point of our hike – the Pedlar River crossing. The trail crosses the river on a picturesque, bouncy suspension bridge. From the middle of the bridge, we could see early fall colors reflecting from the trees onto the water’s surface. After crossing the bridge, we came out on gravel-surfaced Reservoir Road. We followed that briefly until we spotted another white blaze for the Appalachian Trail.
At this point, we began our toughest climb of the whole 17 miles. The 2-mile ascent of Rice Mountain begins pleasantly enough. The trail follows parallel to Little Irish Creek (which was running low and barely noticeable) and passes through a small plot of old growth forest. There is an extremely weather-beaten sign explaining tree sizes in the area and how the area is used to study the local watershed. Early parts of the climb are well-graded and moderate, but about .75 mile in, the trail pretty much goes straight up the mountain without the moderating benefit of switchbacks. I wanted to push through the climbing and put it behind me, but Adam was ready for a snack. We found some big rocks about 1.5 miles up the mountain and took a candy break. After a half mile more climbing, we reached the ridge of Rice Mountain. The forest was especially pretty along the top of the mountain – very open with lots of nice shade trees.
On the descent of Rice, we had one nice view through the trees. We also saw more brilliant red fall colors and a lot more thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel. There really wasn’t anything remarkable to see or say about our last couple miles of hiking. The terrain was rolling – there was a general uphill trend, but with small downhills as well. There were no views or streams to speak off. The lack of scenery gave me lots of time to fret over my feet. Two toes on my right foot had dislocated earlier in the day and were becoming increasingly painful. With each step, it got a little harder to bear my weight plus the weight of my pack. I think if there had been waterfalls or great views, I would have been more easily able to distract myself. But on this particular day, all I could think was ‘Ouch – when will this hike be over?’
At almost the end, we had one final road crossing at the junction of Robinson Gap Rd. and Panther Falls Rd. After just another third of mile, we came up a small hill and found ourselves back at the parking area for Punchbowl Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to end a hike. It felt great to take my boots off and change into a pair of Oofos. While I enjoyed the great weather, the opportunity to be out, and the nice views from Cole Mountain, this wasn’t one of my favorite backpacking trips.
- Distance – 17.2 miles [Day One] [Day Two]
- Elevation Change – About 2900 ft.
- Difficulty – 4. Mostly for distance, but the descent of Bald Mountain is a real knee-grinder and the climb up Rice Mountain (Day 2) is surprisingly challenging.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is in nice condition all across this stretch of AT.
- Views – 5 (for Day 1) – The views from Cole Mountain are indisputably spectacular. Enjoy them early in your hike… they’ll be the last real views of the trip.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 3. This was hard to judge because of the unusually dry late summer/early fall. I think under normal circumstances, Brown Mountain Creek would be beautiful with lots of small cascades and rapids.
- Wildlife – 2. We didn’t see any wildlife beyond a cute bullfrog in the creek. But, there was LOTS of bear scat around Brown Mountain Creek Shelter.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Just keep following the white-blazes and pay attention at road crossings/trail junctions to stay on the Appalachian Trail.
- Solitude – 3. We saw quite a few people around Cole Mountain and spent the night at Brown Mountain Creek with a Boy Scout Troop. We saw only one person along the trail on the second day.
Directions to trailhead: Requires a shuttle. We parked one car where the AT crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway near Punchbowl Mountain. This is mile 51.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 6 miles south of where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets with US 60. From this point, we drove our other car back north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 6.0 miles and took the exit leading us to US-60 East. We headed 4.3 miles on US 60 E before taking a left on SR 634/Coffeytown Road. Follow this for 1.6 miles before taking a right on SR 755/Wiggins Spring Road. Follow this gravel, bumpy road for 2.7 miles until you reach the parking area where the AT crosses the road. Follow the white-blazed Appalachian trail heading south.
This short, moderately challenging 3.5 mile hike has stunning views of both lakes and mountains from a summit fire tower!
We considered not hiking at all on our final day in New Hampshire – we needed time to pack and we still wanted to hang out a bit more with my parents. But, it was too gorgeous to stay off the trail – crisp, cool, vivid blue skies punctuated by cottony white clouds. So, for our last hike, we chose something short, relatively easy, and close to my parents’ home in Plymouth.
I remembered a conversation we had earlier in the week with a docent from Castle in the Clouds. We had been asking her about the trails on the property. After talking about options on the Lucknow estate, she asked if we’d ever hiked to the top of Red Hill. She told us the hike was very popular with locals and that we should do it if we had time. We looked at maps, and decided Red Hill was the perfect distance and length.
When we got to the trailhead, we found the parking area blocked by a construction crew repairing a failed drain pipe under the road. There had been heavy rains the day before, and it looked like the road had buckled and crushed the drain. Luckily, we were able to find a small pullout for parking and walk up to the trailhead.
The Red Hill trail is maintained by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. You’ll see one of their informational panels at the beginning of the trail. Early on, the hiking trail is crossed by snowmobile trails. At about three tenths of a mile in, you’ll find remnants of the old Horne farm and another informational board. Essentially, all that’s left is the foundation, but if you look closely you might see other hints of the farm. Follow signs for the tower, passing a gate indicating an area closed to snowmobiles.
From there, the summit is a steady 1.4 mile climb. The trail is not rocky or rooted, and we found it dry and easily passable – even after heavy rain one day before our hike. The summit has a tall firetower and a couple associated buildings. I read online that this is the only firetower in New Hampshire not run by the state. Instead, this one is tended by the Moultonborough Fire Department.
From the summit we enjoyed a superb look at Lake Winnipesaukee from above. From the tower, we had great views of Squam Lake, the Sandwich Range and the Ossipee Range. It was really windy on the observation platform of the tower, so we didn’t stay on top for long. We shared some snacks and then headed down the way we came.
We were lucky to have the summit all to ourselves! On our way down, we passed dozens of people – not surprising! It’s a very nice hike! After getting back to the car, we called my parents and arranged to meet at the Town Docks in Meredith. It was a beautiful day to enjoy one last lakeside lunch!
With our trip to New Hampshire coming to an end, we couldn’t resist hitting the trail one last time. The previous day we had a lot of rain, so we had spent the day shopping around the area to get some souvenirs. There was some flooding from the previous day in some areas. Since we were facing a 12 hour drive the next day back home, we wanted to get a hike that was fairly close and not too long. We remembered our talk with one of the volunteers at Castle in the Clouds and decided to see what this one was like.
This hike combines two things I always like to think about when visiting New Hampshire – the many lakes and the mountains. From this viewpoint, you get a picturesque view of both. This definitely is a hike for the locals. We couldn’t find any great information in guide books, but we found a few write-ups online, including a winter trek up from Hike New England.
We started on the trail at the kiosk. In .1 mile, the trail splits in half. We opted for the trail to the right, which starts off on a fire road. At .4 miles, the trail comes to the signage for the old farmstead here. The trail takes a sharp left at the sign and continues uphill. The trail was a continuous uphill climb, but the terrain was fairly nice, making for better footing considering the rain from the day before. At 1.5 miles, the trail reaches a junction again with the Red Hill Loop Trail (we did not do the loop option). Continuing to the right for another .2 miles, you’ll reach the summit and fire tower at 1.7 miles.
The summit had a nice picnic table at the top near one of the buildings giving you nice views of the lake below. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bit of a fear over man-made structures, so I felt uneasy about climbing up to the top of the tower. The tower was a little rickety and the wind was blowing strongly, but I felt I couldn’t end the trip without taking in the view. At the top of the tower, you do get some nice views, but we found it was hard to get clear, unobstructed photos due to all the wires and screen around the top. I made my way back to the bottom to get the views that nature had intended from the safer ground.
When we arrived at the summit, there was one other person there, who quickly handed over the solitude of the views to us. We stayed for a while to eat a snack and reflect on all of the great hiking we accomplished during this trip. It is always a bitter feeling knowing that you have to return home and back to the doldrums of work and everyday living, but we will have the memories of these mountains, lakes, and beautiful skies to lift our hearts until the next adventure.
- Distance – 3.5 miles
MapMyHike Stats *
- Elevation Change – 1350 feet
- Difficulty – 2.5. The climbing is moderate, but steady.
- Trail Conditions – 3.5. This trail is in great shape. The footing is nice and we didn’t have any trouble with mud, even after heavy rains.
- Views – 4.5. Beautiful – a small markdown because the cables and side panels of the tower block a little bit of the view. You must climb the tower if you want the full view, too. The picnic table at the base has a nice, but not panoramic, view.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. None
- Wildlife – 0. None
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5 – There are a few crossing snowmobile trails, and there is a trail on the other side of the hill, but generally the route is easy to follow.
- Solitude – 2. While we enjoyed quite a bit of solitude on our early morning hike, we saw many people hiking up on our hike down.
Directions to trailhead: From I-93: Take exit 24 on I-93 for US-3/NH-25 toward Ashland/Holderness. Turn right on US-3 S/NH-25 E and go 9.2 miles. Turn left on NH-25B E and go 2.9 miles. Turn left on Kelsea Avenue and go .2 miles. Turn left onto Bean Rd and go 1.3 miles. Turn right on to Sibley Road and go 1.1 miles. Take a left on to Red Hill Road and go about .2 miles until you reach the parking area to the right. The trail starts off from the kiosk.
This 5.6 mile route to Zealand Falls is one of the easiest hikes we’ve done in New Hampshire. Most of the footing is smooth, soft, and flat! It was a real treat after climbing Pierce and Madison.
The hike to Zealand Falls is doubtlessly the easiest ‘hut hike’ in the White Mountains. The elevation gain is barely discernible until the last couple tenths of a mile. The route offers mountain views, waterfalls, stream scenery, and lovely ponds. Guidebooks say it’s a great place to bird-watch and spot a moose (though I have my doubts about the actual likelihood of seeing a moose!)
The hike starts out at a parking area at the end of Zealand Road. It’s a fee area, so make sure you bring cash to pay at the self-service parking station.
We made our way along the trail, marveling at how smooth and soft the footing felt. There were certainly some spots with roots and rocks, but generally the trail was level and covered with a bed of pine needles. We could hear the Zealand River, but didn’t reach a close view of the water until .8 miles into the hike. When we hiked (early August), the water was low, clear and running quietly along. Almost all of the water crossings we encountered on this trail were assisted by wooden footbridges – no wading and very little rock hopping necessary!
As we walked along, the terrain became marshier. At about 1.8 miles in we passed a lovely beaver pond. We could see the dam from the trail, but didn’t see any beavers. The reflections of trees and mountains in the water were especially beautiful! With all the wetlands, I expected biting flies, mosquitoes and gnats to be a major issue, but we didn’t have any trouble at all. Maybe there was just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay.
At 2.3 miles we passed the junction with the A-Z trail, where we continued on the Zealand Trail. A couple tenths of a mile later, we passed Zealand Pond and reached the junction with the Twinway (which is also the Appalachian Trail in this area) and Etlan Pond Trails. The last couple tenths of a mile to the hut follow the Twinway Trail.
Almost immediately after the junction, we reached the bottom of Zealand Falls. The water was running low, but it was still beautiful. There are two places to stop and admire the falls on the way up. The first stop is a view of the gradual, slide-like lower falls. The view of the upper falls is a bit more dramatic. The rocks around the falls are blocky and reddish-orange in color. The water comes plunging steeply over a cliff-side. The last tenth of a mile up to the hut is steep and rocky – honestly, it’s the only challenging part of the hike.
Zealand Falls Hut enjoys a lofty perch looking out across two notches. You can see the Bonds and Mt. Carrigain. There’s even a bench available for anyone who wants a nice seat to enjoy the view. We spent some time poking around the hut. The Croo had just made cinnamon rolls and purple frosted blueberry cake, but we weren’t quite ready for a snack. Instead, we decided to take the little side trail to the ledges of Whitewall Brook. It’s just a 25-30 foot walk through the trees. The brook passes over immense slabs of rock. It’s a nice place to sit, soak in the sun, and enjoy the view of the pond below and distant mountains beyond.
After spending some time enjoying the hut, we returned the way we came. The walk back was all downhill, so we made quick work of it. I would highly recommend Zealand Falls to anyone looking for a low-key hike without much climbing. In fact, we gave it such glowing reviews that my parents tried the hike a few weeks later. They enjoyed it and felt it was very approachable for hikers of any level.
When we go about trying to cover a lot of hiking mileage on our vacation trips, we like to alternate some easier hikes with the tougher ones. Since we had just climbed Mt. Madison, our feet and joints were happy that we chose this easier leg-stretcher.
Christine and I do like to hike with goals in mind. Since we have climbed a few of the 4000-footers in New Hampshire (there are 48), we have thought about possibly trying to bag all of those peaks. Last year on our visit, I picked up AMC’s Passport to AMC’s High Huts in the White Mountains. That book describes each of AMC’s huts through the White Mountains and details the history, features, and interesting stories about each of the huts. It also serves as a passport that you can have stamped at each location to mark that you have been there (you can even earn a patch when you’ve visited them all). This was definitely enough of an incentive to try and reach all the huts.
As Christine mentioned, this trail had nice footing compared to what we were used to in the White Mountains. The trail was fairly smooth as it started through the woods mixed with pine and birch. The trail eventually opened up into some great views over marshy ponds. There was a large boardwalk to walk across that I thought would be a perfect vantage point for spotting a moose. There were such nice views over the dammed-up ponds and it reminded me that we were in a state filled with lots of lakes, ponds, and streams. We took a while to enjoy the scenery around us. The trail continued to give us lots of similar views and short step-offs to pond views. The trail eventually goes back into the woods as you get closer to Zealand Falls Hut.
At 2.3 miles, we reached the junction with the A-Z trail, which I came to realize after looking at our map that it connects the Avalon and Zealand trail, hence the A-Z name. At 2.5 miles, we reached a short side trail to check out Zealand Falls. The falls here were a nice place to get sidetracked. We crossed a few rocks and enjoyed climbing around the rocks at the base of the falls. Looking up towards the top of the fall is where this hike ends, but you should stick to the trail rather than trying to climb up the falls.
We continued our last piece of the hike, which was a steep and rocky .2 miles until we reached the Zealand Falls Hut at 2.8 miles. There were a few day-hikers at the hut, recounting tales of all the places they had visited around the world. We decided to take the short trail from the hut to the streambed of Whitewall Brook, which is the top of the falls we had seen below. Christine got a lot of pictures while I walked around climbing on some of the rocks and collecting a few blueberries from the nearby bushes. We then found a picturesque spot on the large rocks to take in the view of mountains ahead and the waterways below.
We stopped back in to the hut to talk to the Croo members who were cleaning up breakfast and starting to prepare some food for lunch. I know they have some busy days, preparing meals, cleaning the hut, and transporting supplies on their backs to and from the hut. I talked to one of the members about how this hut was so much easier to reach than most of the others we had seen. I wondered if there was a selection process that was made to match up Croo members to the huts or if they even had a choice. It seems like maintaining this hut and transporting supplies would be made for those that wanted or needed an easier experience. We made our way back to our car the same way we came up.
I would recommend this hike to anyone that would like to see what one of the AMC huts looks like. It is the easiest one to reach, so people of most abilities should be able to attain the top. This is one I could see us doing many times in the future due to the ease and the serenity that the scenery of the marshes and waterfall evokes.
- Distance – 5.6 miles
MapMyHike Stats *
- Elevation Change – 650 feet
- Difficulty – 2. This is a pleasant, easy walk until the last couple tenths of a mile. The last push to hut is short but steep.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is so nicely built and easy to walk. Most of the water crossings and marshy areas are traversed by sturdy bridges and boardwalks.
- Views –3.5. Views from the hut and Whitewall Brook are nice, as are several views across the wetlands, but generally the views here are less dramatic than other spots in the White Mountains.
- Waterfalls/streams – 4.5. The river, pond, wetlands, brook and waterfalls are all lovely!
- Wildlife – 3. It’s supposed to be a nice area to spot wildlife, but we just saw birds and squirrels.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Trail junctions are clearly marked and easy to follow.
- Solitude – 3. We saw relatively few people, but we hiked on a weekday in August. I think this is generally a popular trail.
Directions to trailhead: From I-93: Take Exit 35 for Twin Mountain. Follow 3N for 10.4 miles. Turn right onto 302E for 2.2 miles. Turn right onto Zealand Rd. and drive about four miles. The road will turn to gravel. The parking area is at the dead end of the road. There is a $3/day fee to park at the trailhead.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This 8.8 mile hike takes you past Madison Spring Hut and up to the summit of majestic Mt. Madison. The Valley Way Trail is known for being one of the safer, more protected routes into the heart of the White Mountains. While the terrain is less extreme than other trails in the area, the hike still requires a little over 4,100 feet of climbing. It’s a tough hike, but the views make it well worth the effort.
My top goal for our 2014 New Hampshire trip was to hike up Mt. Madison. We both went to James Madison University and have worked there for years, so it only seemed fitting to take on the mountain that shared a name with our college. I even wore JMU Dukes gear almost like the guy that goes to a concert wearing a t-shirt for the band’s previous tour to show his super-fandom.
We started out the day on a rough note. Christine had put her hiking shoes and socks in the back of our car, so she could wear sandals on the car ride up. When we pulled over at one point, we realized one of our Camelbak tubes had pressed open and leaked all over the car, soaking her shoes and socks. We debated about if we would have been able to even do the hike in fear of blisters, but Christine decided to push forward.
There are a lot of ways up Mt. Madison, but in our research we found the most popular way was to make our approach by going up the Valley Way trail. We parked at the large Appalachia parking lot (which was so full we needed to park on the road) directly on US-2. We were worried there would be so many people on the trail, but this parking lot holds the beginnings of lots of trails that lead up to many peaks (including Mt. Adams and Mt. Quincy Adams).
The trail starts off from the back of the parking lot. The trail branches off in different directions but follow the signs for the Valley Way trail. The trail begins relatively flat and easy walking, as it runs along Snyder Brook. There were a few places where we could get some nice stream views and even a glimpse at the picturesque Tama Falls at .4 miles. At .7 miles, you reach another large junction, but continue to follow the signs to the Valley Way trail. The trail then begins the steeper uphill climb. Overall, I felt that the trail, while very rocky was not as steep and rocky as some of the other trails in the White Mountains. There is a relentless amount of climbing and many rocks to navigate, but it wasn’t as grueling on my feet as some hikes in New Hampshire have felt to me. At 3.0 miles, the trail gets very steep and rocky (often filled with larger small boulder-sized rocks to hoist onto) and will remain so until you reach the Madison Spring Hut at 3.8 miles. If you’re interested in camping on the mountain, but don’t want to stay at the hut, the Valley Way tentsite is at mile 3.1 on this hike.
Once we arrived at the hut, we saw there were a couple of ways up to the summit of Mt. Madison. At this point, we were above treeline, so we saw the rocky summit up above us. I went in and found one of the Croo members and she told me the Osgood Trail had the most direct route and was a little easier than making our way via the Watson Path. The final ascent up to Mt. Madison was .5 miles along the Osgood Trail (which is also the Appalachian Trail in this area). You basically needed to walk acrpss large boulders, following cairns along the way until you reached the summit. When you are above treeline, the summits of mountains seem so close to reach, but it is very misleading. As we climbed up, we looked back and saw the hut shrink with each step, finally giving us some perspective of how far we had come. We stayed a while at the summit. The views were breathtaking and you could see for miles all around. It definitely was one of the most beautiful scenes I have witnessed hiking and to realize the work we had put in to attain the peak, made it feel even more worthwhile.
While we were at the summit, we met a woman who had a sign pinned to her that had 48 over 50 written on it. She was over 50 years old and she had a goal to do all 48 peaks over 4000 ft. in elevation in New Hampshire. She had saved Mt. Madison as her last hike to meet her goal, so we were thrilled to be able to see her experience accomplishing her goal. What an inspiration! We also talked to a gentleman at the summit who was from Colorado that had done this same hike 30 years ago. He was staying at the nearby Crag Camp, run by the Randolph Mountain Club, just as he had done when we was a teenager. He wanted to see if this hike was just as amazing as he had remembered and he told us it definitely was. It made me further realize that everyone likes to hike for their own reasons and it is always a privilege to get to hear people’s stories on the hike.
We made our way back down and ate some lunch at the Madison Spring Hut. We then ventured .2 miles on the Parapet Trail to see Star Lake. This is a spot you definitely shouldn’t miss. The lake is more like a small pond, but it was so beautiful to view the summit of Mt. Madison, as it reflected into Star Lake. We debated about tackling Mt. Adams to bag another peak, but we realized that the summit looked close, but it was still a steep 1 mile away. Not wanting to add even more to our hike, we decided to make our way back down. The trail seemed to be even rockier on the way back down. While you can normally fly down some parts of downhill trails, you need to take your time on this one to navigate all the rocks. On our way down, we came into a rain shower, making the rocks a little slick. The last .8 miles were quite easy again and we did pick up some time at this point. We made our way back to the parking lot to make the round trip 8.8 miles.
The morning of our Mt. Madison hike started off cheerfully enough. We stopped for breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. I ate both a bagel with cream cheese and a Boston Cream donut. If I’m going to hike almost nine miles with over 4,000 feet of climbing, I’m going to enjoy any and all the baked goods I want! However, I was jolted out of my happy post-carb afterglow when I discovered my socks and sock liners completely soaked in the back of the car. A tough hike with wet socks sounded like a really bad idea. But, driving out of our way to find an outfitter with Thorlo socks seemed like an even worse idea. I’m super picky about socks, and Thorlo’s thick-cushion hiker socks are the only ones that keep my feet happy. I decided wet Thorlo socks were better than dry socks of another brand. (and they were … I hiked all day in wet socks and didn’t get a single blister!)
As Adam said in his post, the Valley Way trail is pretty moderate for White Mountain terrain. The trail is not as rocky and stays under the shelter of trees until you get to Madison Spring Hut. It’s a great choice if you want to visit the northern Presidentials, but stay largely sheltered from wind and other weather. There is still plenty of climbing, but until the last mile, it’s all gradual and moderate. Trails like the Valley Way exist due in part to people like J. Rayner Edmands. He was an early volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club. Starting in the 1880’s, he spent over 20 summers building trails in the White Mountains. He believed trails to the high peaks should be passable without stumbles, even in the dark. Backpacker Magazine did a neat article about Edmands in their October 2014 issue. Check it out if you have a few free minutes.
I very much enjoyed the little rapids and waterfalls along Snyder Brook early in the hike. Tama Falls was especially impressive. After we moved away from the stream, the hike was basically just a climb in the woods. As we ascended the trail got rockier, bit by bit. The last half mile to the hut was insanely steep and rocky. In one spot, my shoe got so solidly wedged between two rocks that I had to unlace it and contort my ankle to free myself. It took efforts from both of us to release my shoe from the rocks. It’s a good thing trail runners are so soft and flexible, because my feet definitely needed both shoes on this hike! I think the steepness of the terrain is actually what stopped me from getting hurt when my foot got caught. We were moving very slowly, picking our way across the rocks. Had I been moving at any significant speed, I think I could have easily broken my ankle.
When we arrived at Madison Spring Hut, it was already starting to cloud up a little. It wasn’t really overcast, but the sky had that heavy, hazy look about it. The weather was definitely changing and I wanted to make sure we enjoyed the best views possible. We headed up the Osgood Trail toward the summit of Madison. I don’t know if you can really call the path to the top a ‘trail’. It’s more of a scramble across rocks, following cairns leading you to the summit. The climb to the top is slow going, simply because there is never a simple place to put your feet. On our way up it was fun to look back and marvel at the towering peaks and the tiny hut tucked into the col.
At the top we enjoyed spectacular views of the Presidentials. Seeing the Mt. Washington Auto Road snaking down the mountain was really impressive! While the wind was a little brisk at the summit, it was really a warm, mild day for the White Mountain high peaks. Lots of people were hiking in shorts and t-shirts. Some people even basked shirtless in the summit sunshine. My blood is a little thin for that, but I wasn’t cold like I had been on the summit of Mt. Washington in 2013.
After taking lots of photos and doing our JMU rituals, we climbed back down and enjoyed our packed lunch at Madison Spring Hut. Of course, we supplemented our packed food with baked goods from the Croo. I always hear people talking about how huts are packed with dayhikers all summer long. I’m not sure if it’s our timing (we hike early), but we’ve found almost every hut we’ve visited nearly empty.
After lunch, we walked out to Star Lake. What a beautiful spot. The lake itself is small and shallow, but it makes a gorgeous reflecting pool for Mt. Madison. We were lucky to visit on a picture perfect day! While we were admiring the lake and taking in our final peak views, we started to hear distant rumbles of thunder in the distance.
Being caught in a thunderstorm in the Whites is definitely something I’d be happy to NEVER experience. Lightning strikes happen frequently, wet granite is very slick, and stream levels can change drastically in mere minutes. In fact, just last week I read a harrowing account from a solo hiker caught by storms in the White Mountains. Seriously scary!
We made our way down as quickly as we safely could. With a couple miles of hiking left, the rain started to fall. Fortunately, it was light rain and none of the thunder/lightning seemed close. We got back to the car right before the skies opened up and poured! What a great day with perfect timing. I’m really thankful that we had weather that allowed us to visit two more Presidentials on our 2014 trip!
- Distance – 8.8miles
MapMyHike Stats *
- Elevation Change – 4150 feet
- Difficulty – 5. The trail started off easier, but it is still a very tough, uphill climb.
- Trail Conditions – 2.5. The trail was well-maintained, but the rocky parts of the trail make this a challenge. The final push to the summit on the Osgood Trail also took a lot of precision. Bring trekking poles.
- Views – 5. It doesn’t get much better than this. If you are lucky enough to catch this on a day where clouds are off the mountain summits, you will be able to see all around you for miles.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3. The Snyder Brook runs alongs the trail early on the hike and you can see a few smaller waterfalls along the trail.
- Wildlife – 1. We didn’t really see any wildlife on the trail. I wouldn’t expect much at all once you get above treeline.
- Ease to Navigate – 2.5. There are a lot of junctions and side trails on the route because there are a lot of trails in this area. Keep following the signs for the Valley Way Trail until you reach the hut and then follow the Osgood Path via the cairns to the summit.
- Solitude – 2. We picked a gorgeous day in the summer to do this hike, so we weren’t surprised to see lots of people. We saw the most at the summit and the hut, but there was still places to find our own bit of solitude.
Directions to trailhead: From I-93: Take Exit 35 for Twin Mountain. Follow 3N for 12.4 miles. Turn right onto 115N for 9.7 miles. Turn tight onto 2E for 8 miles. The parking lot will be a large gravel area on the right.
This hike is one of the shorter, more moderate approaches into the Presidential range of New Hampshire. While the hike is only about 6.5 miles, we hiked an extra 2.4 miles for the chance to enjoy some views!
Charles Dickens started off A Tale of Two Cities with the line, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.” When I was thinking about starting to write about Mt. Pierce, I was thinking, it was A Tale of Two Hikes with the worst and best of times. All of us have good days and bad days on the trail and this was a bad one for me. I wasn’t really feeling the hike deep down and I felt like I was just going through the motions rather than taking a moment to enjoy what I was able to do. The morning started off with a lot of fog around, which didn’t really help my mood. I was thinking it may burn off by the time we got to the top, but we weren’t so lucky.
The first .4 miles along the trail were relatively flat as it meandered through a wooded area. We crossed a footbridge at the base of a small waterfall and at .4 miles, we reached a junction with the Crawford Path. Taking a left at the junction, we began our ascent. The ascent begins while paralleling the Gibbs Brook on the left of the trail. The trail was extremely rocky which was making each step a challenge, as I felt like I was doing a demented, granite-laden version of a StairMaster. Most of the trail to the summit consists of having to step on rocks, so there is little evidence of soft ground to place your feet. I would recommend shoes with good padding, thick comfortable socks, ankle support, and trekking poles to help yourself along.
At 1.9 miles, we reached a junction that led to the Mizpah Spring Hut, which is the return trip for this lollipop loop. Stay left and continue to climb up to the summit. The trail continued to be rocky and the fog was just sticking to the mountaintop as we progressed. I was feeling hopeless about being able to spot any views. As we got higher, we could tell the views would have opened up to the left of the trail but all we could see was a sea of gray. At 3.1 miles, we reached a large rocky, outcropping and waited a while for the views to open up. While the wind was picking up, we felt there was no end to the fog. At the outcropping, another sign for a junction pointed us to the summit and the Webster Cliff trail to the Mizpah Spring Hut (continuing on the Crawford Path would lead to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower in 1.6 miles). We took that sharp right and headed up to the top, where we reached the summit of Mt. Pierce in a short distance.
At this point the trail began to descend. The first part of the trail was a gradual descent, but eventually the trail was some of the steepest, rockiest downhill my feet and knees have witnessed. At 4.0 miles, we reached the Mizpah Spring Hut, maintained by the AMC and beds can be reserved in advance. We stopped for a while here and ate lunch. The croo (yes, that is how they spell it) that maintains the hut and cooks dinner and breakfast for overnight guests, had baked some cookies which we purchased and supplemented our lunch. As we were enjoying our lunch, we could see that the fog was finally lifting.
From the hut, we explored the nearby Nauman tent area (also able to be reserved for outside camping) and then proceeded on to the Mizpah Cutoff Trail to complete the lollipop section of the hike. The Cutoff Trail starts off flat, but is a relatively easier descent. We reached the junction with the Crawford Path at 4.7 miles. A return trip to your car by taking a left would make this a 6.6 mile hike. However, we had a debate about what to do. Going back up to the summit would be adding another grueling, rocky 2.4 miles, but the views could finally be opening up. What we had researched before told us how great the views were, so the temptation was hard to resist. I felt like I owed it to myself (and our readers) to change my attitude and fight through to see these views. I could tell Christine wanted to see the views as well, so we decided to hike up to the summit again.
As we climbed, we saw people descending that we had seen earlier on our hikes. I stopped to ask everyone if they had seen views, thinking if there was still little hope we could turn back around. Early on, some were saying that we may get lucky to see things, but as we got closer, we were told the views had opened up. As people were descending, we ran into several people that we had seen before near the summit and they had wondered if we were hiking the summit again. We got looks of admiration, which made us feel like we fit in with New Hampshire hikers – we weren’t just some normal, Virginia couple that isn’t used to hiking the tough, challenging White Mountains. When we reached the rocky outcropping near the summit, the views were spectacular. There were still clouds in the distance that was stuck to Mt. Washington and some of the other high peaks, but we could still see miles of beautiful mountain ranges around us.
We hiked again up to the summit and the views got more amazing as we looked behind us each step. We stayed up here a little longer to take in the views. After getting our fill, we went back down the Crawford Path and made our way back to the car. When we reached the end, we were a little more tired and had covered more miles than we had planned, but it was a rewarding day. At the parking lot, we saw a fox standing next to our car, but it quickly darted off into the woods.
One thing to note about Mt. Pierce is that it was once named Mt. Clinton. When hearing some people refer to it as Mt. Clinton, my initial thought was that Mt. Pierce had been renamed for President Clinton. I thought that would be odd, since Franklin Pierce was the only President born in New Hampshire and I couldn’t see them changing the name for a President from Arkansas. But the original name was from DeWitt Clinton, a governor of New York and U.S. Senator, also known for being largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. Even though the name was changed in 1913, some people have still held onto the original name of Mt. Clinton.
Summiting Mt. Pierce has been on our New Hampshire ‘To Do’ list for several years now. I’m sad Adam didn’t have a better day on the trail, because I really enjoyed myself and had a strong hiking day. It’s always tough when your hiking partner is in pain or having a hard time with terrain, because there’s really nothing you can do beyond cheer them on (which is sometimes annoying) or stay quiet and let them work through the challenge.
We chose to hike Pierce on a day forecast to be clear and beautiful. As typical in the Whites, the clouds and drizzle stuck to the mountains far longer than the valley. It was sunny and pleasant at the AMC Highlands Center, but the peaks loomed in the clouds. We decided to start our hike on good faith that the clouds would blow off before we reached the summit.
Hiking along the stream early in the hike was pretty and pleasant. Gibbs falls were lovely and I always enjoy the sound of water running through the woods! As we continued to climb uphill, the fog did the opposite of what we hoped/expected – it just got thicker! In fact, every time I paused to take a photo I had to wipe the lens with my shirt to get the droplets and mist off the glass.
Between the Mizpah Cut-Off trail and the summit, we were passed by a pair of trail runners. Running on mid-Atlantic mountain trails is challenging enough. I can’t even imagine keeping that pace over the rocks and roots of New Hampshire!
As we ascended, the fog enveloped the mountain even more. We debated taking the Mizpah Cut-Off trail, and visiting the hut first, but decided to chance the summit so that we’d hit the hut closer to lunchtime. That turned out to be the wrong call. At the summit of Pierce, we sat on the rocky outcropping looking into a sea of clouds. We couldn’t even tell which direction held the spectacular view we’d heard described in our hiking guide.
We sat in the clouds for a few minutes before deciding to push on to the hut. The Webster Cliff trail crossed a ridge for a while, using boardwalks and traditional trail. We stopped at one last high point and checked out the movement of the clouds. Every now and then, the clouds would blow off enough that we could see the shoulder of a mountain or the faint shape of a peak through the mist. We again discussed waiting/going back to the summit versus heading down to the hut. We agreed that it would still be a while before the view would clear, and proceeded to Mizpah Spring.
The Webster Cliff trail got steeper and slippery, using wooden stairs and ladders in a couple places. We eventually reached the hut. While we ate our lunch, the last of the clouds blew off, leaving bright bluebird skies above the White Mountains. We discussed climbing back up to the summit. Neither of us wanted to ascend via Webster Cliff, so we decided to delay our summit decision until after we walked the Mizpah Cut-Off back to its junction with the Crawford Path.
At the junction, we agreed that you don’t climb a presidential peak and pass on the opportunity to take in a spectacular view. We hiked the extra 1.2 miles (2.4 miles round trip) with 1,000 feet of elevation gain a second time. And you know what… it was SO WORTH IT. The views were spectacular, expansive, breathtaking. Even with Mt. Washington still in the clouds, it was a stunning view.
The hike down was long and slippery. We were passed again by the trail runners we had seen earlier. They had been all the way to the summit of Mt. Washington and back. Wow! We didn’t go that far, but we still felt our hike was worthy of celebration with a huge meal at The Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth. It’s always such a gift to have a great view day in the White Mountains!
- Distance – 6.5 miles
MapMyHike Stats *
- Elevation Change – 2500 feet
- Difficulty – 4. While there are steeper, more challenging trails in the White Mountains, this one is still challenging.
- Trail Conditions – 2. The trail is mostly rock, requiring big steps and unsteady footing.
- Views – 4.5. From the summit of Mt. Pierce on a clear day, you can see miles of the Presidential range.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3.5. Early in the hike, you can see Gibbs Falls and the start of the Crawford Path part of the hike goes along the scenic Gibbs Brook.
- Wildlife – 2. We weren’t expecting to see much, but we were lucky enough to see the fox at the end of our hike. Keep a lookout for the rare Bicknell’s Thrush.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. Signage was fairly good at the junctions, but we were a little confused on how to get to the Mizpah Cutoff Trail from the hut.
- Solitude – 2. This is a popular trail since the Mizpah Spring Hut is one of the easiest of the AMC huts to access. Expect to see people at the summit of Mt. Pierce and the hut mostly. Clear days in the summer could make this quite popular.
Directions to trailhead: From I-93: Take Exit 35 for Twin Mountain. Follow 3N for 10.4 miles. Turn right onto 302E and proceed for 8.2 miles. Turn left onto Mt. Clinton Road. There will be a large gravel parking lot at the trailhead ($3 fee applies).