Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains
This fun, four-mile loop hike offers gorgeous scenery and amazing views with not much work. The trail takes you across the summits of two small mountains – known as East and West Rattlesnake – overlooking the Squam Lakes.
Since we had already done a bunch of hikes to waterfalls over the last few days, we decided it was time to do a hike with some views. We waited around in the morning due to rain and an overcast sky, but we caught a break shortly after lunch and decided to head out to the Rattlesnakes. As Mark Twain said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute.”
We started the trail up the Old Bridle Path, which takes off from the marked parking lot for West Rattlesnake Mountain. This area includes a lot of crossing trails that are all yellow-blazed, so you will need to pay attention to signs to be sure you are going the way you want. The hike was a continual uphill with lots of steps built into the trail. We found this part of the trail to be very well maintained and you will see lots of people on this section of your trip. At .75 miles, you will come to a fork. The right goes out to a nice overlook, but the left is where you will continue the trail. At .9 miles, you will reach the summit of West Rattlesnake Mountain. Look on the ground to find a USGS marker to mark the elevation.
From the summit, we then took the Ridge Trail which leads to East Rattlesnake Mountain (one option is to take the Pasture Trail to the East Rattlesnake Trail, but that has a lot of elevation loss and gain.) The Ridge Trail descends about 300 feet of elevation into a thick quiet wood. Here is where the mosquitoes were unleashed on us since the breeze was non-existent to blow them away. At 1.3 miles, you will reach a junction with the Col Trail, but continue on the Ridge Trail until 1.7 miles when you reach the East Rattlesnake Mountain summit.
We headed back from the summit and at 2.1 miles, we took a right on the Col Trail. The Col Trail descends a few hundred feet and was very overgrown and poorly maintained in several areas. At 2.8 miles, it leads to a fire road. Take a right on the fire road. At 3.0 miles, you will reach Route 113. Taking a left on the road, you will head back to your car to make this a four-mile loop.
Looking back, we might have decided to do this as an out-and-back hike and not ventured onto the Col Trail. Walking on roads is never as fun as trails and it seems that the road goes on forever.
Both summits give you expansive views of the Squam Lakes and you can likely see several mountains surrounding you. I was amazed at how many people were on West Rattlesnake Mountain and we only saw one other person at East Rattlesnake Mountain. So, you can easily escape the crowds if you want with just a little longer hike.
There are a number of geocaches in the area for anyone interested:
- Rattlesnake Earthcache
- East Rattlesnake Mountain – multicache that starts on the Pasture trail
- Thefrosty4 – also on the Pasture trail
- Team Bullis Streaks Past 6000 finds
- Rattlesnake Cache
- West Rattlesnake Mountain
On this trip to New Hampshire, we spent far more time hiking to waterfalls and ponds than we did hiking to mountaintops. We decided to save our summit hikes for days that offered clear views of the valleys below. Unfortunately, we had a lot of hot, humid days that put the high peaks of the White Mountains into the clouds. I know some people just like the workout and the act of hiking, regardless of whether or not there is a view. I do too, but only to an extent. I can’t help but feel a little let down when a great view is covered in clouds and fog.
The morning we planned to hike the Rattlesnakes had been forecast to be sunny and pleasant. However, in keeping with the theme for New Hampshire’s changeable weather, we woke to soggy clouds and pop-up showers. The radar map indicated clearing as the day went on, so we sat and waited at the house. When the sun finally broke through the clouds, we hopped in the car and raced off the trailhead.
The hike was easy and pleasant to the top of West Rattlesnake, and the views couldn’t have been nicer. They reminded me a lot of the views we had from the Mt. Morgan – Mt. Percival hike. (You can actually see the Rattlesnakes from above on that hike.) Both hikes overlook the Squam Lakes, but Mt. Morgan – Mt. Percival goes to higher mountains and offers a loftier view. If I were pressed to choose, I would say the Rattlesnakes view is nicer, but only because it’s a little closer to the lake. The Squam Lakes Association does a fantastic job managing and maintaining the trails in this area.
Atop West Rattlesnake, we were able to sit on a sunny rock ledge and watch a leftover rain squall pass at a distance across Squam Lake. The clouds were so dramatic and it was interesting to see the gray sheet of rain pass over the water.
We decided to continue along the trail and visit East Rattlesnake as well. Although it’s less popular and has a smaller rock ledge, the other Rattlesnake offers views just as nice as its “sister”. We had a couple options for hiking over to East Rattlesnake. At first, we considered hiking the Pasture Trail so we could check out Five Finger Point. A friend of mine from Flickr mentioned one of his favorite swimming spots was on the point, so I thought it might be fun to go check out the spot. But, in the end, we decided to take the shorter route across the Ridge Trail. The bugs ate me alive! This trail was the one place in New Hampshire that my liberal application of DEET didn’t seem to deter the mosquitoes. Two weeks after the hike, I still have a few marks leftover from bites I got on that hike.
On the return from East Rattlesnake, we wanted to get out of the woods and away from the bugs as quickly as possible. Instead of doing the hike as an out-and-back, we followed the Col Trail back to the road and finished a loop with a mile of walking along Route 113. The road walking wasn’t particularly fun or scenic, but at least I was away from most of the bugs.
- Distance – 4 mile, loop
- Elevation Change – About 800 ft.
- Difficulty –2.5. The walk up to West Rattlesnake is very easy. The hike up East Rattlesnake is a little tougher.
- Trail Conditions –3.5. The trail is very nicely maintained.
- Views – 5. Stunning views of the Squam Lakes.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. None to mention.
- Wildlife –0. Unless you count mosquitoes and biting flies.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Although several trails cross in the area, everything is clearly marked.
- Solitude – 1. On West Rattlesnake, you won’t get any solitude. East Rattlesnake is quieter. We saw only one other person there, while we saw close to 20 people atop West Rattlesnake.
Directions to trailhead:
From I-93, take Rt. 3 east to Holderness. From Holderness, follow Rt. 113 (a slow, curvy road) northeast for about 5.5 miles. Just past Pinehurst Road, park in the small lot on the right side of the road. The Old Bridle Path starts at the far end of the parking lot.
2 thoughts on “West and East Rattlesnake (NH)”
I worked extensively on the Old Bridle Path as well as many of the others for Squam Lakes Association last fall. Glad you enjoyed.
You guys do great work maintaining those trails! We enjoyed our hike very much!