This 3.3 mile hike is one of the easiest and most accessible ‘hut hikes’ in the White Mountains. Lonesome Lake is beautiful and the hut provides a nice place to stop for a picnic lunch.
After our hike on Franconia Ridge, I had to take a day off to let my leg muscles recover. When we were ready to tackle another hike, we decided to do something on the easier side this time that didn’t have nearly as much elevation as our previous hikes. While we were hiking up the Franconia Ridge Trail, we noticed this serene lake in the far distance.
We started off our hike from the opposite side of I-93, so we walked underneath the interstate bridge and followed the signs for the Lonesome Lake hike. This led us into Lafayette Place campground, which has 98 campsites. With such nice weather we were having, it was no surprise that the campground was full. It always feels awkward to me to be walking by campsites while people are still sleeping, eating breakfast, or hanging out. We made our way along quietly and then reached the true trailhead next to campsite #93.
The Lonesome Lake trail consisted of a steady climb through sections that are covered with roots and steep rock steps. At 1.35 miles, we reached the ridge and came upon our first glimpse of Lonesome Lake at a junction point with several other trails. We stopped for a quick breather and to enjoy the view of the lake, a remnant of a glacier that had carved out the mountains. The uphill hiking was over, and we headed left on the Cascade Brook Trail, which winds around the side of the lake. The trail was boggy in many spots, but there were often footbridges, rock steps, or logs to walk on in the muck to make our way across easily. On our way, we passed a croo member from Lonesome Lake who was heading down the mountain with a wooden frame loaded with outgoing refuse from the hut.
At 1.6 miles, we reached the junction with the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail. We took a right on to this trail and in a short distance we came to a large dock on the lakeside. There were a ton of teenagers on the dock, so we decided to check this out later. Right above the dock was a series of steps that led to the Lonesome Lake Hut. When we arrived in the hut, there was nobody there except for a few croo members. One was cleaning up the kitchen and the other was packing her frame to take down the mountain. We talked to her for a while and found out that they make several trips a week down to the base of the mountain where they meet up with someone to help them resupply for their trip back to the hut.
We rested a while on the back porch of the hut and talked to a family that was visiting from the Netherlands. They were on their way to visit Shenandoah National Park soon, so we gave them some tips on where to stay in the park and some of the things we would recommend they do while in Virginia. The large group of teenagers had cleared out, so we went to the dock to enjoy views of the southern end of the lake (now occupied by several families with toddlers). We made our way back the way we came to finish the out-and-back hike.
We could tell from the people that we saw climbing up that this is a highly-trafficked hike. We hope in the next few years to do a larger hut-to-hut traverse across this area. It was nice to see a possible overnight location in advance. This is an easier hike that most families should be able to do if they take their time.
After hiking Franconia Ridge, we decided to take a day off and be restful tourists rather than ambitious hikers. We spent the day visiting Dartmouth College, sampling Long Trail Ale, gorging ourselves on Cabot Cheese and watching glassblowers at Simon Pearce. The next morning, we were ready to get back on the trail. Adam’s knees and calf muscles were still bothering him, so we went with the easy hike to Lonesome Lake.
Lonesome Lake is lovely glacial pool sitting between North Kinsman and Cannon Mountains. The initial ascent to the lake is a little steep – about 1000 feet over 1.3 miles, but compared to many other hikes in the area, it’s considered a very easy trail.
When we began our hike, the morning was cold and sort of grey. The forecast called for brilliantly sunny weather, but you just never know what you’re really going to get in the White Mountains. We meandered through the Lafayette Place campground to reach the trailhead. The smell of campfires and cooking bacon was heavy in the air. That smell always makes me so nostalgic for the camping trips of my youth. My mom was a great camp cook – there were always sausages, bacon, pancakes and eggs. Nice memories…
The hike up to the small plateau where the lake sits is uphill and pretty, but generally unremarkable. Like most New Hampshire trails, you can expect to see lots of rocks and roots along the way. As you climb, the woods change from predominantly hardwood to a heavier evergreen mix.
At the tail-end of the lake, there was a junction sign with different trail options headed in many different directions. We followed an almost completely flat trail around the perimeter of the lake. We caught lots of glimpses of the water through the trees, but the most memorable feature of this trail was the mud! Thankfully, the trail is well maintained and rocks and planks were strategically situated the entire way, and we never had to get our boots muddy.
At the head of the lake, we crossed a wooden footbridge that came out between a wooden staircase and a lakefront dock. Since the dock was packed with kids from a summer camp group, we decided to check out Lonesome Lake Hut before enjoying the water. We climbed the stairs and found a charming cluster of wooden buildings that make up the ‘hut’. Unlike Greenleaf Hut, which is in a single building, Lonesome Lake Hut is a collection of cabins and a main dining room.
A couple members of the Croo were still cleaning up from breakfast. And of course, Adam managed to snag more free leftover pancakes! If you have a spare minute, check out this fun video about the 2013 hut Croo. If I had known there was such a job opportunity as ‘AMC Croo Member’ when I was in college, I would have leapt at the opportunity. It sure would have been more fun than filing procurement paperwork for the Army Corps of Engineers! (no offense to ACoE).
At Lonesome Lake, we met another croo member who was loading up her packboard with empty boxes and other outgoing items to carry down the mountain. She said the trip down is typically a lighter load than the trip up, which includes food and other supplies. The AMC has a fun article about Packboarding Legends. Can you believe some people have carried packboards weighing over 100 pounds? The average is more in the 40-80 pound range, which is still extremely impressive!
After looking around the hut for a few minutes, we found a couple pleasant Adirondack chairs to relax upon. The back porch of Lonesome Lake hut is a great place to idle away a pretty summer afternoon. While we relaxed, the sun came out, making it even nicer for sitting. I shared a whoopie pie with Adam. We also had a very nice conversation with a family visiting from the Netherlands. They were greatly enjoying the expansive, forested terrain of New Hampshire – something they said they have little of at home.
After a while, we made our way back down to the lakeside dock. We found it still crowded, so I took some photos and didn’t linger for long. The hike back went very quickly. We saw lots of families hiking up to spend a night at the hut. I hope we’ll have the opportunity to do a hut stay on our next New Hampshire trip.
- Distance –3.3 miles
(Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
- Elevation Change – About 1000 ft.
- Difficulty – 2.5. The climb up was fairly steep, but because of the short distance, you can take your time.
- Trail Conditions – 3.5. The trail is well-traveled and in good condition. There are some steeper sections and some worn-out areas that do require careful footing.
- Views – 2. You do get views from the lake of the mountains around you, but the height of the mountains around the lake keeps you from getting distant views.
- Waterfalls/streams – 4. While you don’t have waterfalls and very limited stream views, you are rewarded with a massive lake on this trail.
- Wildlife – 1. We didn’t see anything on this hike other than squirrels.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. There are some confusing spots where you wonder where the trail is leaving the campground. Also, the junction at the ridge has a lot of different trails to follow. Read the signs and you should be fine.
- Solitude – 1. On a clear day, this hike is likely crawling with people.
Download a trail map (PDF) – Coming soon!
Directions to trailhead: Head north on I-93 until it becomes Franconia Notch Parkway. Pass exit 1 and the exit for the Basin. Take the next exit (for trailhead parking). Park in this parking lot. Leave your car and head underneath the bridge that is I-93. Follow the signs for the Lonesome Lake trailhead, going into the Lafayette Place Campground. The trailhead leaves near campsite #93.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.