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