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North and Middle Sugarloaf

April 23, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 3.6 mile, family-friendly hike has a bit of steady climbing to reach the ridgeline, but with two summits – both with amazing vistas – it’s a hike that should not be missed when visiting this area.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Middle Sugarloaf

Adam takes in the amazing views from Middle Sugarloaf.

Adam Says…

If you are visiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I would definitely put Sugarloaf on your list of must-do hikes.  With a total of just 3.6 miles to cover both summits, it’s a great family hike and the views on a clear day are hard to beat.

From the parking lot, cross the bridge.  You will see the yellow-blazed trail head off to the right just past the bridge.  This is the Trestle Trail and it goes along the Zealand River.  There are a few places to duck off the trail and get some gorgeous water views.  In just a quarter of a mile, the junction for the Sugarloaf summits branches off to the left. The trail goes over some boggy areas at first before coming to a boulder field. You will see two huge boulders (among others), that were dropped off by glacial melt many years ago. The trail really starts to climb at this point and at one mile, you will reach a junction sign that points to the left for Middle Sugarloaf and to the right for North Sugarloaf.

The Zealand River

The hike starts off along the scenic Zealand River. Below: Trailhead parking along Zealand Road. For some reason, the pay stations were covered; Adam follows the Sugarloaf Trail away from the road; The trail follows the stream for a little while.

 Sugarloaf Trail Sugarloaf Trail

We opted to go to Middle Sugarloaf first. The trail continues to climb, often through some very rocky areas.  Eventually, you come to a ladder staircase that is your last climb before reaching the summit area at 1.4 miles.  After the staircase, the trail opens up from the trees and the vast expanse of views are all around you on a large open ledge. When you first emerge, straight ahead of you is Mt. Hale looking to the south.  If you wind around towards the right, you will have great views of North Twin and South Twin mountains.  If you wind around to the left, you will come to a viewpoint to the east where you can see the far-off Presidential Range and a keen eye may even see the tower at the top of Mount Washington on a clear day. This open area is a photographer’s dream, as there are gorgeous views no matter which way you look and it is easy to lose track of time exploring the summit area.

We eventually returned the way we came and reached the junction at 1.8 miles (keep in mind if you are tracking distances, you may have walked a couple of tenths around the summit of the Middle Sugarloaf).  We then headed toward the North Sugarloaf summit, which is not as steep but winds around until it reaches the summit at 2.1 miles.  The summit here gives you views of US-302 cutting through the landscape before the Presidential range, but you still have gorgeous views of mountains all around.  This summit would look outstanding on most hikes but we were a little spoiled from the views at Middle Sugarloaf.  Since North Sugarloaf is usually less crowded (many people just do an out-and-back to Middle Sugarloaf), you may have a little more solitude.  We did come up to some families that were staying at the Sugarloaf campgrounds near the initial parking lot, that were alternating doing hikes to both summits on different days.

Junction Trail on Sugarloaf

After a bit of climbing, you’ll reach this junction. We visited Middle Sugarloaf first. Below: A few scenes from the climb up to the ridge: wooden trestles over a muddy area, a giant boulder you can walk by (or through… see photo later in post), typical New Hampshire rockiness.

Climbing Sugarloaf Climbing Sugarloaf Climbing Sugarloaf

After taking in the views at North Sugarloaf, we headed back the way we came, reaching the junction at 2.5 miles and then getting back to our car around 3.6 miles.  These peaks were ones that I’m sure we will come back to time and time again on a clear day. When you want a relatively easy hike for this region with a big payoff, look no further than this one.  I would recommend hitting it in the early morning since this is an extremely popular hike so you can pick your prime place to sit down and soak in the beauty of the White Mountains.

Christine Says…

I don’t know what took us so long to do this hike. It’s been on our radar for years – ever since my parents initially moved to New Hampshire. I guess there are just so many amazing trails in the area, that sometimes we overlook the short/popular hikes for fear of them being overrun by crowds.

Honestly, the key for maximizing solitude on hiking is simply getting up early. I find it’s true everywhere. If you can get to trailhead parking just as the sun is coming up, you’ll almost always beat the big crowds of casual hikers that come out mid-morning.

Ladder to Middle Sugarloaf

There is a ladder-stair to reach Middle Sugarloaf. Below: The forest along the ridgeline was lush and gorgeous; Adam standing on Middle Sugarloaf; Middle Sugarloaf offers views in every direction.

Beautiful Forest on Sugarloaf Middle Sugarloaf Middle Sugarloaf

We got a little bit turned around when we first started this hike.  There is a trail that leads directly away from the parking area. We missed the fact that we had to cross the bridge to get to the Sugarloaf Trail and instead started walking along the closer trail. In a couple tenths of a mile, we reached a campground and knew we were going the wrong way. We backtracked, reread our guidebook, and were set straight a couple minutes later.

The early part of the hike followed the scenic Zealand river. The boggy areas Adam described were extremely buggy – mosquitoes everywhere! We had to stop and coat ourselves with OFF in order to proceed. The big climb starts pretty quickly after passing the huge boulders.  It’s a steady climb until the junction. Once you reach the ridgeline, the hike becomes more moderate. We opted to visit the prettier Middle Sugarloaf first.  As we were walking along, I wondered why there was a north and middle summit, but no mention of a South Sugarloaf. Apparently, there is a south summit, but it’s a total bushwhack and is therefore rarely visited. I found photos of that summit on another hiking blog, and it looks like a beautiful spot for people who have orienteering skills and enjoy exploring off-trail.

Middle Sugarloaf

The views from Middle Sugarloaf are truly spectacular. Below: After passing the junction, we climbed up North Sugarloaf; The forest had a lot of evergreens, The summit had a some trees between two different places to take in the view.

On to North Sugarloaf On to North Sugarloaf On to North Sugarloaf

On Middle Sugarloaf, we enjoyed the summit all to ourselves for a good 30 minutes.  I basked in the sun and ate my traditional New England hiking snack of a whoopie pie.  I rarely eat them in Virginia, but I have to have them on the trail in New England.  It just seems right – possibly mandatory. 🙂

When a few more hiking groups began arriving at the summit, we decided it was time to make our way over to North Sugarloaf.  The hike was pleasant and easy.  When we got to the vista, we were a bit disappointed.  It was just a small rock ledge with a partial view.  It was packed with a large family group.  Luckily, we realized this wasn’t the actual viewpoint – the trail continued from one opening back into the trees before coming out on a larger open area with another panoramic view.  North Sugarloaf still doesn’t impress as much as Middle, but it was definitely worth checking out.

After enjoying a few more minutes of the view, we hiked down and made our way to one of our favorite post-hike hangouts in the area – the AMC Highlands Center.  The rustic lodge serves as the main hub and information center for the White Mountain’s Presidential range. There is a gear shop, lodging, a lounge, and a decent cafe. We got sandwiches and beers and sat at a table outside so we could take in the view and sunshine. What a great day!

North Sugarloaf

The views from North Sugarloaf are different, but also very nice! Below: Another North Sugarloaf view; This is the boulder you can walk through. There is a big slit in the middle; Another look at the beautiful Zealand River.

North Sugarloaf Boulder Slit Zealand River

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 925 ft
  • Difficulty –  2.5.  There is some climbing on this one, but since the distance is shorter take your time.  Great for a family hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  This hike is very popular, so the trail is well worn.
  • Views –  5.  On a clear day, you can see for hundreds of miles around you. 
  • Waterfalls/streams – 4.  Passing by the Zealand River in the very beginning of the hike gives you gorgeous river views.
  • Wildlife – 1.  Other than birds, you likely won’t see a lot of wildlife due to the popularity of the hike.
  • Ease to Navigate –  4.  There are a couple of turns to make, but overall the trail is well-blazed and signs at the junctions are helpful. 
  • Solitude – 1.5. On a clear day in the summer, this will be a popular hike.  There is typically more solitude on North Sugarloaf.  Start early to avoid crowds and get good parking. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

Sugarloaf Elevation

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 44.254858, -71.503993.  The trail begins on the far side of the bridge on the right, on the same side of the road as the parking area.  There is normally a fee station box here, but the box was sealed when we were there.  Typically, the hikes here would charge $3 for parking, so bring some cash for an envelope to pay the fee.

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

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