Cascade Falls

This four mile hike takes you by one of Virginia’s most beautiful waterfalls.  The trail is engineered and mostly flat, so this hike is suitable for hikers of all levels.

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Cascades Falls in Giles County
The Cascades in Giles County.

Adam Says…

Cascade Falls is one of those must-do hikes in Virginia, featuring one of the most picturesque scenes of a waterfall that you’ll get.  We had been meaning to do this hike under more pleasant circumstances, but life doesn’t always work out that way.  We were picking up our pug, Wookie (who many of you may remember has contributed his thoughts to some of our posts) from the Virginia Tech Veterinary Hospital.  He has been suffering from chronic bronchitis – which is like COPD in humans – and had to have surgery to remove two of his lung lobes.  We had a late afternoon pick-up for him, so we decided to go on a hike that morning while we were in the area.

Pretty Stream Scenery
There was tons of stream scenery along the hike. Below: The parking lot was packed; There were several wooden bridges along the hike; The trail was well-developed and engineered.

Busy Parking Bridge on the Cascades Trail On the Way to the Cascades

We arrived around 10:30 in the morning and found ourselves in a line of cars that were waiting for parking spaces.  The tobacco-spitting parking lot attendant said it wasn’t like this a few years ago, but since Virginia Tech added this hike to a bucket-list during orientation for all of their incoming freshman, the place has been packed.  Of course, we were doing this hike on the weekend before classes started at Virginia Tech, so there were students by the carload here.  Only about eight cars back in line, we still had to wait about 45 minutes before we could park. I can only imagine that people that arrived around 11:00 would be waiting an eternity for a parking spot.

The trail starts at the end of the parking lot behind the information center and restrooms.  Soon, you arrive at a bridge.  The trail splits for an upper trail and lower trail.  The attendant had suggested that we approach from the lower trail and then make a loop and return on the upper trail.  We started on the lower trail, which hugs closely to Little Stony Creek the entire trip.  Little Stony Creek has tons of spots to enjoy the views of the creek. You may even see a few paths that crossed the creek that were wiped out during a flood in 1996.  The trail has been re-routed since then on the path you take now.  There are some ups and downs as you go along the creek, but overall you are climbing along the trail.

Adam Along the Stream
Adam enjoys the stream.

At 2.0 miles, you will reach the large Cascade Falls.  The water plunges 69 feet from the top over a large, wide wall making for an impressive scene.  We saw probably over 100 Virginia Tech students at the falls, some were swimming in the always-cold water while others were climbing on the rocks (or the large rock slide to the right of the falls).  It was nearly impossible to get any pictures without someone in it, but the shots do provide the sense of scale of the scene.  We enjoyed watching the falls for a while and then proceeded up the stairs to the left.  One path leads to another vantage point from next to the top of the falls, but this was more obstructed.  We ended up taking the trail from the top of the steps, heading to the left,  which came to a junction in a short distance.  To the right, the trail continues on to Barney’s Wall, but we decided to just descend the upper trail since we were out of time.  The upper trail consists of mostly a large fire road, making for much easier footing than the lower trail; however, you don’t get the views of Little Stony Creek like you did on the lower trail.  The return trip was a nice walk through the woods on the trail until we reached our car back at 4.0 miles.

Approaching the Falls
Adam makes the final approach. You can see the falls and the crowds if you look closely. Below: Some of the big trees from past flood damage still lay across the stream; Passing through dense mountain laurel and rhododendron; Virginia Tech students swimming in the plunge pool.

Storm Damage Rhodies Swimming Hole

We hopped in our car quickly to allow for the next waiting person to be able to take our spot.  The line of cars was quite long by this point.

Christine Says…

Cascade Falls – known better as ‘The Cascades’ – is a beautiful, easy hike to one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve seen!  The parking lot and trail were both insanely crowded, but I think we were probably there on one of the year’s busiest days.  It was a weekend, the weather was cool and sunny for August, and the new school year was about to start at nearby Virginia Tech.

I’ve never hiked anywhere that I’ve had to wait in line for a parking spot, but that was the case here!  Fortunately, we had all day to wait before our dog was discharged from the hospital, so we weren’t in any rush.

Cascades Close Up
People love to stand at the bottom on the falls. Below: Crowds at the falls.

Crowds

We walked the lower trail on our way to the falls.  It was more of an engineered pathway than a classic, dirt hiking trail.  There were paved walkways, stone stairs, and bridges most of the way to the falls.  All along the way, the trail followed a scenic stream.  There were tons of small waterfalls and cascading rapids to enjoy along the route.

A couple tenths of a mile before we reached the main waterfall, the trail passed through a dense mountain laurel and rhododendron thicket. After that, the path opened up onto a lovely grotto like scene.  The falls cascades over a cliff into a large plunge pool.  There were MANY kids swimming and sunbathing around the falls.  I think I still managed to get a couple decent photos.

Vertical View
A vertical view – without people! Below: The upper trail is accessed by a staircase above the falls; The hike back passed a cliff formation; Most of the hike back was on wide fire road.

Hiking Back Hiking Back Hiking Back

On the way back, we took the upper trail.  It was basically a wide, gentle fire road that led back to the parking area.  After the hike, I cleaned up in the parking area restroom.  It was nice!  Instead of a pit toilet, it had flush toilets, running water, and soap!  We stopped for beers and lunch at Bull & Bones Brewhaus, while we waited on the call to pick Wookie up from the vet.

I’d like to do this hike again sometime on a quieter day.  I’d also like to hike it when my mind isn’t preoccupied with worrying about my dog.  It was really a beautiful spot!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.0 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  742 feet
  • Difficulty –  1.5  Not much climbing and most people can make this.  This is a great family hike.  
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5  There are spots where things can be quite rocky/muddy.  Due to the traffic, some of the rocks are quite slick.  
  • Views – 1.5  The one path to the top of the waterfall gives a nice view of the scene below, but not the best view of the waterfall.  
  • Waterfalls/streams  5 The waterfall is amazing and one of Virginia’s best.  The views along Little Stony Creek are great also.  
  • Wildlife – 1  Due to the popularity, you will likely only see birds in the trees.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5  There aren’t any blazes on the trail, but the trail is evident.  We were a little confused trying to find our way to the upper trail since there are no signs marking the way.  
  • Solitude – .5 Due to the popularity, you will likely see a lot of people on this trail and especially at the waterfall.  Time your trip for a weekday, overcast or rainy day, or very early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Take exit 118A-B-C on I-81. Take US-460W.  After 25.9 miles turn right onto Mill Road.  In .6 miles, take a right onto Cascade Dr (SR-T623) in Pembroke. The parking lot is in 2.9 miles.  Parking is $3 and cash is required (they noted they do not give back change). Coordinates: 37.353523, -80.599566

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

Flume Knob (NY)

adirondacks

For our next five posts we’ll be sharing hikes in the Adirondacks High Peaks region.  Up first… Flume Knob – this surprisingly tough 4-miler leads to a beautiful view looking toward Wilmington and the Jays.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

View From Flume Knob
On our Adirondacks trip, the area set heat records. Most of our week was hot, hazy and humid — just like Virginia. But really, a little summer misery can’t spoil a view like this!

Christine Says…

Well… here we are in New York’s Adirondacks!  We’ve wanted to visit the High Peaks region for years, and finally got around to making it happen.  We found a delightful cabin in the woods on VRBO.com and rented it for a full week.  We arrived late on a Saturday evening, so Sunday was the first day we had to hike.  We had seen signs along the way to our cabin saying ‘ALERT: Lake Placid Heavy Race Traffic Sunday’.  What we didn’t know was that it was the day of the Lake Place Ironman and most roads in the area would be closed in at least one direction – some roads closed completely.

We had initially selected a nice 9-mile waterfall loop – away from Lake Placid, in hopes of avoiding the race traffic.  With GPS coordinates set and maps in hand, we set out toward our trailhead. Our GPS kept re-routing us and the drive time to the trailhead fluctuated wildly from 20 minutes to an hour and 10 minutes.  Finally, we came upon a police officer directing traffic.  All the rerouting on the GPS was due to real-time road closures for the Ironman.  Boooo! We were forced onto a very long, one-way, circuitous route around the race – a route that took us nowhere near our planned hike.  At this point, cell service was gone and we didn’t have any way to select a new hike that we could actually get to. So we drove and drove.  We watched racers passing by on their bicycle leg  in the closed lane of traffic. We both agreed it was a pretty disappointing start to the trip – after spending 11 hours in the car on Saturday, we were ready to hit the trail!

Flume Falls
Flume Falls is a beautiful rapid of water that passes through a gorge right at the trailhead. Below: Before climbing to Flume Knob, we hiked the network of engineered paths around High Gorge Falls. It was impressive; The sign that caught our attention; The trailhead for Flume Knob.

High Gorge Falls Flume Trails Flume Knob Trailhead

Eventually, we came upon a sign for High Gorge Falls.  I told Adam ‘Go there – I remember reading about that place.  It looked pretty!’  As it turned out, we had the entirety of this popular tourist stop all to ourselves.  I guess no one else even tried to fight the Ironman traffic. We walked the network of trails and marveled at the impressive waterfall plunging through the chasm! After about an hour, we’d seen all there was to see and decided we’d try and figure out a way to get back to the house and spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our comfy little cabin.  But as luck would have it, we passed a sign on the road labeled ‘Flume Trails’. Adam looked at me and we knew instantly that we were going to stop and check it out.  The sign was brown and had little hiker stick figures – and that was good enough for us!  Sure… it wasn’t the hike we planned.  And yes – we had no idea how long the trail was, how difficult the trail was, or even where it led.

Fortunately, signage at the trailhead indicated that there was a 4-mile out-and-back to Flume Knob.  We agreed that knobs usually have decent views and set off along the trail.  The trail soon became a network of trails.  Some signs indicated the way to Flume Knob, others made no mention of it.  Trail names changed quickly from Corridor to Connector to Flume Knob.  We just kept hiking uphill, following the path that looked most worn, and then verifying we were still on the right route any time Flume Knob was mentioned on a sign.

I took very few photos on the hike up, because my hands were being kept busy swatting at the army of mosquitoes unleashed in the forest.  Bug spray didn’t slow them down – not even a little bit. What had become as an easy, gradual climb became steeper and steeper as we hiked along.  I was hiking as fast as I could to outrun the mosquitoes, but the terrain slowed my pace.  The trail climbed upward without the ameliorating effect of switchbacks. There were several sections of trail that were washed out and covered with loose, slippery scree.  There was a small rock pass that had a rope to help hikers pull themselves upward.  There were a couple small blow-downs to negotiate. It was pretty tough going for a little while.  After the hike was over, I read a description of the terrain on the Lake Placid website – they used the word ‘aggressive’.

Climbing to Flume Knob
The first half of the climb to Flume Knob was gradual with smooth, easy footing. The second part was more like this. Below: The wayfinding and signage on this trail network was a little confusing. We probably would have fared better with a map or some prior research; Trails in the Adirondacks are blazed with metal disks instead of paint; Some of the easier climbing.

Confusing Signs Blazes Through the Pines

It was all worth it in the end! The view from Flume Knob was magnificent!  We climbed around the side of a boulder and came out on a rocky outcropping with super views of the Adirondacks.  We could even see tiny specks of triathletes on the road in the valley below.  The viewpoint also had enough of a breeze to keep the insects at bay.  We enjoyed the view for a while until we were finally joined by a large family group.  They had been down in the valley cheering a family member along in the Ironman and decided to climb Flume Knob after he passed by.

The hike down was slow going until the terrain moderated.  There were many places that were steep and covered with loose footing.  We covered those parts with care and the added help of trekking poles. Once we descended a bit, we were able to complete the hike relatively quickly.  When we got back to the trailhead, we took some time to explore Flume Falls.  The falls are right next to the parking area and are definitely worth a look!

While it wasn’t the hike we planned, the day turned out really nicely overall!  Sometimes it’s fun to let go of expectations and see where fate takes you.  That said — I still don’t think I’m a fan of the Ironman!

Adam Says…

Christine did a great job with explaining the circumstances of doing this hike over other things we were considering for the day.  What she didn’t mention was the day before on our drive up, we decided that it would be nice to stop at a brewery on our way up to stretch our legs and give our dogs a chance to get outside.  We opted for Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY.  I haven’t been a big baseball fan since I was a teenager, so I have been a little out of the loop for the timing of baseball events.  When we arrived at Ommegang at 2:45PM, they said they were closing at 3PM for a private event (which wasn’t announced on their website).  I started seeing lots of people arriving Red Sox gear (which I thought was odd for New York).  It turns out they were closing things for a private party for Pedro Martinez for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame the next day.  I was quite ticked and now have a little disdain for Pedro Martinez.  Experiencing road closures this day that were keeping us doing the hike we wanted, I was not feeling the New York love.

The tough climbing on the hike and the incessant mosquitoes had me a little worried about how hiking would be overall in the Adirondacks.  However, I will say that if you can just pull off the road, pick a random trail and find views like these, the Adirondacks are quite impressive.  And luckily, those mosquitoes were the worst on this hike compared to the others we tried.  What was looking to be an irritating day turned out to be great.  It is amazing how a little bit of hiking and scenery can change your outlook quickly.

Arriving at Flume Knob
Climbing around the side of a boulder leads you to the viewpoint atop Flume Knob. Below: The lovely view from the top; By the time we left, we had a large family group sharing the viewpoint; We ate wild blueberries on the hike down.

Flume Knob View Company on Flume Knob Blueberries on Flume Knob

When we first pulled into the small parking lot for this hike, we were quickly joined by several other cars filled with people.  We thought they were just friends and families of Ironman participants and wouldn’t want to hike.  When we started to see them get on the trail, we decided to get our stuff together quickly to possibly get ahead of them so we weren’t stuck amidst a large group.  We were able to start ahead of most of the pack and made our way.  As you can see from the map below, there are a lot of interconnecting trails on this hike.  You may see people heading out for mountain biking, fishing, rock climbing, or hiking along these trails.

Our experiences with “knobs” typically means some rocky outcropping with decent views, so we decided to give Flume Knob a try.  The path started off from the parking lot and we soon took a right to head uphill on the trail as the signs directed.  As Christine mentioned, because of the interconnecting trails that happened early on the hike, they didn’t always post the direction to Flume Knob.  We did keep pressing forward on the widest, well-traveled trail and we eventually came on to other signs that showed we were going the correct way.

Rock Scramble with Rope
Some of the downhill climbing was challenging. Thank goodness for the dignity of skorts!

We kept a fast pace as best we could, more for survival purposes.  Stopping for a quick drink from a water bottle would mean you would be attacked instantly by the flying piranha-like mosquitoes.  The grade of the trail was very tough, with extremely steep sections to climb, often requiring you to pull yourself up with your hands to reach the higher step.  Christine got a good deal of sap on her hands from grabbing ahold of trees to help hoist herself up and down.  We felt this was one of the hardest two miles with the steepness of terrain.  We eventually made it to the top, which just required climbing up a large boulder to a nice view.  The viewpoint was a large slab of rock and we took a few moments to take in the view before others arrived.

We had it all to ourselves for about 20 minutes before the other families started to arrive.  It turns out all of them were family members or friends of those participating in the Ironman.  Their goal was to do a hike for the day and then meet up with them later.  When getting to the view, one man asked one of the children if the view was worth the climb and she said “No”.  But they pointed out to her that when she reflects back, she would change her mind.  I think we would both say the views were worth the climb.  On a clear day, you have miles and miles of mountains with barely any sign of civilization around you.

Steep Flume Knob Descent
The descent of Flume Knob was often steep and slick. Below: Boulders along the trail; Finally… some easier footing; Another look at the beautiful Ausable River – it feeds High Gorge Falls and Flume Falls.

Boulders on Flume Trail Easier Section of Flume Trail Ausable River

We made our way back down and started to see even more families making the trek up.  When we arrived back at our car, we took a side path from the parking lot which led down to a beautiful waterfall.  The waterfall has several platforms where the water drops into the gorge and is worth seeing.  If you cross the road from the parking lot, you can look down into the gorge to see even more impressive sights.

We felt we made the most of the day.  Getting great views on a random hike made us more excited for future hikes in this area.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4 miles
    (There are no MapMyHike stats from this hike because we forgot to stop tracking at the end of our hike – oops!)
  • Elevation Change – 1326 ft.
  • Difficulty – 4.  The climbing on this trail is mostly concentrated into a short, extremely steep section.  There are no switchbacks to alleviate the climb – it is straight up the mountainside!
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  The trail was nice easy footing for the first half of the ascent.  The footing was trickier with loose dirt and some eroded spots on the climb.  There was one section aided by a rope hand-pull.
  • Views  4.  Beautiful views over the valley and looking toward bigger peaks.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 5.  There is an impressive waterfall gorge right at the beginning of the trail.  Don’t miss seeing it at either the beginning or end of your hike.
  • Wildlife – 2. We saw/heard red squirrels, chipmunks and birds.
  • Ease to Navigate – 1.5. The signage on this network of trails is quite confusing.  There are many foot and bike trails that cross multiple times in the woods.  Not every sign lists the destination of Flume Knob.  We basically continued on whatever trail seemed most uphill and checked our progress with the signs that did list Flume Knob.
  • Solitude – 3.  It’s hard for us to judge the popularity of this trail.  We hiked it on a day that traffic was mostly impeded by the Lake Placid Ironman.  Most people stayed away from the race course because the logistical issues it caused with traffic in the area.  We saw a few other hikers, most of them knew someone racing and were hiking to pass the time until they could meet up with their racing friend.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From the intersection of Route 73 and Route 86 in Lake Placid, follow Route 86 toward Wilmington. Continue for 10.5 miles to the Flume Parking on the left. Coordinates for the parking lot are 44.3701899,-73.8363359.

Neighbor Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop

This 14.7 mile route offers wilderness, beautiful views, and stunning stream scenery (even a small waterfall!)  It’s a wonderful, moderate overnight backpacking loop; or a really challenging day hike.  We set out intending to camp along Jeremy’s Run, but it didn’t quite go as planned!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Views from the Neighbor Mountain Trail
The views on this loop hike come along the descent of Neighbor Mountain. Below: The trailhead at Elkwallow Picnic Area;  Hiking along in golden woods; Adam and Kris at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and Neighbor Mountain Trail.

Neighbor Mountain - Jeremys Run Start Hiking Along Junction of AT and Neighbor Mountain Trail

Christine Says…

The final weekend of October 2014 was so beautiful – perfect, made-to-order backpacking weather. We decided to head out on one more overnighter before the weather turned cold. We invited our friend, Kris, to come along. She loves the outdoors as much as we do, and I was sure she’d enjoy this loop. Don’t miss her guest blogger entry later in this post! It had been several years since we last hiked in the vicinity of Jeremy’s Run, and I was really looking forward to camping along the beautiful stream.

After stocking up on some lunch provisions at Elkwallow Wayside, we finally hit the trail around 11:00. We figured we had a little over eight miles of hiking on our first day, so starting late morning would get us to camp before 3:00, with plenty of daylight left to pitch tents, cook dinner, and relax.

Neighbor Mountain Trail
Hiking along the Neighbor Mountain Trail. Below: The fall color was still close to peak; Adam checks out a rock formation; At the summit of Neighbor Mountain.

Golden Woods Rock Formation Summit of Neighbor Mountain

We started out at the Elkwallow Picnic Area. A short spur trail leads downhill to the junction with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. The AT descends for about .3 of a mile before coming to a junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail. Follow the Appalachian Trail, veering to the left. The trail ascends for a little over a mile before coming to a more level ridge. You’ll pass the junction with the Thorton River trail, continuing south on the AT. At just over four miles into the hike, you’ll reach the junction with the yellow-blazed Neighbor Mountain trail.

We decided this junction would be a nice place to stop for lunch (hummus – my favorite trail lunch of late – easy to eat and lots of quality calories!). After a relaxing, thirty-minute break, we took the turn onto the Neighbor Mountain trail. The path meandered across the ridge. For the first couple miles, it was mostly walking in the woods. There was a nice breeze and gorgeous sparkling sunshine was filtering through golden leaves. It was everything you want fall to be!

Even though there is no view, the summit of Neighbor Mountain is marked with a cement post. At the summit, I noticed I had picked up a ‘hitchhiker’ along the way – a walking stick bug was clinging to my pants. I wonder how far he had come with me. I picked him off, and set him on a fallen log off the trail.

Between six and seven miles into the hike, there are a few excellent views of the Massanutten ridge and Three Sisters. There was a forest fire in this area several years ago, so the view was pretty open and expansive. We all paused a while to enjoy the fall foliage.  It was so wonderful to see colorful mountains rolling our before us. We talked about how privileged and blessed we all felt to be out on such an amazing day!

View of Valley
Adam enjoys a view of the valley and mountains to the west. Below: This part of Neighbor Mountain burned in 2012.  Alot of damage is still evident; Fall color; Adam descends Neighbor Mountain toward Jeremys Run.

Neighbor Mountain Descent Neighbor Mountain Descent Neighbor Mountain Descent

The last mile and a half of the day was steady downhill, meandering across switchbacks until the Neighbor Mountain trail reached the bottom of the valley and Jeremy’s Run. As soon as you reach the stream, campsites are everywhere. The first few we passed were already taken, so we ended up returning to the hidden campsite we used several years earlier. It’s a flat spot under the trees shortly before the first water crossing.

And here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn…

Adam Says…

We all worked on pitching our tents and setting up camp. I set up our tent while Christine worked on inflating our sleeping pads. Kris was on the other side of the clearing working on setting up the one-person tent she had borrowed, when she suddenly she groaned, “Uh… guys – I think we might have a little problem.”

As it turned out, the tent bag only held the rain fly and the poles. The ground cloth and the actual tent were missing in action. She hadn’t checked the bag before hitting the trail.  We spent the next 45 minutes trying to improvise a shelter with everything and anything we had. We tried piling three people in our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 (bad idea). We discussed whether or not the evening would be suitable for cowboy camping under the stars. We talked through a few different scenarios: 1) we all hike back immediately, 2) I sleep under the tarp while Kris and Christine sleep in the tent, or 3) I hike back to the car tonight and pick them up in the morning.  I was least excited about the second option because the area felt tick-infested with the wet leaves.  We debated the options for a few minutes, but ultimately, we decided the best choice was to keep the group together and make our backpacking trip into a very long day hike.

Failed Camp
We tried to find a way to rig up shelter, but in the end we decided it was better to hike out. Below: Crossing the first stream and trying to eat something with enough calories to hike out happily; Adam doing one of many stream crossings; The best campsite along Jeremys Run sits above a waterfall.

Crossing Jeremys Run Crossing Jeremys Run Waterfall Campsite on Jeremy Run

We knew we only had a little over an hour of daylight left – the sun sets early behind the mountains surrounding Jeremy’s Run.  We rushed to pack everything up as quickly as we could. Cooking a hot dinner would have required getting more water, so we opted to just eat a few snacks from our bags.   We started off at a quick pace.  I twisted my knee at the first major water crossing we had to make, which made the rest of the trip pretty painful. But sometimes, you just have to suck it up and hike.

We soon passed another great campsite next to a small waterfall.  The trail meanders along and across Jeremy’s Run, requiring lots of rock-hopping across the stream.  The sun was dipping down quickly and we soon found that we needed to put on our headlamps.  Christine and Kris had legit headlamps, but I was using a small clip-on headlight that didn’t have the lumen output needed for a night hike.  When it reached dusk a few miles from our campsite, we came across a couple with a dog.  They asked us how far it was to the campsites and if they were all taken.  The guy was carrying an outrageous amount of gear and the girl looked completely miserable.  We knew they were going to be hiking to the campsites by nightfall and setting up camp in the dark.  I’m not sure if this was her first venture into overnight camping, but based on the daggers she was shooting him with her eyes, it may be their last.  They warned us they had seen a couple of bears just ahead of us, so we were on full alert.

Headlamps
We hiked by headlamp the last hour. Below: Jeremys Run in twilight; A large pool along the run; One of the last few stream crossings before it became too dark to take photos.

Jeremys Run Jeremys Run Jeremys Run

As it became fully dark, we still had a few stream crossings to make, which made it quite hazardous.  I reminded myself that the water wasn’t that deep so if we stepped in the water, we would probably be OK.  Another danger of night-hiking is the ability to lose the trail.  We really had to pay attention to the ground and try to keep an eye out for occasional blazes to make sure we would stay on the trail.  Hiking in the fall after most of the leaves have covered the trail provides an extra challenge.  Because I had a weaker headlamp, it was hard for me to lead along the trail since the lights from Christine and Kris were blasting my shadow ahead of me on the ground.  And then, I heard large noises in the woods, which I’m guessing was the bears that we had been warned about.  We kept talking loudly and playing some games to keep our minds sharp (animals/foods/colors that start with each letter of the alphabet) as we hiked along.

At 4.25 miles from our intended campsite, we finally came across a concrete marker post.  This post marked the junction with the Knob Mountain cutoff trail, so we knew were getting closer.  We kept straight on the Jeremy’s Run Trail and at 5.15 miles, we reached our first junction with the Neighbor Mountain Trail.  It was now just .3 miles straight ahead until we reached the parking lot where we started.  We made the last climb with renewed energy and celebrated that we made it through this adventure.

It was definitely one of the longest hikes we have done in a day and with the extra weight on our back, was one of the toughest.  We got back in the car and decided to go out to dinner to celebrate with drinks and food at Ciro’s in Elkton, VA.  We were physically exhausted and hungry, but it was quite an adventure we will never forget.

One takeaway I had from this trip was that we were all great at hiking together.  When we faced the challenge of not having two functional tents, we kept our wits about us, made a quick decision and went with it.  There was no complaining and we just relied on each other to get through.  If we had panicked or become overly upset, it could have led to a dangerous situation.  It is through this challenge, that we learned that having good hiking partners that work well together is a great trait to have for survival.  We all vowed to come back to this spot to camp together sometime in the spring to get the full experience through camping on Jeremy’s Run.  After the hike, Kris bought her own tent and I bought a better headlamp.

kris Kris Says…

Backpacking 101- It doesn’t matter if you were up late celebrating your birthday and borrowing some equipment…ALWAYS double check your equipment or your trip will not be so fly!

I was excited to be hiking with friends on a beautiful fall day.  We have always shared an appreciation of nature, lots of conversations and tons of laughter. I guess that is why we handled our little upset so calmly and reasonably. Although, I’m pretty sure I said  “Adam, just because I am a girl doesn’t mean you have to give up your tent.  I will cowboy up. Now, everyone hand over any booze or sleep aides you may have!” Of course that didn’t fly.

Ultimately we laughed at the situation, even as we crossed that creek 14 or so times and in the dark.  And I learned a few things on this trip: I am capable of hiking 15 miles with a 25 lbs pack in a day, Little Debbie Peanut Butter pies are so tasty and 400 calories, it was time to purchase my own backpacking tent, a packing checklist is important and a good attitude goes a long way.

I vowed to return to Jeremy’s Run and hike early enough to snag the sweet waterfall camp spot, I also plan to cowboy camp sometime just to prove I can (my dog will protect me).

Christine and Adam- you two are SuperFly!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 14.7 miles
    (We had issues with MapMyHike on this trip, so we have partial stats. We have the Neighbor Mountain segment and most of the Jeremys Run to Elkwallow segment. We’re missing the portion along the Appalachian Trail and a few early tenths of a mile along Jeremy’s Run.  Technical issues!)*
  • Elevation Change – 2610 ft.
  • Difficulty –  4.  The terrain is fairly moderate throughout the hike, but the length ups the difficulty rating.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  Sections along the Appalachian Trail and Neighbor Mountain are in great shape.  The Jeremy’s Run trail is rocky and has at least 14 water crossings – some of them can be challenging!
  • Views  3.5.  The views descending Neighbor Mountain are beautiful, but never fully open/panoramic.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3.5.  The stream is beautiful and scenic.
  • Wildlife – 5.  We saw a bobcat!  Hikers we passed at sunset told us there was a bear ahead, but we couldn’t see anything in the dark.  But, the last time we hiked in this area, we saw three bears.  We have also seen/heard owls, pileated woodpeckers, and whippoorwills.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The junctions are clearly marked and easy to follow — unless you’re hiking in the dark!  🙂
  • Solitude –1.  It’s the most popular backpacking loop in the park’s northern district.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From the US-211 entrance of Shenandoah National Park, head north for 9 miles on Skyline Drive.  Take a left towards the Mathews Arm Campground.  In .7 miles, you will reach a parking lot.  The trail takes off next to the outdoor bathroom.

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

Mt. Madison (NH)

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

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.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Hiking Mt. Madison
Adam makes his way across the summit ridge of Mt. Madison. The big mountain in the background is Mt. Washington.  If you look closely, you can see the Auto Road snaking down the peak.  Below:  Plenty of parking and access to many trailheads at the Appalachia Parking area;  Warning…. danger ahead – seriously, the White Mountains can be pretty extreme; The early part of the trail was fairly soft and gentle.

Appalachia Parking Death Awaits Early Terrain on the Valley Way Trail

Adam Says…

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).

Tama Falls
The early part trail follows Snyder Brook. By taking a short spur trial, you can visit beautiful 25′ Tama Falls.  Below: We saw a couple Croo members on their way down from the Madison Spring Hut; Adam checks out all the rocks on the ‘not as rocky’ New Hampshire trail;  The final push to the Madison Spring Hut was very steep and rugged.

Croo Getting Rockier Steep to the Top

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.

Looking Back to the Hut
Christine makes her way up the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mt. Madison.  Below: About to go above treeline; Even though the summits are far away, they always look close;  A view of Madison Spring Hut with Mt. Adams in the background.

Alpine Zone Looks Close Madison Spring Hut

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.

Christine Says…

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.

JMU Dukes
We paid tribute to our alma mater (James Madison University) on the namesake mountain. Go Dukes!  Below: The trail was extremely rocky and rugged between the hut and the summit of Mt. Madison; Cairns mark the way; Christine and Adam enjoy a summit view; The descent.

Climbing Mt. Madison  Rocks on Mt. Madison
Summit of Mt. Madison  Descent

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.

Inside Madison Spring Hut
We decided to eat lunch at Madison Spring Hut.  Below: Even pretty dogs aren’t allowed inside AMC huts;  We always enjoy the baked goods for sale at huts; Compass on the hut porch.

No Dogs Allowed in AMC Huts Goodies Compass

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.

Star Lake
Beautiful star lake sits near Madison Spring Hut. Below: As we were leaving the lake, clouds started to roll in and we heard distant rumbles of thunder… time to leave the peaks and head back to the valley below.

Walk to Lake Approaching Storms

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!

Trail Notes

  • 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. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

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.

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

Mt. Pierce (NH)

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

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!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mt. Pierce Summit
On our second pass-by, we were lucky to hit the summit with mostly clear views!  Below: Adam makes his way up the Crawford Connector – a short spur trail from the parking lot to the Crawford Path; Trail signs and a sign for Mizpah Spring Hut; Gibbs Falls.

Crawford Connector Trail AMC and Trail Sign Gibbs Falls

Adam Says…

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.

Rocky Trail
Even though the Crawford Path to the summit of Pierce is one of the least steep trails in the Whites, it is still very rocky and slick.  Below: As we climbed, the woods got foggier and foggier; By the time we made it to the junction with the Mizpah Cutoff Trail we started to worry that we wouldn’t have a view at all; The Mizpah Cut-Off Trail departs the Crawford Path a little over a mile from the summit of Mt. Pierce.

Into the Clouds Fog Mizpah Cutoff

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.

Cairns in Fog Boardwalks on Webster Cliffs Starting to Clear

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.

Christine Says…

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.

Mizpah Spring Hut
By the time we arrived at Mizpah Spring Hut, the sun was fully out.  Below: The Webster Cliffs trail is steep in places and is traversed by ladders and wooden stairs; Inside Mizpah Spring Hut; Cookies!

Webster Cliffs Trail Inside Mizpah Cookies at Mizpah

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.

Christine on the Summit of Pierce
We hiked back up to the summit of Pierce to enjoy clear views.  Below: The Nauman Tentsite is a short distance from the hut; A typical tent platform in the Whites; More views from the summit.

Nauman Tentsite Tent Pad More Views from Pierce

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!

Trail Notes

  • 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. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

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).

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