As the weather turns cooler and more bearable, now is a great time to check out the beauty and color of northern New England. New Hampshire’s White Mountains, millions of years old, contain more than 40 scalable peaks, including many 4,000 foot giants.
For decades, ambitious hikers have sought to conquer the White Mountains, which offer spectacular views of the fall foliage that has become famous the world over.
Experienced hikers often engage in the sport of “peakbagging,” and the White Mountains — including the Presidential and Franconia Ranges — offer plenty of opportunity to get outdoors, explore the nature of New England, and “bag” some peaks along the way.
Peakbagging is the practice of reaching several summits in one trip, whether in a single day or over the course of several days. Hikers often summit one peak, then cross along ridges between other mountains.
Though there is some debate among the hiking community as to whether or not peakbagging counts as “summiting” (rather than starting from the bottom of each mountain), there is no doubt that peakbagging allows visitors to cover significant ground and see more of the area.
As it can take nearly two hours to reach the White Mountains from the Merrimack Valley, travelers may find it worthwhile to string several summits together in one day.
One popular destination is a nine-mile loop connecting Franconia Ridge. Visitors may ascend on the three-mile Falling Waters Trail, which passes three spectacular waterfalls and the granite slab Shining Rock, before crossing into the alpine zone.
After reaching the top of Little Mount Haystack, the trail joins up with the Appalachian Trail for a short distance, following the ridge to the summit of Mount Lincoln, then another mile to the summit of Mount Lafayette, the tallest of the group at 5,249 feet.
Crossing the ridge offers a 360-degree view of the White Mountains extending for many miles at any time of year in clear weather.
To descend from Lafayette, hikers may take the Greenleaf Trail to Old Bridle Path trail to return to the parking lot. Visitors will pass by the Greenleaf Hut overlooking Eagle Lake, run by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
For a moderate fee, hikers can stay overnight in indoor bunkrooms and enjoy meals prepared by AMC staff; the AMC’s commitment to sustainability is evident in the hut’s use of solar power and composting toilets.
Peakbagging allows visitors to cover more ground and take different trails up and down, “bagging” more peaks than on a single summit trip. However, challenges can occur when the return trip takes hikers away from their cars; plan accordingly when setting out to avoid getting stranded.
As always, visitors need to take weather, daylight, and their own ability into account when choosing a route and preparing for a trip. The White Mountains can be challenging and unpredictable, making it necessary to dress in layers and carry adequate food and water.
However, tenacious hikers will be rewarded with sweeping vistas of the New England landscape.
The Lafayette Place trailhead is located off I-93 North in Franconia Notch just north of the Flume. For trail maps and park information, visit the Appalachian Mountain Club at outdoors.org or nhstateparks.org.