Hiking the Franconia Ridge

There are arguably few hikes in New Hampshire as popular as the Franconia Ridge.  Convenient trail access, water falls and the promise of spectacular 360 degree vistas draw tourists and locals alike.  Despite the likelihood of a crowded trail, this is a must-hike for anyone visiting or living in New Hampshire.

To start this strenuous 8.8 mile round-trip hike, park at the trail head off I-93 in Franconia Notch (from the South, park at the trail head lot, from the North, park at Lafayette Campground and walk through the underpass).  This hike can be done in either direction, but I prefer to go up the steeper Falling Water’s trail to save my knees later on.  To start, head up the trail from the parking lot, past the out houses and follow the signs to the Falling Waters trail, which will bear to the right.

This is a beautiful and challenging trail.  For the first mile of the three mile climb, it travels back and forth across Dry Brook and gives views of several waterfalls as it climbs.  After that initial mile, the trail moves away from the stream and heads dramatically up, for a total elevation gain of nearly 3,000 feet from the trail head.  The trail is typical of those found in the White Mountains, with many large rocks in the midst of the path mixed with some smoother sections of switch backs.  Be sure to take the out and back vista trail to see Shining Rock, a massive slab of exposed mountain with numerous streams flowing over it.

As you near the summit of the first 4,000-footer of the hike, the trees begin to thin and soon peter out to nothing.  You’ll spend your entire time on the ridge above treeline (make sure to check the weather and be prepared for sudden weather changes/temperature drops).  At the terminus of the Falling Water’s trail, you’ll reach the summit of Little Haystack Mountain (4,760′) and turn left onto the Franconia Ridge Trail.  Travel the two miles along the ridge and climb to Mt. Lincoln (5,089′) and finally to Mt. Lafayette (5,260).  The views from the ridge are breathtaking in clear weather as the ridge drops off sharply on either side, offering 360 degree views of the White Mountains.  To the East are sweeping views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and to the West, Cannon Mountain and into Vermont.

After summiting Lafayette (named after fame French general who aided the continental army during the American Revolution), turn west onto the Greenleaf Trail and descend to the AMC Greenleaf Hut, where you’ll find potable water and food.  You could also make this a two-day excursion if you’re willing to shell out $120 a night for lodging at the hut.  The Bridal Path continues on for about three miles from the hut to the parking lot and is not overly steep or technical.

I’ve done this specific hike twice and the ridge three times (once as part of a Pemi Loop) and have enjoyed it each time.  I hope you will, too.

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