Best Hikes in the White Mountains

New Hampshire’s White Mountains, locally known as the Whites, have long been one of the region’s most iconic hiking destinations. Home to White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range (locally known as the Prezi’s), an extensive hut system and a quintessentially New England spirit, it’s no wonder these peaks are beloved by locals and visitors alike. Though they’re worth visiting all year long, looking across a sea of brilliant red, orange and yellow leaves in the autumn from one of the Whites’ many summits is truly inspiring.

North Conway, New Hampshire, located 2 ½ hours north of Boston, is the eastern gateway to the range. Whether you’re planning a weekend retreat or week-long backcountry trek, the quaint community serves as a perfect basecamp. You’ll find easy access to the 800,000-acre national forest, numerous state forests and some of the most scenic drives around. Plus, downtown North Conway offers plenty of restaurants and outdoor stoke to fuel your trip.

Check out nearby Whitehorse Ledge to watch climbers scale its granite slabs, chew up the tarmac on Kancamagus Highway, colloquially known as the Kanc, and stop by the co-op’s first-ever experience center, set to open in September 2019. Though the trails below are some of the best community-rated hikes in the area, this list only scratches the surface of the treks the White Mountains and North Conway have to offer.

Diana’s Bath Out and Back

  • Location: Moat Mountain Trail System, 2.5 miles northwest of North Conway
  • Length: 1.1-mile round-trip, out and back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy
  • Best For: Families looking to relax by the water
  • Dogs: Leashed

If you’re looking for a short afternoon hike, make your way to the Moat Mountain Trai and head west along the wide, dirt and gravel path to Diana’s Bath. While the southerly portion of the trail is a bit strenuous, the 0.6 miles it takes to reach this cascade are mellow and accessible to all abilities, making this hike one of the most popular in the region. There are even benches for pit stops if you prefer to take your time. In addition to their easy accessibility, the braided streams, plunges, pools and natural slides that make up Diana’s Bath are a blast to explore despite the inevitable crowds. Please note: Though they can be lovely and refreshing during much of the year, if the water is high, the pools and cascades can be dangerous to enter. Use your judgement before jumping in.

Lower Ammonoosuc River Falls Trail

  • Location: Carroll, 35 miles northwest of North Conway
  • Length: 2.4-mile out and back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy
  • Best For: An afternoon out along the river with the family
  • Dogs: Leashed

Located on the northwestern edge of White Mountain National Forest, the natural, water-carved steps of the 40-foot-tall Lower Ammonoosuc River Falls are another beautiful destination perfect for a quick trip. The Lower Ammonoosuc River Falls Trail is wide and easy, making it a great option for families and hikers of all abilities. The trailhead is just past the entrance for the Zealand Campground, which is a convenient place to post up in you are in the area. Though the route is mellow, it does climb slightly on its way to the cascades. You’ll find the falls in a cove of rocks where the water has carved a pool that’s popular for swimming and fishing. Pack a picnic if you can.

Black Cap Trail

  • Location: Conway Common Lands State Forest, 4.5 miles east of North Conway
  • Length: 2.4-mile round-trip, out and back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: An in-town summit hike
  • Dogs: Leashed

The 908-acre Conway Common Lands State Forest sits adjacent to the Green Hills Preserve on the edge North Conway. This popular recreation area is laced with trails and peaks to summit, including the popular Peaked Mountain Trail). Despite being slightly tougher than its neighbors, Black Cap Trail is a great option for those looking for a bigger day out.

Head north from town to reach the trailhead on Hurricane Mountain Road. The main trail heads straight up the side of Black Cap Mountain, but the grade is fairly mellow, making this a reasonable trek. About 0.8 miles from the start, there is a split in the trail where a narrow path, the Black Cap Summit Spur, heads left to the peak. However, it’s easier to stay on Black Cap Trail, which follows a wider, less rocky route to the summit and views of North Conway and the Mount Washington Valley. Enjoy the vista for a bit before heading back the way you came.

Arethusa Falls Out and Back

  • Location: Jackson, 19 miles northwest of North Conway
  • Length: 2.9-mile round-trip, out and back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A pleasant hike to falls for adventurous families
  • Dogs: Leashed

Crawford Notch State Park offers easy access to the surrounding White Mountains National Forest, along with great options for camping, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking and more. Although it’s open year-round, Crawford Notch is typically unstaffed in the off-season and the gates may be closed. In warmer months, though, the cooler air and tumbling water around the falls are a quick way to escape the heat.

There are two parking areas for this hike. Find a spot in the upper lot if you can, but parking in the lower lot will only add a short distance to your hike. The Arethusa Falls Trail follows blue blazes as it winds above Bemis Brook. While the first 0.6 miles of trail are somewhat steep and rocky, the trek gets easier for the next mile or so until you pass the junction with Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail. Stay left at the intersection to keep on Arethusa Falls Trail, which climbs some steep steps before dropping back to the falls. On nice days, the area can get crowded, but as one of the tallest waterfalls in the state, it’s well worth the quick trek. On the way back, about a mile along the main trail, take a right to follow Bemis Brook Trail for an alternate return trip. This trail dips toward the water and follows the brook past Coliseum Falls, Bemis Falls and Fawn Pool before rejoining Arethusa Falls Trail just a short distance from the trailhead.

Welch-Dickey Mountain Loop

  • Location: Campton, 46 miles southwest of North Conway
  • Length: 4.2-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A remote hike to two White Mountain summits
  • Dogs: Leashed

Located in the southern portion of the White Mountain National Forest, this loop up Welch and Dickey Mountains is not as busy as some other hikes in the region. From the trailhead, take a right to follow the route counterclockwise through the deciduous forest. After about a mile, the trail turns south to climb toward the ridge where you’ll pop out of the thick forest onto a rocky outcrop with views of the Mad River directly below. The trail gets steep at times, and you should be careful of slippery terrain in wet weather.

From the Welch Mountain summit, the trail dips into a saddle before climbing to the top of Dickey Mountain. After taking in the stunning views of the Welch, Sandwich and Tecumseh mountains that surround it, traverse the upper rim of the bowl before dropping down through the rocky outcrops on the western side of the ravine. The last leg of the trail follows the ridgeline down through the forest before ending back at the trailhead.

Mt. Chocorua – Champney Falls Route

  • Location: Ferncroft, 17 miles west of North Conway
  • Length: 7.2-mile out and back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A beautiful hike past waterfalls to a popular summit
  • Dogs: Leashed

Mount Chocorua, a popular 3,442-foot peak near North Conway, can be reached by numerous trails, but the Champney Falls Route, easily accessible via Kancamagus Highway, is the most trafficked. Starting at Champney Falls Trail, cross the footbridge over Twin Brook and follow an old logging road until you reach Champney Brook where the trail turns south and follows the brook for about a mile. A left at the junction with the Pitcher and Champney Falls Extension trail will take you farther up the brook and past Pitcher Falls. From here, the trail turns away from the main brook up a smaller tributary to reach Champney Falls and eventually rejoins the main trail. About 2.5 miles into the hike, the trail begins to switchback and climb in earnest. At the saddle, a right turn onto Piper Trail leads up to the summit of Mount Chocorua via rocky outcrops. When you’re done enjoying the views of the surrounding lakes, peaks and valleys, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Franconia Ridge Loop

  • Location: Franconia Notch State Park, 50 miles west of North Conway
  • Length: 8.3-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A rugged and stunning route to Mount Lafayette
  • Dogs: Leashed

With hiking in the rugged Franconia Range, fly-fishing on Profile Lake, camping in developed sites, boating and swimming on Echo Lake and even an aerial tramway to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain, Franconia Notch State Park is one of the most activity-dense, family-friendly recreation areas in the Whites.

If you’re looking for a hearty leg-burner, head out on this classic loop. From the parking lot just off I-93, take the Old Bridle Path for around 1.5 miles to reach an overlook on the ridgeline. From there, the trail ascends toward Mount Lafayette. The ridgeline gets steeper as you climb, but there are several rocky outcroppings with great views perfect for resting along the way. Three miles into the hike, you’ll reach the Greenleaf Hut, where you can take a break and refill your water bottles. After leaving the hut, head east along Greenleaf Trail, which steepens as it begins to pop out of the trees. The trail is quite rugged, and you’ll climb over talus and rocky steps to the summit of Mount Lafayette.

To descend, take a right onto Franconia Ridge Trail, which follows the rocky ridge as it makes its way past Lincoln Peak and Little Haystack Mountain. There are spectacular views of the Whites along this nearly 2-mile-long stretch. At the top of Little Haystack Mountain, take a right onto Falling Waters Trail, which drops into the woods via a steep track. After about a mile, the trail reaches Dry Brook, which, despite its name, is usually flowing, and you’ll pass several waterfalls along the way. The route crosses the river several times and the rocks here can be slippery, so use caution. Once the trail veers away from the water, you’ll know you’re near the end. Cross Walter Brook to rejoin the Old Bridle Path to head back to the trailhead.

Pinkham Notch to Mount Washington Summit

  • Location: Pinkham Notch, 17 miles north of North Conway
  • Length: 8-mile out and back with a loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A day hike up Mount Washington
  • Dogs: Leashed

With access to some of the most popular and stunning sections of the White Mountains, including the Presidential Range and Mount Washington, it’s obvious why Pinkham Notch is generally considered the heart of the Whites. If you’re in the area and would rather not camp, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Joe Dodge Lodge offers accommodations, food and plenty of activities including events, hikes and family adventure programs.

This route up Mount Washington starts at the lodge’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, where you can park your vehicle or arrive by an Appalachian Mountain Club-run shuttle, which takes reservations and stops at several trailheads that lead to the Appalachian Trail and the club’s alpine huts. Remember, the weather on Mount Washington can be quite different then down below and changes quickly, so pack accordingly and be sure to check the forecast before heading out.

From the visitor center, ascend the Tuckerman Ravine Trail along the Cutler River. About 0.2 miles in, as you cross a bridge over the river, there is a clear view of Crystal Cascade Falls. Though you’ve just started your trek, avoid the urge to push on without making a quick stop to enjoy the view.

After the falls, the trail climbs up the ravine. You’ll pass several trails, one of which, the Huntington Ravine Trail, can also be used to reach the summit, but it’s a much more challenging route. Instead, continue up Tuckerman Ravine towards Hermit Lake and take a right onto Lion’s Head Trail just before the lake to ascend the Lion’s Head, a rocky outcrop on the northern ridgeline. The grade is quite steep for about 0.75 miles. You’ll get a short respite as you cross the Alpine Garden Trail, but the route soon climbs to rejoin the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Take a right and follow the trail toward the peak.

Once you reach the summit parking area, navigate to the top via sidewalks and parking areas. The actual summit is a large, signed cairn located behind the Tip Top House, a historic former hotel built in 1853 that’s been turned into a museum. If it’s clear, spend some time enjoying the views and summit structures like the Mount Washington Observatory. Don’t forget to top off your water bottles and use the facilities while you’re there. When you’re ready to head home, follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail all the way down. The first part of the trail is incredibly steep as it descends the headwall. Use extreme caution and watch your footing while descending. The wet rock can be quite slippery, and the narrow sections and rocky terrain make this a challenging section.

Below the headwall, the route remains tough and rocky as it parallels a small alpine stream all the way to Hermit Lake where there are shelters, restrooms and a cabin. From the lake, the descent should be familiar, and though the grade is still steep, it’s manageable all the way back to the visitor center.

The Presidential Traverse

  • Location: Gorham, 35 miles from North Conway
  • Length: 18.9-mile one-way traverse
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A rugged, daunting and iconic traverse
  • Dogs: Leashed

One of the most iconic hikes in the Whites, the Presidential Traverse is known for rugged terrain and stunning views. Following the summit line of the Presidential Range, this nearly 19-mile, above-treeline hike is rocky, windy and often quite cold, even in summer. Very strong hikers can tackle the route in a single day, but you can also stay in one of the AMC huts to turn it into a great overnight trip.

Generally hiked north to south, day hikers should plan to start before dawn. Don’t forget a headlamp, and be prepared for sun exposure, cold temperatures, high winds, lightning and precipitation in all its forms. Since this is a traverse, you’ll also need to figure out transportation. Some groups park a car at both ends and shuttle themselves, but depending on your schedule, you can also use the AMC shuttle.

Start in Randolph, New Hampshire, at the Valley Way/Appalachia Trailhead, and take Valley Way Trail south. The path weaves through thick forest as it gently climbs towards Snyder Brook, which it follows briefly. There are numerous trail intersections along this portion, so watch the trail signs to make sure you stay on Valley Way. After a couple of miles, the grade steepens. At the trail junction in the saddle, stay left on Star Lake Trail to reach Madison Spring Hut, where you can fill your water bottles. From the hut, take Osgood Trail east, and scramble up the talus field to the summit of Mount Madison. Don’t linger too long. You still have many miles to go.

From the summit, head back the way you came to return to the hut where you’ll join Gulfside Trail. Before long you’ll pop out of the forest and stay above treeline for most of the rest of the hike. Gulfside Trail leads to a prominent ridgeline where you’ll turn left onto Air Line Trail. This takes you past Mount Quincy (you’ll have to do a quick, off-trail scramble to tag the summit) to Mount Adams. From the top of Mount Adams, make sure to descend west along Star Lake Trail. If you head east, you’ll end your hike much too early. Take a sharp left onto Israel Ridge Path, which merges with Gulfside Trail for about 0.4 miles. Then stay left when they split again to follow Gulfside Trail as it gently descends the ridge.

As you follow the Gulfside Trail, a quick detour on Mount Jefferson Loop Trail will take you up and over the rocky summit of Mount Jefferson. You can bag another peak by taking Mount Clay Loop, which summits its namesake mountain before reuniting with the Gulfside Trail. Near Mount Washington, the route takes a sharp turn south towards the eastern side of the summit. At the junction, turn left onto Crawford Path to reach the peak behind the Tip Top House museum.

Once you’ve had your fill, head back down the Crawford Path, and at the first junction, turn left to continue off the summit. The Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained trail in the Northeast, and 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the route. In 2018, more than 150 volunteers showed their love for the Path by repairing 9.3 miles of trail and restoring 1.5 acres of wildlife habitat through a National Forest Foundation-led effort, supported in part by REI.

Except for a few detours along the way, you’ll be following the Crawford Path all the way to the end of the traverse. If you’re tired, you can simply stay on that trail the whole way, but you’ll miss the last few summits. Just past the Lake of the Clouds Hut, take Mount Monroe Loop Trail to summit Mount Monroe and Little Mount Monroe. Rejoin Crawford Path for about 0.3 mile before taking Mount Franklin Loop to bag Mount Franklin. Then it’s a little under a mile on Crawford Path to Mount Eisenhower Loop Trail, which takes you to your second to last summit. Finally, detour onto the Appalachian Trail to tag your last peak, Mount Pierce. Follow the AT all the way to Mizpah Spring Hut, where you can fill up your water and use the restroom.

From the hut, take Webster Cliff Trail to Mizpah Cut-off Trail, which leads you back to Crawford Path. If you have time, hop on Gibbs Falls Spur Trail to visit Gibbs Falls. From there, it’s only about a half-mile to the end of the hike which terminates at the AMC Highland Center.

Pemi Loop

  • Location: Pemigewasset Wilderness, 36 miles west of North Conway
  • Length: 30-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A long, strenuous and gorgeous backpacking trip
  • Dogs: Leashed

Full of sweeping, above-tree-line views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, this loop is beautiful. But with roots, rocks and plenty of steep sections that require scrambling, it’s also technical. Most hikers take a few days to complete its 30 miles. Start at the Lincoln Woods Parking Area off Kancamagus Highway right next to the East Branch Pemigewasset River, and cross the bridge to reach the trailhead. From the bridge, take Lincoln Woods Trail north as it skirts the river. The former rail line is wide and ascends gradually.

Tackle the most challenging terrain first by turning left at the first junction onto Osseo Trail. The skinny singletrack heads up a narrow drainage. Just over 3 miles into the hike, the grade steepens significantly as the route climbs the ridgeline toward Mount Flume. From the summit, continue straight onto Franconia Ridge Trail. Here, the trail mellows somewhat as it follows the ridge to Mount Liberty, Little Haystack Mountain, Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. The views along this section are expansive and stunning.

From the top of Mount Lafayette, continue north onto Garfield Ridge Trail, which descends steeply from the summit. Although the trees will close in around you, there are still a handful of nice views along the way to Mount Garfield. The steep descent from this peak can be challenging. If you need it, there is a shelter part way down where you can rest or make camp. However, once you’re down, the next 2 miles are comparatively level and pleasant, and you can stop at Galehead Hut, 15.7 miles into the hike, for water or shelter.

From the hut, take Twinway Trail, which ascends almost a 1,000 feet to South Twin Mountain in just over half a mile. Though the climb is strenuous, it rewards you with 3.5 miles of level trail that skirt the ridgeline between the bowls. After crossing the summit of Mount Guyot and passing Guyot Shelter about 19 miles into the hike, it’s a slight climb to the summit of Mount Bond. Take Bondcliff Trail down from the peak. The trail descends steeply at first, before following the lower, rocky ridgeline for a half-mile. Then traverse under the ridge and begin descending the drainage of Black Brook. Once you reach the East Branch Pemigewasset River, it’s level and easy going. As you cross Franconia Brook, the trail leaves the Wilderness area and becomes the Lincoln Woods Trail, which takes you all the way back to the trailhead.