The Best Trail Runs in New Hampshire

Shoes with rock plates are strongly encouraged!

With granite scrambles, dense hardwood forests and relatively low-traffic trails, New Hampshire is a paradise for runners in search of off-the-grid adventure. From mountain range traverses to quick post-work summits on the Appalachian Trail, we’ve picked out some must-run routes to add to your bucket list.

Mink Brook Nature Reserve

  • Location: Hanover, NH
  • Length: 0.5–4 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy
  • Best For: Choose-your-own-adventure trail runs

With multiple trails that are all easily accessible from Hanover’s center, the Mink Brook Nature Reserve is an Upper Valley gem for casual, smooth trail runs and bonus mile add-ons. With everything from quick 0.5-mile jaunts to longer looping trails, it’s easy to build mileage here. Access the nature reserve from South Main Street and explore the area’s well-marked, low-mileage loops and offshoots. Despite their proximity to the main roads, the winding trails take you through thick forest and along the brook for a truly idyllic jaunt in the woods. Want to end your run with a quick dip in the Connecticut River? Follow the Quinn Trail back to South Main Street and cross the road to join the River Trail. After a mile, you’ll reach a great swimming spot on the riverbank—and potentially run into some other folks enjoying the water as well. Hike up a short hill to exit onto Maple Street, or go back the way you came. Either way, you’ll be close to the center of town.

Rattlesnake Trail

  • Location: Armstrong Natural Area in Holderness, NH
  • Length: 1.8 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate
  • Best For: Bang-for-your-buck views

A wide, well-maintained trail, the Rattlesnake route is short enough to run multiple times in one go. Right near Squam Lake, it offers some incredible views—and plenty of birdsong—with less than 350 feet of climbing. Take the Old Bridle Path up to the top, with an option of swimming in Squam if you head down toward Five Finger Point Trail. This is an ideal run for taking little ones (and pups!) along for some entry-level trail time, or for showing off the Lakes Region to out-of-towners.

Moose Mountain Trail

  • Location: Hanover, NH
  • Length: 4.3 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate
  • Best For: Weekday warriors looking for some quiet, casual miles

A quick drive from Hanover’s town center, the Moose Mountain Trail leads you through a grove of hemlocks up to a 2,300-foot summit with the chance of spotting some airplane wreckage from a 1968 crash. This thickly forested lollipop loop is part of the Appalachian Trail, and is an ideal location for catching some vivid fall colors in late September and early October. Heading up the Appalachian Trail and crossing over the Harris Trail junction, you’ll hit South Moose Summit at 1.8 miles.

From South Moose, you’ll cross a summit bog on the way to North Moose Summit, eventually intersecting with the Clark Pond Loop Trail for a smooth descent back to the car park. With a lush, dense hemlock forest and an almost entirely runnable 1,000 feet of ascent, this trail is a go-to for getting in some easy miles that still feel like you’re deep in the backcountry.

Feeling hungry post-run? Head into town for the life-changing Murph Burger at Murphy’s, a cozy, classic pub with a modern menu. Topped with crispy shallots and a house-made remoulade, this burger is even tastier after some time on the trails.

Mt. Monadnock Summit Out-and-Back

  • Location: Monadnock State Park in Troy, NH
  • Length: 4.4 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult
  • Best For: Easy access and the potential to meet new trail buddies

The most popular hike in New England—and one of the most-climbed peaks in the world—Mt. Monadnock offers multiple routes for summiting, plus a chance to fully immerse yourself in the fall foliage. It’s only two hours from Boston, which makes it an easy trail to access if you call southern New England home.

Most runners like to take Old Halfway House Trail to the White Arrow Trail, which will get you to the summit in a little over 2 miles. Don’t forget your trekking poles: You’ll be climbing up big granite slabs as you near the bald summit. After around 1,600 feet of ascent, you’ll be rewarded with wide-open views of the surrounding valleys and changing leaves.

Mt. Cardigan Super Loop

  • Location: Cardigan State Park in Grafton, NH
  • Length: 9.7 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult
  • Best For: Bald face climbing and catching a sunrise at the summit

After a devastating fire in 1855 destroyed much of the vegetation, Mt. Cardigan’s summit is still completely bare more than 150 years later, minus a few patches of lichen. Known for incredible sunrises and sunsets, this bald, rocky mountain features an old fire tower and wide-open views of the surrounding forests.

The Mt. Cardigan Super circles the state park, giving you almost 10 miles of low-traffic trail running with some incredible views. The loop takes you up to Gilman’s Summit within the first 3 miles, and then onto the Cardigan Appalachian Mountain Club Lodge for a pit stop (and a quick swim) if you need it. From there, you’ll encounter some smooth and runnable forest sections heading up to Cardigan—a gorgeous tunnel of yellow and orange during leaf-peeping season—before you start the steep, gnarly ascent to the summit.

Rather get in some shorter, pre-work miles? Head out before sunrise on the out-and-back West Ridge Trail, and prepare yourself for a full sky of breathtaking color after only 1.5 miles of climbing. And of course, no good trail run in New England is complete without a diner breakfast. Drive west on US-4 for a half hour to reach 4 Aces Diner in Lebanon, a retro American eatery that’s open seven days a week. Known for their mouthwatering benedicts, this diner’s homey, classic feel hasn’t aged a bit since opening in the early ’50s.

Franconia Ridge Loop

  • Location: Franconia Notch State Park in Lincoln, NH
  • Length: 8.6 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult
  • Best For: Challenging, technical climbing with a jaw-dropping, four-summit reward

Get some serious vert on this iconic White Mountain loop. Starting from the Old Bridle Path trailhead, you’ll spend the first 4 miles climbing almost 3,400 feet up to the summit of Mt. Lafayette (and maybe cursing your quads a little). The route is rocky and technical—trekking poles are definitely a good idea—but the surrounding mountain views get bigger and better with every step. If you need to refill your water, head to Greenleaf Hut about 3 miles in for a pit stop.

Once you summit Lafayette, the real adventure begins: you’ll traverse an exposed ridgeline bridging three additional summits (Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack and Mt. Lincoln), with incredible panoramic views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. On a crystal-clear day, you might get lucky and see all the way to Vermont and New York. The descent on Falling Waters Trail is a bit steeper than the ascent, bringing you through thick forest and passing several gorgeous waterfalls. Don’t forget your water purifier if you want to fill up.

After your run, grab some food for the drive home from Notch Express in nearby Lincoln. This quirky gas station claims to be the site of the first alleged UFO abduction, and it’s full of alien memorabilia and much-needed post-trail snacks.

Presidential Traverse

  • Location: White Mountain National Forest in Gorham, NH
  • Length: 18.9 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: Peak baggers who like to push their limits

Possibly the most challenging route on this list, the Presidential (or “Presi”) Traverse is an 18.9 mile point-to-point route, usually done from north to south. The traverse summits every peak in New Hampshire named after a U.S. president, with the option to tack on Mt. Jackson (actually named for a state geologist, not Andrew Jackson) for a “full” traverse distance of 23 miles. With the potential for three seasons of weather in a single day and the notorious winds on Mt. Washington, it’s important to run with a full pack. Bring appropriate layers for changing conditions plus food and water. Definitely don’t forget your Ten Essentials, either.

You’ll spend most of your run above tree line on mossy, rocky terrain that’s fully exposed, with the occasional pine tree and patch of crabgrass adding a bit of greenery. If you’re ever wondering when to pull out your burliest trail shoes, this is the time. Rock plates and rugged outsoles will make your day a lot more comfortable—and a lot more fun.

By the end of your run, you’ll have summited the highest peak in the state (Mt. Washington) and ascended nearly 8,000 feet on the shorter traverse. Finish off a day well spent with some hard-earned cider donuts. White Mountain Cider Co. is only 30 minutes away, serving up fresh donuts and other goodies at their on-site country store.

Pemi Loop

  • Location: Pemigewasset Wilderness in Lincoln, NH
  • Length: 30 miles
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A DIY ultra or multiday trail run

Last, but definitely not least, is the Pemi Loop. If you can’t get enough of Franconia Ridge’s technical terrain and miles of views, then add this White Mountain adventure to your list. But be warned: This steep, backcountry 30-miler is no easy scamper through the woods.

This ultradistance loop includes the Franconia Ridge, so once you’re above tree line, you’ll be able to view the entire route and see where you are (along with some epic vistas). With rocks and roots underfoot, plus some intense scrambling and stair sections, you’ll definitely put in some serious work on the ascent. Make your day progressively easier by starting clockwise, getting the gnarlier half of the day done early and beating the day hike crowds.

Water is available at Galehead Hut, with some additional water sources on the Bondcliff Trail. These aren’t always reliable, however, so it’s good to prepare for a long day and bring more hydration and food than you think you need. Whether you’re chasing an FKT or just looking to spend some tough but rewarding hours in the Whites, the Pemi Loop offers a taste of iconic, rugged New England mountain running.

No Comments