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If you’re going to hike any challenging trail in the White Mountains, there’s no trail I’d recommend more than the Franconia Ridge Loop. This hike has it all – gorgeous waterfalls, stunning 360-degree views, challenging terrain, and 3 summits in New Hampshire’s 4,000-footer club. When I hiked this trail on a sunny October morning, I couldn’t put my camera down because there were jaw-dropping views seemingly around every corner. Don’t be fooled – you’ll have to work hard for these sweeping vistas on this 9-mile trail that climbs and descends nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

For those up for the challenge, the Franconia Ridge loop is one of the best, most quintessential hikes in New Hampshire, and for good reason: there are few trails with views and landscapes as spellbinding as these. We created this guide to help you feel fully prepared and excited to embark on the Franconia Ridge Loop and experience its magic for yourself.

Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite hiker? Here’s a comprehensive list of our
35 favorite (practical) gifts for hikers, updated for 2020!

The Franconia Ridge Loop Trail: An Overview

Not for the faint of heart, the Franconia Ridge Loop trail leads hikers through White Mountain National Forest to the peaks of three 4,000+ footers – Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Lafayette. You’ll also pass a handful of scenic waterfalls, several steep, rocky areas, and the Greenleaf Hut, a basic refuge for overnight hikers. On days with clear weather and minimal fog, you can see many of the peaks of the White Mountains for miles with some of the best views in the state of New Hampshire.

If you’re still curious about hiking, here’s a quick snapshot of the Franconia Ridge trail:

  • Trail Distance: ~9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,822 feet
  • Estimated Completion Time: 6 to 8 hours (It took me 6.5 hours to complete the loop)
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Parking: There’s a designated parking lot for the trail – the Old Bridle Path parking lot – that fills up quickly on weekends. If that lot is full when you arrive, there is additional overflow parking further north on Highway 93 that requires an extra 2 mile hike each way.

Things to Know Before Hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop

This trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but there are a few things I wish I knew before embarking on the Franconia Ridge Loop trail:

  • This is NOT a trail for first-time or beginner hikers. While many beginner hikers will attempt this hike, I wouldn’t recommend it for families with very young children or beginners. There are several stream crossings, steep uphills, and exposed, slippery sections that could be quite dangerous. If you’re looking for an easier trail in the White Mountains with exceptional views, I’d recommend Artist Bluff & Bald Mountain.
  • It’s best to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop counter-clockwise. While you can technically hike this loop in either direction, going up Falling Waters and down Old Bridle Path is the “path of least resistance.” Falling Waters is much steeper and muddier, and it’s a lot easier to ascend than descend. This is the direction I went and I’d recommend it to anyone attempting this hike.
  • Going in clear weather will make the hike much safer and more enjoyable. Because of the elevation of the peaks you’ll traverse, there’s a good chance they’ll be covered in fog on rainy or cloudy days. This means you won’t be able to catch any of the stunning views this trail is known for. If you’re able, watch the weather and plan your hike on a day that looks to be clear and sunny. This way, you’ll maximize your chances of a safe hike and gorgeous panoramas of the White Mountains.
  • Pack the right gear and layers for a highly variable and exposed trail. There’s often a huge temperature and weather differential between the base of the trail and the summit/ridgeline area, so come prepared with several hiking layers. Wear waterproof hiking boots, as there are several stream crossings on the Falling Waters trail. I’d also recommend trekking poles for the steep descent.

How to Hike the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail: Our Review

Parking & Getting to the Trail Head

On a sunny morning in October, I embarked on a solo hike on the Franconia Ridge Loop, along with my super active, 15-pound dachshund mix, Stella. The night before, I spent the night in my campervan in Littleton, a nearby city, and woke up around 6 AM to drive to the trailhead. Heading north on Interstate 93, the trail head is on the right hand side of the road, marked as the “Old Bridle Path” parking lot.

Since I got there so early on a weekday, the parking had hardly anyone in it. I got a spot right next to the trailhead entrance, packed my bag, and began hiking. Quickly after beginning the hike, there’s a fork in the trail to head to the Old Bridle Path to the left or Falling Waters Trail to the right. Like I mentioned earlier, I chose to go counter-clockwise up Falling Waters.

Ascending via Falling Waters Trail

Immediately after taking the Falling Waters trail, you’ll find the waterfalls, which run basically parallel to the trail for several miles during the ascent. Get your cameras ready, because so many of these waterfalls are photo-worthy!

During the initial ascent is where you’ll find the ~5 or so stream crossings required to stay on the trail – you can absolutely do these without getting your feet wet if you’re creative with your footing over the rocks and have good waterproof boots. I carried Stella over these sections and somehow managed not to end up completely soaked.

The Falling Waters trail begins gradually but quickly picks up steam as the mountainside becomes steeper. You’ll be following blue blazes all the way to the top, so be sure to look out for these if you want the easiest pathways forward. A few times I accidentally strayed from the main trail and I paid for it in extra, unnecessary effort (and overly muddy boots).

After about 1.5 miles or so, we left the waterfalls and hiked up a dirt and rock, forested pathway the rest of the way to the top. There are 8 switchbacks here to take before a steep but gradual slog to the first summit. There’s also an option to take a short detour to Shining Rock, just 0.1 miles out of the way. I didn’t do this but I imagine the viewpoint is well worth the minimal effort. Ascending the rest of the trail is steep, but the trees eventually start to break and the terrain will become rockier, and at this point you’ll know you’re close to the ridge.

Approximately 3 miles in, Stella and I reached the top of your first summit, Little Haystack! The views up here were absolutely phenomenal. We ate a snack and took a break here as we admired the beautiful peaks and silhouettes of the White Mountains, as well as the ridgeline of the Franconia Range toward Mount Lincoln.

Hiking the Ridgeline to the Three Summits

Once we felt rested, Stella and I headed toward the second summit, Mount Lincoln. Yes, that mountain you can see from Little Haystack is Mount Lincoln, which blocked our view of the third and final summit, Mount Lafayette. Here, the blazes change from blue to white, so be sure to look out for the white blazes as you continue toward the ridge on your left.

The ridge area of the trail is completely exposed as it’s above the tree line, and at this point I wished I’d brought a baseball cap or trucker hat to shade my face and eyes from the sun. Oh well…

This area is pretty rocky and steep but doesn’t require too much scrambling. Along the ridge, you’ll continue to see epic panoramas of the surrounding mountains throughout your hike. Watch out for wind up here – when we hiked, it wasn’t too bad but I could imagine it being much windier at times. A good windbreaker or rain jacket would definitely come in handy!

As we summited Mount Lincoln, the peak of Mount Lafayette came into view. We took a short break before the final haul through the saddle and up Mount Lafayette. The Mount Lafayette views are arguably the best of the three mountains, and we took our longest break up there.

All in all, the entire ridge section of the trail was just under 2 miles in length and is absolutely stunning throughout. It took us about 1.5 hours to traverse the ridge, including 20-30 minutes of breaks.

Descending Down Old Bridle Path

The last part of the Franconia Ridge Loop trail descends down Old Bridle Path back to the parking lot. First stop, though, is Greenleaf Hut, a backpacker’s lodge located about 1 mile from the summit. You can actually see it from the ridge, so it doesn’t feel too far away.

Stella and I at first made the mistake of continuing straight in the same direction as the ridge trail to descend Mount Lafayette. This is NOT the way to go if you want to go back to the parking lot. Instead, take a left toward the rock piles and make sure you’re headed toward Greenleaf Hut.

You can see Greenleaf Hut to the left side of this photo…so we knew we were on the right path!

We hiked here the day after it rained, so the descent was very muddy and full of water puddles. Stella loved it, but after I slipped a handful of times, I can’t say I felt the same way. We took a very brief stop at Greenleaf Hut (there’s free drinking water available here but it was otherwise closed) and then continued the last ~3 miles down to the parking lot.

Hiking down Old Bridle Path was mostly gradual, but there were several spots that had steep, rocky sections. These areas of the trail were where I had to use my hands the most. I didn’t bring trekking poles on this hike, but during the descent, I sorely wish I did. My left knee was throbbing at the end of the hike and I think it would have felt a lot better had I brought extra support for the hike down.

The entire 9-mile hike took me 6.5 hours, including ~45 minutes of breaks throughout the course of the day. I began just before 8 AM and finished the hike at 2:30 PM, with enough time to drive to Manchester and meet a friend for an early dinner.

The Bottom Line

In nearly two months spent in New England over the course of September and October, Franconia Ridge was my favorite hike I did. While I still have a few hikes in Maine and Vermont on my list, Franconia Ridge will forever be one of my most beloved hikes on the East Coast.

If you’re an experienced hiker and are willing to take on a challenge, I would 100% recommend the Franconia Ridge Loop as a must-do hike in the White Mountains. For all the effort it takes to get through this strenuous hike, the views are absolutely worth it. I’d do this hike again and again.

You can see all three peaks of the mountains you just hiked from Old Bridle Path

Additional Resources for Hiking in New Hampshire

What to Bring

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

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Located in the northeastern United States, New Hampshire has an excellent variety of hills and terrain for both downhill and nordic skiing, as well as snowboarding. Home to the White Mountains, some of the northeast’s largest peaks, locals love hitting the slopes of New Hampshire’s best ski resorts. The snow is plentiful and when needed, most resorts have amazing snowmaking capacity. Check out our guide for the best spots to go snowboarding and skiing in New Hampshire!

Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite hiker? Here’s a comprehensive list of our
35 favorite (practical) gifts for hikers, updated for 2020!

bretton woods ski resort in new hampshire
Photo Credit: Mt. Washington Chamber of Commerce (Flicker CC)

Most Epic Ski Resorts in New Hampshire

Bretton Woods

New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods, is less than two hours away from the city of Manchester. Because of its accessibility from other major cities like Boston, Bretton Woods is a beloved place to go skiing in New Hampshire. With 10 lifts and 98 trails and glades spread across three peaks, Bretton Woods has something for everyone! The resort also offers cross-country skiing, with a total of 464 skiable acres of alpine runs and nordic trails.

Riders can rejoice at Bretton Woods being awarded “Best Grooming in the East” by Ski Magazine 5 years in a row! Enjoy night skiing, midweek passes, and lessons at this comprehensive resort. Staying for a night? Book a stay at the famous Omni Mount Washington Resort onsite and get your spa on after a long day on the slopes. Or, check out this gorgeous house, with room for you and your friends!

Loon Mountain Resort

Rated one of the East’s most accessible mountain resorts by readers of Ski Magazine, Loon Mountain is just 10 minutes off of I-93, located in the White Mountain National Forest. With 61 trails and award-winning terrain parks, Loon Mountain is the perfect spot for beginners and adrenaline junkies alike. The resort features New Hampshire’s only Superpipe, so bring your best tricks! Visitors looking for a unique experience can also check out the zipline over the frozen Pemigewasset River. After you’ve hit the slopes, relax at the resort’s legendary après-ski spot, Paul Bunyan Room. For an affordable lodging option, check out this beautiful condo.

Mount Sunapee

  • Location: Newbury, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

One of Southern New Hampshire’s premier resorts, Mount Sunapee is an inviting place for all levels. The resort has managed to pack a lot into its 1510 feet of vertical, including 66 trails and glades, and 4 terrain parks. Nervous about your first time skiing or boarding? The entire South Peak at Sunapee is designated as a learning area, away from the rest of the trails.

Known for its incredible snowmaking, be prepared for bigger and better since Vail acquired the mountain and invested millions of dollars into the grooming and snowmaking programs. The mountain is also part of Vail’s Epic Pass, which can be used at a ton of other Vail locations. Despite being acquired by the ski resort conglomerate, Mount Sunapee is still a relaxed resort that will feel like family. There is no slopeside lodging, but why not stay at this cozy cabin?

Cranmore Mountain Resort

Located in a quaint ski town, the small but mighty Cranmore Mountain Resort packs a punch, with 56 trails and 9 lifts spread across 170 acres of terrain. There is a great variety of runs to choose from, or if skiing and boarding isn’t your thing, head to New Hampshire’s #1 rated tube park for some fun on the slippery slopes. Be sure to check out the historic buildings and shopping outlets in town as well. You can stay in a condo onsite, or this beautiful rental house.

Gunstock Mountain Resort

  • Location: Gilford, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

Enjoy the view of the majestic frozen Lake Winnipesaukee as you hit the slopes of Gunstock Mountain Resort. New Hampshire’s closest resort to Boston, this ski area is home to 48 trails, 1340 feet of vertical and 2200 acres. Nordic skiers can enjoy their choice of 30 groomed trails across 22km. Dreaming of your après-ski as the sun starts to set? Not so fast! Gunstock Mountain has the most night skiing in New England, with 22 trails open after dark, perfect for enjoying a night of skiing or snowboarding under the stars. Relax in this charming cabin after a full day (or night) on the slopes.

Wildcat Mountain

  • Location: Jackson, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

Fans of spring skiing can head to Wildcat Mountain Resort, where New Hampshire’s longest ski season will keep you bombing down runs until early May. The resort base sits at 2000 feet of elevation and has 90% snowmaking coverage, keeping the good times going across its 49 trails and 1 terrain park from November until May.

The resort also boasts New Hampshire’s #1 scenery in the East, as voted by Ski Magazine readers, as well as the New Hampshire’s longest beginner ski trail. As if that weren’t enough to keep you occupied, Wildcat is sister resort to Attitash Mountain Resort, just 20 minutes away. Tickets are valid at either property, even on the same day, so get shredding! Take in the beautiful mountain views from this stunning private cabin after a busy day at the hill!

Attitash Mountain

  • Location: Bartlett, NH
  • Accommodation on site? Yes, at the Grand Summit Hotel
  • Ability levels: All levels

Sister mountain to Wildcat Mountain Resort, Attitash Mountain Resort is another great stop on a New Hampshire ski trip. It has more trails than Wildcat, at 67 compared to 49, and 98% snowmaking instead of 90%. Wildcat beats it out when it comes to vertical, but Attitash still has 1750 feet to get your heart pounding. Expert riders can check out the unpatrolled backcountry glades on pow days. Unwind after a long day on the hill at the slopeside luxury hotel, Attitash Grand Summit Hotel. If you’re looking for something a little more rustic, this adorable cabin is a great option. Both mountains have a lot to offer though, so make it an extended stay and check out both resorts!

King Pine Ski Area

With just 500 feet of vertical, King Pine is still manages to pack in incredible runs carved through pine trees, as well as the Twisted Pine terrain park. The mountain offers a fun and relaxed atmosphere, with hardly any lines to wait for. There is an excellent ski school for beginners, but those looking for a challenge can test themselves on a number of black diamond runs. This is one resort that really proves that good things come in small packages! Stay onsite at the resort, or check out this picturesque cabin in the woods.

Cannon Mountain Ski Area

  • Location: Franconia, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

Run by New Hampshire State and located within Franconia Notch State Park, Cannon Mountain Ski Area is home to some of New Hampshire’s most quietly legendary skiing. The ski area has 97 trails and glades and 11 lifts, but the mountain’s real claim to fame is the longest vertical drop in the state. 2180 feet of vertical will invite some of the area’s best skiers and boarders, including Olympian Bode Miller. Cannon Mountain can also boast about the highest ski area summit in New Hampshire, at an elevation of 4080 feet. The soaring summit is the perfect spot for the Aerial Tramway, an 80-passenger cable car with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Rest up after a busy day of shredding at this adorable chalet.

Abenaki Ski Area

  • Location: Wolfeboro, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

For an affordable and quiet getaway, look no further than Abenaki Ski Area. Dating back to 1936, Abenaki is the oldest community-run ski area in the entire country! The area features 7 trails from green to black diamond, a terrain park, and 30km of nordic skiing. Check out the charming lodge after your day on the slopes, and warm up next to the wood stove. The price is right for this little resort, with lift tickets offered at only $20! For an affordable lodging option, check out this cozy lakeside cottage.

Waterville Valley

Tucked into the end of the valley, Waterville Valley is a fantastic place to take a breath of fresh mountain air. With 50 trails serviced by 11 lifts, crowds are small and lines are short. The village has plenty of options for lodging and après, as well as condos, indoor pools, skating, spas, and sleigh or dogsled rides. It’s a perfect fit for families! The resort has 100% snowmaking coverage, so you can rest assured that your relaxing nature getaway will still have plenty of pow. If you want a more secluded place to stay, check out this pristine mountain getaway.

Photo Credit: Brian Robinson (Flicker CC)

Jackson XC Center

  • Location: Jackson, NH
  • Accommodation on site? Yes
  • Ability levels: All levels

Looking for incredible cross country skiing in New Hampshire? Look no further than the Jackson XC Center. With 60 square miles of terrain across three river valleys, and backcountry access to White Mountain National Forest, Jackson is the perfect spot for some nordic skiing. Enjoy sunny vistas, old growth forest, mountain descents, or check out the international race course. There are warming cabins along some of the trails, as well as numerous eateries, pubs, and inns in the charming village. If you’re looking for lodging, why not cozy up in this romantic log cabin?

Pats Peak Ski Area

  • Location: Henniker, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

Pats Peak is a family-friendly resort with 50% novice runs, as well as 3 separate beginners areas serviced by their own lifts. The resort has some of southern New Hampshire’s only novice runs accessible from the summit, instead of just advanced runs. 100% of the main peak is open for night skiing, and there is tubing, terrain parks, childcare, and an excellent kids’ program. 100% snowmaking coverage guarantees that Pats Peak is a great choice for snowboarding and skiing in New Hampshire throughout the entire season. This resort comes highly recommended by locals looking to learn the ropes of snowboarding and skiing in New Hampshire! Check out this peaceful chalet for a relaxing place to stay the night.

Whaleback Mountain

  • Location: Enfield, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: All levels

Featuring 31 trails with a solid mix of greens, blues, and blacks, Whaleback Mountain is a resort with an authentic community feel. After Whaleback Mountain LLC foreclosed on the property in 2013, the board of directors came together in order to negotiate the purchase of the hill as a nonprofit. The board felt that Whaleback should be preserved as a spot for locals looking to ski and snowboard in New Hampshire. Make sure to check out the Thursday Night Adult Race League! Locals can also take advantage of after school programs for kids. If you’re coming from out of town, book a stay with a big group of friends at this charming farmhouse!

Ragged Mountain

  • Location: Danbury, NH
  • Accommodation on site? Yes, at the Cardigan Cabins
  • Ability levels: All levels

Ragged Mountain is another great option for families looking to snowboard or ski in New Hampshire. The resort’s learn-to-ski program is free for beginners, but there is something for everyone within its 57 trails and 1250 feet of vertical. Between the two main peaks thrill seekers will find The Ravine, an advanced area featuring many blacks and double black diamond runs. Slopeside lodging means you can relax and unwind after a great day at the hill with the fam! If you’re on a weekend getaway with your boo, check out this adorable cabin.

Photo Credit: McIntyre Ski Area

McIntyre Ski Area

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accommodation on site? No
  • Ability levels: Beginner-Intermediate

Located in Manchester, McIntyre Ski Area is the city’s premier learn-to-ski/ride mountain. The hill has 200 feet of vertical, with 9 green and blue trails. The terrain park is perfect for practicing tricks, and families can enjoy the 8-lane tubing “Thrill Hill”. Warm up after a fun day in the snow in the newly expanded 9000 square foot lodge. This ski area is a perfect option for snowboarding and skiing near Manchester. This modern downtown apartment would be a sweet spot to stay at.

Additional Resources for Snowboarding & Skiing in New Hampshire

What to Bring

  • Waterproof outerwear – Possibly the most critical pieces of clothing for your ski trip packing list is durable, waterproof outerwear. Burton and Helly Hansen are famous ski brands for having best-in-class clothing that will keep you warm in the coldest, snowiest conditions. Click here to shop ski jackets and compare prices.
  • Thermal layers – Thermal baselayers are absolutely critical for a smooth skiing experience, as these will keep you warm and dry underneath your outerwear. The best kinds of thermal baselayers are made of Merino wool, which is moisture-wicking and comfortable. Our favorite brand of thermal layers is SmartWool – their tops and leggings are soft, lightweight, but warm and durable for all kinds of outdoor activities, including skiing. Click here to shop thermal tops and leggings and compare prices.
  • Ski goggles – No ski trip packing list would be complete without a pair of fog-resistant ski goggles, especially if you’re going somewhere that makes artificial snow. Ski slopes often have snow blowing into the air several times a day and it can be hard to keep freezing snowflakes out of your eyes, even during clear days. We use and recommend these ski goggles. However, you can shop ski goggles and compare reviews/prices here.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of things to pack, read our guide on What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding and our Ultimate Ski Trip Packing List to view our full packing list and gear recommendations for the slopes!

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