Franconia Ridge Loop
Date: April 15, 2017
Time: 6.5 hours
Early Spring Trail Conditions
Spring in the White Mountains usually means a cocktail of snow, ice and mud. Throw in a few bugs and it’s no surprise that many people aren’t fond of Spring trail conditions. However, if you get on the trails early enough in the season, you can benefit from cool Spring weather before the snow has had the chance to melt and turn the trails into a Tough Mudder course. On this particular sunny day in mid-April, the trails were still completely covered with a couple feet of firmly packed snow, with the exception of some of the rocky stretches along the ridge. We used microspikes for the majority of the hike, which we think actually makes the ascent much easier than even hiking on dry trails in the summer. You don’t have to deal with rocks or roots, and the spikes do most of the stabilizing and balancing for you. Since the temperature was in the 50’s and 60’s, some of the top layer of snow was beginning to melt, so there were some slushy patches, but overall it was a perfect day for this type of hike. As is common for snow-covered trails, if you stepped too far to the right or left, you’d sink up to your knees in the unpacked snow. See photo below. “The Big Cat” (friend of the blog) is shown for scale.
Falling Waters Trail
We began the hike around 8:45 AM from the Lafayette Place parking lot, just off I-93. For the first 0.2 miles we hiked along Old Bridle Path before Falling Waters Trail branches off to the right across a small wooden foot bridge. We’ve hiked on numerous trails throughout New England, and quite frankly, many of them look the same…trees, rocks, etc. The Falling Waters Trail is not one of those trails. This 3.2 mile hike to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain criss-crosses the Dry Brook with the occasional somewhat precarious water crossing. As the name suggests, the trail provides constant views of cascades and waterfalls, the most impressive being the 80-foot Cloudline Falls. The trail is strenuous, particularly the final stretch, but the incredible scenery and the views of Franconia Notch once you break the treeline are a welcome distraction from the physical pain.
We took a short lunch break on the summit of Little Haystack (4,760′), which, although a spectacular summit, is not recognized as one of the official 48 4,000 footers. From there we headed north along the Franconia Ridge Trail, which also happens to be part of the Appalachian Trail. After 0.7 miles of hiking along the rocky spine, we arrived at the summit of Mt. Lincoln (5,089′) and then hiked another 0.9 miles to the summit of Lafayette (5,260′). The hike along the ridge provides some of the best views in the White Mountains. Although this ridge may seem like it’s going to be a flat stroll from peak to peak, there are several stretches of steep inclines and rock scrambling. Since it’s completely exposed above the treeline, if the weather takes a turn for the worse up here, it can be deadly. We were fortunate enough to have clear skies, moderate wind, and temperatures in the 40’s.
We descended via the Old Bridle Path, which bypasses the Greenleaf Hut on the way down. There are good views looking back up at Franconia Ridge during the earlier parts of the descent before dropping back below the treeline.
It’s no surprise that this is a fan favorite among New England Hikers. Personally, I’d put it in a tie for second place with The Bonds, and not too far behind Katahdin. It’s definitely a strenuous hike, but getting these types of views requires some hard work…except Mt. Washington…in that case, just get in your car and drive to the top…and then buy a bumper sticker.
See the full list of New Hampshire 4,000 Footers