There are few better destinations in the US for fall foliage viewing than New Hampshire’s White Mountains. This past weekend (October 15), we ventured up to the Franconia Range and were greeted with a burnt orange landscape as the (delayed) peak season approached. The weather in and around Franconia Notch was perfect for a Fall hike, with good visibility and temperatures in the 60’s. We parked at the Garfield trailhead and hit the trail at about 10 AM. Although there were plenty of parking spots, both the parking lot and the trail itself was crowded at this point late in the morning.
The Garfield Trail is 4.8 miles each way, with a 0.2 mile hike to the summit along the Garfield Ridge Trail bringing the round-trip distance to 10 miles. While 10 miles is long enough seem daunting, the trail is one of the easier 4,000-footer ascents in the White Mountains. The 3,000 feet of elevation gain is extremely gradual, and there are no steep sections with the exception of the final 0.2 mile push to the summit. The entire trail is pretty much a green tunnel (more of an orange tunnel this time of year) with no views until reaching the summit. While it’s much less exciting than other White Mountain ascents like the Falling Waters Trail, hiking at this point in the season more than made up for the lack of views along the way. Most of the trail was carpeted in a layer of red and orange leaves and the colorful surroundings made the hike seem much less monotonous.
Once you reach the summit, the views overlooking the neighboring peaks are unobstructed by trees and there is a remaining base of an old fire tower marking the highest point. On this particular day, the wind was incredibly strong, so we took cover inside the concrete fire tower foundation where we ate lunch. While it was sunny throughout the ascent, the clouds had rolled in at the higher elevations, completely blocking any views. Luckily, there were periodic gaps in the clouds that allowed us to catch brief glimpses of what certainly would have been spectacular views on a clear day.