Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5 Best Fall Foliage Hikes in the White Mountains

View from The Flume Gorge Hike.  Photo by Bruce Hansen
New Hampshire is well known for its beautiful scenery and stunning fall foliage.  Crimson and bronze leafs bring throngs of tourists to the Granite State.  Whether you're a Tough Mountain Climber or a Leisurely Nature Wanderer, this state has a foliage hike for you!  Here are the 5 best fall foliage hikes in the White Mountains for ANY ability level. 

Short and Easy

Flume Gorge Trail, Photo by Bruce Hansen
Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park - This two mile loop leaves from the Flume Visitor Center on I-93 in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.  The easy trail offers views of the narrow gorge, brooks, and White Mountain views.  The walk also takes you through two iconic covered bridges, and over the pristine Pemigewasset River.  Although it is an "easy" hike by White Mountain standards, there are uphill portions, including stairs.  Parking fills quickly on weekends, and visitors should be aware that there is a cost - $15 per adult and $12 a child.  Still, the price tag is worth the view you get on this iconic mountain trail. 

Elephant Head, Crawford Notch State Park - This short walk offers a quick (and slightly steep) uphill stroll to the top of Elephant Head.  I recommend parking at the AMC Highland Center, crossing Rt 302 on foot, and walking around Saco "Lake" Trail (0.3 mile) first.  This connects to the Elephant Head Spur (0.1 mile).  From the top of the "head",  you get a view down the scenic notch.  This is a perfect place for a picnic.  Be aware, rock climbers climb the face below, so don't throw rocks or object over the cliff. 

Medium and Moderate

Summit of South Moat Mountain
South Moat Mountain, Conway - This 5.4 mile out-and-back hike takes you across streams, through forests of birch and maple, and summits the 2,770 ft bare peak of South Moat Mountain.  Since you never rise into the 3,000 foot boreal zone, the views from the summit are pure foliage bliss.  What's more, the last mile offers many viewpoints, where you can easily see the colorful forest valley below and surrounding White Mountain peaks.  To access the trailhead, drive north on Washington Street from Conway Village then take a left on Passaconaway Rd.  This turns into Dugway Rd.  The parking lot and trailhead is on the right.  There is a parking fee of $3 per car at the trailhead by cash/check. 

Hedgehog Mountain, UNH Trail
Hedgehog Mountain, Kancamangus Highway - This 4.8 mile hike leaves from the Downes Brook Parking Lot Trail on the south side of the Kancamangus Highway (Rt. 112).  Parking is $3 per car, per day.  Take the Downes Brook Trail to the UNH Trail.  This trail through hardwood forest, up ledges, and by water, offers beautiful views of the Sandwich Range as well as prime foliage forest.  It's also a loop trail - hard to find in the Whites!  Hedgehog summit is at 2,532 feet and there are multiple views on ledges along the way. 

Challenging and Longer

White Mountain Woods in Fall
Webster Cliff Trail, Crawford Notch State Park - This trail is stunning and the
perfect place to get continuous views of the multicolored Crawford Notch.  The cliff trail can be accessed on Rt. 302, just across the Arethusa Falls trailhead.  The Webster Cliff Trail (AT) scrambles a mile to the cliff and traverses over a steep and rocky cliff for another 2 miles.  This provides uncomparable views of Crawford Notch and surrounding mountains.  Hikers summit Mt Webster (3910 ft) before reaching a cut-off back to the road.  I like to continue on the AT, hiking 1.3 miles to summit Mt. Jackson (4052 ft), before dropping back to 302 on the Webster-Jackson Trail.  Hikers then have to decide if they are going return back the way they came or continue on the 2.5 miles to the AMC Highland Center where you'll need to get a ride back to your car.  As a straight hike from the trailhead to the Highland Center, it is 6.9 miles, but is much more when hiking out and back. 

For more information on fall hiking, check out former fall posts:

Fabulous Fall Foliage Family Friendly Hikes

Top Ten Things To Pack For a Fall Hike

Fall is a great time to avoid some of the 4,000 footers that take you into the evergreen-populated "boreal" zone and stick to some of the colorful lower peaks where maples, birch, and beech leaves are red, yellow, and orange. Please leave comments and questions below....

Franconia - Flume Gorge Trail