Friday, June 17, 2016

Mt. Willard - Big Bang For Your Buck

I've mentioned Mt. Willard on this blog before.  It's definitely one of the best family hikes in the White Mountains.  This is because it's short, easy-to-moderate climbing, and has one of the most AMAZING views you will find in the area.  Don't let the easiness fool you...the view from the top rivals most of the famous 4,000-footers.  It had been years since I hiked this little mountain in Crawford Notch, but after giving birth weeks prior, I needed an easy peak for my first time back to the Whites postpartum ... and carrying a newborn.  My sister, Kelly, and I took off for an early summer hike- bringing along my baby son, Lucien, for his first White Mountain hike.

 Kelly stands at the summit of Mt.Willard with views of Crawford Notch.
Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Mt. Willard Hike

Getting there:  The Mt. Willard trailhead is located in Crawford Notch State Park.  From North Conway, take Rt 302 into the notch.  If coming from I-93, take exit 35 and follow Rt 3 North to Rt 302.

I usually park at the AMC Highland Center parking lot (to use the bathroom before heading out0, but you can get closer by using the Railroad Depot parking lot.

The trailhead is located just behind the depot (across the tracks).  Follow the trail for about 50 feet until you reach the official trailhead where you can choose between going straight to Mt. Avalon or turning left to Mt. Willard.

Crawford Notch Railroad Depot is a good place to park.

Centennial Pool
Trail:  This out-and-back trail starts with a stream crossing.  In summer, it's usually a fairly easy crossing, but I have experienced higher water (and wet feet) in the spring after snow melt.  The trail is an easy to moderate climb.  At 0.4 miles, you reach Centennial Pool - a little offshoot with a nice view of a small cascade and pool.  Continue 1.1 miles through hardwood forest.  Near the summit, the forest changes to short and crowded evergreens.

Final section of the trail
As the trail flattens out, you'll 'see the light' where the trail ends at a magnificent ledge looking down at Crawford Notch and Rt 302.  Although this is not a 360 degree view, it is by far one of the best in the area and definitely the best for such a short hike.  Pull out the map and try to identify all the peaks around you!  You can see multiple recognizable 4,000-footers - including Mt. Washington!

Difficulty: By White Mountain standards, this is an easy peak.  It is a great choice for everyone from families with small children to experienced hikers looking for an amazing view.  Be aware that there is a climb and that it involves a stream crossing.

Distance: 3.2 miles total (out-and-back)


Summit View

- Although you can't see it, there is a popular rock-climbing route below the summit ledge.  DO NOT THROW ROCKS OR ITEMS OFF THE EDGE.

- Prepare for a stream crossing.  I use trekking poles to balance on the rocks to cross.

- Although it is a great family hike, adventurers should be prepared by bringing lots of water, snacks, rain/sun gear, and a first aid kit.  Anything can happen in the Whites.

- This is a very popular summer hike due to it's proximity to the Highland Center and its easiness.  Be prepared to interact with other hikers on the trail and summit.  Because of this, I didn't bring my dog Summit (although they are allowed).

Summit Selfie
- There are no bathrooms or water facilities at the trailhead, but you can get this (as well as advice, food, and lodging at the nearby AMC Highland Center.

- The summit/ledge is extremely dangerous.  Watch children and dogs carefully.

Although I'd hiked this trail many times, I still gasped at the view.  It is truly spectacular scene and a reminder why I love the White Mountains so much.  I can't think of a better hike to share with my infant son as his first "White Mountain Hike".

You Might Enjoy These Adventures As Well:

- 5 Best Family Hikes in the Whites

- Liebeskinds Loop, Lila's Ledge, and George's Gorge

- Welch-Dickey Loop