Wednesday, July 22, 2020

5 Miles, 3 Peaks, 1 Loop: Day Hike in New Hampshire's Lakes Region

New Hampshire Lake region hike

My summer quest to seek out new and beautiful hikes continues!  I "found" this hike by following another New Hampshire hiker on Instagram.  She showed photos of a loop hike that incorporated three mountain peaks - all with fantastic views of New Hampshire's iconic Lakes Region.  This is hike was an attractive choice for me for three reasons:

1. It's close(r) than the Whites (only an hour from the Seacoast)
2. It has amazing views of mountains and lakes from the peaks
3. It's a loop!!!

I found friends to tackle it with me on a hot and humid late June day.   I loved it so much...I did it again the next week!!

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure: Piper, Belknap, and Gunstock Loop

Getting there: The trailhead is located on Carriage Road in Gilford, New Hampshire.  To get there from the Seacoast, I drove west on Route 11 (Mt Major Hwy) from Alton toward Gilford.  From here, take a left onto 11A (Cherry Valley Road).  Drive about 8 miles and take a left onto Belknap Mountain Road.  After 1.3 miles, turn left onto Carriage Road.  After 0.4 miles the lower parking lot is on the left.  It has room for about 4 cars.  Parking is not permitted along the road.  When we got there the lot was full (weekday morning) but there is an overflow lot about a quarter mile (guessing) up the road on the right that can hold an additional 5 cars or so.  This is where we parked then walked down the road to the trailhead.
Standing on Piper Mountain
Standing on Summit of Piper Mountain
Trail:  The trail system is complex but well signed.  I recommend using a map or recording your trip through AllTrails.  We frequently double checked were on the right trail system.  I decided to take the trail clockwise- starting with Gunstock, then Belknap, then Piper.  
    The trail entrance to Gunstock Mountain is just at the lower parking lot.  It was actually kind of hard to find but it's just up hill from the large trailhead sign.  
    Once on the trail it was a pretty steady up to the Gunstock summit.  Before you reach the actual peak there's a nice viewpoint (with a picnic table) that overlooks the lakes.  At the summit you are reminded that this is a ski hill!  We saw another hiking group eating a snack in the shade of the chair lift.  There are fabulous views of Lake Winnipesaukee. 
    From Gunstock, go back into the woods and follow signs to Belknap.  The trail dips down gradually and then climbs again to get to Belknap Mountain - peaked with a climbable fire tower for the view!
To get to Piper Mountain, take the White Trail to the Old Piper Trail to Piper Mountain Summit.  This is a fairly bare summit and my favorite of the three.  I enjoyed wandering around to see views from all sides. 
Continue on the Old Piper Trail down to the parking lot.  
Difficulty: Moderate - The up and down make this a workout.  All Trails claims there is 1,827 ft of elevation gain in total which is nothing to squawk at!  Still, there is no technical skill needed for the climb (no slab or scrambling) - just good old fashioned up and down.  

sign on gunstock mountain trail

Distance: 5.5 mile loop


- I've done this hike twice in the last month.  The first time, I arrived on a sunny weekday around 10 am and the lower lot was full (4-5 cars).  There were still plenty of spaces in the upper lot (4-5 cars).  The street is covered with "No Parking" signs for over a mile, so if you want to guarantee a spot, get there early and avoid weekends.  The second time I went it was a cloudy/rainy day and there was no competition for spots.

- Use AllTrails to help guide your way.  There are a lot of side trails running in and out of Gunstock and Piper and a hiker could easily take the wrong trail.  All the trails are well marked, but unless you have a clear idea of which to take, I'd recommend the assistance of a map or technology.

- There are no bathroom facilities at the trailhead.

- This is a dog friendly trail.

My friends and I really enjoyed this loop.  If felt like we got so much bang for our buck!  I ended up going back the next week and did just the Piper peak in the rain with another friend.  What a difference the rain made - gorgeous bright green moss and trickling streams really gave the trail a romantic vibe.  This hike is one of my new favorites!
Views in Belknap Mountain Range

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