Monday, October 17, 2022

Owl's Head 1 Night Backpack - The Most Remote 4000 footer

After our successful summer backpack to peak bag Mt. Isolation, Kelsey and I decided why not to use the same strategy to conquer the most remote 4,000 footer peak on New Hampshire's 48 list - Owl's Head.  

Owl's Head is located in the heart of the Pemigewasset  Wilderness.  The only way to access the summit is by first hiking into the center of this wilderness area, and then climbing up a steep slide.  As a day hike on maintained trails, this hike is 9.1 miles one way.  I know my knees...and an 18.2 mile day is not a great option for me. Our plan was to hike in, summit, then spend the night.  Making two days of about 9 miles each.  

The day before our backpack, a torrential storm doused the region with +6 in of rain and caused all the waterways to swell.  This wasn't good for us.  We had many water crossings.  So, we regrouped and decided to take the well known "Black Pond Bushwhack" which would eliminate all but two of the water crossings.  This plan proved to be extremely successful!  We had a really enjoyable time in the Pemi for a night and we were spoiled with perfect fall weather, foliage, and no bugs.  

Fall backpacking means mild weather and no bugs!

Here's how to recreate this adventure:


One Night Backpack to Owl's Head Peak in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

Getting There

This hike is accessible from one of the most popular trailheads in the Whites - The Lincoln Woods Trailhead.  Located just 4 miles down the Kancamagus Highway from the town of Lincoln, this parking area is easily accessible.  However, it fills quickly.  Knowing it was going to be a nice fall weekend, we arrived at 8 am.  There were still a few spots left in the lot.  Parking costs $5 a day here.  Bring cash or a check.  We used our national park pass so didn't have to pay the iron ranger.


From Lincoln Woods Trailhead, we took the Lincoln Woods Trail to the Black Pond Trail.  At Black Pond, we continued onto the Black Pond Bushwhack (not marked).  This bushwhack took us to Lincoln Brook trail and cut out many river crossings and shortened the hike by a mile! Next, we took Lincoln Brook and set up camp at our first large river crossing (see below).  We did both river crossings and took Owl's Head path up the slide to the summit.  Coming off the summit, we opted to take the Brutus Bushwhack back to Lincoln Brook and return to camp.  The following day we returned to parking the same way we arrived.  

Our Route

Here is a more detailed itinerary:

Start - 8:30 am - We sign into the ranger log, cross the Lincoln Woods pedestrian bridge and head north on Lincoln Woods trail.  The river was raging and the fall foliage peak. It was a long, flat walk but really really beautiful. There weren't many other hikers at this time of day. We 

Black Pond - We turn off the Lincoln Woods trail and hike the 0.8 mile trail to Black Pond.  This trail had a slight uphill grade but was still pretty easy.  It went through hardwoods forest and emerged with a beautiful view of a small mirrored pond and mountains behind it.  

Black Pond Bushwhack -  Although the trail officially ends with the pond on the right.  We continued straight onto the bushwhack.  Knowing we wouldn't have cell service, we had downloaded the Gaia and AllTrails maps.  Even without cell service, we were able to follow our trek on the digital maps.  While the bushwhack is fairly obvious, the recent dropped leaves made it somewhat challenging to follow the trail.  Both these maps systems are only available for subscription holders.

Lincoln Brook Trail  - 10:30 am - The bushwhack popped us out at the Lincoln Brook trail. We turned left and followed the trail as it parallels Lincoln brook.  The trail is fairly easy - a low inclining grade with few challenges except for some mud and puddles.  It is not blazed (which really surprised me).

River Crossing and Camp - 12:00 pm - At noon, we reached the first crossing of Lincoln Brook.  Kelsey noticed the cliff above us has a plateau and scrambles up to find a nice dispersed/impacted camp site.  We set up our tent, have a lunch break and pack small bags for the rest of our journey.  After securing camp, we cross this section and soon after another.  Kelsey stayed dry with waterproof boots and gaiters.  I brought a pair of sneakers to get wet wading the crossings.  

Owl's Head Path/Slide - After the crossings, we found the two cairns that signal the Owl's Head Path.  The climb is steep and involves quite a bit of lose rock.  As we climbed the slide, the views behind us got better and better.  It was a clear day and we had fun identifying the various peaks of Franconia Ridge.  We paused for a long break and enjoyed the view. 

Summit - 2:40 pm - After the slide, the hike continues through woods, past a false summit and eventually ends at lack luster small cairn signaling the true summit.  Prior to this, however, you get one more small view of the Bonds across the Pemi.  We summited at 2:40 pm, took a selfie and then turned around.  

Brutus Bushwhack - At 3:10, we reached the offshoot to the Brutus Bushwhack.  Again, our Gaia maps were very helpful in finding this.  The bushwhack is located near the end of the slide at a large moss covered boulder.  The day we did it,there was also a small cairn at it's base and on its top.  The bushwhack is steep but on soft ground through the woods.  It was a little tricky to follow at times, but eventually we got back to Lincoln Brook path - very close to the second water crossing.  

Camp - 4:10 pm - We crossed both rivers again and returned to our camp just after 4 pm.  We made an early dinner, filtered water from the brook, changed into warm clothes, played cards and were in bed by 7 pm.  We secured food using an ursack.  In the morning, we got up around 7 am, made breakfast, packed up and took off at 8:20 am.

Brutus Bushwhack - 9:25 am - About an hour later, we reached the Brutus Bushwhack.  We retraced our steps back to the pond, then Lincoln Woods Trail.  We got back to the parking lot at 11:30 am.  Our hike was complete!

Lincon Woods Trail

Rules and Regulations

Disperse Camping

You do not need a permit to hike and camp in this region. Disperse camping is camping outside a designated campground or tent site.  It is not allowed everywhere so make sure you know the rules and regulations of the area you are planning to camp.  The section of trail we camped (Lincoln Brook Trail) is in the Pemigewasset Wilderness that is part of the White Mountain National Forest.  Rules for this area are:

  • Limit group size to 10 people
  • Camp at designated sites OR at least 200 feet away from trail, water source, or campground.
  • No mechanized equipment is allowed
You can learn more about these rules on the US Forest Service Website.

In addition, it's important to practice Leave No Trace including the proper disposal of human waste and removal of all toilet paper and trash.

Water was easily accessible from the river, but it is important to treat water since it can harbor pathogens and bacteria - even in the wilderness.  I used the Sawyer Squeeze as my main form of water treatment.  

Lastly, I recommend purchasing and carrying a New Hampshire Hike Safe Card.  For $25 a year, you are covered financially if you need to be rescued.
Our Campsite

Gear and Apparel

For a fall one night backpack in the White Mountains I brought the following:

For questions about gear, DM on my instagram and I'm happy to provide guidance!
Kelsey and I at the summit of Owl's Head

Final Recommendations/Things to Consider

  • This was a great one night backpack for someone who wants a quick escape.  Although most of the hike is easy, the scramble up Owl's Head Path is challenging and would be quite dangerous in foul weather.    Be prepared and turn around if you are above your ability level.
  • Always tell someone your plan.  For safety, carry the 10 essentials.  You will not have cell service any of this hike.
  • I suggest downloading a set of maps from Gaia or AllTrails prior to your hike.  Bring a cell phone battery pack to make sure you don't lose access to those maps.  In addition, carry a traditional map and compass.
  • In order to reduce weight while summiting, you can set up your camp and then ascend with a "slack pack".  
  • Be aware of wildlife. This is quite a remote area of the Whites.
Beautiful Views on the Slide

You might also like these adventures:

One night on Mt Liberty
Carter Notch One Nighter in Winter
Mt Garfield One Night Backpack
- One Night Backpack up Mt Isolation

Morning light on the Lincoln Brook Trail