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Franconia Ridge Loop

All NH Hiking Trails >> Franconia Ridge Loop

The Franconia Ridge Loop – including Falling Waters Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path, “Shining Rock”, Little Haystack Mountain, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire:

Franconia Ridge Trail in New HampshireHiking in early September in New Hampshire will always be my favorite. Not only is it a perfect temperature at the trailhead, but its not even cold at the summit. In fact, the weather in September regulates the hike so well that I always feel comfortable with the increasing chill of mountain climbing. As I get hotter and sweatier, the mountain gets cooler, and then, on the decent, I’m cooling off and the air temperature is warming back up. What could be better?

Well obviously, hiking is always better when you pick a really awesome trail. With perfect, long views, and gorgeous, ever-changing scenery. And a lot of excitement. And an all-American sprit. When I woke up, rolling out of my cramped 3-person tent in Franconia Notch’s campground on the morning of September 13, 2008 I had no idea what was to be made of my day. A group of five of us had camped here the previous night, hoping to get an early start on a hike along Franconia Notch’s Ridge Trail. Traversing most of the Franconia Mountain Ridge, the trail is intermediate to advanced and the most popular loop is 8.9 miles. The plan for today is to exit the campground and cross under the highway, using the interesting underpass-tunnel, and commence at the Falling Waters Trailhead. Next we were to make the climb to little Haystack Mountain, switching to the Franconia Ridge Trail and Cross Mount Lincoln, stopping for lunch with a the rest of our group who would be hiking the lop in the opposite direction. Finally, we would cross Mount Lafayette and descend using the Greenleaf Trail, with a quick stop at Greenleaf AMC hut and continue down using the Old Bridle Path. With temperatures already in the high sixties by ten am, we were off to the tunnel and first trailhead.

The Falling Waters Trail might be my favorite in the Franconia Notch Area. It follows the rocky, rushing Dry Brook upstream to meet the Franconia Notch Trail. Most of the hike consists of us cooling off in the constantly criss-crossing trail through the brook. At many crossings there are no bridges and slipping can be a concern for less experienced hikers. Today, though, I see many dogs and a few adolescent children, meaning the trail is not impassable. Dry Brook features impressive waterfalls and luscious forest/water ecosystems for hikers to enjoy.

After about an hour of moderately quick hiking we’ve found ourselves among woodlands and switchbacks. The joy of the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail lies in its diverse landscapes and trail types. I am beginning to notice that there is definitely something here for everyone, but there are also challenges for every type of hiker. Along this portion of the trail we pass some burly guys with huge aluminum poles sticking out of their packs. Out of curiosity, I stop and ask what the poles are for and one of the men explains how every year, on the Saturday following September 11th, his group places an American flag at the summit of each New Hampshire Four-Thousand Footer. This loop contains three such peaks and the entire ridge boats six 4,000 Footers, second only to the New Hampshire Presidential Ridge. Myself and fellow hikers are surprised and excited by this apparent tradition and are eager to summit the Ridge and see flags for ourselves.

On the way up to the Franconia Ridge Trail that traverses most of the above tree line portions of the loop, we decide to take a small detour to what is known as “Shining Rock”, a huge slab of exposed mountain with a constant, thin sheet of water moving over it. In the sunlight the water shimmers off the face of the mountain, thus earning this trail attraction its name. It’s a detour off the trail of about a mile total, out and back and is worth the extra and mostly flat walk. We stop momentarily on a mid-rock sort of walkway to look up to the peaks we will shortly be summiting and down to the other side of the valley from which we ascended. Turning back toward the main trail, we make for the summit of Little Haystack and the Franconia Ridge.

The first summit is Little Haystack Mountain, followed by a rocky trail that leads to Mount Lincoln, where the five of us in my group have arranged to meet another small group travelling the opposite way on the Franconia Ridge Loop. They have climbed up to the ridge using the Old Bridle Path and Greenleaf Trail, the trails we will be following on the descent. We only have to wait a few minutes for the group as Mount Lincoln is a great meeting place for groups crossing paths in this way. When the group arrives they explain that it appears the Old Bridle Path and Greenleaf Trail is a longer, but less steep climb whereas the Falling Waters Trail is shorter and much steeper. The two groups share lunch for an hour atop Mount Lincoln and enjoy the perfect weather. I only need to slip into a three-quarter sleeve polypro top over my shorts and short-sleeved hiking shirt, as the weather is so warm. We’re pleasantly cooled and rested, but not too hot or cold. Recently erected American flags flutter atop each peak to our right and left. My lunch is satisfying and my pack is lighter. Perfect.

After an hour the groups part ways, everyone offering advice regarding the trail he or she had just hiked. Hiking still on the relatively flat Ridge Trail we come to and cross Mount Lafayette. We have been enjoying the views from the summit this far, but as we enter a new trail landscape of boulders and views stretching all the way down the mountain and into the valley that contains Lonesome Lake, I’m struck with the beauty of the area. I have only brought one Nalgene bottle on this hike and now that its empty I’m wishing I brought an extra. In retrospect, its always a good idea to have more water and I was foolish to have only brought one bottle on a warm day.  Acting as my saving grace, the Greenleaf AMC Hut is situated on the Greenleaf Trail on which we are now using to hike through the boulders. Like the AMC Hut at Lonesome Lake, Greenleaf is beautiful as well as well-staffed with friendly people. It features flush toilets, beds to rent for the night, and a pleasant place to take a break with fresh water and cooking facilities. It is now around two in the afternoon and we take a fifteen minute break before continuing on down the trail to meet the Old Bridle Path. The views on the descent are breathtaking and last forever. We encounter a multitude of great lookout spots and the Greenleaf Trail gives way to the Old Bridle Path, a winding, forested trail that gradually slopes back down to our campsite.

Arriving back at our site and car around three or three-thirty, we wait another twenty minutes for the rest of our tired group before we can head out. Down the road is the beautiful Echo Lake, directly below what used to be New Hampshire’s “Old Man of the Mountain” and I’m thinking about a swim in its pristine waters.

Franconia Ridge Loop Trail Map

Franconia Ridge Loop Trail Map

by Jillian Jason, Writer



Franconia Ridge Loop Trails are located in Franconia Notch NH.

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Reports about NH hiking trail: Franconia Ridge Trail and Franconia Ridge Loop in Franconia Notch in Franconia New Hampshire




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