Mount Major: Hiking at Mt. Major State Park in Alton NH
Mount Major, another small mountain weighing in at an elevation of 1,786 feet, is located in Alton, New Hampshire near the Belknap Range and to the South of Lake Winnipesaukee. Although it has a distinctly short elevation, Mount Major’s two main trails are not quite as easy as one may believe.
I first hiked Mount Major at the end of winter and I took the longer trail, called the Brook Trail up to the summit amidst several feet of New Hampshire snow. This trail is ideal for winter snowy hikes, especially with inexperienced or beginner hikers, because it is wide and gradually ascends Mount Major. Although we saw few others when I hiked in the winter, I imagined the trail perfect for snowshoeing and even backcountry Nordic skiing.
Mount Major, like all the of the state’s woods, is beautiful in the snow. This hike, however, is not strenuous or taxing; one really feels as though he or she is walking through a winter wonderland on this trail. The only challenging winter aspect of hiking Mount Major is the slippery, bare rock that completes the ascent to the summit. The mountain is topped with exposed rock and in the winter ice freezes over and is then covered by slippery snow, but only for the last 50 feet to the summit. There is a small platform/shelter at the top of Mt. Major, which is a great spot for viewing Lake Winnipesaukee and the surrounding valley. It is typically windy at the shelter, but it provides 3 foot high walls, protecting picnickers, cold hikers, and those who just want to gaze down at the state’s beauty.
Hiking Mt Major is one of the few mountains that I have found that is particularly enjoyable for night-hiking. On my second trip to the mountain I took the widely used main trail, which is steeper than the Brook Trail and a little bit more technically challenging. I also hiked this trail in fall, meaning all the exposed rock face, of which Mt. Major has plenty, is uncovered and one must be prepared to hike on bare rock. I also warn hikers not to wait until very late into the fall to use this trail, as the exposed rock becomes slippery when water freezes on it. I hiked in late October and found the trails to be beginning to freeze and slippery already near the top of the mountain. For a nighttime hike, this is an extremely manageable mountain. Except for the winds at the top there is little dramatic drop in temperature and the landscape harbors no unpleasant surprises. The trail is readily marked and easy to follow and the forests at this mountain as pleasant and majestic. Summiting Mt Major is particularly breathtaking at night as one can see the distant sparkling lights of New Hampshire towns in the valley. Once again the shelter at the top provided a lovely resting place for a midnight snack as I looked down onto the dark, brooding lake and quiet, sleeping hamlets.
by Jillian Jason
Hiking with poles makes a big difference, give it a try!
Mt. Major GPS Location for Parking Lot: N43° 31.153′ W071° 16.416′
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