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Hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful things to do in New England. While the Appalachian Trail is full of endless beauty, the New Hampshire section is home to some of the most stunning scenery of all.
You may have heard of the Appalachian Trail as one of the most iconic long distance hiking trails in the US. Taking between five to seven months to hike the full 2,200 mile stretch from Georgia to Maine, this trail is a symbol of commitment, determination and adventure.
You may have heard of thru-hikers who make the entire journey, starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and wind their way northbound through 14 states to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
But you don’t have to hike all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail as once! Most hikers don’t. You can hike a section of the trail for a few days, or even just for a few hours, which makes you a “section hiker.” And New Hampshire is one of the best places to be a section hiker on the Appalachian Trail.
One of the of the most breathtaking sections of the Appalachian Trail runs right through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 160 beautiful miles weave across the state, taking in the awe of the White Mountains on the way.
The Whites, as we hikers call them, are legendary to thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail, who revere their majesty and challenge. New Hampshire also offers more hiking miles above treeline than any other state on the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail is marked throughout by a 6 inch by 2 inch white painted strip known as the “white blaze.” Keep an eye out for these blazes, which appear on trees and rocks, and be reassured that you’re on the correct path.
Appalachian Trail NH
The New Hampshire section of the Appalachian Trail is 161 miles long. If you were to hike the New Hampshire section only, this would take you approximately two weeks, averaging around 11 miles of hiking per day.
The three best day hikes on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire are the Zealand and Thoreau Falls hike, the North Kinsman via Lonesome Lake hike, and the ultimate, breathtaking Franconia Ridge hike.
The AMC Mountain Huts are eight different serviced huts along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Hikers can stay overnight in the huts, and use them for refreshment, rest and shelter throughout the day.
Yes, Mount Washington is on the New Hampshire section of the Appalachian Trail, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Standing at 6288 feet, it is the highest peak in the northeast US and part of the Presidential Mountain Range.
Section-Hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire
The Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire begins in Hanover, right on the Connecticut River at the Vermont border, and ends in Gorham on the Maine border. The trail takes you past Dartmouth College, through the White Mountain National Forest including Franconia Notch, Crawford Notch, and Pinkham Notch, before crossing into Maine and moving on to Grafton Notch.
You’ll pass New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, including the tallest peaks in New Hampshire like Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, and Mount Lafayette. Other notably scenic mountains include Mount Moosilauke, Wildcat Mountain, and Little Haystack Mountain.
Following the distinctive blazes of the Appalachian Trail is one of the best ways to explore New Hampshire’s hiking trails. This will not only allow you to experience some of the best hikes in the White Mountains, but also some of the best hikes in New Hampshire, and the US as a whole.
Some groups actively involved in the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire include the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Green Mountain Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and the Randolph Mountain Club, as well as the Green Mountain Outing Club in Vermont and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.
Hiking the Entire New Hampshire Appalachian Trail
If you were to hike the whole of the New Hampshire section in one go, it would take you around two weeks to hike the 161 miles, averaging just over 11 miles per day. Doing this would make you a “section hiker.”
Many hikers complete different sections of the Appalachian Trail in bursts of a couple of weeks or a month, and hiking the whole of the New Hampshire section would be a rewarding feat. Along the trail, you would walk miles above tree line, enjoy stunning scenery and alpine flora, and scale Mt. Washington at 6288 ft, the highest peak in New England (as well as the northeast US).
Hiking for two weeks continuously should allow you to traverse the entirety of New Hampshire’s Appalachian Trail section. This does require research, a very good level of fitness, and a knowledge of backpacking gear and strategies for long distance hikes.
There are multiple campsites and shelters along the trail, and it’s important to get a feel for where you might rest each day before embarking on a two-week trek. While there are no trail passes to buy in advance, there are fees for both AMC hut stays and backcountry camping in the White Mountain National Forest.
One of the most-used guidebooks by thru-hikers is The A.T Guide, by David “AWOL” Miller, a former thru-hiker himself.
In addition to the two weeks of hiking required, you would want to factor in some rest days and resupply days to stock up on additional food. Along the Appalachian Trail, these are known as “zero days” where you hike zero miles and focus on letting your body recover and ensuring you are adequately prepared for your next stretch.
Hiking Part of the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail
You don’t need to hike the entire trail at once. One of the best ways to enjoy New Hampshire’s Appalachian Trail is to do a day hike along the trail.
In hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, you can expect well-marked paths, views that will truly take your breath away, and a sense that you are following in the footsteps of decades of intrepid explorers.
The Whites are legendary not only for their beauty, but also the technicality of some of the trails. The good news is that it’s possible to enjoy hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire with a range of skill levels and experience. Even if you’re new to hiking, there’s a hiking trail for you here.
A tip to remember in terms of navigation is that the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire will often have a second, additional trail name for each short section. For example, you might be hiking the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail, which runs along the route of the Appalachian Trail. On signposts, the trail will be marked with the ‘AT’ symbol next to it – and of course, those reliable white blazes make it easy to stay on course.
Appalachian Mountain Club Huts
One of the best ways to explore the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire is through its network of huts, maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). These are dotted a day hike’s distance apart along the Appalachian Trail.
If you are hiking in a Northbound direction, this means you would start at Lonesome Lake Hut, and finish up at Carter Notch Hut, taking in eight huts in total.
During the summer months, a night at a hut includes a delicious, home-cooked meal in the evening, and a hearty breakfast the next morning to set you up for a day’s hiking. It also includes an optional interpretative program after dinner: anything from learning about the adaptations of New Hampshire moose to a session based on writing nature poetry.
The huts are not accessible by road, so fresh food supplies are hiked up everyday by the team working in the huts. At the beginning of the season, dry supplies are dropped off by helicopter.
When you stay at an AMC hut in New Hampshire, you get to enjoy the brilliant situation of being in the wilderness — a truly remote setting, with the stars shining brightly at night in a glittering sky and waking up to the sound of waterfalls and birdsong — with the comforts of a hot meal and a comfy bed waiting for you.
AMC huts accommodation is simple: guests stay in a bunkhouse, and are provided with a bunk, blankets and a pillow. The accommodation varies across the huts: for Lonesome Lake hut, you may be in a small cabin of just two bunks; in Lakes of the Clouds (sometimes affectionately known as “Lakes of the Crowds”) you may be in a coed dormitory with 15 people.
The bunks generally feel somewhat private and often have wooden paneling between bunks to separate you from the other sleepers. Bathroom facilities, as you may expect, are rustic, but more than adequate for the heart of the mountains with composting toilets and sinks with running water, so you can freshen up after your hike.
You will need to bring a sheet or sleepsack with you: much lighter than carrying a fully loaded pack, which you’ll see thru-hikers carrying along the trail.
A night’s stay at a New Hampshire AMC hut costs between $110 and $160, which includes the evening meal, hot drinks, snacks, and breakfast the next morning. There are discounts available for multi-day trips and for AMC members.
Hiking New Hampshire’s 8 AMC Huts
For a real challenge — but one which will reward you, get under your skin, and leave you with amazing memories, you can hike all eight huts. This beautiful section of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire takes in everything: waterfalls? Check! Spectacular views? Check! Hiking above treeline? Check! Secret swimming spots? Check!
If you are planning to hike all of the eight AMC huts, you will be in for the trip of a lifetime. I recommend purchasing an Appalachian Mountain Club membership before booking, in order to take advantage of the AMC member discount. You will receive an additional discount on the huts for booking the full eight.
I recommend taking a rest day halfway — a great place to do so is Zealand Falls Hut — and booking an additional night here. This will give you a chance to take stock of your adventure so far, and to cool off and relax in the pools of Zealand Falls or the nearby Thoreau Falls.
To book for an eight-hut adventure, starting at Lonesome Lake and heading North, your schedule would be as follows:
Day 1: Hike to Lonesome Lake Hut (1.5 miles from trailhead)
Day 2: Hike from Lonesome Lake Hut to Greenleaf Hut (7.4 miles)
Day 3: Hike from Greenleaf Hut to Galehead Hut (7.5 miles)
Day 4: Hike from Galehead Hut to Zealand Falls Hut (7 miles)
Optional, recommended rest day and additional night at Zealand Falls Hut
Day 5: Hike from Zealand Falls Hut to Mizpah Spring Hut (14.3 miles – shorter routes are available)
Day 6: Hike from Mizpah Spring Hut to Lakes of the Clouds Hut (4.6 miles)
Day 7: Hike from Lakes of the Clouds Hut to Madison Spring Hut (6.9 miles)
Day 8: Hike from Madison Spring Hut to Carter Notch Hut (13.3 miles – shorter routes are available)
To pack for an eight-hut adventure, you will need the aforementioned sleepsack or sheet, appropriate clothing, and snack and lunch supplies for nine days of hiking. You will be very well-fed at the huts for breakfast and dinner, and they can cater for a range of dietary needs.
You will, though, need fuel for your hiking during the days. Good old PB&J is a hikers’ lunch classic: for a multi-day trip, packs of tortilla wraps along with a tub of peanut butter and a bottle of squeezable jelly work well. High protein snack foods such as trail mix and jerky are invaluable, as well as energy and candy bars for a quick sugar boost.
Best Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire
Once you’ve started to hike in New Hampshire, pretty soon you’ll encounter the concept of the “New Hampshire 48,” or NH 48. These are the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that stand above 4,000 ft tall.
“Peak bagging,” as it’s known in New Hampshire, is the goal of summiting all 48 peaks. This is one of the most popular hiking challenges in New England!
I have chosen to highlight three single-day hikes that give you a real taste of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. Each of these hikes goes past an AMC hut. Even if you don’t stay the night in the huts, the huts are open all day for you to refill water, buy lemonade, hot drinks or baked goods, and talk to the volunteers about the trails and the mountains.
Of course, it’s possible to turn any of these hikes into an overnight by staying at the hut. If you start easy and you enjoy it, then consider building up to an overnight or multi-day hike for your next trip.
Even better? These day hikes take in a total of four of the peaks, with an optional fifth if you’re feeling adventurous. By bagging these peaks, there’s a good chance you’ll catch the “Club 48” bug. Peak bagging is highly addictive!
Remember, these are route overviews only, so be sure to carry a map of the White Mountains to see the trails in more detail.
Zealand Falls and Thoreau Falls Day Hike
Difficulty: Easy; mostly flat.
Distance: 8.8 miles round-trip.
Time Duration: Approximately 4.5 hours, including breaks.
This is the easy hike of dreams: think beaver ponds, picture-perfect waterfalls, and shaded, peaceful woodland.
Don’t be put off by the mileage: this is some of the flattest walking on the whole Appalachian Trail, and the distance can be covered with ease. When considering your distances on the trail, it’s more helpful to think about the terrain rather than the mileage.
There is a parking area at Zealand Road, where the trail begins. Take the gentle Zealand Trail up to the Zealand Falls Hut, passing a view point of beaver ponds and dams on the way.
This is an easy and picturesque trail, along duckboards over the streams in some places, with plenty of mountains in the distance, reflected in the ponds. There are many beautiful spots to sit and contemplate.
Go on up to the Zealand Falls Hut, where you can pause for a refuel or to refill your water bottle. The falls themselves are glorious: rushing water, tiny plunge pools, and comfy places to rest tired feet in the crystal streams.
Next, turn on to the Appalachian Trail by following the Ethan Pond Trail to Thoreau Falls. This section of the trail is built on tracks of what used to be an old railway line, which gives you an indication of how flat this part is. Enjoy the occasional viewpoint on the way of peaks in the distance, and soak up the sense of being in the woods, surrounded by ancient trees and mossy bark.
Your destination is Thoreau Falls, signposted off to the right: a very impressive and dramatic waterfall, with large, broad rocks to lie on and relax.
When you’ve enjoyed the serenity of the falls, turn back along the Appalachian Trail and return to Zealand Falls Hut, then back to the start point via the Zealand Trail.
North Kinsman Day Hike via Lonesome Lake
Difficulty: Medium, with some challenging stretches. There is a steady, manageable incline leading up to the AMC hut, and some rockier stretches and larger boulders to be scaled as you approach the Kinsmans.
Distance: 8.2 miles round-trip, plus an optional 1.8-mile extension to take in South Kinsman — a second 4,000 footer.
Time Duration: Approximately 6 hours, including breaks.
This is a good day hike which will give you a taste of some of the more technical hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
Lonesome Lake is a beautiful spot to swim, and by completing this hike you’ll summit North Kinsman at 4293 ft, with an optional extension onto South Kinsman at 4538 ft.
Begin at the Lafayette Campground parking lot. Follow the Lonesome Lake trail up to Lonesome Lake, where you can complete a circuit around the lake by following the duckboards. Watch out for wildlife: this area is biodiverse and full of interesting flora and fauna.
Reach the AMC hut at the top of the lake, where you can pause for a minute before hiking on. Now you’re on the Appalachian Trail!
Follow the white blazes on the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail up to Kinsman Pond, another beautiful spot to see the peaks of the Whites reflected in the glassy lake.
There is also a “lean-to” at Kinsman Pond, which adds an additional Appalachian Trail interest point. A lean-to is an open, three-sided shelter where thru-hikers can take refuge from the elements or lay down their mat and sleeping bag to spend the night. Generally, each lean-to contains a register for thru-hikers, and it can be fun to look through this and see the various messages from the season’s hikers.
From Kinsman Pond, continue following the Appalachian Trail up to North Kinsman. Look for a little clearing in the trees for the peak, and glorious views over the Whites.
At this point you can turn back, or, if you’re still feeling good, continue along the trail to South Kinsman: your second 4,000-footer of the day. This side trail will add around an hour to your hike’s duration, and bag you another peak: good bang for your buck!
After your summit, turn around and follow the trail back the way you came. An optional extra on your return? Stopping for some baked goods at the hut, or a swim in the beautiful waters of Lonesome Lake.
Franconia Ridge Day Hike
Difficulty: Challenging and technical. Expect steep inclines throughout, and the need to use your hands to scale some of the rockier parts and larger boulders. (Is it worth it? Absolutely!)
Distance: 8.6 miles round-trip.
Time duration: Approximately 8-9 hours, including breaks.
This is the ultimate day hike along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. This is a challenging hike, and it’s important that you have hiking experience before attempting this.
Set out early in the day. You’ll conquer three 4,000 footers: Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack Mountain, which form part of the famous and beautiful Franconia Ridge.
Begin at the Lafayette Place parking lot. Take the Old Bridle Path up to Greenleaf Hut, with some stunning viewpoints along the way of the pines and peaks of the White Mountains.
At Greenleaf Hut, take time for a coffee and a refuel before the next section. Then, a rocky 1.1 mile ascent from the hut will take you to Mount Lafayette at 5260 ft.
The next section is a hiker’s delight, and one of the most famous and scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail in its entirety. Turn right and follow the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail above treeline. Alpine flowers and awe-inspiring scenery will make you feel truly on top of the world here.
Continue following the white blazes on to Mount Lincoln, and Little Haystack Mountain, before turning right down the Falling Waters Trail and descending the three miles back to the parking lot.
Hiking Safety in New Hampshire
Hiking safety is important no matter where you are in the world, but especially so in New Hampshire, a state where you can be charged for your own rescue if you are found to be negligent.
Yes, this is true, and this happens more often than you’d think. The latest hiking rescue is a frequent topic of conversation in the White Mountains.
Fortunately, there are ways to stay safe and avoid this. Here are my safety tips for hiking in New Hampshire:
Get the New Hampshire Hike Safe card before you set out on your hike. These cost $25 per person, or $35 for a family. This supports the NH search and rescue efforts, and means you are not liable to repay rescue costs if you get into difficulty. You can buy your card here.
Don’t rely on your phone for navigation. You don’t always get accurate GPS with your phone in the White Mountains. Be sure to bring a paper map with you, and make sure you know how to read it. I recommend the Map Adventures waterproof White Mountains trail map.
Stay hydrated and bring enough water for your hike. I recommend bringing two liters per person for a day hike, and refilling when you get the chance: for example, in one of the AMC huts.
New Hampshire is a state full of streams and waterfalls, so in an emergency, you can refill from natural water sources as long as you have a way to purify it. This may be a Lifestraw water bottle, a Steri-Pen, water purification tablets, or a small filter pump.
Make sure someone knows where you’re hiking each day. Check in with them before you begin your hike, ensure they know where you’ll be hiking that day, and let them know you’re safe when you’ve finished. Many B&Bs and guesthouses in New Hampshire encourage you to tell them your plans before you head out.
Check the weather before you head out. New Hampshire can be prone to thunderstorms in the late summer. Typically, these are more likely to occur in the afternoons, so it’s always best to head out on the trail early. If there is a very high forecast chance of a thunderstorm occurring, think about rescheduling your hike to a different day.
Layer up! Much of the hiking in New Hampshire involves high, exposed sections, and parts above treeline. For a state with famously changeable weather, it’s important you have adequate gear in your pack.
On a summer’s day, this would involve wearing a base layer of technical, moisture-wicking fabric, and packing an additional mid-layer of fleece or even a light down jacket (yes, even in the summer!). Finally, you will need a waterproof shell layer in case you’re caught in the rain.
New Hampshire’s Appalachian Trail is Waiting for You!
So, should you plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire? Absolutely! Nothing surpasses the thrill and beauty of this section. Even if you’re not a hiker yet, these are the kind of landscapes that convert you!
One last thing: while hiking, it can be fun to spot AT thru-hikers, who by this point will be nearing the end of the trail if they are hiking Northbound. Look for the hikers with loaded packs, ripped calves and a hungry glint in their eyes — and often some very impressive beards by this point!
You could take part in the legendary “trail magic” of the Appalachian Trail: offering food, a word of encouragement or a drink to a passing thru-hiker. This will earn you the title of “trail angel,” and is another way of immersing yourself in the culture and traditions of the Appalachian Trail.
At the end of the day, it’s important to research, prepare, check the weather, and know how to hike safe. Ensure you take a map with you, and know the Hiker Responsibility Code. Read ‘A Guide to Hiking in the White Mountains’ for more information on this.
This magical trail will cast an enduring spell on you. Go out and explore, enjoy it, and savor the feeling of following in these legendary footsteps.
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Have you been hiking in New Hampshire? Any tips to share?