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Red Rock Cliff Loop: Great Hikes in the White Mountains

The Red Rock Trail is in the northeastern corner of the White Mountain National Forest, in Maine. It’s a ridgeline trail that begins at Speckled Mountain and runs east over several lesser peaks named Butters Mountain and Red Rock Mountain, all the way to Miles Notch. It provides access to an outstanding cliff-top view of the hills and lakes east of Evans Notch, in an area where few White Mountain Hikers venture.

The viewpoint is nearly opposite the summit of Red Rock Mountain and down a short spur path. The best way to access it is to hike a 10 mile loop up to the Red Rock Trail up the Miles Notch Trail and down the Great Brook Trail. This is a moderately strenuous hike with 2800′ of elevation gain and roughly the equivalent of climbing a 4000 footer.

You can also backpack this loop if you feel like a short overnight trip, camping along Great Brook (the stream) after its descent from the ridge. There aren’t any designated campsites in the woods, but White Mountain National Forest Backcountry Camping Regulations permit low impact camping here.

Red Rock Cliff Loop Map

Trail Sequence

  1. Miles Notch Trail – 3.2 miles
  2. Red Rock Trail – 3.4 miles
  3. Great Brook Trail – 3.7 miles

Directions

  • Miles Notch Trailhead: From ME Rt. 5 in N. Lovell, follow West Stoneham Rd. for 1.8 miles. Turn right onto Hut Rd. and continue 1.5 miles to southern trailhead.
  • Great Brook Trailhead: It is 100 yds. beyond the Miles Notch Trailhead on Hut Rd.

The Miles Notch Trail climbs 1800′ up to the junction along through open forest and along old logging roads. A Notch in White Mountain’s parlance is a mountain pass, or a low point along a ridge, separating one watershed from another. Many of the more famous notches in the White Mountains like Franconia Notch or Crawford Notch have roads going through them, but you can find dozens of wild ones, with and without trails, by looking at a good map of the region.

Climbing up the Miles Notch Trail
Climbing up the Miles Notch Trail

The Miles Notch Trail enters the woods immediately across from the trailhead parking lot and begins climbing through open woods. The bottom part of the trail is blazed in yellow, but the blazes become less prevalent farther on and care much be taken to follow the trail, particularly in autumn when leaves can obscure it. This entire area of the White Mountains, which includes the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness area is less travelled than other areas in the Whites, so you do need to put on your navigation cap at times to avoid following animal paths that look like they’re part of the main trail.

The trail starts climbing as soon as you leave the trailhead, moderating and dropping at points, but climbing relentlessly 1800′ through open forest up to the Red Rock Trail.  As you approach Miles Notch, you’ll begin to see impressive rock cliffs through the trees on your left (west). You’ll come to the Red Rock Trail junction shortly after passing the boundary sign for the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness.

Enter the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness Area
Enter the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness Area

Turn left (west) here onto the Red Rock Trail and begin climbing again, up another 300′, to follow the ridgeline trail. After 1.2 miles, you’ll reach the summit of Red Rock Mountain 2141′). There is a partially obscured, south-facing viewpoint shortly before the Red Rock summit, as well as an obscure side path a few yards east of it, leading to an open cliff. Descend this side path to reach a prow-like cliff with wide open views of Kezar Lake, Miles Knob, and the Great Brook drainage. The view here is particularly spectacular in autumn, when the surrounding hills are ablaze in color. The cliff face is quite high however, so be sure to keep pets and children away from the edge, because a fall would be lethal.

The ledge below the Red Rock summit is quite large
The ledge below the Red Rock summit is quite large.

Return to the Red Rock Trail and continue west climbing Butters Mountains, before turning on Great Brook Trail. The trail sign looks like its being eaten by the tree that it’s nailed to. There is a stream about 100 yards below the trail junction that’s a good place to filer more water if you need it. After that, the trail drops very steeply over the next mile, paralleling the Great Brook stream for most of its length.

Great Brook Tail Junction - Tree Eating Sign
Great Brook Tail Junction – Tree Eating Sign

The bottom of the half of the trail follows old logging roads, but is lightly blazed. In the absence of blazes or the occasional wooden arrow nailed to a tree, if you hike within earshot of the stream, you’ll find the gate leading back to Hut Road. Carrying a GPS or phone app such as Gaia GPS can also be reassuring, provided you’ve downloaded maps in advance for offline use, since this area does not have cell phone network access.

Gate at end of Logging Road
Gate at end of Logging Road

When you reach the gate at the end of the trail, continue following the gravel road for 0.8 miles back to the Miles Notch Trailhead.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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Backpacking a Gentian Pond Loop

Gentian Pond in Autumn

Gentian Pond is in the Mahoosuc Range, one of the hardest sections of the Appalachian Trail. I hiked a one night loop up to the AT shelter there, visiting two big waterfalls called Giant Falls and Dryad Falls on the way. My friend Ken and I had stopped by this shelter when we hiked this section in August, but the shelter and campsite had been full, so we’d skipped past it and camped a few miles south at Dream Lake.

This was a combination mental health and redline hike. It being Columbus Day week, the White Mountain National Forest is overrun with tour buses and cars with out-of-state license plates. It’s not so much their presence which bothers me, but the mile-long traffic jams, in a place where there are seldom more than a few cars stopped at a red light. So, I did what I do when confronted by crowds. I headed north to the less-visited wilderness areas in the northeast corner of the WMNF.

Redlining, for the uninitiated, is when you hike all of the trails in the AMC’s White Mountain Guide. There are 640 trails in the current 30th edition. It took me 10 years to hike all of the trails in the 29th edition (I finished last year) and I’m now working thru the 30th edition, revisiting all of the old trails that I’ve forgotten and the 12 or so new trails that have since been added to the redlining spreadsheet. Each one of those 640 trails is akin to a meal on a menu at a really good restaurant so it’s easy to get motivated to hike them all.

Being a solo hike, I mapped out a loop that would bring me back to my starting point. The trails I hiked are largely maintained by the Shelburne Trails Club, a small but quite skilled trail club that maintains a nice trail network off North Road, near Philbrook Farm, just south of the Mahoosuc Trail. There are many delightful destinations along these trails, which are easy enough for younger children, although there is still plenty of hard stuff to gnaw on if you want it.

Gentian Pond Loop

Here’s the route I took:

  • Austin Brook Trail (from North Rd) – 0.4 miles
  • Yellow Trail – 1.1 miles
  • Gates Brook Trail – 0.5 miles
  • Middle Mountain Trail – 2.1 miles
  • Peabody Brook Trail – 2.3 miles
  • Giant Falls Spur – 0.6 miles
  • Bald Ledge Spur Trail 1.0 mile
  • Dryad Trail – 1.5 miles
  • Austin Brook Trail (up to shelter, then back to North Rd the next morning) 4.7 miles

Besides Gentian Pond, there are two large waterfalls on this route: Giants Falls, off the Peabody Brook Trail and Dryad Falls off the Dryad Trail. Mount Crag, Middle Mountain, and the Bald Ledge Spur Trail also have good summit views of the Androscoggin River Valley, and Dream Lake is always nice to visit at the junction of the Peabody Brook Trail and the Mahoosuc Trail (A.T.).

Wooden Turnstile at the Austin Brook Trailhead
Wooden Turnstile at the Austin Brook Trailhead

I started my hike at the Austin Brook Trail Head on North Road with its quirky gate, a wooden turnstile, which I’ve always viewed as a local joke. The trail is an old logging road for most of its length. Down at the bottom, it’s gravel covered with a soft bed of spruce needles that makes for pleasant walking. I walked down that for 0.4 of a mile before turning onto the Yellow Trail which climbs Mt Crag on a well-blazed trail.

The views at the summit of Crag were fogged in, so I kept going past the summit toward the Gates Brook Trail, descending steeply. I turned right onto the Gates Brook Trail, passing a wooden foot bridge on the left and continuing straight. Don’t cross that bridge. There are yellow blazes marking the trail you want straight ahead, but they’re hidden from view when you turn onto the Gates Brook Trail.

Don't cross this bridge. It's not on the Gates Brook Trail.
Don’t cross this bridge. It’s not on the Gates Brook Trail.

The vegetation closes in as you approach a junction with the Middle Mountain Trail. The junction is well signed although it is always helpful to carry a map for quick reference. There are a lot of short interconnected trails in Shelburne and it pays to check your position every time you come to a landmark or trail junction.

I climbed up the Middle Mountain Trail and walked right past a turn, where the trail makes a hard right. The turn is signed and flagged with orange plastic tape, but I kept on going straight, following pink tape, which is commonly used to mark trails in the Whites. It took me a while to notice that I was on the wrong trail because it was blazed in orange. I think it is a trail to First Mountain and its ledges, which were also socked in by fog. I figured out my mistake when I started losing altitude in a place where I didn’t expect to lose it. So I backtracked and found the junction that I’d accidentally walked past. Doh!

Back on the correct trail, I climbed to the open summit ledges of Middle Mountain, which are capped with a large rock that someone has helpfully spray-painted with the word “TOP”. It’s still a pretty sight. From the summit you can see the summit ledges on Bald Cap Peak. I’d stand on those same ledges later in the day and look down at the big rock on the Middle Mountain summit, which is clearly visible from them. The fog had also started to lift, so I had clearer skies the remainder of the day.

Big rock on Middle Mountain
Big rock on Middle Mountain summit

The Middle Mountain Trail continues past the summit to join the Peabody Brook Trail. The trail passes through pleasant open woods before following a narrow logging road to the trail junction. This being October and moose mating season, I half expected a bull moose to pop out of the bushes on the side of the trail and challenge me. So I sang out “Mr Moosie? Where are you?” every fifty feet or so, to alert them to my presence.

When I arrived at the Peabody Brook Trail junction, I turned right onto the trail which follows another old logging road, before narrowing to a regular hiking trail. In 0.4 miles, I came to the Giant Falls Spur, which leads to the base of Giant Falls, a huge 100+ foot waterfall which was cranking when I visited. We’d just had an inch of rain and the falls were going full blast, flooding the narrow gorge below them.

Giant Falls after a heavy autumn rain.
Giant Falls after a heavy autumn rain.

Next, I backtracked to the Peabody Brook Trail and continued climbing toward the Mahoosuc ridgeline, heading north. The trail gets much wilder past the falls, with over-reaching shrubbery (something called hobblebush) that’s so dense, you can barely see the trail at your feet. It was still wet from the rain, so my pants were quickly soaked.

The upper part of the Peabody Trail has always been wet, muddy, and half under water for as long as I can remember, so none of this really surprised me. Nine years had passed since I last hiked this trail in its entirety and it hadn’t really changed a bit. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The new Bald Ledge Spur Trail Junction
The new Bald Ledge Spur Trail Junction

One thing has certainly changed though and that was a new trail junction to the new Bald Ledge Spur Trail. This trail passes through a giant fern meadow, probably the result of a logging cut, to south-facing rock ledges. It’s a very new trail maintained by John Compton aka 1HappyHiker, who’s a renowned bushwhacker in the Whites. It was also mostly underwater when I hiked it, the cold rain water soaking my socks and shoes.

Views of the Androscoggin River Vqlley from the ledges
Views of the Androscoggin River Vqlley from the ledges

The ledge views were worth it though, as long as you descend all the way down to the “edge” overlooking Middle Mountain and the Androscoggin River Valley. A ledge in White Mountains parlance is usually a horizontal rock face with open views, like the top of a cliff. Hikers are drawn to them like flies.

I backtracked to the Peabody Trail and followed it past the Dryad Trail Junction to Dream Lake and its junction with the Mahoosuc Trail. I resupplied my water there, at a stream that Ken and I had used when we’d camped there in August. Then it was back to the Dryad Trail Junction, where I started hiking down the very wet Dryad Trail. I’d snowshoed this trail fairly recently with my friend Josh, when we’d also visited Gentian Pond. The trail had been under snow then, so this was the first time I’d see it in non-winter conditions.

Top of Dryad Falls
Top of Dryad Falls

I hiked down the trail, which is also an old logging road, to the Dryad Falls Spur Trail. The trail leads very close to the top of the falls, which drop 300 feet below. It’s a pretty spectacular view, but you can’t see the bottom. My pictures don’t do it justice.

Trail to Gentian Pond
Trail to Gentian Pond

I hiked back to the main trail and followed it down to the Austin Brook Trail junction. From here it was a 1 mile hike and climb to Gentian Pond, the lean-to-and campsite. I had two hours before sunset and wanted to get my hammock squared away, resupply my water, and cook a hearty dinner. I was tired.

Hammocking at the Gentian Shelter and Campsite
Hammocking at the Gentian Shelter and Campsite

The next morning I packed up and hiked out the Austin Brook Trail back to North Road. It’s generally a pretty trail, but parts of it pass forest openings that have been logged. It wasn’t really guidebook material for that reason (not pretty enough), although small stream fly fisherman will definitely be interested in the stream access it provides. Austin Brook has small native trout in it, I checked. 🙂

Austin Brook
Austin Brook

All in all, a nice and quick 1 day backpacking trip, although you could certainly hike the complete loop in one day if you had more daylight.

Total distance: 16 miles with 4300 feet of elevation gain.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

 

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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Backpacking a Speckled Mountain – Haystack Notch Loop

View of Mt Washington from Speckled Mountain summit.

Most of my backpacking trips this year have turned into guidebook chapters for Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 footers, instead of personal trip reports. But my latest backpacking trip through the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness doesn’t have what it takes to be a guidebook chapter. While scenic and wild, the route passes through some areas of logging activity that are pretty unattractive. There are also sections of trail that are very hard to follow, essentially bushwhacking, that I really wouldn’t want to recommend to the uninitiated. I had fun, but this isn’t the type of backpacking trip most people have in mind when they follow guidebook routes.

This trip started at Brickett Place in Evans Notch, a historic home and landmark, that serves as the Bickford Brook Trail parking area and trailhead. It’s just a few feet north of the Maine/New Hampshire border: this entire trip took place in the Maine portion of the White Mountains.

The first part of my route climbed Speckled Mountain, the site of an old fire tower, which has a great view of Mt Washington and the Maine peaks on a clear day. From there, I followed the Red Rock Ridge Trail east to Miles Notch, then north to the West Pleasant River, and then west back to Rt 113, which is the road that runs through the center of Evans Notch.

Speckled Mountain Haystack Notch Backpacking Loop

Here’s the trail sequence:

  • Bickford Brook Trail – 4.3 miles
  • Red Ridge Trail – 5.6 miles
  • Miles Notch Trail – 2.4 miles
  • Haystack Notch Trail – 5.4 miles
  • Hitch back to Brickett Place – 4ish miles.

It was a cool day as I started hiking up the Bickford Brook Trail, dressed in a wool sweater. Temperatures have already dropped into the 30’s at night. The autumn leaves are just starting to turn in Evans Notch, but they’re still not far along, with some yellow, but still mostly green. After months of weather in the high 90’s, it felt weird to be hiking again in cool and dry weather. I like it, but I do wish we had a few more warm days left before the deep freeze closes in.

The Speckled Mountain Spring looked pretty nasty. I might have drunk it if I had a pump filter, but not through a Sawyer.
The Speckled Mountain Spring looked pretty nasty. I might have drunk it if I had a pump filter, but not through a Sawyer.

I reached Speckled Mountain in about 2.5 hours (4.3 miles) and had a snack, sitting down among the summit rocks to get out of the brisk wind. The sky was a deep blue and I could see the weather towers on Mt Washington, probably 30 or 40 miles away. I’d hoped to top off my water bottles at the spring below the summit, but it was full of nasty looking stagnant water and not running. I still had a liter left and decided to hold off on refilling until the Great Brook Trail, about 2 miles farther along the ridge, which has a stream just below the trail junction.

From Speckled Mountain, I descended the Red Rock Trail which runs for 5.6 miles to Miles Notch. It’s a roller coaster of a hike, up and down, through scrappy woods and across a few open alpine areas. When I arrived at the Great Brook Trail junction, I turned and descended the trail a short way to filter some water.

Famous tree-eating sign
Famous tree-eating sign

That done, I hiked another 3.4 miles to Miles Notch turning north onto the Miles Notch Trail. This trail has two parts, a woods part, and a stroll down a logging road that’s marked with pink flagging tape. It’s in a pretty remote part of the Whites, and this being last September, I was a bit wary about running into a bull moose. The big males get very territorial during mating season So I was singing loudly as I hiked, ditties from the 60’s, in my terrible singing voice.

Just then an enormous bull moose crashed through the trail about 100 yards ahead of me. He had a big rack from what I could see as he crossed the trail, before he disappeared up the hill and into the forest. Well, you better believe I kept singing after that!

I soon met another hiker, Peter, who was also out redlining. He carried a heavy camera and got all excited when I told him about my moose encounter. We chatted for a while and then parted ways. I reminded him that it was moose mating season.

The forested part of the Miles Notch ended and the logging road portion began. It is covered in grass with a barrier of bushes and trees on either side. Not the best place for a while animal encounter, I thought. I kept singing. I followed the flagging, but also knew where I was, since I’d been down this trail before a few years ago.

The logging road section of the Miles Notch Trail follows a grassy logging road
The north section of the Miles Notch Trail follows a grassy logging road.

If you follow the flagging through this portion you’ll be fine. It leads to a big field, also the site of logging activity, and ends at a T junction. There’s normally a sign there pointing to the beginning of the Haystock Notch Trail, but the pole holding it up was broken and the sign was on the ground, pointing in a random direction. I had a fairly good idea of where I was from past experience, but I whipped out my phone and checked my position in Gaia GPSphone app. It’s an easy way to double-check your current position and make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

I turned left and continued following the flagging until I was on the Haystack Notch Trail proper. This trail can be a little tricky to follow. The east and west ends are easy to navigate because they run along two streams (so you know exactly where you are), but the middle part is a very lightly blazed and travelled foot trail. The only people I know who hike it regularly are White Mountain Redliners and there still aren’t many of those around.

West Branch Pleasant River
West Branch Pleasant River

I hiked about a mile down the Haystack Notch Trail (headed west) and then set up camp for the night. I could have kept going and finished the route in one day, but I was looking forward to sleeping outside (where I sleep the best.) I set up camp, cooked some dinner and was asleep by 9:00.

I broke camp 12 hours later and started hiking west following the West Pleasant River. The trail became harder to follow the farther west I got, although there were periodic blazes. Those completely disappear as you approach the height of land near Haystack Mountain. The trail follows old logging roads most of its length, but there are many intersecting logging roads and herd paths in places, that make it very confusing to follow. The tread is also very lightly trampled, so following the beaten path is often not possible and ill-advised.

Camping out in the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness
Camping out in the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness

There were times when I know I lost the footpath and had to bushwhack through hobblebush, but I found it again soon enough. You just have to pay close attention to the topo map and your compass to follow the trail, although a GPS app can come in handy too. I have a feeling hiking the Haystack Notch Trail west to east is a lot easier to navigate, something that’s been confirmed by other Redliners. This is the second time I’ve hiked it in a westerly direction. Maybe next time, I’ll hike my loop counterclockwise.

Once past Haystack Mountain, the trail becomes trivial to follow. It’s well marked and much more heavily used. I reached the unnamed stream at the west end and it was a short walk to the road. I stuck out my thumb and the first vehicle to pass me stopped and gave me a ride.

That’s how I spent my Autumn equinox 2018.

Total distance: 18 miles w/ 4300 feet of elevation gain.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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Cohos Trail Section Hike: Percy Loop to Starr King

North Percy Mountain

“It is amazing how much trail building the Cohos Trail Association gets done with such limited resources,” said Guthook, as we climbed up the Percy Loop Trail to North Percy Mountain. Guthook has worked as trail crew for the Green Mountain Club in Vermont and I could tell he was in awe at what they’d accomplished. This section of the Cohos Trail, the 170 mile long distance route that runs through Northern New Hampshire, was looking mighty fine indeed with excellent signage and blazes, and new campsites and shelters. A relatively new long distance trail, it’s been bootstrapped into existence by a small but dedicated, almost fanatical, cadre of trail builders and community activists in an effort to bring more commercial activity (ie. Massachusetts visitors) to New Hampshire’s north country.

Guthook and I (yes, THE Guthook) were on a three-day backpacking trip from the Nash Stream Forest followed by a Kilkenny Traverse in the northern most section of the White Mountain National Forest. It was a reunion of sorts, since we haven’t done any hiking together for a few years, due to busy schedules and life demands. He was doing a little work on this trip actually, finishing up mapping the Kilkenny Ridge Trail and its side trails for Guthook’s Guide, which has emerged as the most complete and easy-to-use trail guide for the National Scenic Trails in the US (AT, PCT, CDT, and many others).

Excellent Cohos Trail Signage
Excellent Cohos Trail Signage

Guthook and I weren’t strangers to this section of trail and have both hiked it before multiple times. He’s actually thru-hiked the Cohos Trail twice, I believe. We chose it for its remoteness, because it’s a nice long stretch where you can backpack without the crowds that flock to the White Mountain National Forest (down south) in summer. We didn’t see anyone for the first two days of this trip (which is pretty incredible) and only ran into some friends (maniacs, themselves) near the end.

Some 40 miles in length, this was a sizable route for a three-day trip, with many 4000 and 3000 footers to climb along the way, starting with North and South Percy, the two bell-shaped peaks that dominate the Nash Stream Forest skyline. If you’ve never been to the state-run Nash Stream Forest, it’s worth a visit, if only to hike the Percy Peaks and climb nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s a wild place, only accessible by a gravel road, and home to many of the trail-less 3000 footers on the New Hampshire 200 Highest Peakbagging List. I have yet to fully explore it myself, but the times I’ve hiked through have all been memorable and left me longing for more.

Hot and Hazy view of South Percy Mountain
Hot and Hazy view of South Percy Mountain

We parked my beat-up trail car at the bottom of the Percy Loop Trail and proceeded to climb up to the peak, ascending steeply, in miserable heat and humidity. The real feel was easily up to 100 degrees and I was soaked with sweat in 10 minutes. I was also feeling a recent knee issue, probably a meniscus tear, that got progressively worse as we journeyed south. Looking back now, it was painful, but only slowed my pace down to book time, not that bad when you think about it. It’s still plaguing me even though my doctor has concluded that I don’t need surgery or a cortisone shot, just RICE. Try getting me to sit still for a week or two, though.

We climbed up North Percy and admired the northern view, then descended over its steep ledges, and climbed its sister peak, South Percy. From there we ambled along the Cohos Trail, which is technically a route, over pre-existing trails. The trail snakes along trails which double as snowmobile routes in winter. We popped up to Victor Head, a pleasant side trail and view-point, before crossing the railroad tracks and Rt 3 to get to the South Pond Recreation Area. This recreation area has a huge sand beach, changing rooms, rest rooms, and a picnic area. It costs $7 per car to enter, but we got in free because we walked in.

Cooking dinner at South Pond
Cooking dinner at South Pond

We’d arrived just at closing and the weather was looking mighty nasty, with dark rain clouds above. We’d been monitoring these closely all day, but been spared their wrath farther north. After a quick dip in the lake to wash off the day’s sweat, we hunkered under the front awning of a building and cooked up dinner while the skies unleashed their fury. It rained heavily for about 45 minutes before tapering off to a drizzle. After checking out the resulting rainbow, we hoofed it past the recreation area and pitched a hurried camp before the rain came down again. There was no chatting after that and I crashed, sleeping through more torrential rain at night.

We were both up early the next morning but waited for another torrential rainfall to subside before packing up and heading out, at about 8:00 am. After a brief diversion into the Devil’s Hopyard, a rock-filled canyon filled with “boulders scattered in picturesque confusion”, we headed south along the Kilkenny Trail towards Willard Notch. Our first major stop was a cliff called Rodger’s Ledge where we spread out our wet gear to dry in the sun.

Guthook in the Devil's Hopyard
Guthook in the Devil’s Hopyard

With the exception of Mt Cabot (a 4000 footer), most of the Kilkenny Trail is seldom hiked, making it a much wilder looking trail than most White Mountain hikers are used to. Blowdowns across the trail are common and the trail often needs a good brushing, to beat back the baby spruce trees and ferns that threaten to overwhelm it. While benign, this vegetation holds a lot of rain water, so we were quickly soaked when we brushed up against it as we made our way south after the recent rains.

Once dry and warmed up, we continued south stopping at the Roger’s Ledge Campsite and the Unknown Pond Campsite for brief breaks and so Guthook could map the side trails. From there, we climbed The Horn and The Bulge (two 3000 footers), before summiting Mt Cabot and scrambling up the avalanche slide on its north side. After a brief visit to the Cabot Spring and the Cabot Cabin, we climbed the three peaks of Terrace Mountain before descending steeply to a campsite near the Willard Trail near dark.

Drying out Gear on Rogers Ledge
Drying out Gear on Rogers Ledge

Time for camp chores. We filtered water from the nearby water source, cooked dinner, hung our Ursacks, and crashed. We both slept deeply but my knee was definitely hurting and I was dreading the climb we had to make up North Weeks Mountain the next morning.

We woke early and broke camp by 7:15 am. We still had a 10 mile hike ahead of us, including climbs up North, Middle, and South Weeks mountains, Mt Waumbek (a 4000 footer) and Mt Starr King. The climb up North Weeks was the biggest (about 1500′) one followed by Middle Weeks, but after that it was mostly flat or descending down to Rt 2.

My knee was better this morning, but it still hurt. I’d brought along some extra Ibuprofen on this hike, just in case, but it really had little effect. Every once in a while, I’d twist it and cougar scream in pain. But I kept going, hopeful that it wasn’t anything too serious. Knock on wood, it’s not, although I have been out of action most of this week.

Philip at the end of his 48 x 4000 Direttissima White Mountain Round
Philip at the end of his 48 x 4000 Direttissima White Mountain Round

As we approached the summit of North Weeks, we encountered three hikers. Guthook knew one of them, I knew another, and the third, Philip, was just finishing an 8 day supported Direttissima, a complete traverse of all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers in one continuous hike. My hats off to him. It’s a non-trivial hike, hundreds of miles long. I’ve tried it twice unsupported and given up while I was ahead.

We parted ways and continued climbing, only to be greeted by massive blowdown mania on North and Middle Weeks. It’s the worse I’ve ever seen it. The Forest Service and Randolph Mountain Club trail crews had been through and cut out a trail again, but the destruction was far worse and larger than the blowdowns I’d encountered on the Kate Sleeper Trail earlier this year, or South Carter last winter. Thank god for our trail crews.

Blowdowns on the Weeks
Blowdowns on the Weeks
More blowdowns
More blowdowns
Trail through the blowdowns
Trail through the blowdowns

Once past the blowdowns and the Weeks, we arrived at Waumbek, where we dried out more gear in a viewpoint that’d been opened up since I was there last. Then onto Starr King Mountain and Jefferson, which has a nice little store and gas station on Rt 2. Their pizza is fantastic and went down real nice with a Classic Coke.

Guthook had been great company on this hike and I’m glad I finished the route despite my knee pain. The north country can be a real tonic if you ever need to get away from it all and I think we both benefitted from the respite.

In you’re interested in our route, take a look at the Kilkenny Ridge Traverse Route Plan in my free guidebook, Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 footers. For our route through the Nash Stream Forest refer to the Cohos Trail Guide from North Percy Mountain to the South Pond Recreation Area.

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Great Hikes in the Whites: The Red Ridge Loop

The Red Ridge Loop is a 10 mile loop hike located just outside North Conway, New Hampshire that climbs the steep and rocky summit of North Moat Mountain before descending the Red Ridge Trail down a series of open ledges with awesome views of Mt Washington and the lesser summits of the Mt Washington River Valley. With close to 3000 feet of elevation gain, this is a moderately strenuous hike, but well worth the climb for the views. Hikers finish near Diana’s Baths, a famous White Mountains waterfall and swimming hole, that’s perfect for a refreshing dip at the end of the hike.

Red Ridge Loop Hike North Conway, NH

Recommended Waterproof Map

Distance and Difficulty Rating

  • 10 miles with 3000′ of elevation gain
  • Moderately strenuous

Trailhead Directions

  • The Diana Bath’s trail head is on the Upper West Side Road about two and on half miles from North Conway Village. A daytime parking fee or White Mountain season parking sticker is required. Illegally parked cars are towed. Click for USFS trailhead information and GPS coordinates.
  • This is a very popular trailhead, so get there early in the day to get a parking space.

Season

  • April – mid November
  • Bring plenty of water on sunny days, when the open rock ledges of the Red Ridge Trail radiate heat

Printable Trip Plan Map and GPX File

Trail Sequence

  • Follow the Moat Mountain Trail for 4.2 miles to open summit of North Moat Mountain
  • Continue on the Moat Mountain Trail for 1.1 miles to the Red Ridge Trail Junction
  • Turn left onto the Red Ridge Trail and follow it for 2.1 miles descending across open rock ledges
  • Dropping below treeline, continue on the Red Ridge Trail for 1.5 miles until you reach the Moat Mountain Trail
  • Turn right onto the Moat Mountain Trail and follow it for 1.1 back to the trailhead parking lot

On the Trail

This hike runs counter-clockwise along the route shown above, climbing North Moat Mountain first, before descending along the Red Ridge Trail.

Follow the Moat Mountain Trail from the Trailhead, passing through a developed recreation areas that leads to by Diana’s Baths, a popular waterfall and summertime swimming hole on your left. This is a great place to stop at the end of the hike for a refreshing dip on a hot day.

Diana's Baths is a popular waterfall and swimming hole at the bottom of the Moat Mountain Trail
Diana’s Baths is a popular waterfall and swimming hole at the bottom of the Moat Mountain Trail

Continue along the Moat Mountain Trail which runs along Lucy Brook. At 1.2 miles, you’ll pass the southern end of the Red Ridge Trail Junction where it crosses a brook and rejoins the Moat Mountain Trail. Continue past the junction and stay on the Moat Mountain Trail which crosses several small brooks.

At 2.4 miles, you’ll arrive at a trail junction with the Attitash Trail. Veer left here, following the Moat Mountain Trail and begin to climb, passing through mixed scrub, which gradually gives way to open ledges as you climb toward the summit of North Moat Mountain. This is the steepest section of the hike, so set a comfortable pace as you climb.

You'll pass through open areas with partial views as you climb toward the open summit of North Moat Mountain
You’ll pass through open areas with views of North Kearsarge Mountain as you climb toward the open summit of North Moat.

At 4.2 miles, you’ll reach the open summit of North Moat Mountain (3196′) which has 360 degrees views that include Mt Washington and Mt Chocorua. There many good places to sit at the summit, which is a fine place to take a break and admire the views.

If you look to the southeast, you can also make out the open ledges of the Red Ridge Trail as they descend to the valley below.

The open rock ledges of the Red Ridge Trail are visible from the summit of North Moat Mountain.
The open rock ledges of the Red Ridge Trail are visible from the summit of North Moat Mountain.

Leaving North Moat, continue southeast along the Moat Mountain Trail, dropping down a series of ledges that require a bit of scrambling. After passing another open viewpoint, you’ll enter a wooded stretch, climbing again towards the junction with the Red Ridge Trail at 5.3 miles, turning left to follow it.  There’s a good chance you’ll encounter wood grouse guarding their nests at the top of the trail who may screech an alarm as you approach. There’s no need to fear them. They’ll run away as you approach, although they may be agitated.

North Moat Mountain
North Moat Mountain

As you descend, take a moment to admire the profile of North Moat Mountain over your right shoulder.

Descent the terraced ledges of the Red Ridge Trail
Descent the terraced ledges of the Red Ridge Trail

Follow the cairns that mark the Red Ridge Trail carefully, while admiring the grand views that of the Mt Washington Valley that open up before you. Hikers in the White Mountains yearn for these grand expanses of open ledge and the vistas that they offer.

Pay close attention to the cairns and painted blazes that mark the trails route
Pay close attention to the cairns and painted blazes that mark the trail’s route

After approximately a mile, the trail drops down below treeline again, descending steeply down open ledges that require careful footwork. After passing once again through forest, it rejoins the Moat Mountain Trail at 8.9 miles after a brook crossing, which is often rock hoppable in low water. Turn righ tonto the Moat Mountain Trail at this junction (which you passed early in the route) and continue for 1.1 miles, once again passing Diana’s Baths on the way to the trailhead parking lot.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

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Backpacking The Fire Warden’s Loop

The Fire Warden’s Loop is a 2-3 day, 18 mile backpacking route that climbs four 4000 footers: Hale, Zealand, South Twin, and North Twin. All four of these peaks surround the Little River Valley but aren’t normally climbed together as a group by day hikers because there isn’t an obvious loop to follow. While there’s a trail from the North Twin Trailhead to North Twin Mountain, there’s not a well-known trail linking Hale to the valley floor.

However, there used to be a fire tower on Hale (removed in 1972) and a road leading to it that was named the Mt Hale Trail. It’s known today as the Fire Warden’s Trail and is still used by winter hikers and backcountry skiers to climb Hale when the roads to trails on the other side of the mountain are closed in winter. That old trail has been kept open (although it’s not listed in the White Mountain Guide or Appalachian Mountain Club Maps) and makes it possible to climb all four peaks in a continuous loop.

This isn’t atypical in the Whites. There are a lot of old logging roads and herd paths used by hikers that aren’t “officially” recognized, but are still widely used. Their routes are frequently available in apps and online mapping programs that incorporate open-source GPS data like the GaiaGPS app and Caltopo.com.

This trip starts with an ascent of Hale on the Fire Warden’s Trail, before dropping down to the AMC’s Zealand Hut on the Lend-a-Hand Trail. From there, it climbs to an open cliff called Zeacliff, which has a great view of Zealand Notch and the Whitewall Mountain Cliffs. After passing a small alpine lake called Zeacliff Pond, hikers summit Mt Zealand, followed by Mt Guyot. Next, the route follows the Twinway to South Twin Mountain, before traveling out to North Twin Mountain and dropping steeply down to the route’s beginning in the Little River Valley.

Optional Extension: You can easily add West Bond, Bondcliff, and Mt Bond to this route. All three of these peaks are in close proximity to Mt Guyot and the Guyot Tentsite which is a convenient campsite along the route.

Fire Warden's Loop

Rating/Difficulty

****/3 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

18 miles w/5600′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Hale
  • Zealand
  • South Twin
  • North Twin
  • West Bond, Mt Bond, Bondcliff (optional extension)

Recommended Duration

2-3 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

Trailhead Directions

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. With the exception of the Fire Warden’s Trail, refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Map 2: Franconia-Pemigewasset (2017 ed), which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way. In addition to the GeoPDF and GPX file found attached to this route plan, the Fire Warden’s Trail is clearly marked in the GaiaGPS App (iPhone & Android) on the Gaia Topo Base Map.

Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • North Twin Trail – 1.0 miles
  • Fire Warden’s Trail – 2.1 miles
  • Lend-a-Hand Trail – 2.7 miles
  • Twinway to Zealand Mountain Spur Tr – 2.8 miles
  • Zealand Mountain Spur Tr – 0.2 miles (out and back)
  • Twinway to Bondcliff Trail Junction – 1.3 miles
  • Twinway to South Twin Summit – 2.0 miles
  • North Twin Spur Trail – 1.3 miles
  • North Twin Trail – 4.3 miles

18 miles with 5500′ elevation gain.

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances on the route to each view or landmark.

  • Mt Hale Summit – 3.1 miles
  • Zealand Hut – 5.8 miles
  • Zeacliff – 7.0 miles
  • Zeacliff Pond – 7.4 miles
  • Zealand Summit 8.7 miles
  • Mt Guyot Summit – 10 miles
  • South Twin Summit – 12 miles
  • North Twin Summit – 13.3 miles

Camping and Shelter Options

Water

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Pemigewasset Map in Guthook Guide’s New England Hiker Smartphone App (IOS, Android) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

Follow the North Twin Trail for 1.0 miles to the first river crossing. Just before the trail reaches the river bank, turn left onto an unmarked side path and follow it for 0.4 miles, staying close to the hillside on your left. Look for a tree up a slight incline on your left that has had a blaze chopped into it, and turn left hiking uphill to continue on the Fire Warden’s Trail.

The Fire Warden's Trail is easy to follow even though, like many trails in the White Mountains, it's largely unblazed
The Fire Warden’s Trail is easy to follow even though, like many trails in the White Mountains, it’s largely unblazed

Note: Chopping blazes into trees violates the principles of Leave No Trace. Most White Mountain Hikers were horrified to discover that someone had marked the trail in this manner since it’s so unnecessary, and it violates White Mountain National Forest Regulations.

The Fire Warden’s Trail, like many trails in the White Mountain National Forest, is largely unblazed. However, the trail is still heavily used and the path is easy to follow. Running along an old road bed, the trail is a well beaten path, with surprisingly few rocks to clamber over as it climbs uphill. If you encounter a tree blocking the path (called a blow-down), just detour around it and the path will continue heading uphill on the other side.

If you encounter a blow down or shrubbery overhanging the trail, just walk around it and keep hiking up the obvious trail tread
If you encounter a blow down or bushes overhanging the trail, just walk around it and keep hiking up the obvious trail tread on the other side

As you approach the summit of Hale, there’s a good view through trees of Mt Washington’s east side and the ridgeline between Mt Jefferson and Mt Monroe. The Fire Wardens Trail runs directly to the Hale summit which is viewless. It has a large rock cairn at the top, with magnetic rocks that can play tricks on your compass.

Follow the lend-a-hand trail to the AMC Zealand Hut
Follow the lend-a-hand trail to the AMC Zealand Hut

From the Hale summit, follow the signed Lend-a-Hand Trail which runs down to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Hut. When you reach the section of this forest trail that has wooden boardwalks, slow your pace way, way down to avoid slipping and falling on them if they’re wet. If you do fall, try to land on the base of your backpack where you’re sleeping bag is packed because it will cushion the fall.

When you arrive at the hut, drop your pack on the porch and go inside to visit with the crew. You don’t have to be a paying guest to visit and it’s a good place to stop for a rest and refill water bottles from the indoor taps. The Hut is also a good place to spend the night if you want to follow this route at a leisurely pace. Reservations are highly recommended though, especially in the summer and autumn.

All of the huts, major junctions, and fragile areas of the Whites are surrounded by Forest Protection Areas (FPA), usually 1/4 to 1/2 mile in diameter, where camping is prohibited. They’re all marked by signs nailed to trees that announce when you’re entering or leaving them. While I can’t recommend it, there is also large pre-existing campsite on the Ethan Pond Trail, south of the Zealand Hut, near the perimeter of the FPA surrounding Zealand Falls. Heavily used by AT Thru-hikers, it’s not the prettiest campsite by a long shot, but you can camp there for free in a pinch.

Appalachian Mountain Club's Zealand Hut
Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Hut

Leave Zealand Hut and climb up the Twinway Trail to Zeacliff, a cliff face that overlooks Zealand Notch and the Whitewall Mountain cliffs on its far side. The climb up to Zeacliff is steep and rocky, ascending 900 feet in 1.2 miles, but it’s the last significant climb on the route. At the top of the climb, follow a signed side trail to the viewpoint. There’s a good view of Mt Willey in addition to the cliffs.

View of Whitewall Mountain Cliffs from Zeacliff
View of Whitewall Mountain Cliffs from Zeacliff

From the cliff, head north along the Twinway which is the major trunk trail along the northern rim of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It also coincides with the Appalachian Trail, so you’re likely to run into thru-hikers between July and September as they head towards Maine.

As you approach Zealand Mountain, you’ll pass a 0.1 mile side trail to tiny Zeacliff Pond on your left. Depending on the year and the time of season, Zeacliff Pond may be beautiful or just plain nasty. It does have a great view of Mt Carrigan in the distance though, which is well worth checking out. Local naturalist Alex MacPhail has a wonderful description of the pond’s origins on his White Mountain Sojourn Blog, that’s worth a quick read if you’re interested in mountain pond ecology and the geological forces that help create them. For instance, I learned that the difference between a pond and a lake is whether or not sunlight can reach the bottom.

Zealand Mountain Summit Sign
Zealand Mountain Summit Sign

Continue along the Twinway until you reach the 0.1 mile spur trail that leads to the Zealand Mountains summit. The summit is viewless and hemmed in by spruce, with barely enough space to get your photo under the sign. While it may feel like you’re not on a 4000 footer, rest assured, you’re at 4260′ of elevation. That’s the beauty of ridge walks, something that the White Mountains has in abundance. Once you climb to a ridge crest, you can hike along it picking off one summit after another, with less incremental effort.

Continue along the Twinway towards Mt Guyot (pronounced Gee-oh, with a hard ‘g’.) The mountain is named after Professor Arnold H. Guyot (1807–1884), who’s credited with drawing the first map of the White Mountains. Guyot is a 4000 footer although it’s not on the AMC 4000 footer list because its summit is too close to other peaks that are.

That’s the funny thing with peakbagging lists, they are not a literal reflection of the landscape (The Adirondack 46ers 4,000 footer list contains several peaks less than 4,000 feet in height), but very much a man-made abstraction. For example, Guyot is considered a 4000 footer on another White Mountains peakbagging list called the Trailwrights 72, which lists 24 additional mountains that are 4000 feet or higher, beyond the 48 peaks included on the AMC 4000 footer list. If you want a challenge, that’s the list.

Cairns on Mt Guyot
Cairns on Mt Guyot

Guyot is a pretty peak with a graceful bald summit dome topped with rock cairns. It’s also a major crossroads linking the Bondcliff Trail to the Twinway, putting the Bonds (West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff) within spitting distance if you want to add them to this route. The Bondcliff Trail also leads to the AMC’s Guyot Shelter and Tent Platforms in 0.8 miles, which is a good place to camp (the only nearby place to camp) or refill your water if you’re running low.

South Twin is a huge mountain (4902') on the north rim of the Pemigewasset Wilderness
South Twin is a huge mountain (4902′) on the north rim of the Pemigewasset Wilderness

From the Guyot summit, continue northwest on the Twinway, passing through dense woods, to the summit of South Twin Mountain, where the view of Franconia Ridge and Mt Garfield more than makes up for the lack of views on Mts Hale and Zealand. On a clear summer days, you can even see hang gliders soaring above Franconia Ridge on the hot air thermals.

Ledges on North Twin Mountain
Ledges on North Twin Mountain

From South Twin, turn right onto the North Twin Spur Trail, reaching the summit of North Twin in 1.3 miles, passing open ledges  with more great views. There’s also a short side trail from the summit cairn to another ledge overlooking Mt Garfield and its sub-peaks, which is a great place for lunch or to admire the view.

Continue onto the North Twin Trail, which descends steeply down to the Little River Valley for 4.3 miles. The descent requires three stream crossings, which can be difficult in high water. Being a steep and narrow valley, the Little River can flash up quickly during a heavy rain event, so check the weather during the dates of your hike to avoid heavy rain. If you do find yourself unable to cross safely during high water, wait for the water level to drop until it’s safe to cross. The Little River has a small watershed and the levels will drop quickly.

Little River Water Crossing
Little River Water Crossing

After the final water crossing, it’s a short walk back to the North Twin Trailhead where this route began. If it’s warm out, there are many fine cascades and pools along the river where you can swim and cool off. I haven’t found any trout yet in this section of the Little River, but your luck may be better.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide. He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

Published 2018.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

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A Moriah Loop Trip Plan: Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers Guidebook

The Moriah Loop is a 2-3 day, 24 mile backpacking route that climbs Mount Moriah and its graceful sister peak, Shelburne Moriah, before dropping down to the Wild River. From there, the route loops back through the heart of the Wild River Wilderness on the Moriah Brook Trail, passing countless cascades and pools that make for great backcountry swimming. Seldom visited by day hikers, this wilderness area is remote and lightly blazed, requiring good map-reading skills and navigation experience.

Moriah Loop

  • Overview GeoPDF Map (Download) [1:62,500]
  • GPX File (Download) – Trails only

Rating/Difficulty

****/5 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

24 miles w/5800′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Moriah

Recommended Duration

2-3 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

Most this route passes through the Wild River Wilderness Area. Please observe all wilderness area restrictions. 

New to the White Mountains? Read this Quick and Dirty Guide to Backpacking in the White Mountains for information about camping regulations, road access, trail shuttles, lodging, dangerous wildlife, weather, etc.

Trailhead Directions

  • Stony Brook Trailhead
  • Carter Moriah Trailhead (very limited parking – see parking recommendation below)

This trip starts the Carter Moriah Trailhead and ends nearby at the Stony Brook Trailhead. These are separated by a 1.3 mile road walk, all downhill, that takes about 20-25 minutes. If you only have one car, I’d recommend leaving it at the Stony Brook lot and getting the road walk out of the way up front. Turn left from the Stony Brook parking lot onto Rt 16 and walk 1.3 mile, turning right into the Libby Pool parking lot on Mill Street. Leave the parking lot on Mill Street and turn right onto a bridge in 0.2 miles. Cross the bridge and take a right onto Bangor Street, which quickly leads to the Carter Moriah Trailhead. You can also park at the Libby Pool lot (the sand covered part) if you have two cars, instead of trying to park at the Carter Moriah Trailhead, which has very limited parking.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Maps 5-6: Carter-Range-Evans Notch North Country-Mahoosuc (2017 ed), which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way. Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes. Getting the 2017 editions is important because there have been changes to the trail system.

  • Carter Moriah Trail – 4.5 miles
  • Kenduskeag Trail – 5.1 miles
  • Shelburne Tr – 3.4 miles
  • Highwater Tr – 1.7 miles
  • Moriah Brook Trail – 5.5 miles
  • Stony Brook Trail – 3.6 miles

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances on the route to each view or landmark.

  • Mt Surprise Summit – 2.0 miles
  • Carter Moriah Summit – 4.5 miles
  • Shelburne Moriah Summit – 7.2 miles
  • Wild River – 11.6 miles
  • Moria Brook Gorge – 13.9 miles
  • Moriah Brook Cascades – 15.4 miles

Camping and Shelter Options

  • Imp Lean-to and Tent Platforms ($)
  • Wild River Campground ($) – Closed for 2018 for renovation and repair.
  • There are limited options for backcountry camping on this route given the terrain. Your best bet for finding a campsite is along the Shelburne Trail (below 1800′), the Highwater Trail, or the lower half of the Moriah Brook Trail. Please observe all White Mountains backcountry camping rules and wilderness regulations and leave no trace.

Water

There’s no water on the first 9 miles of this route, until near the top of the Shelburne Trail, so carry extra. Three liters should do it. Water is abundant, thereafter.

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Wild River Map in Guthook Guide’s New England Hiker Smartphone App (IOS, Android) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

Carter Moriah Trailhead
Carter Moriah Trailhead

Begin climbing the Carter Moriah Trail which climbs 3250′ feet over 4.5 miles to the summit of Mount Moriah. The trail is easy to follow, but this is a significant climb so take your time in ascending. Water is also scarce, as noted above, so pack extra.

Rock ledge on Mt Surprise
Rock ledge on Mt Surprise

At 2.0 miles you’ll come to a rock ledge known as Mt Surprise which has a good view of Pine Mountain on the other side of Rt 16. From this point onward, the trail to Moriah switches from forest duff to rock ledge, gaining elevation steeply in places.

Mt Moriah Summit Sign
Mt Moriah Summit Sign

Continue climbing until you come to a spur trail on your right to the Moriah Summit. There are very fine views of Mt Washington and the northern Presidentials from the summit. If you turn and look to the north, you can see the summit ledges on your next destination, Shelburne Moriah Mountain. Once you summit that peak, you’ll follow the ridge on its righthand side down to the Wild River Valley.

Shelburne Moriah Mountain
Shelburne Moriah Mountain

Return to the Carter Moriah Trail and turn right. In a few steps, you’ll come to a rock chimney that you need to down-climb. The best way I’ve found to descend these is to go down backwards, like climbing down a ladder, grabbing hand and footholds as you climb down.

At the bottom, turn left onto the Kennduskeag Trail where you’ll encounter numerous boardwalks on the way to Shelburne Moriah Mountain. This first section of the Kenduskeag Trail coincides with the Appalachian Trail and you’re like to to encounter thru-hikers or section hikers until the AT turns off at the Rattle River Trail Junction, 1.4 miles distant.

This portion of the trail coincides with the Appalachian Trail
This portion of the trail coincides with the Appalachian Trail

Continue on the Kenduskeag Trail past the Rattle River Trail junction, walking on more bog bridges until you pop out above treeline near Shelburne Moriah Mountain. The views from the top of this 52-with-a view peak (3735′) are probably the best in the Carter Moriah Range. There’s a fine view looking back at Mt Moriah and Middle Moriah to its right. In clear weather, you can also see Mts Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Turning north, you can see the entire Mahoosuc Range, which is also on the Appalachian Trail, and the Androscoggin River below it.

Head east from the Shelburne Moriah Summit, descending steeply to the Shelburne Trail Junction. Until now, the route has skirted the Wild River Wilderness, following its northwestern boundary. When you reach the junction, turn right, where you’ll be greeted by the Wild River Wilderness boundary sign. Hang gliders are not permitted in the wilderness area, so leave yours at the boundary.

Bog bridges lead to Shelburne Moriah Mountain
Bog bridges lead to Shelburne Moriah Mountain

If you’re low on water, there is a small stream at 2300′ and another larger one at 1800′. If you’re beat for the day and ready to camp, there are lots of locations on either side of the trail to camp in the open woods. The next major stream crossing at 1400′ is also a good area to find a backcountry site.

At 1400′ you’ll pass outside the designated wilderness area. Continue to the Highwater/Shelburne Trail junction where Bull Brook meets the Wild River. This junction can be a little confusing because the sign you need to follow is hard to see as you come down the trail.  When you see the sign announcing a Forest Protection Area on your right, turn right and look for sign that says “Highwater Trail, Moriah Brook 1.4.”

This sign is to the right of the first Forest Protection Area sign you come across.
This sign is to the right of the first Forest Protection Area sign you come across.

From here, there are two small stream crossings separated by a small island. Chances are you’ll need to bushwhack to the left around the island and back around the other side because dead trees from the annual spring floods get hung up on it, blocking the trail. Look for a small wooden sign, nailed to a tree, on the other side of the second stream crossing to find the continuation of the Highwater trail.

The Highwater Trail runs along the west bank of the Wild River for 1.4 miles, occasionally climbing above the river, before it turns onto the Moriah Brook Trail. While the Forest Service tries valiantly to keep this trail open year after year, the Wild River erodes the river bank each spring or after heavy rain events. So don’t be surprised if the riverside sections of trail disappear for short stretches because it’s been washed away. If you keep the Wild River to your left, bushwhack these areas, until you find the trail on the other side of the washout. You can’t overshoot the Moriah Brook Trail junction, as long as you stay in sight of the Wild River.

Sign to the non-existent Wild River Suspension Bridge
Sign to the non-existent Wild River Suspension Bridge

Shortly before you come to the Moriah Brook trail junction, you’ll pass a sign pointing to the Wild River Campground. This is the site of a former suspension bridge, which was closed in 2016 and has since been washed away. But the sign is a good indicator that you’re still on the right track.

The Highwater trail is intact from this point on, until you turn right onto the Moriah Brook Trail in 0.3 miles. Moriah Brook is a rocky mountain stream that runs up a narrow river valley for 5.5 miles. The place has a lost world feel to it, with countless cascades and pools that make for excellent swimming and relaxing. Few people venture down the Moriah Brook Trail, although it is a local favorite among backpackers.

After a mile, you’ll come to the Moriah Brook Gorge, a small canyon that drops 300 feet to the Wild River below. The top pool below the water crossing is a great place to take a dip and cool off. The rest of the gorge is accessible, but requires considerable effort to explore.

Top of the Moriah Brook Gorge
Top of the Moriah Brook Gorge

Cross the river at the top of the river and hike upstream through open forest. Like the Wild River, portions of the Moriah Brook Trail are periodically washed out by seasonal flooding, so don’t be surprised if sections are obscured by blowdowns or flood debris. If you lose the trail, just remember that it runs alongside the brook.

Moriah Brook Swimming Holes
Moriah Brook Swimming Holes

While the trail leads to many attractive swimming holes, there are portions of Moriah Brook that you can only get to if you’re willing to hike off-trail to access them. If you have the time and inclination, it’s well worth spending an extra day along the Moriah Brook to investigate them. There is also a sparse trout population in the stream, making it a fun place to Tenkara fish if you have the patience.

As you hike higher along the Brook, the valley begins to narrow and the trail starts to weave back and forth across the stream. Some of these stream crossings are obscure, so pay close attention to your map to avoid getting pulled off trail by a herd paths to pre-existing campsites.  The valley narrows as you approach the southern cliffs of Mt Moriah. This section can be muddy, but you soon climb out of it reaching the Carter Moriah Trail.

Southern Ledges of Mt Moriah overlooking the Moriah Brook Stream Valley
Southern Ledges of Mt Moriah overlooking the Moriah Brook Stream Valley

Take a left at the Carter Moriah Trail and follow the boardwalk 20 yards to the Stony Brook Trail junction. Take a right onto the Stony Brook Trail which descends steeply at first but then moderates. Follow it for 3.6 miles, past a gorgeous stream, with numerous swimming holes, until you reach the trailhead parking lot at the end of this route.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide. He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

Published 2018.

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