Spring has arrived, a wonderful time of year to hike alongside New Hampshire’s many natural attractions: rushing waterfalls, warbling songbirds, and showy wildflowers to name a few. With increasing daylight, fewer crowds, and lower heat and humidity than in summer, this time of year can be ideal for visiting some of the state’s most popular trails.
Spring hiking in the Granite State also presents unique challenges. Winter conditions often last well into May in the highest mountains. In addition, increased water can make for tricky brook crossings, muddy trails, and, of course, breeding grounds for biting insects.
Fortunately, the state is blessed with a great variety of trails from which to choose. Here are 10 hikes that accentuate spring’s positive attributes and minimize its challenges.
One of the state’s most popular hikes, in fact one of the world’s most popular, Mount Monadnock offers numerous paths to its barren summit. While a challenging climb, the mountain is especially alluring to young hikers eager to scramble up the many granite ledges.
Hike: Monadnock’s most-visited trails begin at the state park headquarters. For a quieter excursion choose the 2.2-mile Dublin Trail, which provides excellent views and pleasant forest surroundings throughout.
Trailhead: From the Marlborough Road, near the Dublin Country Club, follow the Old Troy Road south 1.8 miles. The final mile can be rough. www.nhstateparks.org
PISGAH STATE PARK
Tucked away in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire, Pisgah is a 13,300-acre oasis of rolling hills, dense forests, and sprawling wetlands. Spring is the perfect time to take advantage of the park’s diverse habitat to enjoy returning songbirds, colorful wildflowers, and scenic viewpoints.
Hike: Dissected by a network of hiking and multi-use trails, the park provides many options. A good introduction is an 8-mile loop that combines the Kilburn Road, Pisgah Ridge, Reservoir Road, Baker Pond, and Davis Hill trails.
Trailhead: Located on Route 63 in Hinsdale, 4.5 miles south of Route 9. www.nhstateparks
When winter persists on the White Mountains to the north, Mount Cardigan often offers spring hikers the perfect big mountain feel without the lingering snow and ice. The mountain’s many rocky ridges showcase exceptional panoramas in all directions and its oft-windy summit can be a pleasant escape from emerging insects.
Hike: Choose the 5.5-mile loop that ascends the Manning and Mowglis trails to the summit tower, before descending more gradually along the Clark, Cathedral Forest, and Holt trails.
Trailhead: Located at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cardigan Lodge. www.out doors.org/lodging/cardigan/
WELCH AND DICKEY
More challenging than one expects, hiking Welch and Dickey is an ideal early season White Mountain adventure. With south-facing slopes throughout, the trail dries rapidly allowing for an early season tuneup for longer journeys.
Hike: Begin the 4.5-mile loop by climbing the steep ledges of Welch Mountain. Continue through a small saddle to Dickey Mountain, before dropping steadily back to the forest. Nearly half of the hike traverses open terrain offering exceptional views.
Trailhead: From Interstate 93, follow Route 49 5.6 miles toward Waterville Valley. Turn left onto Upper Mad River Road and then right onto Orris Road. www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain
Nestled between two steep mountainsides, Upper and Lower Greeley Ponds lure outdoor enthusiasts in search of wildlife from the majestic moose to the prolific wood frog and everything in between. In spring, the surrounding forests burst to life with colorful wildflower displays and boisterous bird songs.
Hike: This moderate 4.8-mile round-trip hike includes a gradual ascent over a height of land before easily descending to the two scenic ponds.
Trailhead: Located on the Kancamagus Highway, 10.1 miles east of Interstate 93 in Lincoln. www.fs.fed.us/r9/for
AND PITCHER FALLS
Aided by winter snowmelt and April showers, the White Mountains’ many mesmerizing cascades and waterfalls are never more enticing than in spring. While there are several from which to choose, these falls not only stand out for their beauty, but also as stops on a longer trek to Mount Chocorua’s impressive, rocky pinnacle.
Hike: Follow the Champney Falls Trail 1.6 miles to the neighboring pair of unique falls. Continue south 2.2 miles to reach Mount Chocorua’s 3,500-foot highpoint.
Trailhead: Located on the Kancamagus Highway, 10.6 miles west of Route 16 in Conway. www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain
Moat Mountain stands prominently above the Mount Washington Valley, offering 360-degree views from each of its three open summits. An excellent year-round destination, 2,749-foot South Moat is especially attractive during the spring since its southern slopes welcome summer conditions much sooner than other nearby locales.
Hike: The 2.7-mile ascent begins gradually and slowly increases in intensity. The final climb includes a few steep inclines, but offers pleasant views to the south.
Trailhead: Located on Passaconaway Road, 3.4 miles west of the West Side Road in Conway. www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain
Once a hidden gem, Baldface Mountain boasts roaring cascades, stunning vistas, and wildlife-filled forests. The mountain rises above 3,600 feet and while not as high as neighboring peaks, it is more challenging than many hikes in the Whites. While snow melts quickly here, one river crossing can be tricky during high water.
Hike: Complete a 9.8-mile circuit by following the Baldface Circle Trail in a clockwise direction. Consider extending the hike slightly by exploring Chandler Gorge, Bicknell Ridge, Eagle Cascade, and Emerald Pool.
Trailhead: Located on Route 113 in Chatham 17.4 miles north of Fryeburg, Maine. www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain
While rarely living up to its name, Lonesome Lake is a must-visit destination for its spectacular views and many natural features. Accessible with moderate effort, the lake is also a great place from which to extend one’s journey by exploring more remote locations, including high mountain summits and impressive cascades.
Hike: Rising gradually, the Lonesome Lake Trail reaches the eastern shore in 1.2 miles. Here, join the Around Lonesome Lake Trail as it circles the scenic body of water in 0.8 mile.
Trailhead: Lafayette Place Campground, Franconia Notch State Park. www.nhstateparks
This well-traveled loop is often underestimated in terms of difficulty, but its beauty is never understated. Below tree line the hike features serene waterfalls and fascinating geology. Above the trees, hikers can marvel at breathtaking views in all directions as well as colorful displays of flowering alpine vegetation at their feet.
Hike: Follow the Old Bridle Path, Greenleaf, Franconia Ridge, and Falling Waters trails to complete this challenging 8.8-mile circuit. Spring can be a good time to do this hike in terms of fewer crowds, but be prepared for persistent snow and ice in the higher elevations.
Trailhead: Lafayette Place, Franconia Notch State Park. www.nhstateparks.org
Jeffrey Romano, author of “100 Classic Hikes in New England’’ (2010) and “Best Loop Hikes: From New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast’’ (2006), can be reached at jeffrey