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Hike safely during the pandemic with these 5 overlooked White Mountain trails

Bridal Veil Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls.Miles Howard for The Boston Globe

The mornings are getting sticky. You’re tiring of baking bread. And the local parks and pond loops are feeling all too familiar. If you’re thinking of hightailing it to the White Mountains for a refreshing taste of the backcountry, you’re not alone. According to Steven D. Smith, guidebook author and owner of the Lincoln, N.H.-based bookstore The Mountain Wanderer, trailheads throughout the Whites have been jam-packed with cars lately. (“This raises the question of how easily you’ll be able to social distance on those trails,” Smith said.) Furthermore, some of the most popular and challenging trails in the Whites, such as Tuckerman Ravine, are closed — for the safety of hikers and search-and-rescue volunteers who will be extra vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure this year. That last part is important to bear in mind if you’re going hiking. Nobody wants to end their hiking trip in the hospital with a sprained ankle or heat exhaustion. But that maxim grows more relevant during a pandemic. New Hampshire Fish and Game, which conducts rescue operations, is urging people to save the big summits for next year. That might leave some hikers feeling crestfallen, but taking it easy in the Whites this summer doesn’t have to feel like a compromise: These mountains are a treasure trove of natural wonders and oddities waiting to be discovered by those willing to tread the paths less taken. These five hikes, scattered around the expanse of the White Mountain National Forest, will take you to places just as memorable as the pinnacle of Lafayette.

BRIDAL VEIL FALLS Franconia, N.H.

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This shimmering cascade on the haunches of Cannon Mountain looks just like a wedding veil, and the pool into which it spills is a prime place to cool off after the gentle ascent to the falls along Coppermine Trail. But one of the lesser known quirks of this hike is a mysterious plaque affixed to a mossy boulder, which reads, “In Memoriam to Arthur Farnsworth, ‘The Keeper of Stray Ladies.’” Farnsworth, a former New Hampshire innkeeper, was the late husband of Bette Davis, and legend has it Davis had the plaque installed after “Farny” passed away. Look for it around the 1-mile mark, as the Coppermine Trail reaches the rocky banks of Coppermine Brook. It’s 4.4 miles round trip. Park at the trailhead on Coppermine Road, off Easton Road.

The Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson and Whitefield, N.H.
The Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson and Whitefield, N.H.Phil Brown/NH Audubon Society

CHERRY POND Jefferson, N.H.

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You don’t have to wheeze your way up rocks and roots to enjoy breathtaking views of the Whites. Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, a vast marshland on the northwestern edge of the Whites, offers an incredible panorama of the Presidential range. Cherry Pond is the body of water at the heart of the refuge, and the 1.5-mile hike here takes you along the Pondicherry Rail Trail (along which freight trains used to rumble through the Whites). At the pond, you’ll find an observation deck — a killer place for birding — and you can explore lots of additional boggy paths, like the Ice Rampart Trail and the Colonel Whipple Trail. Some of these little trails are part of the Cohos Trail, a new long-distance trail that goes from the heart of the White Mountains to the Canadian border. It’s 3 miles round trip to Cherry Pond. Park at the trailhead on Airport Road off of Route 115.

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Giant Falls — a 90 foot-tall monster of a cascade, just north of Pinkham Notch — is strangely overlooked by most visitors.
Giant Falls — a 90 foot-tall monster of a cascade, just north of Pinkham Notch — is strangely overlooked by most visitors.Miles Howard for The Boston Globe

GIANT FALLS Shelburne, N.H.

The Whites are esteemed for their abundant waterfalls, but Giant Falls — a 90-foot-tall monster of a cascade, just north of Pinkham Notch — is strangely overlooked by most visitors. The patient ascent to the falls, along the Peabody Brook Trail, takes you into the quietude of the Peabody State Forest, where you may encounter pine martens and deer. The falls are reached by a cutoff on the left side of the trail. If you’re visiting after rainfall (recommended!) you’ll witness Giant Falls at its most thunderous, from a natural viewing ledge. It’s 3 miles round trip.

Park on the shoulder of North Road in Shelburne off Route 2. Look for a white trailhead sign for the Peabody Brook Trail, near 267 North Road.

Zealand Trail.
Zealand Trail.Miles Howard for The Boston Globe

ZEALAND VALLEY Twin Mountain, N.H.

The Zealand Trail will be familiar to anyone who’s snored the night away at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Falls Hut. But the dreamy beaver bog through which the Zealand Trail meanders is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the realm of Zealand Valley. Once you reach the junction for the Twinway and Ethan Pond trails at 2.5 miles, continue along Ethan Pond Trail and enjoy a sun-splashed hike along an epic rockslide spilling down the slopes of Whitewall Mountain. From here, it’s another mile to the 80-foot-tall Thoreau Falls. But whichever destination you choose, the trail is mostly level, with old school log bridges that traverse muddier sections. It’s 7.2 miles round trip to Whitewall rock slide and 9.4 miles round trip to Thoreau Falls.

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Park in the day use lot at the end of Zealand Road (off Route 302). Be sure to bring some small bills so you can pay the $5/day fee at the self-pay station by the trailhead. And consider getting here earlier. The Zealand trailhead is popular during the summer.

The Basin.
The Basin.Miles Howard for The Boston Globe

THE BASIN AND HERMIT FALLS North Chatham, N.H.

Of New Hampshire’s many notches, Evan’s Notch is the most criminally overlooked. A hidden valley right on the N.H./Maine border, it’s a veritable hotbed of craggy peaks, active wildlife, and interesting hikes. The Basin is an especially bucolic introduction to Evan’s Notch. This glacial pond is a popular bathing ground for moose, which you can look for as you amble roughly half a mile around the pond on the bumpy and rooty Basin Trail. But there’s more. Cross Basin Brook on stones and continue along the Basin Trail into a glacial boulder-strewn forest, and soon you’ll reach Hermit Falls, a spattering 30-foot-tall cascade that trail climbs alongside at a steeper grade. It’s 2.8 miles round trip. Park at the Basin Campground off Route 113.

Miles Howard can be reached at mileswhoward@gmail.com.