Best Hikes in White Mountain National Forest (NH)

White Mountain National Forest Overview

The White Mountain National Forest in eastern New Hampshire and western Maine ranges from mountainous hardwood forests to majestic alpine peaks. It is the most eastern national forest in the United States. The White Mountains are home to the most rugged and challenging terrain in the region. Boasting some of the highest peaks in New England, thru-hikers have the option of staying in one of the eight High Huts of the White Mountains. These huts are modeled after similar huts in the Alps and are owned and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Many of the best hikes in White Mountain National Forest described below traverse overtop of these summits and are considered some of the best trails in the Northeast.

StateNew Hampshire; Maine
Nearest Metro AreaPortland, ME
Area Size750,852 acres
EstablishedMay 16, 1918
Hiking Trails1,200 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in White Mountain National Forest

(*** = Best Hikes in White Mountain National Forest)

Arethusa Falls – 5.0 mile loop
Arethusa Falls, Photo by Wgreaves

Fantastic loop that heads to one of the highest falls in New Hampshire. Most of the hike falls in Crawford Notch State Park which is surrounded by White Mountain National Forest. After quickly arriving at Arethusa Falls, head north towards Frankenstein Cliff (clockwise loop) for an incredible overview vantage point.

Artists Bluff Trail – 1.5 mile loop
Echo Lake, Profile Rd, Franconia (494040)
Echo Lake, Photo by Robert Linsdell

Fantastic short loop on the northwest outskirts of the forest in Franconia Notch State Park with a great view of the valley and Cannon Mountain. Add Bald Mountain Spur Trail with a quick scramble up a rock face for great views.

Baldface Circle Trail – 9.6 mile loop
North Baldface, Photo by Ken Gallager

A strenuous but worthwhile loop with nearly 4 miles of open exposed rock ledge presenting great views of the taller Whites. The trailhead is somewhat isolated, located near the New Hampshire-Maine border, and thus does not get as much traffic as the other great trails in the forest. At 0.7 miles from the trailhead there is a 0.1 mile access trail to the popular Emerald Pool. On the south branch of the trail at 2.5 miles is USFS South Baldface Shelter and outhouse. As the name implies, both North and South Baldface have bald summits after they were burned by a 1903 fire and will require some enjoyable rock scrambling to get to the top. 

Champney Falls Trail to Mt. Chocorua – 7.6 miles out and back
View of Presidential Range from Mt. Chocorua, NH
View of Presidential Range from Mt. Chocorua, Photo by Yngve Roennike

The Champney Falls Trail begins by the information board in the parking area. Follow the gradual grade of an old logging road to Champney Brook. The first set of switchbacks is reached at 2.4 miles. The Champney Falls Trail will reach a saddle and pass the Middle Sister Trail on the left. Soon the Champney Falls Trail ends at the junction of the Piper Trail, which will lead you to the summit in .06 mile.

Franconia Ridge Loop*** – 8.5 mile loop
Franconia Ridge
Franconia Ridge, Photo by Keith Burgie

This fantastic loop is not only one of the best hikes in White Mountain National Forest but the entire New England area. Picturesque views await as hikers traverse Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln, and Little Haystack. The ridge is found along the Appalachian Trail and is quite popular in the summer months. The loop can be completed in either direction and although the terrain can be steep and rocky, the panoramic views that are found along the way more than make up for the challenge.

Mount Pemigewasset Trail – 3.5 miles out and back
Mt. Pemigewasset view
Mount Pemigewasset View, Photo by Bryan Pocius

Short trail beginning from the Flume Gorge parking area in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail has great views of the Franconia Ridge (see hike above) and should only take a couple of hours to complete!

Mount Moosilauke Loop – 7.4 mile loop
Mt. Moosilauke Summit!
Mt. Moosilauke Summit, Photo by buoutingclub

Hiking to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke is a favorite of White Mountain National Forest visitors. There are many popular trails but the best would be starting from the Raven Lodge Trailhead via Gorge Brook Trail. This trail climbs over 2000′ to the summit of Moosilauke offering excellent views of the surrounding White Mountains. From the peak, loop back to South Peak and then take Snapper Ski Trail back to the trailhead.

Mount Washington Loop*** – 7.8 mil loop
Mount Washington (New Hampshire)
Mount Washington, Photo by JJBers

A stunning and rugged loop to the summit of Mount Washington, often dubbed “home of the world’s worst weather”. At the summit you will find the Mount Washington Observatory, a weather station that studies the uniquely harsh conditions found at the summit. The hike begins at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and heads up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. This trailhead provides access to the East side of the Presidential Range, including Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines and the summit of Mt. Washington, as well as shorter excursions to scenic areas such as Lost Pond and Square Ledge. On a clear day, views from the summit are unparalleled making this one of the best hikes in White Mountain National Forest.

Experienced hikers with more than one-day available should consider doing the 23 mile one-way Presidential Traverse if they want to truly experience the forest and its beautiful summits. The route crosses seven 4,000′ + summits all named after former US presidents: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Rough terrain and poor weather conditions along the exposed trail can make this a dangerous trek for even the most experienced of hikers.

Mount Willard Trail – 3.0 miles out and back
View from Mount Willard
View from Mount Willard, Photo by Roy Luck

Beginning near Saco Lake, this is a short and relatively easy trail to the summit of Mount Willard within Crawford Notch State Park. The views from the top make the quick journey well worth it.

Welch Dickey Mountain Trail*** – 4.5 mile loop
MetaFilter Meetup: Welch-Dickey Loop, Thornton, NH, 2017-09-17
Welch-Dickey Loop, Photo by Jim

The Welch Dickey Mountain Trail makes a unique scenic loop to the summits of two mountains. Welch Mountain is a prominent rocky peak that forms the western wall of the narrow gateway to Waterville Valley. A short distance to the northwest is the exposed summit of Dickey Mountain. There are many outstanding views of the surrounding countryside seen from open ledges and rock outcrops.

Featured Image: White Mountain National Forest, Photo by Jiaqian AirplaneFan

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