I think I speak for almost everybody when I say, I’m glad winter’s over. If you, like me, are among the 50% of UNHers from out of state, you might be wondering why you thought New England was a good idea. (Unless, of course, you are professional snowman builder. If that’s true, you had the best time ever this winter.) There are a few things I could mention in New England’s favor, like maple syrup, cider doughnuts, and how it’s the birthplace of the guy who invented Tupperware. But what I want to talk about is hiking. It wasn’t until I began wandering around in the woods—and eventually up mountains—that I learned to love New England. Our trails are studded with rivers, footbridges, cascades, and giant rocks that hitched rides on glaciers thousands of years ago (these are called “erratics”). There’s a chance you might see moose. There are more than 120 different mountains in White Mountains National Forest, and many of them offer stunning, make-you-reflect-on-the-bigness-of-the-universe-and-your-place-in-it views. The tallest of these, Mt. Washington (6289 feet), once held the record for highest wind speed in the world after a gust in 1934 was recorded at 231 miles/hour.
But you don’t need to venture up Mt. Washington to get why New England hiking is so wonderful. (In fact, it’s nowhere near the best view—but more on that in a future post.) There are plenty of gentler hikes that’ll give you a taste of why hiking is, as they say around here, “wicked awesome.” (You might even find yourself singing this song on a summit or two).
Here are 5 beginner hikes you can try:
5. South Mountain, Pawtuckaway State Park
South Mountain makes this list because it is (A) relatively close to campus, (B) gentle, and (C) there’s a fire tower on the summit. (Who doesn’t like fire towers and not driving very far?) It’s located in Pawtuckaway State Park, about half an hour from Durham. The trail to South Mountain is called, appropriately, Mountain Trail, and is about 2.5 miles each way. The view from the summit (885 feet) isn’t great, but that’s what the fire tower’s for: you can climb up and get a nice view of Pawtuckaway Lake to the East. Park admission is 5$/person.
Mt. Major’s summit (1786 feet) offers a sublime view of Lake Winnipesauke. There are three trails from trailhead to summit, which means you can do the hike as a loop rather than an out-and-back. My favorite of these, the Boulder Loop trail, includes a section of rock scrambling. No matter which trails you take up and back, it’s not a long hike (3-4 miles), but if you’re an inexperienced hiker, some of the steeper sections will challenge you.
3. Lonesome Lake AMC Hut
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s website says its huts were originally built to “provide shelter” for hikers of the New Hampshire section of the Appalachian Trail. “Shelter” isn’t the word I’d choose, though. Think #TrailsideLuxury. The Lonesome Lake Hut, which is just a 1.5-mile hike from the Lafayette Place Campground on I-93, overlooks a beautiful, serene, sparkling mountain lake. And if you lift your head five inches, you’ll get a panoramic view of Franconia Ridge. It’s idyllic as all get out. You’ll say things like, “This is like,” but then you won’t think of anything it’s quite like, and you’ll trail off in awe. But it gets better: you trail off while sprawling on the hut’s deck and eating whatever fresh baked goods the hut’s wood elves have made that morning. (Okay, they’re not elves, they’re AMC trail volunteers, and they can teach you cool things about nature if you ask nicely.) If you’re feeling strong and brave, you might plan to continue from Lonesome Lake up Cannon Mountain, one of the many 4000-foot peaks in the White Mountains.
2. Mt. Willard
New hikers will find the Mt. Willard trail, a 3.2-mile out-and-back, fairly challenging. However, you’ll get to see a waterfall, and when you do reach the summit, you’ll be well-rewarded with an incredible panoramic of Crawford Notch. You’ll want to bring a camera for this one. You might bring lunch, too, though you could also buy a delicious sandwich and eat it at one of the AMC Highland Center outside tables, which is at the base of the mountain. Depending on how quickly you finish the hike, you could head down to Diana’s Baths, a series of cascades and natural swimming holes, to cool off.
1. Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliff
This is one of my favorite loop hikes in the White Mountains. It’s the most challenging trip on this list, but it offers great views and a waterfall. And not just any waterfall—Arethusa Falls features an approximately 140-foot drop, one of the largest in New Hampshire, and possibly the most impressive. After you’ve seen the falls, continue on to Frankenstein Cliff, a big rock slab whose summit (roughly 2400 feet) offers a nice, open view of Crawford Notch. This is an excellent spot for eating Nutella, by the way. (What’s a bad spot for eating Nutella, you ask? Fair point. Still, I recommend this one.) From the trailhead to the Falls is 1.6 miles, and the entire loop is 5.
Even though I’ve called these beginner hikes, you should still prepare responsibly. The following is a basic list of stuff you’ll need:
- Plenty of water
- Appropriate footwear: waterproof, comfortable, and with tread.
- Snacks/lunch (my personal favorite hiking snack is chocolate-covered almonds)
- Map (in a Ziploc for rain protection)
- Rain coat
- First Aid kit
It’s also a good idea to tell somebody where you’re going. Even better, get somebody to go with you! Hiking is a great group activity. Plus, you won’t have to take a summit selfie.
And it shouldn’t be too hard to get somebody to go. UNH is full of people who already love hiking. The Campus Recreation Outdoor Adventures program offers a variety of trips you can sign up for. And you could even just lead your friends across the street to College Woods for an afternoon—no driving required! So next weekend, skip the gym, and go walk around in the woods. True New Englanders do their walking (and running!) on trails, not treadmills.