Hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains can be an over-the-top outdoor experience. However, there are a number of less strenuous hikes for the weekend outdoors enthusiast that don’t require death-defying gymnastic feats to reach a scenic panorama. Franconia Notch State Park offers several hikes that will help you get crisp fresh air and a great daily step count without requiring you to rappel down a cliffside.
Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
Franconia Notch State Park
Situated in the White Mountain National Forest, Franconia Notch State Park in Lincoln, New Hampshire, is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, and other fresh-air sports can be enjoyed throughout the park. Mother Nature’s spectacular scenery is on display no matter the season.
Pro Tip: The park requires a nominal per person, day-use fee.
Appalachian Mountain Club
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has been fostering a relationship between hikers and the mountains for over a century — since 1876. A great jumping-off point to explore the White Mountain National Forest is the AMC’s Highland Center. One major benefit of staying at the Highland Center is the L.L. Bean Adventure and Learning Center. Guests can borrow everything from hiking boots to rain gear and walking sticks to sleeping bags. It is a free resource that can make a distinct difference in your hiking adventure enjoyment.
Nicole Zussman, President and CEO of the AMC, notes, “At Appalachian Mountain Club, we believe the outdoors are for everyone. Around Franconia Notch, you’ve got it all: trails that range from easy loops to steep ascents, free naturalist programming at AMC’s Highland Center at Crawford Notch, shuttle stops throughout the region, and group hikes and wilderness skills workshops led by AMC’s outdoor guides. Outdoor recreation, conservation, and education are lifelong passions, and AMC is committed to ensuring that people of all ages can ‘Be Outdoors.’”
Tips For Hiking In Franconia Notch
Franconia Notch State Park offers hikers a treasure trove of easy, moderate, and advanced hikes.
Sara DeLucia, AMC’s Guided Adventure Success Manager, offered up the inside scoop on several trails rated easy and moderate in Franconia Notch State Park.
1. Franconia Notch Path
Not to be confused with the Franconia Ridge Trail, Franconia Notch Path is an 8.7-mile-long, point-to-point trail. Rated as a moderate hike, the trail is very popular with cyclists. Also known as the Franconia Notch Recreation Path, it runs through the state park offering pretty vistas and stops along the way. Several other trails through the park connect or cross the Recreation Path.
Pro Tip: The trail is paved and mostly flat. There are a few steep sections along the route.
2. Roaring River Memorial Nature Trail
The Roaring River Memorial Nature Trail is a short 0.3-mile gentle walk in the woods. The trail is more of a spot to stretch your legs than a hike. It is perfect for the non-hiker who wants to get out in nature for a few minutes.
3. Whitehouse Trail
The Whitehouse Trail is a 1-mile, out-and-back hike that rewards you with a visit to the Pemigewasset River. To get to the river, cross the Franconia Notch State Park Recreational Trail and follow it through the woods for about a half-mile.
4. Rim Trail Loop Via Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
The Rim Trail Loop is accessed via the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway (see below). It is rated as an easy 0.4-mile hike that offers spectacular views. Bring your binoculars; on a clear day, the vista is beautiful.
5. Lonesome Lake Trail
Lonesome Lake is a beautiful New Hampshire mountain lake. The Lonesome Lake Trail is a strenuous but moderate 4.6-mile hike around the lake and up to the AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut. At the hut, you can reserve an overnight room and dinner. Day trippers can stop for a break, purchase snacks, and use the public restrooms.
Pro Tip: The steep uphill incline is easier with hiking poles.
6. The Flume Gorge Trail
The Flume Gorge Trail is one of the more popular hikes in Franconia Notch State Park. The 2-mile walk has an AllTrails difficulty rating of moderate. It is a fun hike on mostly packed gravel and includes some uphill sections along with stairs.
Pro Tip: Reservations should be made online to guarantee a specific date and time for your visit.
7. Artist Bluff Trail
For a moderately rated hike, Artist Bluff Trail offers great views of Cannon Mountain and Franconia Notch. The 1.5-mile loop has forgiving terrain.
Pro Tip: There is a good sized parking lot for hikers heading to Artist Bluff Trail on Highway 18.
8. Bald Mountain
This short, 0.6-mile hike brings you to the summit of Bald Mountain. The moderately rated climb requires navigating rocky sections; consider bringing your hiking poles.
DeLucia adds that “Bald Mountain offers great views and extends the hike from Artist’s Bluff. It is a little longer with some steep sections.”
Pro Tip: Bald Mountain Trail shares a parking lot with Artist Bluff Trail.
9. Cascade Brook Trail
To walk part of the Appalachian Trail, plan an outing on the Cascade Brook Trail. Waterfalls, streams, and woodlands, it has everything you want from a hike.
DeLucia warns, “There is a challenging stream crossing that can make this a difficult route, especially after some rain. We encourage hikers to check trail conditions before setting out and to have an alternate route prepared if a water crossing looks dangerous.”
10. Basin Cascade Trail
Connected to the Cascade Brook Trail, the Basin Cascade Trail is an easy hike with big rewards. The hike to the basin is easy and the geological features are very cool!
White Mountain Hiker Shuttles
A system of shuttle stops is the best way to get where you want to hike in the region. The White Mountain Hiker Shuttles takes the guesswork out of finding parking at trailheads, and for that matter, finding the trailheads themselves.
The shuttle service runs daily from June 1 to mid-September and then on weekends and holidays until late October. Reservations are strongly recommended; walk-ons will be accommodated if there is space available.
Pro Tip: DeLucia added, “If there’s a stop you don’t see on the schedule, you can arrange a drop-off between scheduled stops with the driver.”
Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
You can skip the hiking altogether and hop aboard the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. The 8-minute ride to the summit of Cannon Mountain is the easiest way to enjoy the beautiful panoramic views. On a clear day, riders can see mountain peaks in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and New York.
At the summit, there are walking paths, an observation deck, a cafeteria, and restrooms.
Pro Tip: There are discount savings when you book the Aerial Tramway prior to your visit.
Franconia Ridge Trail Restoration
When you are ready to tackle a long and difficult hike, the Franconia Ridge Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Franconia Notch. The steep elevation gain and distance make this hike a challenging hike with a hard hike rating.
The Franconia Ridge Trail Restoration Project is repairing and improving the trail. The project is being coordinated and led by the AMC under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.
For more information on trails in America’s best state parks, check out the 15 Best State Parks To Visit In The U.S.