Crisp fall foliage. Maple syrup and apple pie. Cool blue lakes. Quaint New England towns. The Old Man of the Mountain.
These are some of the more common images that come to mind when you think of quintessential New Hampshire.
But some of New Hampshire’s more overlooked gems are its rich, rocky mountains, dotting its topography from north to south and towering above nearly all other mountains in New England.
The terrain may be challenging, and at times unforgiving, but the views do not disappoint. After hours of scaling granite boulders, hikers are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in the Northeast.
In fact, some of the most scenic points along the famed Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile (3,500 km) trail spanning from Georgia to Maine, are found in New Hampshire’s the White Mountains.
Known for having some of the worst weather on earth, the White Mountains are as foreboding as they are beautiful.
But for the avid adventurer, they simply can’t be missed.
The following are some of the best mountains to climb in New Hampshire, all of which are accessible to a range of skill levels.
Height: 4,310 ft. (1,314 m.)
Location: Carroll, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck – a moderately challenging day hike with a spectacular view – then Mt. Pierce is a great choice for you.
Named after Franklin Pierce, the only U.S. president to hail from New Hampshire, and located at the southern tip of the famed Presidential Range – a series of mountains named for U.S. presidents and statesmen – Mt. Pierce is as historic as it is breathtaking.
To climb this mountain, the most direct and popular route is an out-and-back hike up the Crawford Path, cut in 1819 by father/son duo Abel and Ethan Allen Crawford. Today, it remains the oldest continuously used hiking trail in the United States.
Although the Crawford Path spans for 8.5 miles, you’ll only be on it for 3.1 if your only stop is the summit of Mt. Pierce, making your total hike 6.2 miles roundtrip.
You’ll pick up the Crawford Path to the summit of Mt. Pierce along N.H. Route 302, across from the AMC Highland Center, where you’ll find free hiker parking along the roadside.
From there, you’ll gradually gain 2,358 feet in elevation as you make your way through the dense forest of birch and pine to emerge above the treeline into the alpine zone, passing beautiful waterfalls and rich forest views along your way.
The smell of spruce greets you as you near the summit, as the trees become shorter and shorter before disappearing almost entirely as you reach the rocky summit.
At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with views of the southern Presidentials, all the way to Mt. Washington, as well as views of Mts. Jackson and Webster to your south. To your west, you’ll be able to see down into the valley, where the beautiful Mt. Washington hotel rests.
This trail is appropriate for a moderately fit hiker of various skill levels. No technical skills are required to hike this mountain.
Alternative trail options for those looking to add more than just a few miles to make their hike a loop include summiting Mount Webster and then Jackson before traversing to Pierce and taking the Crawford Path down, or summiting Pierce via the Crawford Path and then continuing along the Crawford Path toward Mt. Eisenhower before looping back down to Route 302.
Mt. Pierce can be climbed in all seasons and in a range of weather, provided you have the appropriate clothing and equipment to do so safely. Hiking pants and boots are sufficient for Spring through Fall, while snow pants, snowshoes, and microspikes are necessary in winter.
The most popular times to hike are July and August, although temperatures can often top 100 degrees and hikers should bring plenty of water and food to keep them fueled and hydrated for their hike.
This route is also a popular snowshoe option for the winter months, although a proper gear is essential as temperatures can drop near or below zero even during daytime hours and the winds at the summits can be dangerously cold.
Many hikers also find the use of trekking poles aids them in maintaining their footing and relieves some of the pressure on their joints, as the stair-step boulders of this, and other White Mountain trails can really grate on your ankles and knees after even a few hours out on the trail.
Height: 3,490 ft. (1,060 m.)
Location: Albany, New Hampshire
At 3,490 feet, Mt. Chocorua is not considered one of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers. But this doesn’t mean it’s not popular.
In fact, this mountain is every bit as challenging and spectacular as its 4,000 footer cousins. Offering a peak above the treeline, this peak provides 360-degree views of New Hampshire’s beautiful White Mountains and even as far away as Maine.
This rocky and rugged trail offers a challenging workout that will leave you feeling like you’ve earned your view. Once you’ve reached the rocky summit, you’ll have no trouble seeing why it is considered one of the most photographed summits in the world, with stunning views of Lake Chocorua.
You can access the 8.5 mile Mount Chocorua Loop Trail from NH 16. This challenging trail may be more appropriate for fitter, more experienced hikers.
The best times to hike are in the summer months through October.
Height: 4,100 feet (1,250 m.)
Location: Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for a shorter hike with some of the best views in New Hampshire, Cannon Mountain may be a great choice for you. Known more for its use as a ski mountain in the winter months, Cannon is not a choice for the faint of heart when it comes to hiking, though.
Having a more dome-like appearance, rather than a pointy, protruding summit, one might be tempted to think that Cannon is an easier hike of the Whites.
But although the Hi-Cannon trail to the summit is a brief 2 miles, it is unrelentingly steep, gaining 2,263 feet. This is the shortest, and perhaps fastest, way to the summit, depending on your hiking speed and your comfort level with the steep spots, but it will leave your heart pumping.
The trail offers a number of beautiful viewpoints as you near the summit and emerge above the timberline, giving you an eyeful of the spectacular Franconia Ridge and the valley of Franconia Notch below.
The summit offers an observation deck allowing you to see for miles.
Once at the summit, you can return down via the same trail (which will be steep, but at least you know what you’re in for!) or a number of other options, including the Kisman Ridge Trail, which is 3.8 miles one way. It is steep, too, but a bit more gradual than the Hi-Cannon trail.
Some hikers also opt to take the ski lift down when it’s operating, as the trails descending Cannon can be steep.
Another option is to take the Kinsman Ridge Trail roundtrip.
The best times to hike Cannon are in the summer months and on a dry day when there has not recently been rain, as the steep rock surfaces can be slippery.
Avoid hiking in early spring, as snowmelt and remaining ice can prove challenging and even dangerous.
With proper equipment – snowshoes, microspikes, and potentially even crampons and an ice ax – Cannon Mountain can be summited in the winter, as well.
Mt. Lafayette (and the Franconia Ridge)
Height: 5,249 ft. (1,600 m.)
Location: Franconia, New Hampshire
One of New Hampshire’s most popular hikes, Mt. Lafayette lies in the middle of the famed Franconia Ridge, making it perfect for those looking for a nice day hike loop.
View from nearby mountains such as Cannon or the Kinsmans, the Franconia Ridge is considered one of the most beautiful views in the White Mountains. You can choose to view it from afar, on one of the neighboring peaks, or you can experience the real thing first hand by completing the Franconia Ridge loop.
This loop hike will have you traversing three peaks – Lincoln, Lafayette, and Little Haystack – two of which are on the New Hampshire 4,000 footer list – and offering you 360-degree panoramic views of some of the region’s most noteworthy wildernesses and mountain ranges.
To the east, you’ll see the Presidential Range on a clear day, with views down into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
To the west, you’ll see the rocky outcrop of Cannon Mountain.
To the south, views of Mts. Liberty and Flume.
To begin your hike, start along I-93 at the Lafayette Campground. Parking is not allowed along the highway, so if you can’t find a spot at the campground, you’ll need to coordinate a shuttle ride.
You’ll cross under the highway before picking up the steep, but breathtaking Falling Waters Trail, which offers waterfalls and boulders along the steep ascent to Little Haystack.
It is also possible to do the loop in reverse order, descending via Falling Waters, but this can be very difficult on the joints and knees, so it’s perhaps best to get the hardest part of the hike over with by completing the steep ascent first.
Once you reach the summit of Little Haystack, take care to remain only on the marked trail, as the fragile alpine zone can be damaged by human foot traffic.
You’ll then follow the Franconia Ridge Trail from Little Haystack over to Mt. Lafayette before continuing on to Mt. Lincoln. This also coincides with the Appalachian Trail.
At Mt. Lincoln, you’ll begin your descent toward the Greenleaf Hut, which is now within view, via the Greenleaf Trail. At the Hut, you can use the facilities and refill your water bottles.
Leaving the hut, take the Bridle Path back down, providing an unending stair-step trail that is just a bit easier on the knees than the descent of the Falling Waters Trail.
This 8.9-mile loop will leave you wanting for nothing when it comes to a challenging workout while rewarding you with some of the most beautiful views in the White Mountains.
This trail is best completed in the summer months once the snow has melted and the temperatures are warmer. It can be completed in the winter by those who have appropriate equipment. Snowshoes, crampons, and an ice ax are vital for a safe winter traverse of the Franconia Ridge.
Height: 3,165 ft. (965 m.)
Location: Jaffrey, NH
Located in southern New Hampshire, Mt. Monadnock is exactly that – a mountain that stands on its own, isolated from other mountains. Its rocky open summit offers great views of the surrounding countryside and towns.
This mountain has quite the history, as it was frequently visited by literary icons Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. But today, it draws just as much attention worldwide, as it is actually one of the most hiked mountains in the world.
This is a great option for a loop hike. Just take the White Dot Trail and the White Cross Trails, making a fun 4-mile loop that is feasible for a range of fitness and skill levels.
To attempt this hike, it is important to be in moderate physical fitness and have some skill at hiking. Proper gear, including hiking boots, is important for safety, as there are a number of boulders and places where proper traction is a must.
This hike is best attempted in the late Spring through the early fall when conditions are neither too cold or too wet, as temperatures can drop to dangerous levels and conditions on the rocks may be slippery and dangerous without proper equipment.
Height: 2,865 ft. (873 m.)
Location: Crawford Notch, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for a shorter, gentler, family-friendly hike with a great view, then Mt. Willard could be a good choice for you.
You can park along NH Route 302 just next to the AMC Highland Center and pick up the Mount Willard Trail. This is a 3.2 mile out and back option that provides a gradual, steady incline that is appropriate for those in moderate fitness. This is a popular hike for families, and it’s not uncommon to pass young children along the trail, hopping happily from rock to rock.
The summit of this mountain offers expansive, breathtaking views of Crawford Notch, the valley below the mountain.
It is best attempted between April and October when temperatures are more conducive to safe hiking.
It can, however, make a fun snowshoe hike option for those with the proper equipment. Safe winter clothing is important, as well as a good pair of snowshoes and potentially microspikes.
Height: 4,260 ft. (1,300 m.)
Location: Whitefield, New Hampshire
All right, all right. So Zealand Mountain isn’t exactly New Hampshire’s most spectacular summit view.
In fact, there’s not much of a view at all.
This summit does not escape timberline and you’ll be surrounded by trees, with nothing but a tiny sign noting “Zealand Mountain” to greet you after your hard effort.
So why all the fuss about Zealand Mountain?
It’s not the summit that makes this mountain spectacular; it’s the hike – and the views along the way – that make it so worthwhile.
Known primarily for the scenic “Zeacliff” overlook along the Twinway / Appalachian Trail, the Zealand Mountain hike offers spectacular views of the remote Pemigewasset Wilderness.
From the Zeacliff overlook, it’s still another 1.6 miles to reach the official summit. You can take it or leave it, but after you’ve come so far already, why not bag another peak?
To hike Zealand, head to the end of Zealand Road and take the gradual, gently rolling Zealand Trail to the AMC’s Zealand Falls Hut where you can grab some snacks, refill your bottle, and check out the beautiful waterfalls and scenic overlook before heading up the rocky, steep Twinway Trail toward Zeacliff and the mountain’s summit, where you’ll follow an unmarked spur to reach the official summit.
Many opt for the 10.6-mile out-and-back via Zealand Falls Hut, although it’s also possible to approach the mountain along the Twinway from the western side but then you will need to overshoot the summit in order to enjoy the Zeacliff view.
This hike is best attempted in early summer through early fall after the spring snowmelt has dried a bit and the trail is less muddy and less like a waterfall itself.
Height: 4,500 ft. (1,372 m.)
Location: Franconia, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for a challenging, but not too strenuous hike that offers incredible viewpoints from the summit, then look no further than Mount Garfield. Another of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, Garfield can easily be completed in a day hike through the out-and-back option along the Garfield Trail.
This hike is 10.3 miles in total, gaining just under 3,000 feet in total elevation, but the views will be well worth the effort.
Once at the summit, you will be overwhelmed by stunning 360-degree views of some of the best New Hampshire has to offer, including the Franconia Ridge, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and, if you’re lucky on a clear day, the Presidential Range.
This hike is best completed in early summer through early Fall, after the spring snowmelt has begun to dry and when temperatures are warmer.
This hike can be completed in winter, although, as always, proper gear should be carried and appropriate clothing worn.
Height: 4,700 ft. (2,240 m.)
Location: Livermore, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for a long slog of a day hike loop that still offers some stunning views, then Mount Carrigain may be what you’re after.
This mountain provides a great loop hike option offering beautiful views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Follow the Signal Ridge Trail for 5 miles to the summit of Carrigain before following the loop along the Carrigain Notch Trail for the full 13.5-mile loop. On a clear day, you’ll have views of Mt. Washington from lookouts along the hike.
But be warned: This hike can be long and strenuous, although not technically difficult, so come prepared with plenty of food and water, as well as appropriate and sufficient clothing.
This mountain is best hiked in the late spring or early summer through the early fall. Winter ascents are possible, but be sure you have the proper equipment for a winter hike.
Height: 6,288 ft (1,916 m.)
Location: Coos County, New Hampshire
This is the epitome of New Hampshire hiking. If you’re looking to tick New Hampshire’s tallest, most foreboding mountain off your bucket list, then Mt. Washington is an absolute must for you.
At over 6,000 feet, it is the highest mountain in the northeast. But it’s not just its height that is impressive.
Mt. Washington boasts some of the worst weather on earth, with snow possible at any time of year and wind gusts surpassing 200 mph!
Indeed, embarking on a hike up Mt. Washington is not for the faint of heart.
But it’s not exactly impossible, either. In fact, as far as the difficulty of trails is concerned, Mt. Washington is actually a much easier, more accessible hike for a range of fitness and skill levels than some of New Hampshire’s other mountains.
That said, however, it should not be approached without preparation. Plenty of food and water, as well as proper clothing – layers and dry options are a must – and hiking boots are always important.
You can approach the mountain from a number of directions using a variety of trails.
One of the more common options for hiking Mt. Washington is to approach from the east side of the mountain, starting at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
This approach allows you to take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summer for a 7.9 mile out and back hike.
If you’re up for a bit more of a challenge, you can take the slightly rockier option diverging from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail up the Lion Head Trail.
At the summit, you will be rewarded with 360-degree views, including both the northern and southern Presidentials. The summit is often enveloped in clouds and can be much windier than what was encountered along the trail, so be sure to bring appropriate clothing to keep warm.
Another option is to approach the mountain from the western side via the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. This trail meanders along a stream for approximately a mile without much elevation gain or challenging terrain before taking a steep turn for another mile heading up to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, where you can refill your water bottles and enjoy the beautiful azure views of the alpine lakes.
You will then follow the Crawford Path to the Mount Washington summit, where many hikers will choose to descend via the Jewel Trail to complete a nice loop.
Other trails, such as the Huntington Ravine Trail, are less trafficked, but are more dangerous and require hikers to have a certain level of climbing skill in order to safely complete.
Mt. Washington should never be attempted in bad weather or if the forecast calls for rain, snow, high winds, or falling temperatures. It is best climbed in the summer months of June through early September.
For those looking to enjoy the view without the climb, options exist to ascend via auto road, as well as a cog railway.
Regardless of which option you choose to summit, this is one peak you will remember for a lifetime.