Hiking in New Hampshire

Jenn Martin
Peak of Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire
Peak of Mount Monadnock

Hiking in New Hampshire can be a great adventure for novice and more experienced hikers alike. There are so many trails to choose from and all of them have the advantage of beautiful New Hampshire scenery. Choosing where to go depends on skill level and desired difficulty, whether that means hiking one of the many 4,000-footers in the White Mountains, venturing along the Appalachian Trail, or going for a more leisurely stroll through one of the 11 state parks.

10 Top New Hampshire Hikes

1. Mount Monadnock

This popular mountain is said to be the most climbed mountain in the world next to Japan's Mt. Fuji, making it a must-hike in New Hampshire. It has several trails leading to its breathtaking 3,165-foot summit, but the 1.66-mile White Dot Trail is often considered the best route for first time climbers. There are rangers on duty to help direct hikers, as well as washrooms and ample parking.

2. Arethusa Falls

New Hampshire is home to some beautiful waterfalls, and this easy hike is more than doable for the whole family (2.6 miles with moderate elevation gain) and will afford beautiful views. This hike is often considered the foremost waterfall hike in the state because Arethusa Falls, though only 200 feet high, is the state's highest.

3. Rockingham Recreational Trail

Rockingham Recreational Trail, NH
Rockingham Recreational Trail, NH

One of New Hampshire's popular Rail Trails, this 26-mile year-round trail is popular because of its beauty, its accessibility and its moderate difficulty (enough to break a sweat, but not overly strenuous). The Rail Trails receive good reviews from hikers (they have been referred to as the "heart and soul" of New Hampshire) and are a great way to see New Hampshire if you're not interested in scaling the mighty White Mountains. Hikers, bikers, snowmobilers and even dog mushers can enjoy the tree-shaded nooks and beautiful ponds that dot this wide, unpaved trail that meanders along a set of abandoned railroad tracks.

4. The Presidential Traverse

Taxing in its entirety, the 22-mile Presidential Traverse is a classic American trek coveted by serious backpackers everywhere. It has been lauded as a key adventure trek by National Geographic and endorsed as one of the best hikes ever by Backpacker Magazine. It meanders through a string of at least seven 4,000-foot summits in the White Mountains. The whole trail will take hikers up the face of Mount Madison across Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Mount Monroe, Mount Eisenhower and Mount Pierce. Experienced hikers can accomplish it two days, though splitting it up over three days allows a more leisurely pace and overnight stops at the developed huts (instead of carrying camping gear up the serious inclines).

5. Mount Washington (Tuckerman Ravine Trail)

Mount Washington Summit
Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Mount Washington Summit

For those looking to get up in the Presidentials but not interested in undertaking the whole traverse, consider climbing Mount Washington by itself via the popular and accessible 4.2-mile Tuckerman Ravine Trail. This will still lead to the highest point in New England, an impressive 6,288 feet. It is a hard trek, but completely doable and appropriate for most ages. Just be aware that Mount Washington is known for its treacherous weather, as it has some of the highest wind speeds ever recorded. It's often considered a quintessential trek because it has some of the worst weather in the country and is the highest peak in the region. Once you reach the top, there is a full service snack bar, washroom facilities, and alternate transportation back down.

6. Mount Adams

One of the biggest appeals of the White Mountains and the Presidential Traverse is their remote, wild quality, which won't await trekkers to the summit of Mount Washington because of the peak's development. However, Mount Adams - New Hampshire's second highest peak - is rugged White Mountain trekking at its best, offering staggering mountain views in all directions along the 4.7-mile Valley Way trail (the peak's most popular). Try combining Adams with neighbors Jefferson and Madison to extend your trek.

7. Lincoln Woods

Lincoln Woods Trail // Photo by Dennis Himes
Lincoln Woods trail meets Franconia Brook

Praised on TripAdvisor as a great day out for the family, this moderate but family-friendly hike follows 2.6 miles along an abandoned railroad track, includes a 160-foot suspension bridge and goes past an old logging camp. It affords beautiful views of Mount Bond and Black Pond.

8. Sawyer River Road

Located just east of Mt. Carrigain, this trail offers stunning views of the mountain throughout, as well as a wildlife-rich forest (look out for moose). The trail is nearly ten miles long and is flat except for a brief incline that lasts only half a mile. Its easy nature and incredible views (both of mountains and wildlife) have landed the trail on several lists of favorites. including Boston Magazine's list of amazing New England hikes.

9. Baldface Loop

Another challenging trail, this approximately 9-mile loop takes hikers through rock ledges and past a beautiful emerald pool up to two spectacular summits, South and North Baldface. Its stunning views and remote location (especially when compared with the state's incredibly popular White Mountains) have earned this trek a spot among Backpacker Magazine's Best Day Hikes in the Northeast.

10. Mount Major

A popular trek for school groups, Mount Major is family-friendly but still exhilarating. There are multiple trails available to the summit but the most widely traveled is the 3.8-mile Mount Major Trail. This 1,150-foot mountain provides trekkers with amazing views of Lake Winnepesaukee. It is one of the few hikes fully endorsed for winter hiking by Visit New Hampshire, making it a must-see at any time of year.

New Hampshire Hiking Tips

Season

  • Summer is the most popular time for trekking in New Hampshire. Though beautiful sunny days are not uncommon, areas of New Hampshire - especially the White Mountains - have some of the most unpredictable weather in the country. Even if traveling in the summer, consult the proper weather resources like the Mount Washington Observatory.
  • Fall is also a beautiful time to visit because of the changing foliage.
  • Hiking in winter and spring is possible but might require extra preparation and gear (like snowshoes or even crampons and ice axes, depending on the location). There are added risks, like snow melts. If hiking in New Hampshire in the winter it is advisable to join a winter hiking group rather than heading out on your own.

Gear

A lot of trekking in New Hampshire takes places above the treeline, which means spectacular views but treacherous weather. Being properly prepared is paramount. The New Hampshire Trails Bureau recommends bringing the following equipment on all hiking trips.

  • High energy food like trail mixes or power bars
  • Waterproof matches and a fire starter
  • A flashlight (don't forget extra batteries)
  • A whistle
  • A knife
  • First aid kit
  • An emergency blanket
  • Nylon cord
  • Gloves
  • A hat
  • Extra clothes (weather changes fast in the mountains)
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm

Something for Everyone in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has the White Mountains, the Rail Trails, the Appalachians and many beautiful state parks. Regardless of fitness level, New Hampshire has hiking for everyone! Just make sure to be prepared, pack the essentials and keep tabs on the state's notorious and unpredictable weather.

Hiking in New Hampshire