Hike the Franconia Ridge Loop
New Hampshire › Franconia Notch, NH
Added by Heidi Dallas
Distance: 8.9 mile loop. Elevation gain: 3,600 ft. Amazing views.
Starting from the parking lot, the two trails initially begin together. Less than a mile in the trails split into Old Bridle Path to the left, and Falling Waters Trail to the right. Most people choose to go up and down on the same trail. To those doing to loop, most choose to hike up Falling Waters, and down Old Bridle. (I recommend the opposite.)
Old Bridle has magnificent views which start at about 1.4 miles. The first true "lookout" is at 1.7 miles. Once you've reached this lookout, you are exposed for most of the remaining trail. Old Bridle is 2.9 miles. At the end of Old Bridle there is Greenleaf Hut which has food, cots, water, and bathrooms. From here you will take Greenleaf Trail another 1.1 miles to the Mt. Lafayette summit. The last half mile of this trek is fondly referred to as "Agony Ridge" as it is a near scramble up a barren rocky mountainside. Although it is not necessarily more difficult, the exposure makes the terrain feel particularly steep. Follow the cairns up to the summit as they're used in lieu of traditional trail markings here.
Once at the summit, turn right to go over the rocks and continue on Franconia Ridge Trail for 1.8 miles. Although there are some extremely steep moments, the majority of this section is a well-lined rock trail several feet wide with a steep slope to either side, rather than a cliff. Although there were many dogs on the trail, I do not recommend this trail for dogs which are not very experienced hikers due to some tricky maneuvering over steep rock formations.
From this direction, the ridge trail starts at Mt. Lafayette, crosses Mt. Lincoln, and finally there is a turn to the right (from the summit of Little Haystack) to descend down Falling Waters Trail. Falling Waters is surprisingly steep and 3.2 miles long. Initially you are on an old logging road which resembles a steep dried up riverbed. Half mile down, you will come to a crossing with the trail for Shining Rock; turn right to continue on Falling Waters and proceed down the mountain. After 1.5 miles you begin crossing the river. You will continue crossing the river back and forth until the 2.5 mile mark. From here you have another .5 until you meet back up with Old Bridle, and then another .2 to the parking lot.
The entire loop is just shy of 9 miles and can take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours depending on speed, picture breaks, and whether or not you stop at the summits/hut.
- Hiking boots
- Extra layers
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This trial is absolutely incredible. It is challenging but even more rewarding. We did this in late September. We started at 9:00am and finished at 5:00pm. We decided to take the trail counter clockwise, up Falling Waters trail first. One tip I would suggest is to not pack too heavily. You will want to keep your bag as light as possible, and if you are a photographer like me, you know that is a difficult task! Food, water, and layers are the top priority as far as packing goes.
This is one of my favorite hikes, the views are incredible! Make sure you bring some warm clothes, I am always shocked at how cold and windy it is at the top. This one also gets very busy so it's best to do during the week instead of going on the weekend. Despite the crowds, this is definitely worth it!
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