Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on one of the Northeast’s most stunning ridgelines while tagging two of New Hampshire’s 10 tallest mountains.

A true classic, this winter hike crosses one of the White Mountains’ most prominent features, Franconia Ridge; delivers moderate climbing that doesn’t require the use of an ice axe; and features a roughly 1.5-mile above-treeline ridge run between Little Haystack and Mount Lafayette. With 360-degree views of the Whites from the ridge, it is one of the Northeast’s most beautiful hikes. And, with a large section of above-treeline hiking, it’s also one of the region’s most exposed hikes, making it a fantastic winter test piece.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles round-trip
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


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Turn-By-Turn

Most hike Franconia Ridge as a loop, beginning and ending at the Falling Waters and Old Bridle Path trailhead and parking lot on Interstate 93N (44.142048, -71.681206) in Franconia Notch State Park.

Hikers driving north on I-93 will find the parking lot just after the exit for The Basin trailhead. Hikers coming from the other direction should park in the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot and use the tunnel that goes under I-93 to access the lot and trailhead. The trailhead is opposite the entrance to the parking lot, where it climbs a short, paved incline to an outhouse and then becomes dirt as it heads into the woods.

Hikers, take notice: This ultra-classic hike is super-popular on weekends and holidays. So, get there early to find a parking spot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

Just 0.2 miles in, hikers will come to the junction (44.139702, -71.679512) of the Falling Waters Trail and the Old Bridle Path. The loop is best done counterclockwise, first up the Falling Waters Trail and then descending the Old Bridle Path. The Falling Waters Trail, which veers right at the junction, gets extremely icy in winter and is much easier to go up than down. Plus, the various waterfalls are more scenic on the approach, as well as more easily overcome with fresh legs early in the day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

From the junction, the Falling Waters Trail heads southeast on a moderate track, until it reaches Dry Brook. From there, the trail intermittently steepens and poses some small technical challenges, as it crisscrosses the icy stream climbing under, around, and over a series of semi-frozen waterfalls. Between the water and ice, the footing along here is often slick, and you’ll probably want your MICROspikes and a pair of trekking poles to negotiate the potentially treacherous terrain. Take care not to slip or plunge a foot into the brook.

Eventually, the trail leaves the brook and begins a series of long, gradual switchbacks up toward Shining Rock. As the trail moves away from the brook, the short, steep, and technical sections dissipate, and the terrain and grade become more consistent—especially once the snow on the ground is packed and covering the ordinarily rocky and rooty terrain.

Shining Rock

After 2.5 miles, the Falling Waters Trail reaches a junction with a short spur trail (44.140186, -71.650940) that heads downhill to Shining Rock, a large granite slab flanking Little Haystack Mountain and visible from Interstate 93. If you have time (remember, darkness comes early in the winter), consider the brief detour.

The Shining Rock junction is also a great place to refuel, add an extra layer and traction devices (if you haven’t already), and get your above-treeline gear ready (such as a balaclava, warmer gloves, goggles, etc.). From the junction, continue upward on the Falling Waters Trail, which steepens and gradually becomes more exposed to the weather for the final 0.5-mile push to the 4,760-foot summit of Little Haystack.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

Shortly after departing the junction for Shining Rock, hikers will push past the treeline to the rocky and icy landscape of Little Haystack Mountain’s summit (44.140362, -71.646080). Although Little Haystack isn’t one of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers (it’s technically a subpeak of Mount Lincoln, the next stop on your journey), it is an awesome summit with fantastic views. Find the hard-to-miss summit cairn, and then, head north on the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

From Little Haystack, it’s 0.7 miles to Mount Lincoln’s summit. The path is easy to follow and, at first, quite moderate. Then, it begins to climb on rockier terrain and crests an ego-deflating false summit, all the while offering fantastic views in every direction and fully exposing you to the wind and weather.

Once you get to the summit of 5,089-foot Mount Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707), the first of two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on the traverse, take a moment—or more, if the weather allows—to soak in the dramatic landscape and fantastic views. From here, you get views in all directions, with the Kinsmans, Lonesome Lake, and Cannon Cliff to the west and the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east. To the south, the pyramid-like tops of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume dominate the view, while to the north lies your next objective, the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

Standing one mile away on the Franconia Ridge is the day’s high point, the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette. To get there, you’ll give up much of the elevation you’ve gained since Little Haystack by descending rocky, slabby terrain similar to what you just ascended. The saddle has a scrubby pine grove, which provides a brief respite from the weather on less-optimal days. Beware that snow can build up in the trees, making this section more difficult and take longer than you may have expected.

From the trees, the Franconia Ridge Trail makes a sharp ascent—the steepest section since the climb from Shining Rock to Little Haystack—to Mount Lafayette’s summit. Relatively straightforward, the climb does contain a few slabby sections and rock outcroppings that warrant your full attention before you get to the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

Lafayette’s summit (44.160717, -71.644470) is well marked with both a large cairn and sign, and is quickly recognizable, as it’s the region’s highest point. If the weather is good, grab a seat in one of the summit’s windbreaks—rock walls built to shield hikers from the elements—and soak up the views. The 4,500-foot Mount Garfield looms in the north, and on clear days, the Presidential Range is visible behind it. To the south, you can admire the distance you’ve traveled, as the peaks of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack are both visible from this vantage point.

The windbreaks are also a great place to have a quick snack. And, don’t de-layer just yet, as there is still some exposed trail left on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From Lafayette’s summit, take the 1.1-mile Greenleaf Trail toward the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut. This section is well defined, but the vast majority of it is above-treeline and is very exposed to the weather—in particular, winds blowing from the northwest.

With the hut visible most of the way, progress can feel sluggish. The slow-going is often exaggerated by the trail’s rugged nature, made even more difficult by patches of snow and ice.

As you near the Greenleaf Hut, the trail dips into tree cover, the first real break in exposure you’ve had for nearly three miles. You’re not out of the woods yet, though, as the area around the hut is often very icy.

Unlike during the summer, there is no hot chocolate, soup, or delicious baked goods in your future—unless you brought your own—as Greenleaf Hut (44.160206, -71.660316) is closed in the winter. However, the building itself provides a good windbreak and is a logical place to stop for a snack and to de-layer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

From the hut, take the Old Bridle Path for 2.7 miles to the Falling Waters trail junction, and then, enjoy the short walk back to the car. Below treeline, hikers may feel that the crux of the day is behind them, but the Old Bridle Path’s upper third is challenging and, in places, exposed. Use care negotiating these ledges, slabs, and steep sections.

As you descend the ledges, take a moment to peer back up at the ridge. It’s nice to enjoy the relative warmth of the sun found on these protected ledges while you peer up at the ridge and remember the bone-chilling cold experienced only a short time ago.

After the ledges, the Old Bridle Path begins to mellow, getting more forested with progressively easier switchbacks. From here, it’s a straightforward, albeit longish, walk back to the junction and then to the car.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Trekking poles and traction devices, like Kahtoola MICROspikes, are essential for negotiating the icy terrain on the ascent and descent. And, although the wind often blows the snow off the ridge proper, it, too, can be quite icy.
  • Bring a vast array of winter accessories to contend with unpredictable, above-treeline winter conditions. A winter hat, balaclava, multiclava, and gloves of varying warmth are a good place to start. And, if there’s wind in the forecast, goggles should also be included.
  • A warm down or synthetic parka, like the Outdoor Research Incandescent Hoody, is great for staying warm during rest breaks, cold traverses and descents, and emergencies.
  • Because it gets dark quickly in the winter and the Old Bridle Path descent is treacherous, add a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, to your pack.
  • Snickers bars and gels are great in the summer but can freeze in the frigid temperatures. Nature Valley bars, trail mix, and leftover pizza—just to name a few—are all excellent winter food choices that won’t freeze in your pack.

Have more questions about what gear to bring? Check out “What’s in Our Winter Peak-Bagging Packs.” Don’t be that guy in jeans and a hoodie hiking across the ridge.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Need a good reason for an alpine start? The parking lots fill up fast! In the summer, excess traffic even goes along the highway, but depending on the amount of snow the mountains have received, that might not be an option in winter.
  • Start cold, so you won’t have to stop after 10 minutes to lose a layer. More importantly, if you’re not over-layered, you’re less likely to sweat through your garments and will stay warmer in the long run.
  • Bring a thermos of something hot to drink. It’s great for warming up your core temperature and a nice morale booster when the going gets cold.
  • Know when to say when. If you get above treeline and decide that it’s too windy or too cold, or you just have a bad feeling, don’t hesitate to turn around before committing to the traverse.
  • Have a backup plan. If you live a few hours from the mountains, like many people do, it can be hard to know exactly what the weather will be doing until you get there. If the weather isn’t cooperating for a traverse, Mount Liberty and Cannon Mountain are close by and are less committing than Franconia Ridge.
  • After a cold day in the mountains, warm up at One Love Brewery in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Their Meat Lover’s Burger features grilled pork belly, BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño slaw, and Swiss cheese, and is a great way to replace some of the calories you burned!

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Franconia Ridge recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What's In Our Winter Peak-Bagging Backpack?

Tackling any of the Northeast’s higher summits in winter is serious business. Whether it’s the “world’s worst weather” on Mount Washington, bitter winds on Mount Marcy, or cold on Katahdin, you’ll need the right gear to deal with the below-freezing temperatures, stiff breezes, and icy slopes. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Upper Body Layers

Base Layer

Our usual winter base layer is a lightweight synthetic, like the EMS Techwick Lightweight Long-Sleeve Crew (Men’s/Women’s). It controls moisture by wicking perspiration away from your skin, so you stay drier. Aim for a snug fit, as you’ll be adding multiple layers over it during the course of the day.

Pro tip: We typically bundle up in a heavy puffy coat when getting ready at the trailhead, but then begin our hike in just our base layer. The weather may seem cold, but it’s surprising how quickly you warm up once on the trail, and avoiding undue moisture—for instance, early sweat—means being more comfortable later.

Lightweight Softshell

In our packs, we carry four more upper body layers. The first, which we put on over our base layer, is a lightweight softshell, like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s). This layer is perfect for exposed sections of the trail, providing some insulation and protection from the wind and light precipitation. We like this garment to have a hood, as it increases our ability to stay warm and dry.

Harry Berking_2015_10_17_6
Credit: Harry Berking

Lightweight Puffy

As temperatures drop, we don a lightweight puffy—preferably one with “active insulation”—like the Black Diamond First Light Jacket (Men’s/Women’s). Active insulation allows the jacket to breathe, meaning you can wear it while moving without overheating. Once the territory of midweight and Power Stretch fleece, today’s puffies are warmer, pack smaller, are significantly lighter, and wick as well as fleeces of the past. 

Hardshell

No matter the season, you won’t find us hiking the higher summits without a hardshell, and a jacket like the Black Diamond Liquid Point (Men’s/Women’s) is perfect for the worst conditions. From traveling rainy ridgelines to stormy summits, hardshells are essential for shedding rain and snow, as well as blocking the wind. We like ours to have an integrated and adjustable hood to keep out the elements. 

Belay Coat/Second Puffy

A second, heavier puffy coat is great for rest breaks and to have in reserve for cold descents and emergencies. If the conditions look dry, we’ll pack a down jacket, like the Outdoor Research Incandescent, since down is lighter and more compressible. But, if rain or snow is in the forecast, we’ll pack a synthetic jacket, like the Black Diamond Stance Parka (Men’s/Women’s), which retains more insulation value when wet. We like to keep this layer easily accessible in our packs, so that it’s easy to get out as soon as we need it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lower Body Layers 

Baselayer/Softshell

We follow the same principles for our lower body layers. We often start in a pair of EMS Techwick Lightweight Base Layer Bottoms (Men’s/Women’s) for warmth, layered under a pair of midweight softshell pants—like the Outdoor Research Cirque (Men’s/Women’s)—for protection from wind and light precipitation.

Hardshell

If the forecast looks wet, we’ll add a pair of full-zip rain pants, like the EMS Thunderhead (Men’s/Women’s), for maximum protection from the elements. Full-zip is a must, as they are much easier to get on over boots and crampons.

Socks

Wet conditions equal cold feet, and because of this, we always choose a sock made with a wicking material—and we especially like wool for its ability to fight funky smells. Although we reserve the Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Heavy Sock for the coldest days, it has been a staple of our winter kits for years. Just remember that the sock needs to fit in your boot properly. If it’s too thick, it can cut off circulation, making your feet colder rather than keeping them warm.

EMS-Winter-Camp-Mountain-1986

Boots

If you are going to spend time moving through the region’s high peaks in winter, a good pair of insulated mountaineering boots should be in your closet. For years, the La Sportiva Nepal has been the go-to boot for people doing everything from hiking Franconia Ridge to climbing Mount Washington’s Pinnacle Gully. The latest version, the La Sportiva Nepal EVO (Men’s/Women’s), offers a Gore-Tex liner to keep your feet dry, insulation to keep them warm, and leather construction to withstand years of hard use. 

Gloves

We travel with a minimum of three pairs during the winter. Our kit usually includes a lightweight glove, like the Black Diamond Dirt Bag, for the below-treeline sections; an insulated, waterproof glove, such as the EMS Summit (Men’s/Women’s), for above treeline; and a heavyweight mitten, like the EMS Summit (Men’s/Women’s), for extreme cold and emergencies. With this combination, you’ll have options for changing conditions and activity levels, as well as backups if a pair soaks through.

Chemical hand warmers stashed in an easily accessible spot are also a great way to warm up cold hands in a hurry, and they can be really useful in an emergency, too.

EMS_Winter_Hike_Helix-7054

Headwear

Much like gloves, multiple layering options for your head are essential during the winter. We typically start the day in a baseball cap for warmth and sun protection, and then use our layers’ hoods to help regulate body temperature. A lightweight wool or fleece hat is great for above treeline or really cold days.

We also carry both a multiclava and a balaclava. The multiclava can be worn as a hat or headband, and then pulled down into a neck gaiter or impromptu balaclava if the temperatures start to drop. The balaclava provides full-face coverage for when the wind really picks up.

Glasses and Goggles

During the winter, the sun reflects off the snow on the ground, increasing its intensity and damaging your eyes, so sunglasses are a worthy addition to your kit. We also include a pair of goggles (two pairs if we don’t bring sunglasses) to deal with the high winds commonly found above-treeline in the White Mountains.

EMS-Hiking-Microspikes-1577

Equipment

A pair of trekking poles and Kahtoola MICROspikes provide great stability and traction on snowy and icy below-treeline terrain. For above-treeline or anywhere there is more exposure—think the Lion Head route on Mt. Washington—you’ll want crampons and an ice axe, as well. The Black Diamond Contact Crampons and Raven Ice Axe are tried-and-true choices.

If you’re hiking a less-popular trail or heading out after a big dump, we also recommend bringing snowshoes. Something like the MSR Revo Explore 25, with add-on modular tails, is a versatile option.

Water

We typically avoid using hydration bladders in the winter, because they have the tendency to freeze, and instead carry traditional Nalgene Wide Mouth Water Bottles. Of course, Nalgenes sometimes freeze, too, so either pack them inside your puffy coat, or get them an Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka.

Depending on the length of your outing, consider replacing one of your water bottles with a Hydro Flask filled with your favorite hot beverage. We like hot chocolate, as it tastes great, provides those extra calories your body needs to stay warm, and helps keep your core temperature up.

Pro Tip: Adding a little bit of juice to your water makes it more resilient to freezing.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Food

For winter hikes, we prefer foods that can be consumed quickly (or on the move), because, the more we move, the warmer we stay. Gels, cookies, peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches, and leftover pizza are all staples of our winter hiking menus. And, because your body needs extra calories to keep warm during the season, we don’t scrimp on food when it comes time to pack. Just remember, some foods—like gels—can freeze. So, if you’re depending on them for sustenance, keep them close to your body.

Just in Case

When you pack for a winter hike in the higher summits, you should take a minute to plan for the worst-case scenario. While packing the items mentioned above checks off some of your cold-weather essentials, you’ll still need a few more.

A headlamp, like the powerful and rechargeable Black Diamond ReVolt, is important—especially because it gets dark so early in the winter. Because cold weather can wreak havoc on batteries, be sure to tuck a spare set into your first aid kit.

Speaking of which, a minimalist first aid kit, supplemented with other first aid supplies, helps address trail injuries. Additionally, fire starters, a map, and a compass (or another navigational device) are all worth the extra weight.

Equally important, a lightweight bivy combined with a Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad and, if you’re hiking with multiple friends, a lightweight sleeping bag can be a lifesaver if someone gets injured and you need to wait for help. All of the extra layers mentioned above, including the double puffies, hats, heavy mittens, and hand warmers, also come in handy here.

Pro Tip: Want more info on understanding the weather in the White Mountains and elsewhere? Check out our guide to Reading Weather Reports on Mt. Washington.

EMS-Cabin-Techwick-Baselayer-5408_EDITED

Pack

To ensure you’ll have the space to carry all the gear necessary to venture up to the peaks during winter, we recommend a 35- to 45-liter pack. The Black Diamond Speed series has served us well over the years, and the Black Diamond Speed 40 is the perfect size for winter White Mountain missions.

Pro Tip: A crampon bag helps prevent the sharp points from punching holes into your winter pack and its contents.

 

 

Not every item listed above is essential for hiking above-treeline this winter, but having the right combination can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. The best advice, though, is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of winter gear, tell us about it in the comments!


3 Early Winter Hikes on the Kank

Fall in the White Mountains sometimes feels ephemeral. One week, you’ll be hiking along in short sleeves, admiring the stunning foliage. The next, you’ll be trudging through the year’s first snowfall, wishing you’d remembered your traction for that icy descent.

Luckily, the period from late fall into early winter is the perfect time to explore the region around the Kancamagus. Specifically, the leaf-peeping crowds have dissipated, while the temperatures and conditions remain comparatively pleasant. For those looking to experience the Kank beyond the overlooks, here are three hikes from the highway that offer something for everyone.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The Hancocks

One of the most popular hikes off the Kancamagus is the 9.8-mile lollipop loop hike of both South and North Hancock. Leaving from Hancock Notch Trailhead, this hike ticks off two New Hampshire 4,000-footers via the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. It remains fairly low in elevation, reducing your chances of encountering snow and ice, and stays in the trees for a long portion, keeping you from prolonged exposure to cold wind. And, because this hike gains and loses the majority of its elevation in short, sustained sections, it’s not surprising to find yourself done with the almost-10 miles a little bit faster than anticipated.

Deciding which direction to hike the Hancock Loop Trail is the hardest part, however. As a tip, head to South Hancock first. It’s a little bit easier to traverse from the South to the North Peak than vice versa, despite the latter actually being higher than the former. Also, North Hancock tends to have better views. Specifically, a large slab here gives you a chance to enjoy a snack as you look out at the Osceolas and the Sandwich Range. Thus, doing it this way lets you save the best for last.

However, summiting South Hancock first also leaves the day’s steepest part for the descent, which can be an adventure in slick or snowy conditions. So, to prepare, don’t forget to bring MICROSpikes and trekking poles.

Credit: Tim Sackton
Credit: Tim Sackton

The Tripyramids

Accessing the Tripyramids from the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead lets you tick off two other 4,000-footers: North Tripyramid and Middle Tripyramid. At about 10 miles round-trip, with almost 3,500 feet in elevation gain, hiking the Tripyramids is much like the Hancocks. Specifically, hikers spend the majority of their time at lower elevations, protected from the elements by the forest. In fact, even their summits are mostly forested, allowing hikers to find shelter from cold weather around the day’s highest points.

While the views here aren’t going to make any “best of” lists, you can look out at Waterville Valley from North Tripyramid, while Middle Tripyramid offers a nice sight of its sister to the north and Passaconaway and Whiteface to the west.

Hikers approaching from the Kancamagus should be prepared for steep terrain. And, even in dry conditions, the section of trail connecting the two summits can be challenging. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the trek being below treeline, temperatures and conditions change from the parking lot to the summit, so pack accordingly.

Credit: Ben Themo
Credit: Ben Themo

Hedgehog

For hikers looking for a little less mileage, there is Hedgehog Mountain via the Downes Brook and UNH Trails. Although you won’t ascend a 4,000-footer, it will get you to the top of a “52 With a View” peak, and delivers greater vistas and more exposure than its taller neighbors. In fact, at just 2,532 feet, Hedgehog is the shortest “52 With a View.”

Because of the lower elevation, Hedgehog is perfect for those late fall days when snow and ice are starting to accumulate on the higher summits, but you’re not quite ready for hiking in full-on winter conditions. Those tackling Hedgehog are treated to an almost five-mile loop trip that delivers moderate grades, open slabs, and great views of the Presidential Range and Mount Chocorua. Much like when you hike the Hancocks, the hardest decision of the day—other than how long to lounge on the ledges—is which direction to go. We’ve always liked to go clockwise, which allows us to tackle the ledges earlier in the day while our legs are still fresh.

A word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by the minimal elevation. Hedgehog delivers terrain similar to the region’s larger peaks. Because of this, pack not just for the trek, but also for the season. Still bring traction devices for potentially icy terrain, a windshirt for the exposed ledges, and a puffy coat for the summit, in addition to other essentials.

 

Just because the leaves are almost all off the trees, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the hiking boots away. Now is one of the best times for hiking in the Whites, so get out for a short trek before snowshoes become required gear. Already took one of these hikes from the Kank? Tell us about your trip in the comments.

 


Alpha Guide: Cadillac Mountain's South Ridge Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Go way east and take in one of Maine’s rugged coastal peaks during this staple Acadia hike. 

At 1,530 feet, Cadillac is the tallest mountain on the United States’ Atlantic coastline, offering incredible views of Maine’s rugged seashore from the top. If you want to be among the first people in the continental United States to see the sunrise, there is no better place to view it than from Cadillac’s summit, and as a must-do trip for every visitor to Acadia National Park, a 7.1-mile roundtrip hike via the South Ridge Trail gets you there.

Quick Facts

Distance: 7.1 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (May through October)
Contact: https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Depending on traffic, getting to the South Ridge Trail from downtown Bar Harbor is a breeze. Simply take Route 3 for a little over five miles before making a left onto Blackwoods Road. Then, look for the trail sign, which is visible from the road. Still lost? Blackwoods Campground is nearly adjacent to the trailhead.

The one tricky part about getting here is parking, since there is no dedicated lot for the South Ridge Trail. Instead, just park alongside the road near the trailhead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Cadillac Mountain is a fairly straightforward trip. The 3.5-mile stretch is well marked with blue blazes and cairns, and features very few connecting trails, thus minimizing the opportunity for wrong turns. Adding to the ease of navigation, approximately two-thirds of the trail is above treeline, enabling hikers on a clear day to see the route sprawl out ahead of them.

After parking across from Blackwoods Campground, hikers dip into the woods and follow the blue blazes as the trail gently ascends through the beautiful Maine forest. On the whole, the South Ridge Trail gains roughly 1,500 feet from the car to the summit, and although the change is gentle, hikers should not be lulled into thinking this trek is easy. The initial section is notoriously rocky and rough with roots, before giving way to slabby granite ledges.

Eagle Crag Cutoff

After roughly a mile, hikers are poised to encounter the first landmark of the day: the sign for the Eagle Crag cutoff (44.324177, -68.219193). Just 0.3 miles from here, the Crag features a long granite ledge that provides an excellent vantage point to take in views of the surrounding area. However, the 0.3-mile diversion leaves and then reconnects with the South Ridge, so, to give yourself the best chance at summiting, consider saving Eagle Crag for the return trip.

From the Eagle Crag cutoff, continue following the blue blazes as you climb out of the forest and into a blend of slabby rock and scrubby trees. As you get a little higher on the South Ridge Trail, the forest gives way to a rocky ridge, and there’s a chance you’ll get off the trail. Although this transition is well-marked, pay close attention to the cairns and blazes; otherwise, the well-traveled “footpaths” here lead you nowhere as you come out of the forest.

The Bates Cairn. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Bates Cairn. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s also here that hikers will encounter something unique to Acadia National Park: the Bates Cairn. Named after Waldron Bates, a trail builder in Acadia during the early 1900s, the Bates Cairn features two large base stones that support a mantel stone with a pointer stone on top. Tampering in recent years has resulted in signs requesting visitors to both leave the existing cairns alone, including not adding rocks to them, and to refrain from building additional cairns. Help protect this special place by leaving the trail as you found it!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Featherbed

Nearly a mile up the trail from the Eagle Crag cutoff, hikers will encounter the trip’s second major landmark: a small glacial pond called The Featherbed. It is one of three in the park, with the others being The Bowl, located behind The Beehive, and Sargent Mountain Pond, between Penobscot and Sargent Mountains. Depending on the weather, sit for a moment to enjoy the uniqueness of its stunning scenery.

Shortly after departing The Featherbed, the South Ridge intersects with the Canon Brook Trail (44.338486, -68.219193). Here, take a quick look at the sign, make sure you’re pointed in the right direction, and continue following the blue blazes and rocky ridge toward the summit.

From here on out, the trail is largely unprotected by trees, exposing hikers to everything from intense sunlight to fierce winds. Consider keeping a sun shirt, wind shirt, or lightweight rain jacket accessible for this section, as you never know what type of weather you’ll encounter. And, if conditions are too fierce, don’t hesitate to call it a day and turn around.

From here, the South Ridge Trail ascends the park’s notorious pink granite steps and slabs for 0.7 miles to its intersection with the West Face Trail (44.346916, -68.229324). Well marked with a large sign, the intersection is a relief for hikers, indicating the summit isn’t too far off.

The South Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
The South Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

Hiking from the intersection with the West Face Trail, you’ll realize the impending encounter with civilization. Until this moment, hikers are immersed in nature, enveloped by the quiet of the forest and lost in the stunning views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. In the final push, however, the South Ridge Trail bumps up against the auto road and sees an increase in traffic, as people who have driven to the top explore the trails around the mountain’s summit. Strangely, it’s here that the trail might be the most challenging, as it features a few short-yet-steep sections that involve using iron rungs.

Looking down on Bar Harbor from the summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on Bar Harbor from the summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Once you’re on top, look for the true summit, which is located along the gravel path and marked by two survey benchmarks established by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (44.35127,-68.22649).

After locating the two survey markers and tagging the true summit, head up past the gift shop (44.351997, -68.225945) and skirt along the parking lot to take in views not afforded by the South Ridge Trail. Looking down below, you’ll see the village of Bar Harbor and islands off the coast.

After you’ve had your fill of views, take a walk around the short loop path at the summit. Make sure to check out the interpretive signs about the history of Acadia National Park. Once you’re done, simply return the way you came, and follow the South Ridge Trail back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Sunrise Bonus Points

While it’s commonly assumed that Cadillac Mountain’s summit is the first place to see the sunrise on the East Coast, it’s only true for part of the year. Even if your trip doesn’t align with the first-to-see-sunrise dates—October 7 through March 6—a pre-sunrise hike is still a great way to experience a must-do Acadia activity, earns you extra cred from the people who drove up the auto road, and gives you an excuse to order a double stack of blueberry pancakes for breakfast when you get back to town. Want more info on sunrise ascents? Check out our guide to “Beating the Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain.”


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A large percentage of the South Ridge Trail’s long, gradual ascent and descent occurs on exposed rock, minimizing the need for waterproofing and maximizing the need for traction. Trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 or hiking shoes such as the Oboz Sawtooth Low are perfect for the terrain.
  • Because so much of the trail consists of an exposed rocky ridge next to the coast, a wind shirt like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is a borderline necessity for blocking the ocean breeze.
  • Pick up the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Acadia National Park Map before you go to get psyched, and bring it along on your hike just in case.
  • Hikers unaccustomed to Maine’s rocky trails will appreciate a good pair of trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Trail Backs, for added stability and confidence in unfamiliar terrain.
  • If the sunrise is on the agenda, consider adding a belay coat like the Outdoor Research Perch or a lightweight sleeping bag like the EMS Velocity 35 to your pack. Standing on a mountaintop in the dark next to the ocean can be pretty cold, even in mid-summer.
  • Another sunrise must-have is a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Revolt, as you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time hiking in the dark.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Bring your wallet, and treat yourself to a cold drink, ice cream, or a whoopie pie at the summit’s gift shop.
  • One of the best things about hiking to Cadillac’s summit for the sunrise is the excuse to eat a big breakfast. Jordan’s Restaurant is a Bar Harbor institution. Enjoy a stack of their wild blueberry pancakes—you’ve earned it!
  • If you started later in the day and prefer your carbohydrates in liquid form, Bar Harbor Beerworks is right on the main drag and delivers outdoor seating options, while Finback Alehouse offers a more subdued setting.
  • Planning on camping during your trip to Acadia? Sites book well in advance for popular summer and fall weekends, so make your reservations early. Don’t count on finding an open site when you get there.
  • If camping isn’t your thing, book a small cottage with a kitchen just outside of town. They’re affordable and keep you from having to trek into town every time you want a meal. We’ve had luck staying at Hanscom’s over the years.
  • Is there someone you would like to share the summit with but don’t think they’ll be able to make the hike? Arrange for them to drive up the road and meet you at the top! The drive up the auto road is free, provided you have paid the park’s entry fee.
  • If you’re looking for other things to do while in Acadia, our “First-Timer’s Guide to Acadia National Park” has you covered. Make sure to check out the tide pools, the Beehive Trail, and Otter Cliffs.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Cadillac recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


11 Tips for Staying Warm While Backpacking in Fall

When you’re in the backcountry during the shoulder seasons, it’s no fun to wake up freezing cold in the middle of the night. You can’t just “turn up the thermostat” or grab an extra blanket from the closet. So, since shivering uncontrollably is only fun for so long, here are 11 tips for staying warm:

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1. Wear dry clothes to bed

If you go to bed in the shirt you’ve been sweating in all day, it’s going to be hard to escape the damp chill. I often pack a spare base layer, so that I’ll have something dry to put on just before bed, and I’ll put all my dry layers—including puffy jackets, hats, and gloves—on over it.

2. Set up camp in a protected area

Finding a campsite away from the wind is another way to increase your chances of keeping warm through night. If you’re doing a multi-night Pemi Loop, for example, you’ll be much warmer if you walk the extra mileage down to the Mt. Guyot tent platforms instead of camping in overflow sites right on the Bondcliff Trail. If you’re unfamiliar, these are located on the ridgeline and get exposed to wind all night long. By contrast, the Guyot tent platforms are tucked away a few hundred yards below the ridge.

3. Keep your stuff warm, too

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and trying to force your feet into damp socks and ice-cold boots. To prevent this, dry your socks in your sleeping bag overnight. And, if it’s really cold and your boots are soaking wet, consider putting them in a plastic bag—a grocery bag works well—and stuffing them into the bottom of your sleeping bag. They’ll stay warm enough, so that your feet won’t turn into icicles when you put them back on.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Zip your sleeping bag all the way up

It never ceases to amaze us that the person complaining about how cold the night was is also the same person who didn’t bother to zip his or her bag all the way up—or who wasn’t using the mummy hood. Pro tip: Wearing a hat to bed is a good insurance policy if you’re likely to squirm out of your mummy bag during the night.

5. Bring two sleeping pads

Although most focus on a sleeping pad’s comfort, it also serves an important insulating purpose by preventing conductive heat loss. I’ve found that the best combination for warmth and comfort is a closed-cell foam pad, like the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, on the bottom with an inflatable, like the Sea to Summit Ultralight, on top. Pro tip: Closed-cell foam pads also work great around camp, and are much warmer than sitting directly on the ground or on rocks.

6. Make a heater

Fill your water bottles with boiling water before you go to bed, and then stuff them in your sleeping bag. They’ll act like a heating pad, keeping you warm all night long. Just make sure the caps are on tight!

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7. Bring a heater

Get yourself some Yaktrax Handwarmers. Disposable hand warmers are an awesome addition to your fall backpacking kit. It’s amazing how much warmth these little suckers add when tucked into your pockets, at your feet, or simply stuffed into your sleeping bag.

8. Pack and eat extra food

When it’s cold out, your body has to work extra hard to keep warm. To fuel your furnace, make sure to bust into that stash of cookies you hid in your partner’s pack.

9. Have something warm to drink

Hot liquids both increase your body’s temperature and work as fantastic morale boosters. If possible, avoid alcohol, which, in spite of the warm feeling it gives you, actually speeds up heat loss, and caffeinated beverages. The latter is known to dehydrate you—bad for circulation—and could send you on a cold run for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

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10. Get up and get warm

Good circulation is a sure way to beat the cold. If you’re hanging around camp, periodically get up to jog in place or do some jumping jacks—just try to avoid sweating—to increase blood flow and fight off the freezing temperatures.

11. Spread the love warmth

When the going gets tough, cuddle. If it’s colder than expected or you’re less prepared than you thought you were, there is always the miracle of body heat. You always wanted to get closer to your hiking partner…didn’t you?

 

Do you have a tried-and-true trick for staying warm in the backcountry? If so, share it in the comments.

_C--EMS---BIG-SUR--1964-Camping

 


Crawford Notch Slab Climbs for Fall Foliage

Fall is the perfect opportunity for rock climbers to take advantage of the cool air and increased friction, escape the White Mountain crowds, and do a little high-angle leaf peeping. And, those seeking out moderately-rated routes and great views won’t need to look any further than the slab climbs found in and around Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Central Slab on Mt. Webster

Mt. Webster’s Central Slab has some of the region’s best climbs. Popular moderates—Lost in the Sun, Direct, and A Bit Short—all go at 5.6 or less and have bolted cruxes and belay anchors. About 1,000 feet long, each offers bird’s-eye views of Crawford Notch, Willey’s Slide, and, in the distance, the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Even better, the 30- to 40-minute uphill approach is such a good crowd deterrent that you’ll rarely encounter too many parties.

For first-time visitors, acing the approach might be more of a challenge. If you’re coming from Conway, park in a small dirt pullout on Route 302, just after the Willey House on the left. Climbers coming from the I-93 side of 302 should use the slab itself as a reference, as the pullout is almost directly across. From here, walk across the street and cross the Saco River. Orange ribbons and small cairns lead you uphill on a climbers’ path into the approach gully and the base of the climb. Pro Tip: Leave some post-climb beers in the Saco to chill.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lost in the Sun and Direct both leave from the toe, while A Bit Short starts a little up on the right. All three climb interesting slab, interspersed with some fun flakes and overlaps on mostly clean rock. Every belay station offers great views, but be sure to check out the flattish one at the end of Lost in the Sun and Direct. Here, sit down, take off your climbing shoes, have a snack, and soak in the expansiveness of Crawford Notch’s foliage, before you transition to the rappel. Note: The route requires two ropes, and there is no walk-off.

In terms of gear, first-timers should bring a standard rack up to two inches, along with a few doubles of smaller cams. As well, some of the pitches—especially on Direct—have several bolts. So, to prepare, consider adding multiple quickdraws to your normal assortment of runners and alpine draws.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The West Wall of Mt. Oscar

If long approaches are a turn-off, then check out Mt. Oscar’s West Wall, home to New Hampshire’s most European approach. Simply park at the Bretton Woods ski resort, walk 100 yards to the chairlift, and take it ($5 per person) to the top. From here, hike west on a gravel road for 10 minutes towards the West Mountain summit, enter the woods, and turn left at a wooden sign for West Wall. Then, walk downhill through a pine forest for 10 to 15 minutes to the wall’s base.

The 300-foot tall West Wall has about nine multi-pitch routes ranging in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.7. The slab climbing is fun, with bolts where you want them and generally good gear interspersed. Moreover, it’s a great place to take less-experienced leaders. Specifically, the pitches are short, and every belay station includes bolted anchors with rap rings. However, the shade-induced dampness does make the climbs’ first 10 feet a little slippery.

Once you get above the second pitch, make sure to turn around and enjoy the wilderness behind you. From left to right, you’ll see Mt. Tom, Zealand Notch, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mt. Hale, and the Sugarloafs. As you climb higher, look for Mt. Carrigain looming in the distance.

Most West Wall climbs eventually converge into Guides Route, which becomes markedly easier on the fourth and fifth pitches. As a result, many try a route’s first few pitches, rappel to the ground, and then head back up another route. When you’re done, simply keep climbing up Guides Route, until you can scramble on third-class slabs to the West Mountain summit. From there, savor the views as you unrope and pack your gear for the short hike back to the chairlift.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Main Slab of Mt. Willard

Mt. Willard’s two-tiered slab looms as one of Crawford Notch’s most prominent landmarks. Home to some of the Whites’ first technical climbing, this is the place for fantastic views and fun, history-steeped routes.

To get to Willard’s Main Slab, park on Route 302 at the dirt pullout just south of the Silver Cascade parking lot. A well-tread trail leaves from the back, heading directly uphill to Hattie’s Garden and a railroad track. Turn right, and follow the track for five to 10 minutes to the loose gully that climbs up to main slab’s bottom left side. Pro Tip: Put your helmet on here. Hugo’s Horror Revisited, the slab’s “easiest” route, begins here. The starts for two other popular routes—Time-Space Continuum and Across the Universe—are along the climbers’ path to the right.

Compared to similarly-rated routes on West Wall and Central Slab, the climbing on Willard is stout. Further, although you’ll find some bolts in between the bolted anchors, the runouts sometimes feel spicy, and you won’t always find good gear in between. Some loose, crumbly rock on a couple segments also complicates matters.

All that said, the view down is unparalleled, especially during peak foliage season. Mt. Webster’s slabs command it to the southeast, soaring above the Saco River and Route 302 to the notch’s southern end. In the west, Mt. Willey’s forest and slides reach 4,000 feet in elevation.

 

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

There is much to love about climbing in Crawford Notch, and in the fall, these crags get even better, as the bugs go away and friction improves. Best of all, after a rope-length or two, you’re far removed from the leaf-peeping masses and get rewarded with a view that beats anything they’re seeing down below.


What's in Your Fall Hiking Backpack?

As the seasons transition from summer to fall in the White Mountains, so do the contents of our hiking kits. To deal with the shorter days, colder temperatures, and potentially icy and snowy trails, it’s important to emphasize layering, having the proper footwear, and carrying enough group gear to deal with any emergency.

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Upper Body Layers

Our usual fall base layer is a sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody. Although the sun might not be as strong this time of year, you can still get a burn above treeline. And, when the sun goes behind a cloud, the hood and long sleeves are great for keeping the chills at bay.

A lightweight wind shirt, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite, is another year-round staple. It’s perfect for the beginning of cool morning hikes and helps keep you warm as you battle breezes on exposed ridges and summits. And, since they’re so lightweight and packable, there’s absolutely no reason not to have one with you.

Whether or not rain is in the forecast, we also pack a raincoat. Getting soaking wet when air temperatures are low is a recipe for an epic survival story or worse. With Gore-Tex construction, jackets, such as the Marmot Minimalist (Men’s/Women’s), will keep you dry in whatever you encounter, without eating up too much pack space.

Fall also marks the unofficial start of puffy coat season. We like to carry two separate puffers, with one being a lightweight or hybrid offering, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody (Men’s/Women’s), and the other a more traditional midweight piece, such as the Black Diamond Access Hoody (Men’s/Women’s). On cold or windy days, we typically don the lighter and more breathable one just below treeline to keep us warm on the final push to the summit. And, while enjoying the views from the top, we then pull on the other, warmer one. With little weight penalty for carrying two extremely packable, insulating pieces, hikers gain versatility in their layering and better adapt to the conditions facing them.

Lower Body Layers

A lightweight and stretchy soft shell pant, like the Marmot Scree (Men’s/Women’s), delivers the needed mobility and protection for fall pursuits. Pair them with an inexpensive and reliable waterproof rain pant, like the EMS Thunderhead (Men’s/Women’s), to stay dry in the event of inclement weather.

Typically during the fall, if you keep your core warm, you may not need to add a base layer to your lower body. However, if you run cold, the weather looks frigid, or you like to linger, consider wearing something lightweight.

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Footwear and Trekking Poles

Nothing ruins a trip faster than cold feet, and there is no surer way to get them than having inferior footwear. Fall hikers encounter everything from rain to snow and ice, so having a good pair of waterproof footwear is imperative. And, because you may encounter early-season snow, we prefer the extra protection afforded by waterproof boots. The Asolo Fugitive GTX has been a long-time staple of many hikers’ kits, but if you can, stop by a store to try a few different pairs on first. From Oboz to Scarpa to Salomon, EMS is sure to have something that feels just right. A good, comfortable fit is the most important feature of all. Without it, you’re unlikely to even put the boots on.

It’s not just boots that get an upgrade, however. We also move to a heavier sock, going from sneaker-friendly options, like the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini, to a more classic option, like the Smartwool Light Hiking Sock.

Another important addition is a traction device. It’s common to encounter icy sections this time of year, especially when you’re traveling above treeline or at higher elevations. Kahtoola MICROspikes deliver all the grip you need, are proven to last through years of hard service, and easily transition from a fall just-in-case item to a winter must-have.

Trekking poles are also handy, providing extra stability while you navigate everything from slick leaves to the Whites’ icy fall terrain. We’ve both spent years using the Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles and have found them inexpensive, durable, and up to the task of hiking New England’s tallest peaks. Equally important, they transition nicely into ski season when the trails finally fill with snow.

Accessories

For fall hikes, we typically bring multiple pairs of lightweight gloves, along with one heavier pair of gloves or mittens for the summit. We’ve found a good blend starts with a lightweight, stretchy fleece glove, like the EMS Power Stretch, for getting ready and being on the trail. As well, we include something more robust, like a leather work glove or softshell glove—the Black Diamond Dirt Bag is an excellent example—for above-treeline or more wintery conditions. For summits and emergencies, we also carry a warm mitten, like the EMS Summit, and a package or two of handwarmers.

One of the easiest ways to regulate your temperature is through your head. Because of this, it’s nice to bring two hats on fall hikes: a lighter, baseball-style cap for when we are moving quickly below treeline, and a more traditional winter hat—the Smartwool Cuffed Beanie is a longtime favorite—for when you are exposed to the elements. As one of the great things about layering with hoods, making adjustments to your head’s protection on the fly easily lets you warm up or cool down.

In the fall, we also like to carry either a buff or a balaclava, and sometimes, we even pack both. Buffs are incredibly versatile, ideal for everything from an impromptu hat to a neck scarf to a facemask. In late fall or on particularly cold, windy days, however, there’s no substitute for a high-quality balaclava, such as the Black Diamond Dome.

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Bladder to Bottles

Hydration bladders are great for ensuring you drink enough water in the heat of summer. But, by fall, they pose some challenges, especially late in the season. For example, the bladder’s exposed parts, like the tube and the mouthpiece, have potential to freeze, which makes for a long, thirsty day. Instead, most hikers carry traditional Nalgene wide-mouth water bottles. If the weather does look cold, on the other hand, supplement a water bottle with a Hydro Flask thermos of your favorite hot beverage.

Just In Case

Although spending an unexpected night in the woods is never fun, the consequences increase as daylight hours shorten. Whether it is due to an injury or just getting lost, or to cope with colder nighttime temperatures and potentially wet and icy ground, we carry a lightweight bivy and a Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad to offer some insulation. All the extra layers mentioned above, including the double puffies, multiple hats, heavy mittens, and handwarmers, also come in handy here.

@fredetterissweb

The Pack

You’ll need to have a little more space to carry the additional cool-weather items. However, don’t let a stuffed backpack prevent you from keeping anything vital behind. With plenty of space and lightweight construction, the Osprey Talon 33 is perfect for carrying all your needs—and a few of your wants—on your next fall hike.

 

Not every item listed above is essential to hiking one of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers this fall, but having the right combination can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. The best advice, though, is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of fall hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!


Alpha Guide: Camel's Hump via the Burrows Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Climb to one of Vermont’s most imposing, rugged alpine summits in just a day or less. 

Looming over Interstate 89, Camel’s Hump draws thousands of hikers every year to its undeveloped, alpine summit. At just under five miles and gaining roughly 2,500 feet in elevation, the Burrows Trail is a great way to hike Vermont’s third tallest peak. It delivers everything you would expect to find on the Northeast’s longer, more grueling classic hikes in a short, moderate trek that most can do in a half-day.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half to one full day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.greenmountainclub.org 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Although the hike itself is straightforward, getting to the Burrows Trailhead can feel fairly complex for first-timers. From Interstate 89, take Exit 10 onto Vermont Route 100 South. Follow Vermont Route 100 South for a short distance to a rotary. Then, take the first right at the rotary onto U.S. Route 2 West/North Main Street and follow it for almost 10 miles to Cochran Road.

From Cochran Road, you’ll want to travel roughly a quarter of a mile to Wes White Hill. It’s here, away from I-89 and U.S. 2, that you begin to feel Vermont’s true rural nature, and may begin to question your navigational skills. Follow Wes White Hill for 3.1 miles, until it becomes Pond Road. Then, follow Pond Road until it becomes Bridge Street. Although you’re basically driving straight, amid the fields and farms, and along sometimes dirt roads, it’s easy to wonder if you missed a turn somewhere along the way. So, follow Bridge Street for approximately a half-mile, before turning left onto East Street. After driving about the length of a football field on East Street, make a slight right onto Main Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Continue on Main Road for 2.5 miles before turning left onto the appropriately named Camels Hump Road, which, in accord with local nomenclature for the peak, omits the apostrophe. The road is unpaved and narrow, so drive slow and be aware of oncoming traffic as you make your way along the 3.5 miles to the Burrows Trailhead at the road’s end.

If at any point you’re feeling lost, don’t worry. The GPS on our phones worked until just after the turn onto Camels Hump Road. And, if your coverage fades out earlier, consult your map, and you’ll be fine. Or, stop at any of the local stores that dot the landscape and ask for directions. It’s been our experience that everyone is very friendly and happy to help a hiker. Pro tip: They’re especially helpful if you buy some local beer or syrup.

The Burrows Trail is a very popular hike, and the parking lot is relatively small. Those getting a late start should be prepared to either park on the road or at the Forest City Trailhead, where hikers can add a couple of miles to their day by using the Forest City Trail to connect with the Burrows Trail, or just road-march the 0.7 miles up to the Burrows Trailhead.

The lower Burrows Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The lower Burrows Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

On the Trail

The Burrows Trail begins at the back of the parking lot located at the end of Camels Hump Road (44.305058, -72.907684). If you have any questions about where you are heading, look for the plaque on a rock dedicated to Hubert “Hub” Vogelmann. He’s a long-time University of Vermont professor who is well known for his research on acid rain. Nearby, the Burrows Trail begins.

It doesn’t take long to feel the denseness of the Vermont forest, as the lush green landscape has a way of encompassing you on the trail’s early part. Hikers also don’t get much of a warm up. While the trail starts off fairly mellow, it is best described as steep and direct, and quickly becomes a more strenuous climb, with a preponderance of roots and rocks waiting to trip up hikers.

The Burrows Trail gains enough elevation over the first mile that the incredibly green landscape transitions into a pine forest with little to no undergrowth. The trail itself also changes, with the grade becoming more consistent, the rocks getting bigger, and the roots burlier. Take these shifts as a good sign, one signalling that you’re getting closer to the junction with the Long Trail.

Higher on the Burrows Trail. Credit: Tim Peck
Higher on the Burrows Trail. Credit: Tim Peck

The Clearing

Just past the two-mile mark, the Burrows Trail opens into a large clearing (44.312968, -72.885391), where the Burrows, Monroe, and Long Trails all intersect. The clearing is also a great spot to grab a snack and prepare for the upcoming above-treeline hike. Above this, the weather is often vastly different from what hikers have so far encountered on their trip, so add an extra layer and, on colder days, a hat, gloves, and jacket. Keep in mind that layering up is much easier to do in the trees, where the wind isn’t trying to blow your jacket towards New Hampshire.

From the clearing, take the Long Trail south for the final 0.3 miles to Camel’s Hump’s 4,083 foot-tall summit. This is the day’s most challenging section, featuring a short scramble before the trail traverses through the alpine zone and up to the summit on slick and rocky terrain. Since this area is home to rare and threatened arctic-alpine vegetation, try to walk on the rocks and stay between the twine strung out as a directional aid along the path.

Nearing the Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Nearing the Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Despite being atop a busy mountain, the broad, treeless summit of Camel’s Hump—Vermont’s highest undeveloped peak—offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the open summit (44.319466, -72.887024) and its incredible 360-degree views. You’ll soon realize why Camel’s Hump is featured on the Vermont state quarter.

In terms of views, to the west are Burlington and Lake Champlain, with the Adirondacks in the distance. Looking north, hikers can pick out the iconic Mt. Mansfield nestled among the most northern Green Mountains. To the east, the green of Vermont eventually merges into New Hampshire’s White Mountains, with Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range guarding the horizon. Finally, the Green Mountains, including Ellen, Abraham, and Killington, spill out to the south.

Whenever you can, pull yourself away from the summit, and just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail north to the clearing. In the clearing, look for the well-marked Burrows Trail, and then, take it to the parking lot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bonus Points

Hikers not yet ready to return can search for the remains of a 1944 plane crash. To find it, take the Long Trail south from the summit for 0.2 miles, first crossing some steep rock slabs and then descending into the trees. There, the Long Trail intersects with the Alpine Trail (44.31878, -72.887024). Follow that for a few hundred yards to a cairn marking an unnamed herd path that leaves the trail to the right. Then, follow the herd path a short ways downhill to the plane’s wreckage (44.318165, -72.886650). After taking in this unique sight, retrace your steps to the mountain’s summit.

Overall, this detour is just under a half-mile round trip. But, due to having to descend and then re-ascend the summit slabs, it may take hikers a little longer than they anticipated.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A wind shirt is a must-have for any hike that ascends above treeline. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is a lightweight, packable jacket that is perfect for the final push to the summit.
  • The weather can change pretty quickly in Vermont’s mountains, and more than once has a sunny forecast turned into a rain-soaked adventure. The EMS Thunderhead is a reliable, affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • Rocks, roots, and slabs put a premium on traction. For short hikes like Camel’s Hump, a light hiker like the Oboz Sawtooth Low WP is fantastic.
  • Vermont is known for its local products, so celebrate the state’s industry by hiking in a pair of super-durable Darn Tough socks, made down the road in Northfield.
  • The Green Mountain Club’s Camel’s Hump and the Monroe Skyline Waterproof Hiking Trail Map is an inexpensive insurance policy against getting lost.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Spotty cell service can render your phone’s GPS useless, and can make finding the Burrows Trailhead the most challenging part of the day. So, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s worth taking along an old-fashioned yet reliable map. The DeLorme New Hampshire Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer is an excellent supplement to your phone and will help ensure you make it to the trailhead.
  • You might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker on Camel’s Hump. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information, so ask them a question!
  • Vermont closes its trails for mud season. So, hiking is a no-go from when the snow melts to roughly Memorial Day weekend.
  • Stop at the Prohibition Pig on South Main Street in Waterbury for amazing local barbecue, beer, and cocktails on your way home!
  • If barbecue isn’t your thing, Waterbury is home to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. Take a tour, and at the end, have a pint of your favorite flavor. You’ve earned it.
  • If you’re looking to make it an inexpensive weekend, the Little River State Park is a great campground about 30 minutes away.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Camel’s Hump recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Header photo credit: Tim Behuniak


Pads Fly Free: The Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad

Two summers ago, we were preparing for a trip to California’s Mount Shasta. Our group of four had plans to climb up multiple routes—Avalanche Gulch as a “warm up” and then either Casaval Ridge or a glaciated route on the mountain’s north side.

But, as we began to pile the gear into duffels for our cross-country flight, we realized we had a problem: We needed to bring a lot of gear. As the duffels quickly filled with ropes, crampons, ice axes, tents, stoves, and sleeping pads, our concerns grew. How were we going to get everything across the country and then up the mountain?

Packing “Creatively”

Not wanting to pay through the nose for extra or overweight bags, we each began to look closely at the gear we truly “needed” to bring. A first pass allowed us to cull some stuff. Out went the mountaineering tent in favor of a tarp shelter, and we did the same for a second stove. Climbing gear was pared to only essentials. But, this only got us so far. Our duffels were still too many and too heavy.

One thing we recognized was that, while airline staff measure your carry-on, they don’t weigh it. So, we filled our carry-ons with all the heavy stuff. But, since most mountaineering gear is sharp, and thus can’t be in the passenger cabin, this too only got us so far. Furthermore, some permissible items, like our closed-cell sleeping pads, didn’t fit, no matter how creatively we tried to stuff them.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Burrito-Sized Comfort

Enter the lightweight and super-small Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad.

It was around the time that Sea to Summit entered the sleeping pad market, and their first salvo looked like it already hit its mark. The pad packed to the size of a small burrito, and the regular size weighed just 12.5 ounces. When we saw it, a light bulb went on. It looked exceptionally comfortable and, more importantly, would fit in our carry-ons.

But, we were all initially dubious: Would the lightweight material stand up to several nights of rocky bivvies on Shasta, especially now that we had skimped on a tent with a floor? And, the thought of the pad popping, and a sleepless night at altitude before that all-too-early wake-up call left us wondering whether the expenditure was worth the risk.

Still Climbing

Turns out, the pad was way better than expected. It packed up as small as advertised. Due to its 181 Air Sprung Cells creating little pockets of air to lift you two inches off the ground, it also proved to be even more comfortable than we anticipated. Specifically, the cells help prevent the air from shifting under your body weight and provide even support across the entire mattress while never producing the bouncy-castle feel of other inflatable pads. Finally, durability wise, it survived several days on Shasta with ease, and has since become a fixture of our overnight kits. And, for those taking the pad to cooler climates, the insulated versions are sure to keep you toasty.

On our trip to Mount Shasta, the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad more than paid for itself by helping us avoid extra baggage fees. And, over the years, it has continued to pay its way by keeping our luggage under the airline’s restrictions. Furthermore, having the pad in our carry-ons benefitted one trip in particular, as we had a near-miss with an airport bivvy.

These days, whether we’re doing a trip out West, a long hike like the Pemi Loop, or a stealth car bivy in a random parking lot, it’s a sure bet that the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad is there to let us sleep in comfort.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Biking Boston’s South Shore

Mountain bikers rely on their local trail systems to keep their legs fit, skills sharp, and the need for fat-tire fun satiated. From mid-week training sessions to giving an out-of-towner a tour, the local trail provides a reliable place to ride. As well, a “oneness” with the terrain comes after having logged countless miles on it. So, for those south of Boston looking to join the mountain bike scene or just ride somewhere new, these three destinations offer something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned riders.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Blue Hills Reservation

Located just outside of Boston, Blue Hills Reservation delivers everything from moderate fire roads and double-track to long climbs and gnarly rock gardens, making it easy to tailor rides to almost anyone’s ability. The trails are user friendly and well marked, and the easy-to-read map makes navigating the 7,000-acre park a piece of cake. Because of this, you’ll find everyone from serious racers in training to casual riders enjoying Blue Hills’ trails.

White and Yellow Trails

The main jumping-off point is the parking lot at Houghton’s Pond (840 Hillside St., Milton). From here, two color-coded trails designated for mountain biking depart: the White Trail and the Yellow Trail. The easier of the two, the six-mile White Trail is a loop marked with white triangles. Running in a counterclockwise direction, the White Trail is mostly comprised of gentle fire roads and easy double-track. The 4.5-mile Yellow Trail loop, on the other hand, is the more advanced of the two. Much like the White Trail, the Yellow Trail mostly follows fire roads and double-track but involves more climbing.

Buck Hill

Just because the White and Yellow Trails offer little in the way of technical challenges doesn’t mean advanced riders won’t find anything. In fact, they offer a great way to log mileage in between sampling some of the reservation’s more challenging terrain.

For more serious riders, the White Trail connects with some of the rocky trails that border Chickatawbut Road between Tucker and Buck Hill, before heading up toward Buck Hill’s summit, one of the reservation’s signature climbs. The near mile-long climb up starts moderately, but the technical challenges grow on the last third, just as your legs begin to tire. A fantastic 360-degree view, including Boston’s skyline and the harbor islands, serves as the reward for your efforts. Then, a fast and fun descent takes you back the way you came.

Those visiting should know that the reservation is closed to mountain biking in March, there is no night riding, and some trails are off-limits to bikes. Also, be aware that most trails are multi-use, which means you’ll be sharing them with hikers and horseback riders. For more information, check out the Blue Hills Mountain Bike Map and Brochure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Borderland

One of the best-kept secrets for New England mountain biking is North Easton’s Borderland State Park. Why don’t more people talk about it? Simply put, for all of the great riding found there, very little of it suits intermediate riders. But, with ample easy and plenty of challenging terrain, Borderland is the place for scenic, smooth cruising, testing your skills in some of the state’s most difficult rock gardens, and answering the question of “Just how rocky can a mountain bike trail get?” The answer: Very!

Pond Walk Trail

Leaving from the park’s entrance at 259 Massapoag Ave. in Easton, beginner riders will love the mellow double-track found on the Pond Walk Trail. More than merely pleasant riding, the Pond Walk Trail takes you past many of the park’s most notable attractions. You’ll ride by Ames Mansion, built using granite quarried within Borderland; the Wilbur Farmhouse, dating back to 1786; and both Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond. As a tip, advanced riders can loop Ames Mansion in with the Quarry Trail, which circumnavigates the old quarry.

Bob’s and NEMBA Trails

Advanced riders will want to challenge themselves on many of the park’s rougher and more technical trails. Two have been specifically designed for mountain bikes: Bob’s Trail and the NEMBA Trail. A great place for new-to-Borderland riders to get a feel for what’s to come, Bob’s Trail serves as a popular warm-up for fit locals. Specifically, it packs rock gardens, baby head-laden singletrack, and a bridge, all in less than a mile.

Riders looking for even more of a challenge should head to the NEMBA Trail. Featuring open rock slabs, steep rollovers, and tight twists and turns, the NEMBA Trail is perfect for advanced riders looking to test their technical abilities.

Borderland does have a $10/day use fee ($5 for residents), available from a machine at the main parking area. While Borderland is very mountain-bike friendly, mountain bikes are prohibited along a few trails, including the Pond Edge, Swamp, and Quiet Woods.

Also, the park asks that bikers avoid the trails on wet and muddy days to help keep them usable for years to come. As well, the park can get busy, especially around the main entrance and the mansion, so help keep the trails open for bikers by paying attention to and being respectful of other users. This map will help you get your bearings.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest delivers some of the best mountain biking south of Boston. Comprising over 1,000 acres in Foxborough and Wrentham, its 23 miles of trails are well marked and easy to navigate, especially with the maps found at most major junctions. From beginner-friendly double-track to narrow, technical singletrack, Gilbert offers something for everyone. But, be forewarned. Everything here is a bit more challenging due to loose rock and numerous rock gardens.

Moderate Trails

Parking along High Rock Road in Wrentham is the best way to access Gilbert’s mountain biking. Understand, though, that you may want avoid the trails on Patriots game days, when nobody in their right mind should be attempting to recreate anywhere near Foxborough.

Riders looking for moderate terrain from High Rock Rd. should continue on the unpaved road of the same name into the forest. Noticeably different from double-track found elsewhere in the state, many of Gilbert Hills’ easier trails are wide and less technical. But, they’re also a bit loose, so pay attention while ascending and descending the park’s short and steep hills. From High Rock Road, riders can access a significant portion of the park’s more moderate riding, including along Messenger Road and the Megley Trail.

More Technical Trails

The area’s designated mountain biking trail makes for a much more challenging ride. Bikers can join it where it bisects High Rock Road at the halfway point or from the main parking lot at the end of the road. Riders should expect technical terrain throughout, with small sections of flowing singletrack interrupted by regular rock gardens and other advanced features. Although you can go in either direction, riding it counterclockwise means you’ll get the (comparatively) easier terrain first.

In addition, you can access a slew of other trails for both dirt and mountain bikes from the High Rock Road parking lot. Consisting of rough, rocky terrain that tests even the most skilled riders, these trails feature small to large drops, rollovers, and even a little bit of pure rock riding not typically associated with the Northeast. And, the unique geography, with three interconnected drumlins, provides lots of short, steep up-and-down riding.

 

Whether you’re looking for a reliable place to ride south of Boston or just interested in mixing up your regular destination, consider checking out these three locations. Each offers plenty of opportunities to log miles, tackle challenging terrain, and get in a solid training session. So, go out for a ride at one or all, and tell us about it in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck
[/media-credit] Credit: Tim Peck