Top 5 Winter Hikes Under 5 Miles in the White Mountains

Winter hiking in the White Mountains can be extremely rewarding. Not only can you avoid the crowds, but also, you’re able to see the mountains in a vastly different light. You’ll further find that there’s nothing quite like the tundra experience atop some of New Hampshire’s tallest peaks. Here, you’ll see pines encased with perfectly white snow, and trails full of fresh powder or slicked with ice. And, whether you’re new to winter hiking, or looking for a quick lunchtime trek to burn off those holiday calories, the Whites have a winter-wonderland of options.

Credit: Maxwell DesMarais
Credit: Maxwell DesMarais

Mount Willard

Mount Willard is easily one of the Whites’ most rewarding hikes. Specifically, with minimal effort, you can experience stunning views of Crawford Notch. The notch’s southern slopes rise over 1,500 ft. to the summit, and to the left, the exposed rocks of Mount Webster’s cliffs are ice covered. Together, these features create a striking contrast of dark rocks and pure white ice. As you make your way to the thousand-foot cliff rising from the valley floor, you wonder how you could have ascended so quickly.

The trailhead begins at the train station just east of the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch. The Mount Willard Trail then climbs gradually over 1.6 miles to the cliff overlooking Route 302 and the Saco River. If you have never hiked in winter, Willard is the perfect starter peak. Particularly, the gradual incline keeps ice and snow manageable for all levels, without the need for crampons or other more serious gear.

Credit: Maxwell DesMarais
Credit: Maxwell DesMarais

Cannon Mountain

A winter hiking essential, Cannon is one of the few New Hampshire 4,000-footers that you can hike round-trip in under five miles. Located in Franconia Notch, it has incredible views of Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge to the east and North and South Kinsman to the south. Here, the strong winds and elevation create multiple layers of ice that envelope the summit tower. The 360-degree views show off the flat lands to the northwest, the white-tipped pines of the Kinsman Ridge Trail, and the steep valley of Franconia Notch. You’ll even get a glimpse of the ski lift up Cannon.

The Kinsman Ridge trail (a.k.a. Hi-Cannon Trail) can be accessed from the Cannon Mountain Ski Area parking lot off I-93, and offers a very short four-mile round-trip hike to the summit. The trail is fairly steep and likely requires MICROspikes, but the views from the observation tower are worth it. As you ascend, the incline will get your heart pumping, and the breathtaking sights will keep it going long after you stop.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Arethusa Falls

Also in Crawford Notch, Arethusa Falls involves a 2.6-mile round-trip hike to a stunning waterfall. Over the 1.3 miles from the parking lot, you’ll climb roughly 800 feet along the Bemis Brook Trail, which parallels Bemis Brook. Here, you can always stop to listen to the falling waters, or take a look at the unique rock formations carved by the brook. And, at the end, there’s nothing like seeing a 140-foot ice wall looming over you. If you come at just the right time, you may be lucky enough to see water rushing down the middle, flanked by ice walls on either side.

Credit: @ayu_river
Credit: @ayu_river

Ripley Falls

Ripley Falls is located just a couple miles up the notch from the trailhead for Arethusa Falls, with parking clearly marked along Route 302. At only 1.2 miles round-trip, this short hike along the Ripley Falls Trail is great if you only have an hour or two to spare. While Ripley Falls isn’t quite as steep as Arethusa Falls, it still creates a giant ice slide that can completely cover the entire cascade, leaving no rock exposed. Consider combining both in a day via the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail.

Glen-Boulder-Winter

Glen Boulder

The Glen Boulder trailhead is located just south of Pinkham Notch on Route 16 at the Glen Ellis Parking Area. The trail up is a steep 3.6-mile round-trip hike—perfect for those wanting a more challenging workout. In less than 1.5 miles, you will the reach treeline, where you’ll get to see gorgeous views of Mount Washington and Pinkham Notch. In winter, you may need snowshoes, and should bring MICROspikes for traction. Glen Boulder appears to beg for a nudge off the mountainside. So, if you’re bold, stand on top of it.

Going beyond Glen Boulder gives you even better views. But, understand that snow drifts can create very deep powder on the ridge to Boott Spur. To prepare, snowshoes are recommended. For a bonus, check out Glen Ellis Falls at the trailhead. To get here, a short trail leading under Route 16 takes you a short distance to what may be New Hampshire’s best waterfall.


The New Hampshire Climber's Guide to Pizza

Whether I spend the day testing my mettle at Cathedral, getting in laps on Cannon, clipping bolts at Rumney, or wrestling pebbles at Pawtuckaway, I know I’m not making it all the way home without stopping to eat. But, what to eat? That’s usually an easy answer: pizza. 

In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect post-climbing food. It’s delicious, its various toppings can accommodate most palates, and it is relatively inexpensive. Those of us who climb in New Hampshire are lucky to have some fantastic pizza options in close proximity to most of our major crags. My girlfriend recently coined the term “sending slices,” because sometimes that warm slice in the near future is all the motivation you need to push through the crux.

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Pawtuckaway: Pizza by George

Perhaps the best pizza in New Hampshire is right down the street from what’s probably the state’s best bouldering spot. Pizza by George in Raymond is perfect for cooling down after a hard day battling Pawtuckaway’s coarse granite boulders and cracks. Offering gourmet pizza by the slice, this place is a must-visit. But, be warned: These slices are more filling than they look. Insider tip: Save some room for a pepperoni roll or two—they’re delicious.

Rumney: The Common Cafe

For years, I bemoaned having to leave Rumney to drive to Plymouth for a decent post-send slice. That’s no longer an issue, thanks to The Common Cafe. Located in Rumney Village right on the way to the crag, The Common Cafe and Tavern features generously sized pizzas and super-fresh toppings. My inner dirtbag also appreciates the free popcorn they give you while you wait for your food. No one-trick pony, The Common Cafe and Tavern is as good for a coffee and breakfast sandwich earlier in the day as it is for a pizza and pint at the end. 

Cannon: GH Pizza

Rock climbers spending time on Cannon—or anywhere in Franconia Notch—should certainly pop into the town of Woodstock and grab a pie at GH Pizza. The best thing I can say about GH is that there isn’t much to say. The place is totally unassuming.

More specifically, GH makes Greek-style pie, and has a classic pizza-place ambiance. Along with great food, it offers reasonable prices and fast service. For this last point, the hungry climber in me really appreciates this.

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Crawford Notch: Catalano’s Pizzeria

Climbers in the Crawford Notch area are hard-pressed to find a place to eat, much less one that’s great. Catalano’s Pizzeria in Twin Mountain offers incredibly good pizza at reasonable prices, which is quite a trick, as they seemingly have no competition.

Ice climbers leaving Frankenstein will love the “large” large pizzas that always appear extra big. Generally, Catalano’s pizza is always loaded with cheese, and they never skimp on toppings, helping you to replace all the calories you just burned. Insider tip: Stash their number in your phone and call ahead. Things move a little bit slower this far north.

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North Conway: Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co.

In addition to being New England’s climbing hub, North Conway is also northern New Hampshire’s busiest tourist destination. Thus, the town has an abundance of places to eat, and there is no shortage of great spots to grab a slice.

With that being said, after a hard day climbing Cathedral classics and sweating it out on Whitehorse slabs, I head to the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. to calm my nerves with a fresh-brewed pint (or two) and a wood-grilled pizza. Also at this North Conway staple, you are sure to be surrounded by your climbing brethren. Just be careful with what you say, though. You never know if the guy sitting next to you made his first ascension on the route you thought was “a little soft for the grade.”