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A moderate hike to one of the White Mountains’ most iconic bald summits makes ascending Mount Chocorua via the Piper Trail one of the best introductions to winter mountaineering in the Northeast.

Between Mount Chocorua’s classic open summit and the significant elevation gain, a winter ascent of this 3,490-foot peak is a feather in the cap of any aspiring mountaineer. On clear winter days, the stellar summit views are among the best in the White Mountains.

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.5 miles, 2,700 feet of elevation gain
Time to Complete: Full day for most
Difficulty: ★★★

Season: November to April
Fees/Permits: Daily Parking Fee


The Piper Trail begins its ascent of Mount Chocorua from a trailhead just off Route 16 behind the Davies Campground and General Store. Coming from North Conway, the well-signed turnoff for the Piper Trail parking lot is about 6 miles south of the Kancamagus Highway. From the turnoff, follow a dirt road for about 150 yards past a few houses to get to the Piper Trail parking lot. A portion of the lot is typically plowed in the winter and can accommodate about 10 cars.

Credit: The Authors

Getting Started

The Piper Trail begins at a signed trailhead in the parking lot’s far left corner. Initially, the hiking is flat and quite moderate, following the remnants of an old logging road through an open, mature pine forest. Because the Piper Trail is a popular winter excursion, expect the path to be broken in and the track itself to be icy. Traction devices like Microspikes are often quite useful.

Navigating this early portion of the Piper Trail is quite easy—just continue straight at the first two trail junctions. The first junction is for the Weetamoo Trail at 0.8 miles and the second junction is for the Nickerson Ledge Trail at 1.4 miles. Both are well-signed.

Credit: The Authors

Ascending the Switchbacks

At around 1.8 miles, the Piper Trail crosses the Chocorua River. While relatively mellow to this point, here the trail takes on a new character, narrowing and starting to climb moderately. A short way into this ascent, there are outstanding views to hikers’ right of the nearby Carter Ledge and its interesting slabs. There are also some nice spots along here to take a short break if you haven’t done so already.

As the Piper Trail continues to climb, it ascends a series of switchbacks. Much of this section of the trail utilizes stone steps to facilitate the ascent, just don’t expect to see much of the actual steps, at least when there’s a normal snowpack.

Near the 3-mile mark, a 0.2-mile spur trail leaves the Piper Trail for Camp Penacook, a 6- to 8-person open shelter and tent platform. The camp is open year-round and offers a great way to turn this stellar day hike into an overnight trip.

After the Camp Penacook Spur, the Piper Trail climbs another, steeper, series of switchbacks, with regular views to the east of Silver Lake, Ossipee, and the Maine-New Hampshire border regions. There are also occasional glimpses of Mount Chocorua’s summit. Eventually, the Piper Trail spills out onto an open ledge. Usually snow covered, this ledge has outstanding unobstructed views to the north, east, and south.

Credit: The Authors

The Upper Mountain

From the first of these ledges, the Piper Trail ascends across a series of progressively higher ledges, each with fantastic views. Above the ledges, the trail ducks back into the trees, joining the Champney Falls Trail at a well-signed junction around the 3.6-mile marker. Here, the Piper Trail makes a sharp turn south, beelining for the open slopes of Chocorua’s summit cone.

The transition out of the trees and onto the upper mountain’s open slopes offers a good opportunity to evaluate the conditions and the weather. At a minimum, adding an extra layer and traction (if you haven’t already) likely makes sense. In particularly icy conditions, crampons and an ice axe can provide additional security to traverse these ledges safely. High winds—often higher than you’d expect for a 3,000-foot summit—create further exposure risks.

Once on the open slopes, the Piper Trail climbs quickly to an unnamed subpeak, itself with excellent views, before losing elevation and traversing over to the base of the summit cone.  In icy conditions, ascending the cone itself can be tricky, especially the first section. Ascend carefully. Thereafter, the footing improves, leaving hikers at the top of this classic, open peak. On clear days, the 360-degree views are outstanding, with the White Mountain National Forest occupying almost the totality of the views to the north and west. On a clear day, hundreds of peaks in the region are visible, with many of the most prominent easy to identify.

Credit: The Authors

The Descent

The descent from Mount Chocorua’s summit is relatively straightforward—just retrace your steps on the Piper Trail for 4.3 miles back to the trailhead. The most consequential part of the descent is off the summit cone. Use particular care here, especially in icy conditions. Once you’re off the summit, the descent is a pleasant stroll back across the upper mountain’s open ledges and then along the lower mountain’s switchbacks and open forest.

Credit: The Authors

The Kit

  • Crampons and an ice axe are a great way to add security on Chocorua’s summit cone. The Petzl Irvis Flexlock Crampons and the Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe are perfect for the job.
  • In winter conditions, a crampon-compatible waterproof boot is a must for keeping your feet dry on the snowy trail. The Asolo TPS 520 GV Evo (Men’s/Women’s) is one of the best leather boots on the market.
  • Dusk comes quickly in the winter, especially on Chocorua, the easternmost summit in the White Mountains. A good headlamp, like the Petzl Tikka Core, adds a margin of safety when you want to watch the sunset from the summit ledges.
  • Whether it’s icy or snowy, stay on two feet with a pair of EMS Trekking Poles.
  • Stay toasty at rest breaks and on the summit with the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s).

Credit: The Authors

Keys to the Trip

  • A winter summit of Mount Chocorua is best enjoyed on a clear, windless day. Use the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits and the Mount Washington Valley forecasts to find the best day.
  • Start your day right—two of the best White Mountain Coffee Shops (the Frontside and the Met) are just up Route 16 in North Conway.
  • If you’ve worked up an appetite on Mount Chocorua, Cafe Noche in nearby Conway Village offers authentic, delicious Mexican fare.
  • Want to celebrate a successful summit? Tuckerman Brewing Company—and their tasting room—is just a half mile up the road from Cafe Noche.
  • Not sure if you’re ready for the Piper Trail alone? Contact the EMS Climbing School to arrange for a guided ascent with one of our top-notch guides.

Credit: The Authors

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Piper Trail on Mount Chocorua recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your outing) in the comments for others!