Four Spring Hikes and Breweries in the Mid-Hudson Valley

Spring in the Hudson Valley is a season of beauty, balance, and transition. Cooler nights, warmer days, and all the sights, sounds, and smells of a landscape awakening from its winter slumber are on full display. In the highlands, from the Shawangunk Ridge to the Catskills, the air is full of new life. The creeks are swollen with snowmelt and the trees are budding. The sound of birdsong graces every hillside and the breeze carries with it the fragrance of fresh earth. The trails, though muddy and wet, have not yet seen the traffic of summer and, if the stars align, you can still find yourself all alone in the wilderness—It’s prime time for hiking.

And, much like it does the flora and fauna of the forest, the lengthening days and rising temperatures bring forth one of man’s finer rituals of the season: the beer garden.

So make it a day trip and top-off your hike with a sun-soaked beer at one of the Hudson Valley’s many outstanding breweries.

Pitch pines, rocks, and open air on the excellent Gertrude’s Nose Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Gertrude’s Nose & Yard Owl Craft Brewery

Visible from the Thruway, the formidable wall of the Shawangunk Ridge is recognized far-and-wide as one of the best trad climbing areas in the East. “The Gunks,” as they’re more-commonly known, are also host to some top-notch trails, with miles of graded carriage roads, woodsy singletrack, and rocky scrambles that’ll keep even the most ambitious hikers, runners, and bikers busy for a bit.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, occupying the southwestern section of the Shawangunk Ridge, is replete with stunning lakes, dramatic waterfalls, and airy ridge walks. Consider linking the Lake Minnewaska and Millbrook Mountain Carriage Roads with the Gertrude’s Nose and Millbrook Mountain Trails for a great, varied 7.0-mile loop.

Please note that Minnewaska State Park Preserve charges a $10 entry fee per vehicle. Help limit the spread of COVID-19 by bringing exact change or buying the $80 Empire Pass—good for use at state parks all over New York for a year—ahead of time.

In the nearby town of Gardiner, you’ll find Yard Owl Craft Brewery, a Belgian-inspired operation that focuses on saisons and farmhouse ales. Their dedication to traditional Belgian brewing methods results in a strong line of flavorful, aromatic beers. Get yourself started with their flagship Farmhouse Ale and go from there.

Early spring views from atop Bonticou Crag in the Gunks. | Credit: John Lepak

Bonticou Crag & Arrowood Farms

Directly adjacent to Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the privately-owned Mohonk Preserve, an 8,000-acre nature preserve occupying the northeastern section of the Shawangunk Ridge. Much of the climbing for which the Gunks are known for—the steep, juggy, overhanging routes of the Trapps and the Near Trapps—is located within Mohonk. And though, just as in Minnewaska, there is a great variety of hiking here, the steep character that has made Mohonk known has occasion to imbue itself on its hiking.

This is best-evidenced at Bonticou Crag, one of the area’s justifiably popular features. Accessible by short loop hike, Bonticou Crag offers a sample-size taste of everything the Mohonk Preserve has to offer in just 2.3 miles. The views from atop Bonticou Crag are stunning—sheer white cliffs, rolling hills, and the skyline of the Catskills in the distance—but the exposed scramble up may be the funnest route the Gunks has to offer that doesn’t require a harness and a rope.

Please note that the Mohonk Preserve charges a day rate of $15 for access to their trails. Help limit the spread of COVID-19 by bringing exact change or becoming a member for $105 a year.

Just a fifteen minute drive from the trailhead is Arrowood Farms, a brewery, distillery, and working farm in the hamlet of Accord. A bucolic agricultural setting, complete with animals, gardens, an apiary, and (of course) hops, make Arrowood an easy place to spend an afternoon after a morning on the trail. Kick back with an Accordian Lager and enjoy.

Balsam Lake Mountain’s fire tower under clear skies. | Credit: John Lepak

Balsam Lake Mountain & Catskill Brewery

In spite of their relatively low elevation, the Catskill Mountains are a wild and rugged place. The trails are tough, the ascents are steep, and mountain weather can make things interesting quickly. And though their popularity has skyrocketed of late, it’s still not difficult to chase down a feeling of remoteness in the high peaks and hidden cloves of the Catskills.

At 3,750 feet above sea level, Balsam Lake Mountain is the westernmost of the Catskills’ high peaks. So named for its dense forests of balsam fir, the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain would actually be viewless—were it not for a very popular fire tower that offers sweeping panoramic views in every direction.

A 3.7 mile loop, linking the Dry Brook Ridge and Balsam Lake Mountain Trails, via the Beaver Kill Road Trailhead to the mountain’s southwest quickly gains the summit by the most direct route.

For the peakbaggers in our midst it’s worth noting that Balsam Lake Mountain had made two tick lists: the Catskill 3500, a list of the region’s highest mountains, and; the Catskill Fire Tower Five, a list of the region’s peaks with erstwhile fire towers.

“Honest hardworking beer” is the mantra and that’s exactly what you can expect from Catskill Brewery in Livingston Manor. Locally sourced ingredients, pure Catskill Mountain water, and a commitment to the environment—their brewery is housed in a LEED Gold Certified building—echo that sentiment. Rest those weary legs by enjoying a couple Ball Lightning Pilsners in their complete-with-food-truck beer garden.

Looking south from Buck Ridge on West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

West Kill Mountain & West Kill Brewing

Spruceton Road, in the heart of the Catskills, is exactly the kind of place hikers and trail runners dream about. Hemmed in on three sides by mountains, the road is not only gorgeous, but it runs through the confluence of several excellent hiking trails and bushwhacks that access half-dozen Catskill High Peaks including Halcott, North Dome, Rusk, West Kill, Hunter, and Southwest Hunter Mountains. It’s the kind of place that sticks in memory and is very, very easy to return to.

West Kill Mountain, at 3,881 feet, is the last Catskill High Peak hikers encounter on a westbound traverse of the Devil’s Path. As viewed from Spruceton Road, it’s mass is impressive and forbidding. Though it is massive, it also is, in actuality, one of the more pleasant ascents in the area—and Buck Ridge Lookout, a south-facing viewpoint just east of the summit, is absolutely stellar.

From the parking area at the end of Spruceton Road, a 6.0 mile out-and-back hike starting on the blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail and turning right on the red-blazed Devil’s Path passes by the lovely Diamond Notch Falls before climbing West Kill’s eastern flanks to Buck Ridge and, ultimately, the marked but viewless summit.

Situated on a former dairy farm right on Spruceton Road, West Kill Brewing delivers outstanding beer that’s inspired by the Catskills themselves, leveraging locally harvested and foraged ingredients. Their outdoor seating area—with a gorgeous view of West Kill Mountain and Saint Anne’s Peak—is as good as it gets. The stand-by Brookie Lager and Kaaterskill IPA are always worth giving a go.


8 Reasons Not to Be an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

How many times have you said to someone, “Someday I’m going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.” Probably a hundred times, at least? You’ve been reading AT books and trail journals, you drool over gear at the outfitter stores, you argue with your friends about how to hang a bear bag, and you brag about what great shape you’re in.

But maybe thru-hiking the AT is not for you. For every four thru hikers who start out at Springer Mountain, only one will make it all the way to Katahdin. Some don’t even make it up the approach trail. And why is this? It’s because thru hiking the AT is hard—really hard. Hikers drop out for all sorts of reasons, from injuries and family issues to boredom and loneliness.

But here’s the good thing: You don’t have to be an AT thru hiker to prove yourself to anyone, or to challenge your body beyond what it’s capable of doing. There are lots of fun challenges out there that will give you bragging rights and make you a well-rounded outdoor adventurer.

If you’re considering an upcoming thru hike, consider these 8 reasons not to do it, and what you can do instead. And just maybe, a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail will be in your future…or won’t!

Grayson Highlands is a favorite spot on the AT, known for its wild ponies, black bear, bobcat, red fox, ruffed grouse, deer, and wild turkey. | Credit: Troy Lair

Reason 1: Because you don’t want to sleep in the woods for 5 to 6 months.

Leaving your comfortable life to hike 5 to 6 months on the AT, covering over 2,000 grueling miles, sleeping on the hard ground in all sorts of terrible weather, is not for everyone, especially anyone who is a fan of their comfy bed at home, clean clothes, and food that wasn’t cooked on a Pocket Rocket.

Do this instead: Take a long section hike.

You don’t have to set aside 6 months to “complete” the AT—Section hiking, or doing it piece by piece as day hikes or shorter backpacking trips is an equally good way to get the Appalachian Trail experience. One of our favorite sections: Hike the AT from Damascus, VA to Pearisburg, VA for 165 miles. You’ll go through some of the most beautiful sections of the AT, including Grayson Highlands, with their wild horses and abundant wildlife, and if you’re in good shape you can probably do it in two weeks.

Avery Reekstin tackles the 4,000 footers of New Hampshire. | Credit: James Golisano

Reason 2: You don’t want to quit your job.

You’re young, you’re just out of college, and recently landed a great job in your field. Do you really want to give that up with the chance that you may not find another good job when you finish your thru hike?

Do this instead: Hike all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot summits.

You can have a major goal and impressive outdoor adventure in various different locations without giving up that much time. Instead, pick a peak bagging list like the New Hampshire 4000 and chip away at it on weekends.

Try a new sport if you’re not into hiking, like whitewater kayaking. | Courtesy: Nantahala Outdoor Center

Reason 3: Because you have bad knees.

You love to hike, but your knees say no way. Not everyone is built to take on a challenge like the AT. Your knees are not going to get any better or stronger on a long AT hike, in fact, you may very well suffer a painful injury walking miles a day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a new outdoor pursuit, and learn a new sport.

Do this instead: Take up whitewater kayaking.

There are lots of challenges out there besides long hiking trails, and whitewater kayaking is one of them. It’s a thrilling sport, an adrenaline rush like no other! But don’t just jump into the water quite yet. Visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in the heart of the Nantahala National Forest in NC, and take one or more of their whitewater kayaking courses. You’ll learn lots of new skills, like how to read the water, and how to “roll.” And since the Appalachian Trail passes right through their property, you’ll get to schmooze with thru hikers, too! And it’s easy on your knees.

Reason 4: Because you have small children at home.

You’re not getting any gold stars for leaving your kids at home while you’re hike the AT for 5-months. Your young children need you at home. But that doesn’t mean that an AT thru hike isn’t in your future.

Do this instead: Get your kids into hiking.

Kids love to hike in the woods. Start out with short walks, and keep them busy by identifying plants, trees, bird song, and insects. Take them on trails that have a wow-factor, like a beautiful waterfall, or swimming hole. Buy them their own hiking gear, like trekking poles and backpacks. Before long, they might want to join you for AT section hike trips, or other missions like these in the Adirondacks or these in New Hampshire.

Reason 5: Because you don’t have any money.

Let’s face it, you need money to hike the Appalachian Trail—It costs about $6,000 to support yourself on the trail, and that’s likely without any income. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of your gear. You may think you can live on less, and maybe you can, but you’re going to want to stay in towns, eat at restaurants, pay for shuttles, and have money at the end of your hike to rent a car to buy a plane ticket to get home.

Do this instead: Stick close to home.

Not everyone who hikes the Appalachian Trail does it as a thru-hike. Parcel it out into a section hike and take on the pieces closer to home which require less traveling and expense.

Fran Leyman hikes the Beehive Dome Loop Trail in Acadia National Park. | Credit: Carey Kish

Reason 6: Because you’d rather be at the beach.

Spending your summer in the mountains might be nice for a lot of us, but it means forgoing beach days and the ocean escapes you might be used to, here and there. What if there were a way to have the best of both worlds?

Do this instead: Visit Acadia National Park in Maine.

Acadia National Park is a coastal wonderland for folks who love the beach and love to hike. The Beehive Dome Loop Trail is a challenging hike that borders on exposed via ferratta. “The views of Great Head, Sand Beach, and Newport Coveen route are spectacular,” states Carey Kish, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. “Over the top, the trail meanders on to the Bowl, a brilliant blue tarn tucked into the ridge below Champlain Mountain that makes a great place for a swim and a picnic lunch.”

Reason #7: Because you’ve had a recent surgery.

If you’ve had a recent surgery, spending 6 months walking probably isn’t in the cards. Save it for next year.

Do this instead: Get a professional personal hiking trainer.

For avid hiker Alys Spillman of Savannah, GA, who recently had foot surgery, she knew she’d have to get some help to get back on the trail safely. “I used Trailside Fitness to help with my recovery,” says Alys. “It’s an online training guide that’s helping me reach my fitness goals. I’m not ready for a thru hike yet, but these small shakedown hikes I’m doing on the weekend are getting me back in the game!”

Reason #8: Because your gear is old and heavy.

That old backpack and heavy boots might have been good enough for your grandfather, but they’re not right for you. A heavy tent and worn-out rain jacket will drag you down every minute you’re on the AT, causing you to get discouraged from the very first day out.

Do this instead: Spend a year buying new gear.

There’s no reason you need to rush to drop all that money on new gear in the month before you leave. Delay things a year, make a budget, do your research, and buy a piece of lightweight gear each month for a year. By next spring you’ll have everything you need for a successful thru hike!


Sweaty vs. Wet: Should You Get Waterproof Hiking Shoes?

The decision between waterproof vs. non-waterproof hiking boots, shoes, or trail runners is among the most contentious arguments in the outdoors. Advocates on both sides of the issue are quick to point out the superiority of their preferred footwear while spotlighting the shortcomings of the other. But the truth is that both waterproof and non-waterproof footwear have their pros and cons, and understanding them can help you make an educated decision about which type of footwear is right for you.

Credit: Tim Peck

Why Go Waterproof

Waterproof footwear is worth its weight in gold when conditions call for it. But many hikers swear by waterproof footwear even when the skies are clear. After all, why would you want to rock hop across a stream or mud puddle when you could simply plow right through it?

The main reason for choosing to wear waterproof footwear all the time is that it keeps your feet dry (for the most part), which is particularly important in regions like the Northeast, where the weather seems to change by the minute. Waterproof boots and shoes allow you to deal with a variety of conditions common to the Northeast—from crossing shallow streams to navigating puddles to trudging through snow—without having to worry about your feet getting wet.

Credit: Tim Peck

Why Opt for Non-Waterproof

Those who favor footwear of the non-waterproof variety agree that shoes and boots featuring a waterproof membrane have their place when it’s raining heavily, but otherwise believe that it’s unnecessary.

The primary reason for choosing non-waterproof footwear is that waterproof membranes trap sweat inside the boot, leading to your feet getting wet from the inside out, especially in warm temperatures. Conversely, non-waterproof shoes (particularly those with mesh uppers) help move sweat from your feet and socks to the shoe where it evaporates. Similarly, waterproof membranes are also a barrier to footwear (and your sock and feet) drying out once they’re wet on the inside. So, if you’re recreating in dry, warm conditions, non-waterproof footwear is likely the better choice.

Non-waterproof footwear fans are also quick to point out another obvious deficiency of waterproof shoes: That no shoe is truly waterproof, anyway. Water can sneak in the top of a shoe when crossing too-deep puddles and streams, rainwater can simply fall in through the top, and water can run down your legs into the shoes.

The Case for a Quiver

Every outdoor person dreams of ultra-versatile gear that excels at everything, but the fact is that gear that does everything well, rarely does anything exceptionally. If you’re the type of hiker who’s going out in all seasons and all types of weather, you’ll want a few pieces of footwear.

For example, waterproof footwear is a wise choice for soggy spring hikes in cooler temperatures, while non-waterproof footwear is an ideal option for the dog days of summer which are typically dry.

Warning: A quiver can start off as simply owning a pair of waterproof shoes and a pair of non-waterproof shoes, and evolve into a much more niche undertaking—such as owning waterproof boots for early spring, hiking shoes for rugged terrain, trail runners for moving fast, waterproof trail runners for logging lightning-fast miles in cool and damp weather, and winter-specific waterproof boots for hiking in cold, snowy conditions.

Credit: Tim Peck

The debate over whether to go waterproof or not is sure to rage on, but in the end, we have better things to argue over—like what do with all the hikers visiting the mountains these days. If you can only have one pair of shoes, think about the conditions you hike in most often and how sweaty your feet get before making a decision and if you have the luxury of owning multiple pairs of footwear, consider having a pair of each represented in your quiver.

Got a hot take about waterproof footwear? We want to hear it. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


The 6 Northeast Backpacking Classics that Should be on Your List This Summer

High, alpine summits, pristine waterways, and dense, impenetrable forests—for a region as densely populated as the Northeast, there is plenty of wilderness available to keep even the most avid hiker busy for a while. In the parks, preserves, and forests of New England and New York, it seems the trailheads are endless—and while the day hiking of these places are in their own right spectacular, the real gems are accessed with a couple of days, a solid pack, and a readiness to put in some work. Here are some must-do classic backpacking trips that you should put on your list this summer.

The view from Gothics looking toward the heart of the Great Range. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Great Range Traverse

Often described as one of the Northeast’s tougher routes, with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain in over 20 miles, the Great Range Traverse in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains is as classic as it gets. Over its course, the Great Range Traverse climbs eight 4,000-plus-foot summits—including Mount Marcy, New York’s highest—and offers unrivaled, wide-open views of the vast High Peaks wilderness. Often attempted as a single day outing, the Great Range Traverse is dotted with campsites and is best approached as a multi-day outing, leaving time to savor the absolutely magnificent setting.

Looking back over the Lakes of the Clouds to Mount Washington. | Credit: John Lepak

Presidential Traverse

It’s hard to imagine a more revered or sought-after northeast backpacking trip than the Presidential Traverse. It’s 21.7 miles (thru-hike-style) follow the high ridge of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range through a sustained and airy alpine zone, summiting eight 4,000-foot mountains—including the inimitable Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest—in the process. It’s not uncommon to do a Presi Traverse in a day, but the huts of the Randolph Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club provide plenty of options to stretch the trip or to wait out the range’s notoriously harsh weather, making it ideal as a 2 to 3 day trip.

A Catskills sunset as seen from Orchard Point on the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

Devil’s Path

With an ominous moniker and a reputation to match, the Devil’s Path in New York’s Catskill Mountains, is as challenging as it is classic. Despite their relatively low elevation, the Catskills are known to be steep and rocky—in its 25 miles (as a loop), the Devil’s Path gains more than 8,000 feet in elevation. Add to that the absolute dearth of water in high summer, and you’ve got yourself a real task at hand. It’s not all hard times though—plentiful backcountry campsites, stellar views, and a genuine wilderness round this trip out as an definite must-do, again ideal for a weekend or long weekend.

A view deep into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. | Credit: John Lepak

Pemigewasset Loop

Affectionately known as “the Pemi Loop,” this circuit hike traces an incredible 28-mile loop around the western half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, accessing some of the White Mountains’ highest, most coveted ridgelines, including the soaring, airy Franconia Ridge and the wild, remote Bonds. The gains are stiff but the payoff—at least 10 of the region’s 4,000-foot summits and the views that come along with them—is more than worth the effort. And though it can be done in a day as a burly trail run (not-so-affectionately known as the “Pemi Death March”), the Pemi Loop is best savored, as a 2- to 3-day backpacking trip, taking advantage of the numerous, well-spaced-out campsites and huts to enjoy everything the wilderness has to offer.

Sweeping views from the Monroe Skyline section of the Long Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Monroe Skyline

Vermont’s Long Trail is doubtless on the bucket list of hikers all over the northeast, but it’s 272 rugged miles—following the high ridge of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts all the way up to the Canadian border—may be a bit ambitious for a long weekend. Fortunately, the best of the LT can be found in the Monroe Skyline, a 47.5 mile (one-way) segment that tops three 4,000-foot peaks and several lower ones that—like the open summit of Burnt Rock Mountain—offer some of Vermont’s finest vistas. Being a long-distance trail, the LT is dotted with well-spaced shelters—perfect for a couple days out in the woods. The route is best done in 4 or 5 days.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins

100 Mile Wilderness

In the Great North Woods of Maine, as the Appalachian Trail nears its northern terminus at Katahdin, there is a 100-mile stretch of trail undisturbed by paved or public roads. The 100 Mile Wilderness is as remote a backpacking experience as there is in New England and, should you find yourself there early or late in the season, may be one of the last places in the northeast to find true solitude in nature. This may be a bit heavy for a few-days’ hiking—despite the low elevation relative to others on this list, the hiking can be rugged and most folks complete this section in 10 days or so. The trail is crossed at points by logging roads, including the Kokadjo-B Pond Road near its midpoint, enabling time-pressed hikers to tackle a “half-a-wilderness.”


How to Waterproof Your Backpack

If we in the Northeast never hiked in the rain, we wouldn’t be doing a whole lot of hiking would we? It is still possible to have an enjoyable hiking, backpacking, or camping trip in wet weather, but it certainly comes with its challenges. One major challenge is keeping you and your gear from becoming soaking wet, which is not only a safety concern for clothing and sleeping bags, but can also make for a heavy, sloppy, and uncomfortable trip. Rain jackets and pants are easy to think of for traveling in the wet, but when it comes to keeping your pack and its contents waterproof there is more than just one option. 

Option 1: The Pack Cover

So here’s an obvious solution to keeping your pack dry: Wrap it in a waterproof material! Pack covers are a simple and effective way to keep your pack and its contents out of  the elements. 

These covers come in a variety of sizes that approximately match the size of your pack (so you may need one for your backpacking pack and one for your daypack, for example), with a shape not unlike a giant, oblong shower cap. To that effect, what holds the cover onto the pack is the elastic stretched along the edge. Simply stretch it on when it’s raining, and peel it off when it’s time to get into your pack.

The main limitation with rain covers is that you need to take them off to access anything that is inside your backpack or its pockets, exposing everything to the rain or snow when you do. Of course, if you’re slick and organized you can still minimize the time that the cover is off. 

Another consideration when using a rain cover is that although it will keep your backpack dry, it could make you slightly wetter, as the water runs off and onto your shoulders. That in mind, if you have a pack cover on, you’ll likely have a rain jacket on as well. 

Option 2: A Pack Liner

There are certain activities and situations where having a cover on the outside of your backpack is not the best option. This could include trips where wet weather is a possibility but not too certain, and more commonly when you will be carrying things on the outside of your pack, like trekking poles or an ice axe (Sharp items are best kept apart from the waterproof fabrics for best results). 

Enter the pack liner bag. This is essentially the same as the pack cover, besides two things. The first is obviously that these line the inside of your backpack’s main compartment, with all of your things inside of the liner. The second is that these liner bags tend to have more of a closure on them, making them less like shower caps and more like a roll-top dry bag that you’d see on a river trip, only thinner. 

Using a liner means you can use all of your pockets and move axes on and off the pack at will, and while the backpack itself may get wet (and potentially heavy), the important things stay dry on the inside. 

 

Option 3: Dry Bags

Of course there is a great difference between water resistance against rain and complete waterproofing. This is the domain of the dry bag. These are specialized bags and backpacks designed for use in water like in paddling sports, where complete immersion in water must be accounted for. 

Dry bags are typically made from very heavy duty PVC and polyester with a roll-top closure, which create a dependably dry interior for whatever fits inside. While pack covers and liner bags are waterproofing additions to backpacks, a proper dry bag like the NRS Bill’s Bag are more like a waterproof sack with additions to mimic a backpack. 

These are not what you’d carry on a backpacking trip, as they are not made for carrying comfort, but they will keep things dry better than any alternative and are great options for car camping or paddling trips where you want durable waterproofing and won’t be carrying them on your back for extended periods. 


Don’t Be a Fool: 10 Things to Avoid While Spring Backpacking

After a long winter, spring is time to bust out the backpack, hit the trail, and fill up on mountain time. It’s also a particularly tricky time of year for traveling in the mountains—not winter anymore but not summer yet, it’s easy to get fooled by everything from weather to trail conditions to ourselves. Keep reading to ensure a safe and fun first backpacking trip into the mountains this year.

Credit: Tim Peck

Duped into a Big Trip

You were pounding out Northeast classics like the Pemi Loop and Carter Range Traverse in the fall, but tackling a big backpacking trip is no barrel of laughs if you haven’t hiked or donned a heavy pack all winter. Start small, build fitness, and work out the kinks before tackling bigger objectives. Not to mention, if trail conditions are still wintery, you’re going to move slower than you expect.

Whacky Winter Trail Conditions

The joke’s on you if the nice weather in your backyard tricks you into not packing your winter gear. Ice and snow linger at higher elevations much longer than you think—it might not just be Mother Nature pulling your leg if you leave your traction and flotation devices at home.

Credit: Tim Peck

Temperature Tomfoolery

Spring weather is a prankster. It’s often warm and sunny just long enough to have you consider leaving behind layers only to spring unexpected cold, rain, or even snow on you. Have the last laugh by packing a hardshell, rain pants, more layers than you think you’ll need, and accessories like a winter hat and gloves.

Belly Laughs

Whether it’s the extra effort needed to negotiate tricky shoulder-season trails or extra calories to keep you warm, spring backpacking works up an appetite. Fuel your trip with plenty of nutritious and delicious food like this backpacker special to avoid a side-splitting adventure.

Credit: Tim Peck

Tent Trickery

A “three-season” tent implies that it is suitable for use in spring, summer, and fall, but that is not always the case. While a lightweight three-season tent is fine for camping at protected sites and platforms, it’s a joke for the extreme weather found above treeline on early season attempts of the Presidential Traverse—avoid chicanery and don’t test it in the high winds that dominate Northeast ridge lines in the spring. Also, remember to only camp above treeline when there’s two or more feet of snow on the ground.

Sleeping Bag Surprise

Spring and rain go hand in hand, which makes choosing a sleeping bag that can fend off water and insulate when wet extra important. Using a sleeping bag filled with synthetic insulation or hydrophobic down is a favorite trick of seasoned backpackers.

Pad Put On

Shoulder-season backpacking commonly means sleeping on warmth-sapping surfaces and a sleeping pad with the “right” R-value can prevent buffoonery at bedtime. An insulated pad is a popular choice, as is pairing a closed-cell foam pad with an air pad for a silly-comfortable (and warm) combination.

Credit: Tim Peck

Waterproof Wind Up

Wet weather is no laughing matter for spring backpackers, especially when it soaks essential gear. Work a waterproof pack cover, pack liner, or individual dry sacks into your bag of tricks for storing stuff like your sleeping bag, extra layers, and food.

Gear Gag

Gear has a funny sense of humor, especially after a long winter. Before hitting the trail, spend an evening checking that your gear is in order—make sure all your tent’s pieces are in the bag, your sleeping pad holds air, the batteries are charged in your headlamp, and your stove starts. The more kinks you can work out at home, the less kooky things will be in the backcountry.

Have the Last Laugh

Creating a list of everything you need before packing your bag is a good strategy if it’s been a while since you last backpacked—forgetting those little-but-essential items like a lighter for your stove is a sure-fire way to look foolish.

Have any other tips to keep spring weather from making you a laughingstock on your first backpacking trip of the year? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck

The Gear You Need for a Shoulder Season Ascent of Mount Liberty

Largely below treeline but with breathtaking summit views—and a convenient location just off I-93—an ascent of Mount Liberty in Franconia Notch is one of the more popular shoulder season hikes in the Whites. Not quite winter and not yet summer, a shoulder season climb presents a handful of challenges to hikers: conditions can change quickly and yesterday’s monorail might be today’s ankle-deep mud. The best way to deal with the variable terrain and ever-changing conditions found on Mount Liberty and ensure yourself a successful summit is with the right gear.

Credit: Tim Peck

Kahtoola MICROSpikes

From the parking lot blacktop to its 4,459-foot summit, snow and ice take a long time to disappear on Mount Liberty. Nail your ascent of this Franconia Notch classic with a pair of Kahtoola MICORspikes—they can mean all the difference between slipping and sliding every step of the way and confidently speeding to the summit ridge with excellent traction on every footfall.

Oboz Sawtooth II Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boots

An ascent of Mount Liberty starts on Franconia Notch Bike Path, soon connecting with the Liberty Spring Trail, which hikers take to the summit ridge. On the Liberty Spring Trail’s initial low-angle portions, there is often snow and mud as well as several easy stream crossings. Ensure your feet stay dry in these messy shoulder season trail conditions with a good pair of mid-cut, waterproof hiking boots. The Oboz Sawtooth II Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boots (Men’s/Women’s) feature a B-Dry waterproof membrane for dealing with wet conditions while vents will keep your feet from overheating if you luck into a five-star day.

Credit: Tim Peck

Outdoor Research Performance Trucker Trail-Run Hat & Whiskey Peak Beanie

The gradual nature of the Liberty Springs trail means motivated hikers can move fast for the first few miles, and the OR Performance Trucker Trail-Run Hat is great for keeping the sun and sweat out of your eyes while doing so. Stash a traditional winter hat, like the OR Whiskey Peak Beanie, in your pack to have for warmth during rest breaks as well as for later, above treeline.

EMS Equinox Stretch Gloves & Ascent Summit Mittens

Large temperature fluctuations are a staple of shoulder season, especially when you change elevations. While being barehanded at the base of the mountain may be comfortable on some spring days, you might find yourself wishing for a light pair of gloves—like the EMS Equinox Stretch (Men’s/Women’s)—around the 2.5-mile mark as you pass Liberty Springs Tentsite. The only thing worse than not packing a pair of lightweight gloves like these is forgetting to also carry a warm pair of mittens—such as the EMS Ascent Summit (Men’s/Women’s)—in your pack for when you reach Liberty’s exposed summit.

Credit: Tim Peck

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

Above the Liberty Springs Tentsite, the trail begins to climb consistently. Depending on the snow conditions, this section of trail features a handful of balance-testing challenges for both ascending and descending hikers. A pair of trekking poles like the Black Diamond Trail is handy to have along to provide additional stability over the slippery rocks, ice, and deep snow you’re likely to encounter.

Two Puffy Jackets

Franconia Notch is often a wind tunnel and can feel significantly colder than the thermometer says it is. This is especially true on the summit ridge, where the Liberty Springs Trail ends and hikers follow the Franconia Ridge Trail south for 0.3 miles to Liberty’s summit. An active insulator like the EMS Vortex Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is the perfect layer to wear while ascending the summit ridge and the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is a lightweight, packable jacket to throw on for staying warm enough to soak up the 360° summit views of Loon Mountain, Cannon, Lafayette, and the Bonds once you reach the summit proper.

A Buff pairs well with a Thunderhead jacket.

Buffs

Just below Liberty’s summit, there’s a short treeless section that hikers must traverse to the top. Often windy, a Buff makes a great face covering here, protecting your face from Franconia Notch’s chilling winds. (Also, in late spring, Buffs treated with Insect Shield are a nice way to fend of the black flies frequently found around the Pemigewasset River that runs near the beginning of the trail while the UV+ versions provide extra sun protection on those sunny spring days and from reflected sunlight from the snow.)

HydroFlask 20 oz. Insulated Food Jar

Speaking of summits, don’t forget your celebratory summit snack. Warm soup or cold ice cream in a HydroFlask 20 oz. insulated food jar is a great calorie boost. Packing some extra calories and a treat is a good call if you decide to go for a doubleheader—Mount Flume, another 4,000-footer, is just a little over a mile farther south on the Franconia Ridge Trail. Comparatively less traveled and not always broken in, make sure to leave enough time for the out-and-back if you decide to bag it.

EMS Thunderhead Jacket

It sometimes can seem like Franconia Notch has its own weather and the sun that was shining when you left the trailhead may become ominous clouds by the time you reach the summit a few hours later. The EMS Thunderhead Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) can protect you in the event of unexpected precipitation higher up the mountain.

Mount Liberty is one of the best shoulder-season hikes in New Hampshire and a popular place for hikers to find their legs after a long winter. Having the “right” gear along with the 10 essentials can set a positive tone to carry you through the season while showing up unprepared can suck stoke faster than a socked-in summit. Is there another piece of gear that’s a must-have for Liberty? Tell us in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck

Doggie Decorum: Trail Etiquette for Hiking with Your Dog

In recent years, there has been a big increase in traffic on the trails of the Northeast. But it’s not just extra boots on the ground—it’s paws too, as more and more dog owners are venturing into the mountains with their four-legged friends. Adventuring with your canine can add enjoyment to an outing, but it also adds responsibility: you’re accountable for your pup’s actions as well as your own. While there is no Emily Post’s Etiquette for hiking with your pooch, following a few rules can help keep you (and them) out of the dog house.

Credit: Tim Peck

Dog-to-Human Ratio

The key to hiking with a dog is for the person to maintain control—and the lower the dog-to-human ratio, the less likely a person is to get overwhelmed. Because it’s simply easier to manage one dog instead of multiple dogs, a one-to-one ratio is recommended.

More: Shop Dog Gear

Know Where You Can Hike

Dogs are largely welcome on the trails of the Northeast, but there are some places where you will have to leave your four-legged hiking pal at home. For example, dogs are not allowed on Mount Monadnock, in Baxter State Park, or in many wildlife refuges. However, Acadia is one of the country’s most dog-friendly National Parks, with pooches allowed on all but a few “ladder” trails. So before you go, do a little research and if dogs are not allowed at a particular destination, find another place to hike.

Credit: Tim Peck

To Leash or Not to Leash?

Keeping a dog leashed or letting them roam free is one of the most contentious aspects of hiking with a dog—dog owners must balance their desire for their four-legged friend to have the same freedom they enjoy while not infringing on the experience of others. The rules of an area are a good starting point on whether or not you should leash your pooch. For example, in the White Mountain National Forest, dogs may hike off-leash but owners must carry one and use it at developed areas, like in parking lots and campsites.

While an area’s regulations provide a good framework for making a decision about leashes, just because dogs are allowed to hike off-leash doesn’t necessarily mean that your four-legged friend should have free reign. For example, in the White Mountain National Forest dogs must “be under verbal or physical restraint at all times.” That means when you issue a command, your dog responds the first time it’s given—if you have to repeatedly call your dog to “come,” it’s a request, not an order. Along the same lines, a dog hiking off-leash should always stay in sight of its owner; You’re not in control of your dog if you can’t see what they’re doing.

Equally important, whatever the rules permit, keep in mind that you’ll likely want to keep your pooch on a leash in environmentally sensitive areas like alpine zones as well as in areas where there are real objective hazards.

Is My Dog Able to Hike Off-Leash?

A lot of hikers love letting their dogs hike off-leash, but it’s not for everyone or every dog. In addition to exceptional obedience, an off-leash dog must be well socialized to both humans and other dogs and able to pass within close proximity of them without incident. They also must have a low prey drive and not take off after that squirrel or chipmunk you come across on the trail (nor chase after snacks from another hiker’s pack).

If you can’t decide between leash or no leash, consider that there are a lot of variables outside your control when hiking with your dog and even more when you allow them to hike off-leash. Pay attention to both the season (hunting season, for example, might not be the best time to let your furry friend have the run of the woods) and the surrounding wildlife that might see your pal as a midday snack. Finally, if your off-leash pooch really bolts, it could be a lot of work to find them again, and will most likely ruin your day.

Credit: Tim Peck

Who Has the Right of Way?

When hiking with your dog, you forfeit the right of way and should yield to other hikers. When approaching another person or party, step aside and have your dog heel out of “sniffing” range. Keep in mind that not everyone loves dogs or wants to get sniffed, licked, or jumped on.

Communicate

The key to having a happy experience with your pup is communication, both with your dog and with others. Your dog should know what is expected of them and follow basic commands like “Come,” “Leave it,” “No,” “Sit,” and “Stay.”

Similarly, communicate about the needs of your dog to other hikers. If your dog is uncomfortable around strangers, make clear to them that “my dog isn’t friendly.” This might not tell the whole story—your dog might just be excitable or nervous—but it sends a clear message for people to keep their distance and is a good step toward ensuring a positive interaction for you, your pup, and others.

Likewise, it’s up to you to monitor your dog’s interaction with other hikers. And let’s face it—not every dog’s behavior is perfect on every outing. Whether it’s aggressively barking, growling, charging, or, in some cases, chasing, if your dog offends other hikers or interferes with their hiking experience, get immediate control of your pet and then apologize. Half-hearted statements like “he’s usually a good boy,” are excuses, not apologies, and can jeopardize access for all the well-behaved pooches out there.

Credit: Tim Peck

Leave No Trace

We should all aspire to minimize our impact on the places we recreate and should hold our pets to the same standard. When hiking with dogs, this means picking up their poop. Dog waste contains pathogens that contaminate drinking water and nutrients that promote algae blooms and reduce oxygen for creatures living in lakes and rivers. Carry poop bags and use them. If you find the odor unpleasant, consider double bagging or retire an old dry bag or Nalgene bottle to dedicated defecation duty.

And just because your dog does its business in the first half-mile of trail, that’s not an excuse to bag it and pick it up on the way back out. You’re definitely going to forget. Either bag it and walk it back to your car, or carry it for your entire hike. Don’t leave doggy bags along the trail.

 

Hiking with your dog is a great exercise, an awesome way to bond with your furry pal, and a lot of fun. Following some simple petiquette will generally help to avoid any issues with other trail users, reduce your impact on the environment, and ensure everyone has a pawsitive experience.


Opinion: When the Parking Lot is Filled, Find Somewhere Else to Play

Everybody has their “signature spot” in the White Mountains—the place they return to again and again for their dose of the great outdoors. You’ve seen it change and transform from season to season and year to year. And if you’ve been to that spot on a recent weekend or holiday, you’ve likely noticed something else: a lot more people. The Whites have gotten pretty crowded over the last few years, especially recently, as users discovering the outdoors in the wake of the pandemic are (understandably) flocking to these same destinations for the same reasons as us. Sure, New Hampshire’s motto is “live free or die,” but crowds are stressing these precious resources more than ever. It’s time to do something about it.

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit. Overflowing parking lots and cars parked along the side of the road are as common as black flies in spring and bad weather on Mount Washington. Being unable to find parking should be a sign to all of us: It might be the morning to try out something different. It’s also up to land managers to enforce parking restrictions to help control the crowds. Keeping our wilderness pristine could start with all of us recognizing that a packed parking lot means there are already too many people on the trail.

It has been the practice at Katahdin for years—Limiting the number of day hikers on the mountain is done not through a permit system, but by requiring hikers to make a reservation to park.

The idea of limiting access to popular hikes through parking is not a new solution. It has been the practice at Katahdin for years—Limiting the number of day hikers on the mountain is done not through a permit system, but by requiring hikers to make a reservation to park. But a permit system, like the one mountaineers are required to use to “reduce crowding and protect natural features” before summiting peaks like Mount St. Helens is another option. From May 15 to October 31, just 110 climbers are allowed on the mountain per day.

The recent enforcement of prohibitions on highway parking in Franconia Notch proves that parking restrictions have merit. Now, if you’re hoping to hike Franconia Ridge but the roughly 200 spaces between the north side and south side of Route 93 parking lots are full, you’ll either need to use the recently implemented shuttle or consider “bagging” these classics from a different access point.

Credit: Tim Peck

Of course, the Franconia Notch shuttle service presents its own set of issues. On one hand, the shuttle has put an end to cars parking—and people walking—along Route 93, which is a major traffic safety improvement. And it may, in theory, encourage some hikers to go elsewhere, without fully mandating it. But in reality, the shuttle has done little to reduce the steady stream of hikers going up and down super popular trails like Falling Waters, the Old Bridle Path, and Hi-Cannon.

That brings us to the heart of the overcrowding problem: our own routines. In the end, it may be up to us. Every weekend, thousands flock to the Whites for day hikes and bigger weekend-long outings. Undoubtedly, recreationists are a huge economic boon for the region, and we have no quarrel with their general presence. But when recreationists arrive at the same trailhead at the same time with the same objective, our presence leaves a mark. Crowding at trailheads stresses surrounding neighborhoods, while too-many hikers on the trails themselves result in overuse, path widening, and stress on the wildlife that call these areas home 24/7. And as places like Katahdin and Mount St. Helens have shown us, if we don’t start taking personal responsibility for how busy these places are and do our part to mitigate the crowds on our own, someone else just might—and we might not like their solution.

And as places like Katahdin and Mount St. Helens have shown us, if we don’t start taking personal responsibility for how busy these places are and do our part to mitigate the crowds on our own, someone else just might—and we might not like their solution.

Wondering how you can play your part? Well, Mike De Socio offered one option in his recent goEast piece, “Why I Hike on Weekdays.” But even if you primarily recreate on weekends, there are still things you can do. For instance, consider starting your activity at off-hours, i.e., earlier or later in the day or even recreating at night. Another way to mitigate the crowds is to visit some of the Whites’ less-traveled regions—for example, these three White Mountain 4,000 footers everyone avoids.

We hate crowds as much as anyone, but looking at bumper-to-bumper trail traffic means that we’re a part of the crowds we despise. If we all don’t start finding new places in the Whites to play, we might find ourselves shut out altogether.

Credit: Tim Peck