Alpine Spring Perfection on the Franconia Ridge

Springtime hiking in the White Mountains typically means monorail trails, mud, black flies and other non-fun stuff but this year Spring came and the snow remained. When I saw a weekend forecast that called for bluebird skies and moderate temperatures I knew that the mountains were inviting me for a weekend of hiking perfection and that not just any hike would do. Therefore I set out to Hike Mount Lincoln and Lafayette, aka the Franconia Loop, to start the Spring hiking season at a level of epic that has never been seen before.

The Franconia Loop hike traverses Mount Lincoln (5,089 ft) and Lafayette (5,260 ft) and is considered by many to be the most beautiful hike in the White Mountains. I know that the Whites are a very beautiful place so what makes this hike so special? Well for starters the 8.9 mile loop spends 2.5 miles above tree line with postcard quality views into the best wilderness that NH has to offer. Also, the miles that aren’t above tree line are still visually delightful with plenty of waterfalls, forests and alpine scenery. It also doesn’t hurt that the trailhead is basically right off of I-93 which makes this hike extremely accessible. Of course all of this beauty doesn’t come without some work since the route has 3,900 feet of climbing.

Our plan was to go up the Falling Waters Trail up to the ridge where we would take the Franconia Ridge Trail across Mount Lincoln and Lafayette to the Greenleaf Trail which would takes us down to the Old Bridle Path for the trip back to the parking lot.  You can also start on the Old Bridle Path and come down Falling Waters; either way the hike should be amazing.

We pulled into the Lafayette Place trailhead parking lot to find it surprisingly empty. The skies were blue, the temperatures were in the 30s and wind was minimal so I could not figure out why the trail was not more crowded. We could see a healthy snowpack from the parking lot and some hikers carrying snowshoes and some just carrying microspikes. Since we didn’t know what to expect we put our snowshoes on our packs and headed for the Falling Waters Trail.

The trail was well packed with snow in the trees as if it had just snowed. It quickly became clear why this trail was called the Falling Waters trail as we came upon several waterfalls that were visible beneath breaks in the snow.

Then the climbing started and it did not let up until we reached the ridge. The ascent became a classic climb to tree line with switchbacks through a pristine forest as the trees got smaller and smaller and the views became more and more amazing. The climbing also got steeper and steeper but the promise of getting above tree line gave me the energy to power through it.

Then all of a sudden there were no more trees and we found ourselves on Little Haystack where the Falling Waters Trail meets the Franconia Ridge Trail. We were suddenly surrounded by snowy alpine perfection.

We had a perfect view of the ridge we were about to traverse and there was still almost no wind. Weather like this is an extreme rarity above treeline in the Whites!

We began the traverse towards Mount Lincoln with frequent stops to take in the awesomeness.

We had to climb over a few rocky outcroppings and ascend a little but I felt so excited to be above treeline that I barely noticed the climbing.

We briefly stopped on Mount Lincoln and continued our traverse to Lafayette.

We had to descend a little and do some moderate climbing but it was certainly worth the effort.

From Mount Lafayette we had 360 degree views that included Owl’s Head, Mount Washington and the Pemi Wilderness. This is as good as it gets so we took a few minutes to have a snack and enjoy the view.

Unfortunately what goes up must go down so we began our descent down the Greenleaf Trail toward the Greenleaf Hut where we would meet up with the Old Bridle path. The descent treated us to views of the ridge we just crossed.

The trail began to meander through tiny trees that got bigger and bigger which made it clear that our time above treeline was coming to an end.

Before long we found ourselves at the Greenleaf Hut. It was sunny, warm and we had hours of daylight left so we took another break here to enjoy some more views of the ridge.

The descent down the Old Bridle Path kept the ridge in view for a while but eventually it ducked back into the trees and we knew the parking lot was not far away.

We reached the car having completed one of the best hikes in the Whites in weather that might only happen once per season. I wish every Spring started this way!

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9 thoughts on “Alpine Spring Perfection on the Franconia Ridge

  1. Thanks Chris! The Falling Waters trail is really something else. So many hikes have such a long featureless approach but not this one! I would hate to get caught up there in bad weather though!

  2. Thanks for this excellent post! I'm hoping to go up this weekend but turn it into a 3-day backpacking trip by adding Mt Garfield on the 2nd day. What time did you start hiking and how long did it take to complete the loop? What did you end up using for footwear? Would hiking boots and microspikes be sufficient or would you also recommend insulated boots?

  3. Paul,

    Thanks for your comment! We started around 9 am and it took us 6 or 7 hours but I had someone with me who was doing her first 4,000 ft peak so we took our time. I went with my leather boots and microspikes and that was perfect for a day hike. For an overnight it is a little more challenging because you don't want your leather boots to freeze overnight. If the temps are going to be mild I might go with the leather boots and be ready to put them in your bag overnight since it sounds like you are going to cover some mileage. I hope this helps!

  4. Thanks Grant for the info. Hopefully we'll be able to get started at around 8 AM and make up and over the ridge line and halfway toward Mt Garfield on the first day.

    We tried hiking to Mt Isolation back in late November but that proved too tiring to navigate through unbroken snow and unmarked trails with heavy packs. We also had to deal with our water freezing.

    Yeah we're really hoping that the weather is a bit milder on this trip and won't have to do too much to keep our boots and water from freezing. Otherwise we might be in for some really cold nights.

    Thanks again for the info! It will definitely help us gauge how long it'll take for us to make to our various destinations.

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