Top Five New Hampshire Hikes That Aren’t on the Appalachian Trail
As the leaves begin to turn in northern New Hampshire and leaf-peeping season gets into full swing, trying to find solitude in the NH wilderness becomes more and more difficult. Rather than staying holed up inside, or fighting the crowds on popular mountains, many local hikers will head away from the more popular peaks along the Appalachian Trail to enjoy the outdoors. These are some of the best, more obscure mountains to hike in the Whites that aren’t on the AT. Not all of them offer outstanding views of a sea of mountains, but the quiet solitude found in these more isolated peaks has a beauty all its own. Here are the top hikes in New Hampshire that aren’t on the Appalachian Trail.
Top Hikes in New Hampshire That Aren’t on the Appalachian Trail
1. Mount Cabot, The Bulge, and The Horn
Distance: 10.8 miles
Type: Loop trail via Bunnell Notch, Kilkenny Ridge Trail, and Unknown Pond Trail
Found in northern New Hampshire, in the heart of the Great North Woods, the first mountains on our list are the epitome of backcountry hiking. What they may lack in the form of sprawling views, they make up for by offering a unique experience, including an old cabin set on the top of the tallest peak (Mount Cabot), and miles of beautiful green forest and moss-covered trails. The vast majority of the hike is under cover of trees and winds along the sides of two minor peaks—The Bulge and The Horn—before dropping down into the valley. The final feature that makes this hike such a unique and pleasant experience is the option to spend the night at Unknown Pond. Located along the Kilkenny Ridge, before bearing right onto Unknown Pond Trail, stopping at Unknown Pond is a nice way to end the day and look up at what you just climbed.
2. North, Middle, and South Tripyramid
Distance: 12.8 miles
Type: Loop via Pine Bend Brook, Mount Tripyramid, Sabbaday Brook, and road walk
The Tripyramids are a unique hike that can be done from either the west via slide trails or the east via long and winding trails through deciduous forest. Taking the longer route also means honing in on your navigational skills. The majority of this hike is found in the Sandwich Wilderness, which means there are fewer trail markers and a more backcountry experience. Following the Pine Bend Brook Trail over several stream crossings, this trail is beautiful, especially when done in the fall. The summits are wooded with minor views through the trees but the trails leading to and from the summits make this hike memorable. Sabbaday Brook Trail mirrors Pine Bend Brook Trail, offering the same wilderness feel with several more stream crossings. The final stretch of the Sabbaday Brook Trail runs past Sabbaday Falls, a must-see and wonderful place to visit on its own, if hiking isn’t your thing.
3. Owl’s Head
Distance: 19 miles
Type: Out and back via Lincoln Woods Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, and Owl’s Head herd path
One of my all-time favorite hikes, Owl’s Head is either loved or loathed by local hikers. The trails take you into the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness (8.5 miles into it, to be exact), and then you start the climb to the summit of the mountain. The final 1.5 miles take you up a slide trail and then through the forest on a herd path to the wooded summit. The trail is what makes this hike so epic. Although the first few miles are monotonous, following along an old railroad bed, what makes this hike so spectacular is that it feels like you’re walking into a deep and forgotten forest. Views of the backside of the Franconia Ridge are seen as you ascend the slide trail and then finally your navigational skills are put to the test as you follow along a herd path to the summit cairn.
4. Twins/Bonds Traverse
Distance: 20 miles
Type: Traverse via North Twin Trail, Twinway, Bondcliff Trail, and Lincoln Woods Trail
The Bonds are one of the most well-known hikes in the White Mountains and a must-do by anyone who is visiting the area. There are various ways to hike these peaks but both times I’ve summited them I took the same path and did the hike in a single day. The first two peaks you hit on this hike (North and South Twin Mountain) offer just a glimpse of the outstanding views you will be afforded as you continue along toward the final peak – Bondcliff. The path leads off the summit of these two peaks and through the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Green moss and old coniferous trees line the trail as you make your way toward the Bonds (West Bond, Mount Bond, and Bondcliff). Once you break treeline, the views in all directions are breathtaking. After reaching the final summit, the trail descends back down into the trees and winds down toward Lincoln Woods. This hike offers everything you would want in a hike, from outstanding views of mountains for miles, to long walks through deciduous forests, and finally time spent in the alpine zone. Note: This hike does overlap the AT from South Bond to Guyot.
5. Mount Isolation
Distance: 13 miles *Without road walk; will require a car spot or hitch to trailhead
Type: Loop via Glen Boulder Trail, Davis Path, Isolation Trail, Rocky Branch Trail
Often hiked as the final mountain when completing the NH 48 4,000-footers, Isolation is found deep in the Dry River Wilderness. There are several ways to summit this mountain, but the most popular trail, and the one with a very unique feature, is the Glen Boulder Trail. The large boulder that sits along the trail can be seen from the base of the mountains and looks like it should topple over at any moment. After reaching this iconic marker, the trail climbs through the alpine zone and then reaches the Davis Path toward the Isolation Trail. The summit of Isolation gives a very unique view of the Presidential Range that can only be seen from the vantage point of this mountain. Taking the Rocky Branch Trail back to the trailhead instead of Glen Boulder gives you a chance to enjoy some deep-wooded wilderness and beautiful deciduous forest.
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