We have visited the White Mountains several times and are always in awe of the beauty it holds. On our last trip to New Hampshire, we hiked in the Franconia Notch area and couldn’t believe how gorgeous it is! We definitely think that the Franconia Ridge hike is the most beautiful hike on the east coast of the United States. Read further to see how you can visit the Franconia Notch of the White Mountains!
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*****Everything in this article is my personal opinion and experiences. Check your own resources and choose to do anything I discuss at your own risk. Some of the things in this post may be dangerous and not recommended for every body.
Franconia Notch State Park is located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The “notch” area is located between the Franconia and Kinsman Ranges. The valley area of the notch is state park and all of the surrounding area is national forest.
Where is Franconia Notch State Park?
Franconia Notch State Park is located in the White Mountain National Forest in northern New Hampshire. The best way to get to Franconia Notch is by car.
New York City to Franconia Notch: 6 hours, 340 miles
Boston to Franconia Notch: 2 hours, 140 miles
Montreal to Franconia Notch: 3 hours, 300 kilometers
Where to Stay near Franconia Notch State Park?
National Forest Campgrounds
We stayed at Wildwood Campground when we hiked at Franconia Notch, but there are several other national forest campgrounds in the area. Other campgrounds that you could stay at are Russel Pond Campground, Hancock Campground, or Big Rock Campground.
Private and State Campgrounds
The closest campground to the parking lot for the Franconia Notch Hike and many other Franconia Notch hikes is the Lafayette Place Campground which is through the State Park Service and can be reserved through ReserveAmerica. There are several privately owned campgrounds in the area which include Country Bumpkins Campground and Maple Haven Resort.
This would be my top choice for staying in the Franconia Notch area if you can. We have never stayed at one of the AMC huts but have visited them many times. They are rustic and a bit on the pricier side, plus requiring a hike up to get to them. However, you can have warm food and gorgeous views of the mountains. Greenleaf Hut is the ideal hut to stay at if you plan on hiking the Franconia Notch. It has beautiful views of Mount Lafayette. We had some coffee, lemonade, cookies, and bread here before we continued our descent down after our hike. Even if you can’t stay here, I recommend stopping by for a snack 🙂
Hotels and Resorts
There are several different hotels and even resorts in the town of Lincoln (south of Franconia Notch) or Franconia (north of Franconia Notch). For finding hotels, we like to use Booking.com as the rates are always some of the cheapest and often have free cancellation.
Franconia Ridge Loop Trail
the trail specs
9.3 miles and 3,809 feet of elevation gain
our experience on the trail
We started our hike around 5 in the morning in the dark. We decided to do the trail counterclockwise so that we could stop at the Greenleaf Hut on the way down. On the first part of the trail, you follow along a creek that has multiple waterfalls. The coolest waterfall on the trail is Cloudland Falls, which is the last waterfall you will encounter on the way up.
There are a few crossings over the creek, that for us in the later summer weren’t a problem, but I imagine in early summer with more water you may get a little wet.
Eventually you break away from the creek and continue up the mountain. Since it is a popular trail, it is well-beaten and hard to miss. As you ascend, it definitely gets rockier, almost to the point where you’re scrambling up boulders. The trail is pretty much covered in trees with no views until you get to the very top. But when you get to the top, it is 100% worth every step uphill.
If going counter-clockwise, you will summit Mount Haystack first and have gorgeous views of the entire ridge that you will follow for the rest of the trail. You will also be able to see rolling blue mountains to the southeast and Cannon Mountain to the northwest.
After stopping to soak in the views, continue along the trail towards the north. This portion of the trail on the ridge is part of the Appalachian Trail and will be marked by white blaze. In some points, rock cairns will mark the trail as well.
The trail on the ridge will take you down slightly before up again to the second peak which is Mount Lincoln. Here you will have views of where you came from, plus views of the last summit on the trail, Mount Lafayette.
Continue on the ridge trail, going down a bit and up again to the summit of Mount Lafayette. Here is the tallest point of the trail at 5242 feet high. The views here are gorgeous in all directions. On a clear day, you can see Mount Washington and the Presidential Range to the east. We sat here for almost an hour soaking in the views and basking in the sun.
From the summit of Mount Lafayette, you can head down the trail heading back down the mountain. Heading down from Mount Lafayette, you will pass Greenleaf Hut. I recommend you stop and grab a snack and rest a bit at the Greenleaf Hut.
After the hut, you can continue down the trail until you eventually reach the trailhead and parking lot where you began.
Tips for Hiking the Franconia Notch Loop Trail
prepare for all weather conditions
The White Mountains are known for having rapidly changing weather and severe weather conditions at the top of peaks. Afternoon thunderstorms are common and temperature can differ by 30 or 40 degrees from when you’re at the bottom versus the top. Even if you are expecting cold weather, always have a wind breaker and something warm like a fleece jacket with you.
know you may not see views
As with the previous point, the White Mountains are known for severe weather at the peaks. You may hike all the way to the top and have zero visibility. The clouds may pass quickly or may stay all day. Just know that you may choose a hike for the views but you may not see the views.
start very early
The parking lot is large, but fills up very early in the day. We arrived at the trailhead around 5 in the morning and were definitely not the first ones on the trail. I am sure the time it fills up depends on many factors such as weather and season, but the earlier you start the better. Also if you start earlier in the morning, the less a chance of getting caught in an afternoon storm on the summit.
Bring small cash
On the Franconia Notch Loop Hike, you will at some point pass the AMC Greenleaf Hut. Even if you aren’t staying at the hut, you can get snacks or drinks from the hut. They are served in self service style on the honor system and you throw your payment into a basket of cash. Items are pretty cheap (coffee or lemonade was $1 and brownies or focaccia were $2 per piece). You can’t pay with card, so bring cash so you can have a nice warm cup of coffee while viewing Mount Lafayette.
Other things to do in Franconia Notch
The Basin is located only a few miles from the trailhead of the Franconia Ridge Trailhead, on the other side of the highway. It has several cool waterfall features. The main Basin waterfall is made of smooth granite where the water flows into a wide hole in the granite. There are gravel paths and also an accessible path.
Lonesome Lake is a lake in the Franconia Notch that also has a hut on the lake. The hike up to Lonesome Lake begins at Lafayette Campground and heads up the mountain until you reach the lake. The hike is 3.1 miles round trip if you hike around the lake as well. I recommend walking around the lake as it is very marshy and has cool wooden planks to go through the marsh without getting muddy. The lake sometimes has great reflections of Cannon Mountain.
Artist Bluff has an iconic view into the notch that you may have seen before in blogs or advertisements. The hike to the Artist Bluff viewpoint is 1.5 miles round trip. From the point, you have views of a lake, Cannon Mountain, and into Franconia Notch. It is known for being gorgeous in the fall with all of the colorful leaves. The full loop includes a summit of Bald Mountain, which also has pretty views, but it can be bypassed if you are tired.
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Do you have any questions about Franconia Ridge? Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments!
Thanks for reading!