AMC Outdoors, October 2005
The Trip: Hiking the 17th highest 4,000-footer.
Length and Intensity: Moderate: 10 miles, 3,000- feet elevation gain.
Best Time To Go: Late summer or early fall (post-black fly and pre-snow fly).
If you’ve ever wondered if there’s any correlation between the peaks named for presidents and those particular chief executives, Mount Garfield may shed some light. James Garfield is known for having the shortest presidency on record. An extremely hard-working dark-horse candidate, our 20th president was killed by a disgruntled attorney he’d turned down for a White House post. And, while not the shortest, the hike up Mount Garfield is considered one of the more mellow of the 4,000-footers, with a brief, intense final stretch to grand summit views of the Franconia Ridge and Franconia and Lincoln Brooks valleys.
This rewarding trail runs from the Gale River Loop Road to the Garfield Ridge Trail just east of the bare-rocked summit of Mount Garfield. Most of the way the trail follows an old road used for access to the former fire tower, and its grades are easy to moderate all the way except for the steep pitch just below the summit. Due to the forgiving trail, fit hikers can make the 10-mile roundtrip in four to six hours.
Once the trail leaves the parking lot, you’ll follow the north bank of the South Branch of the Gale River through a hemlock forest. After you turn left on the old fire tower access road, the trail climbs slowly away from the river heading south. It crosses Thompson and Spruce Brooks and a snowmobile trail that has a few bridges, potentially useful for avoiding brook crossings in high-water conditions.
At 2.8 miles, you’ll cross a ridge before descending. Once completely burned over, it’s now known as Burnt Knoll. There is a fine birch forest in this vicinity that has grown up in the old burned area, particularly below the trail; above the trail the growth is mostly coniferous.
Soon the trail resumes its moderate ascent by several sweeping switchbacks and reaches a blowdown patch at 4.1 miles. You’ll then start an easy climb through more large conifers and around the east side of the cone of Mount Garfield to a junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail, which enters from the left. To get to the summit, turn right and follow the steep, rocky section of the Garfield Ridge Trail to its high point, then scramble over the ledges on the left for another 60 yards to the foundation of the old fire tower.
Like Garfield’s presidency, it’s a short exertion before a dramatic ending.
—Gene Daniell & Steven D. Smith wrote AMC’s White Mountain Guide.
From I-93 exit 35, follow US Route 3 N about 4.9 miles to the west end of Gale River Loop Road on the right. Follow left fork and turn left across a bridge at 1.1 miles, and continue .1 miles to the trailhead. The Gale River Trail is 1.6 miles ahead.
Adapted from AMC’s White Mountain Guide, 27th edition, by Gene Daniell and Steven D. Smith ($22.95/ $20.65 for AMC members). Available online or by calling 800-262-4465. AMC members always receive a 10 percent discount on books and maps.
Put your feet up at AMC’s Galehead Hut—open until October 15—or the Garfield Ridge Shelter and tentsites. And Gale River Road is closed in winter, adding another 2.3 miles to your hike.