Where to Beat the Hiking Crowds in the White Mountains

Where to Beat the Hiking Crowds in the White Mountains

July 1, 2018
Something Wild
Ryan SmithOpportunities for solitude await in Wild River Wilderness.

Crowds can be intensely heavy on the trails of the White Mountains. Or not, depending on where you go. If you’re looking for solitude and tranquility on your next hike, here are some of my go-to locations, based on my experience researching AMC’s Best Backpacking Trips in New England.

Where NOT to go

First, though, here are the key areas where crowds are routinely found. Sure, the views and summits in these areas are some of the best in the region—that’s why everybody goes there!—but if your preferred scenery doesn’t include dozens to hundreds of people, give these spots a miss.

  • The Presidential Range. Everybody loves to hit the highest peaks in New England and the long sections of above-treeline travel they offer. Virtually every access trail and route to the high peaks gets a lot of traffic, as do all of the summits.
  • Pemigewasset Wilderness and Franconia Ridge. New England’s largest wilderness areas is heavily used. Franconia Ridge and mile-high Mount Lafayette are routinely mobbed.
  • The Appalachian Trail corridor. The AT runs through some of the White Mountains’ most iconic locations, including both of the above areas. Between long-distance hikers, weekend backpackers, and day-hikers, it’s generally a very busy hiking highway.

Less-traveled areas

These are some of my top recommendations. There are plenty of others as well!

  • Sandwich Range Wilderness, western and central areas. As the southern front of the White Mountains, the Sandwich Range offers some of the quickest access to trailheads from points south. The Sandwich Range Wilderness occupies the central portion of the range, with some outstanding—and lightly traveled—trails and destinations in the western portion (including Mounts Whiteface and Passaconaway) and some truly remote hiking opportunities in the central portion surrounding little-visited Mount Paugus, located to the west of much, much more popular Mount Chocorua.
  • Presidential-Dry River Wilderness, Montalban Ridge. This wilderness areas encompasses the watershed of the Dry River between the southern Presidential Range to the west and Montalban Ridge to the east. The little-used Dry River Trail, which follows the river corridor to its headwaters, was heavily damaged in 2011 by Hurricane Irene but has since re-opened as a primitive backcountry trail (excellent navigation skills essential). More notable, though, is the Davis Path, which runs the length of Montalban Range, offers some outstanding peaks and views, and attracts very few people, especially south of Mount Isolation.
  • Wild River Wilderness, central and eastern areas. Bounded to the west by the Carter-Moriah Range and the east by the Baldfaces, Wild River Wilderness offers some delightful riverside hiking, along with backdoor access to the bare summits of North and South Baldface. Note that the AT runs along the Carter-Moriah Range—not the spot to beat crowds.
  • Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness. Located entirely in Maine, this wilderness area is located just east of Evans Notch and Route 113 and offers some delightful ledge views, gorgeous swimming holes (especially upper Bickford Slide), and lots and lots of nobody.
  • The Pilot Range. This northernmost section of White Mountain National Forest requires extra effort—and driving—to reach for most people, which keeps the crowd factor way down. Yet highlights abound, including Rogers Ledge, the Horn, and Unknown Pond, among others. It’s also some of the best moose country in the Whites and a great spot for early season foliage; leaf colors tend to peak in the area in late September, a week or two earlier than points just a bit farther south.

Enjoy your crowd-free summer!

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.