Franconia Ridge is my favorite. When I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail in 2012, I was giddy with anticipation of the big, bad, White Mountains. Moosilauke for starters, then the Kinsmans, then the striking Franconia Ridge, where the trail sits above treeline for about 2.5 miles. It did not disappoint. The view of the ridge from Lonesome Lake was arguably my favorite view of the entire trail, and the next day was perfect as well.
As soon as I started working here at the AMC, I said to myself, “I need to revisit Franconia Ridge.” I put it off again and again because of timing, or gear, or weather. But then I realized, I did it once in perfect conditions. I shouldn’t wait for perfect conditions again; I should experience it in a different light. As long as I’m prepared to deal with some weather. Accordingly, I drove to the Lafayette Place parking lot on Monday morning with my bag packed for winter conditions above treeline. My plan was to do the classic loop: climb up the Falling Waters Trail, follow the ridge north, and come down by way of the Greenleaf Trail and the Old Bridle Path. The majority of the notch and the parking lot are within the Franconia Notch State Park. There is no fee for parking at Lafayette Place, but donations are welcome to help with park upkeep and maintenance.
I worked my way up the Falling Waters Trail, passing numerous waterfalls and cascades, all of which were still largely frozen and covered in a few inches of snow from the weekend. I’ll bet this trail is spectacular once everything melts. Of course, we have had a handful of warmer days interspersed with blustery weather, so large curtains of ice shrouded overhung rock.
I recalled the description in the White Mountain Guide, which described the ledge as wet, slippery, extremely dangerous. I figured that checking out something like that, alone in winter conditions, was a horrible idea. I turned away and kept heading up, and eventually poked above the trees. I made sure to look back to look over the notch. Very neat. I had part of my lunch, put on my crampons, pulled my ice axe off my backpack, and made the final push onto the ridge, into the wind and snow. Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you.
The Pemigewasset Wilderness was obscured. Still, hiking the ridge itself wasn’t as bad as I expected. The summit forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory had called for temperatures in the teens, with sustained winds between 30 and 45 miles per hour. The temperature was about right, but the wind didn’t seem that bad. Furthermore, the trail on the ridge is lined with scree walls on either side. It was like following a bumpy white sidewalk – one that had seen plenty of traffic throughout the winter. Before long, I had made it over Mount Lincoln and over to Mount Lafayette. Not bad at all.
I spent a bit of time at the summit and then headed down the Greenleaf Trail. It didn’t take long to descend into slightly calmer weather. Soon after that, I was back in the trees, passing by Eagle Lake, and looking up at Greenleaf Hut The hut is closed until June 3rd, so I sat on the porch and had the other half of my lunch. The hike down the Old Bridle Path was uneventful, aside from a blurry, snowy view of Walker Ravine, below Lincoln and Lafayette.
I got back to my car, swapped some gear, and headed uphill on the other side of the notch. I followed the Lonesome Lake Trail to the lake, where the trail split. The Hi-Cannon Trail hooked off to the right, barely traveled. Trails on the right and left circled around the lake, and another path cut straight across the lake to Lonesome Lake Hut. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I turned left and took the scenic route. Before long, I was on the opposite side of the lake. I looked up, searching for that view of the ridge that I enjoyed two years ago. No such luck. I went into the hut and surprised Becky, who you might remember from my hut checks post. A couple hours later, after I had dinner, and second dinner, she pointed out that the view was clearing. Great stuff.
I crossed the covered bridge and headed up the Flume Path. Plenty of people had been through here before me, even earlier that day. I passed Table Rock and continued upstream to the gorge. I walked as far as I could until the boardwalk ended, as the state park disassembles the boardwalk for the off-season. It’s clear why, as it would quite obviously take a beating with the formation and falling of ice.
I then backtracked and took the Rim Path to the north end of the gorge. With no goals or destinations for the day, I took my time and ambled down the Ridge Path, which took me past Liberty Gorge and over to The Pool and the Sentinel Pine Bridge. The Pool, some 40 feet deep, is a neat formation dating back to the Ice Age. The bridge above The Pool is built upon a large pine tree that once stood nearby.
From there, I took the Wildwood Path back to the parking lot to finish the 2 mile loop. Just as I was told, this spot is worth a visit. It felt like the kind of place that is worth checking out during the off-season as well as during the summer, when I’m sure the area has an entirely different character. Come spend some time in Franconia Notch! It’s a great place.
The next day, I went for a relaxing walk around Flume Gorge, also in the Franconia Notch State Park. I had never been here, but had heard that it was a really neat place. The Flume is a gorge near Mount Liberty, at the southern end of Franconia Ridge. The gorge itself is some 800 feet long, with walls up to 90 feet high. And the walls are less than 20 feet apart. A lot of water runs through the gorge, and a lot of water drips over the sides. In the colder months, this means lots of ice. Naturally, the Flume is a popular place for ice climbers.
As always you can check AMC Conditions for the latest report from the snow stakes and/or call us here at Pinkham to see what we’re seeing out our windows and for the best trail advice we can give you! Starting March 23rd we are going to be starting the Bed and Breakfast Tuckerman specials here at Joe Dodge Lodge again for $49!
From skiing safety to lodging, check out our comprehensive resource for properly preparing for your trip to Tuckerman Ravine
For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM or by email at email@example.com.
To make reservations
Please call AMC Lodges and Huts, at (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm.
Happy Winter Adventuring!
AMC Backcountry Information Specialist