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Backpacking the Three Garfields in the Pemigewasset Wilderness

Mt Garfield and its western subpeak
Mt Garfield and West Garfield (seen from East Garfield)

There are three Garfield Mountains along the Garfield Ridge Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness (of New Hampshire’s White Mountains), although you’re probably only familiar with the tallest one on the four thousand footer list. The other two peaks, West (3667′) and East Garfield (3590′), are short bushwhacks off the main trail, both on the more esoteric New Hampshire Hundred Highest list. Of these, East Garfield has great views from an open ledge and is not to be missed.

West Garfield is easy to find since it the first peak beyond the Franconia Brook/Garfield Ridge Trail Junction on the Appalachian Trail en route to Galehead Hut (heading east). East Garfield is the fourth bump (topographically speaking) heading east from Garfield. Cone-shaped, it’s quite easy to tell when you’ve started climbing it if you pay attention to the trail’s ups and downs.

East Garfield and Galehead Mountain
East Garfield and Galehead Mountain

While the bushwhack detours to these two additional peaks are rather easy, hiking into the Wilderness to climb all three Garfield makes for a very long day hike. I backpacked them over the span of two days, which was still strenuous in the heat of mid-August, although you can also stretch out this hike to a more relaxing three days, by stopping at the Thirteen Falls cascades, swimming hole, and tent site below Galehead Mountain.

Philip at the West Garfield Canister
Philip at the old-fashioned glass jar West Garfield canister

Taking this route makes it easy to set up a backpacking loop that begins and ends at the Lincoln Woods trail head, runs up to the 13 Falls campsite along the Franconia Brook Trail and loops to the three peaks along the Franconia Brook Trail, the Garfield Ridge Trail (Appalachian Trail) and back down to 13 falls via the Twin Brook Trail (after a stop at the Galehead Hut for water and cake).

Journey begins by crossing the East Branch Pemigewasset River
Journey begins by crossing the East Branch Pemigewasset River
Turn right onto the Lincoln Woods Trail
Turn right onto the Lincoln Woods Trail
The Franconia Brook trail follows an old lumber railroad grade. You can still see the railroad ties, which are over 100 years old.
The Franconia Brook trail follows an old lumber railroad grade. You can still see the railroad ties, which are over 100 years old.
After another mile and a half you pass by a big beaver pond
After another mile and a half you pass by a big beaver pond
You'll cross several brooks including Hellgate Brook and Redrock Brook, shown here. Both drain the Bonds and the water is uber cold even in the height of summer!
You’ll cross several brooks including Hellgate Brook and Redrock Brook, shown here. Both drain the Bonds and the water is uber cold even in the height of summer!
There are a series of waterfalls at 13 falls, although there aren't 13 of them! The largest has a 30 foot drop.
There are a series of waterfalls at 13 falls, although there aren’t 13 of them! The largest has a 30 foot drop.
Continuing past the 13 Falls tent site you'll hike alongside the Franconia Brook as you head toward the Garfield Ridge Trail Junction
Continuing past the 13 Falls tent site you’ll hike alongside the Franconia Brook as you head toward the Garfield Ridge Trail Junction
The top of the Franconia Brook Trail is covered with running water and then you arrive at the Garfield Ridge Trail Junction.
The top of the Franconia Brook Trail is covered with running water and then you arrive at the Garfield Ridge Trail Junction.
Climbing up Mt Garfield toward the Garfield Campsite and Summit. The trail here is very rough and steep. It basically climbs an avalanche slide with a waterfall flowing through it.
Climbing up Mt Garfield toward the Garfield Campsite and Summit. The trail here is very rough and steep. It basically climbs an avalanche slide with a waterfall flowing through it.
Fire tower ruins on top of Mt Garfield. The views from the top of Garfield are well worth the effort of the climb.
Fire tower ruins on top of Mt Garfield. The views from the top of Garfield are well worth the effort of the climb.
While the view at Garfield Pond is pretty, the water here is full of algae and kind of disgusting. You're better off sleeping at the Garfield campsite.
If you like you can drop down about 700 feet to the southwest and visit Garfield’s Pond. While the view at Garfield Pond is pretty, the water here is full of algae and kind of disgusting. You’re better off sleeping at the Garfield campsite.
View of East Garfield from Mt Garfield: As you descend the east face of Garfield you can make out East Garfield about 2 miles north. It's just west of the Galehead Hut.
View of East Garfield from Mt Garfield: As you descend the east face of Garfield you can make out East Garfield about 2 miles north. It’s just west of the Galehead Hut.
Partial view of Mt Garfield from West Garfield Summit. While there are many potential routes up West Garfield, I found that hiking up to height of land before heading off trail was the easiest.
Partial view of Mt Garfield from West Garfield Summit. While there are many potential routes up West Garfield, I found that hiking up to height of land before heading off trail was the easiest.
The same holds for East Garfield where the canister is only reachable from the summit ledge and viewpoint.
The same holds for East Garfield where the canister is only reachable from the summit ledge and viewpoint.
AMC Galehead Hut
AMC Galehead Hut: The Galehead hut has fresh water and there are often baked goods available during the day for a welcome snack.
From the Galehead hut, it's an easy walk back down the shady Twin Brook Trail to the 13 Falls Tent Site and the Franconia Brook Trail if you want to hike back to Lincoln Woods.
From the Galehead hut, it’s an easy walk back down the shady Twin Brook Trail to the 13 Falls Tent Site and the Franconia Brook Trail if you want to hike back to Lincoln Woods.

Here’s a breakdown of the route if this adventure strikes your fancy.

  • Park at Lincoln Woods trail head
  • Lincoln Woods Trail (formerly called the Wilderness Trail) to Franconia Brook Trail Junction (2.9 miles w/300′ elevation gain)
  • Franconia Brook Trail to 13 Falls Campsite (5.2 miles w/750′ of elevation gain)
  • Franconia Brook Trail to Garfield Ridge Trail Junction (2.2 miles with 1250′ of elevation gain)
  • Garfield Ridge Trail to Mt Garfield Summit (0.9 miles with 1040′ of elevation gain)
  • Mt Garfield Summit to Garfield Pond (you can skip this detour if you want to camp at the Mt Garfield campsite just below the summit) (0.5 miles, all descent)
  • Garfield Pond to Mt Garfield (0.5 miles, w/ 500′ of elevation gain)
  • Mt Garfield Trail to Franconia Brook Trail Junction (0.9 miles, all descent)
  • Franconia Brook Trail Junction to West Garfield Height of Land on Mt Garfield Trail (0.2 miles with 275′ of elevation gain)
  • Bushwhack from West Garfield Height of Land to summit and back (negligible)
  • West Garfield Height of Land to East Garfield Height of Land on Mt Garfield Trail (0.85 miles with 275′ of elevation gain)
  • Bushwhack from East Garfield Height of Land to summit and back (negligible)
  • East Garfield Height of Land to Galehead Hut on Mt Garfield Trail (0.75 with 450′ of elevation gain)
  • Twin Brook Trail: Galehead Hut to 13 Falls Tent Site (2.7 mile, all descent)
  • 13 Falls Tent Site to Lincoln Woods Trail Junction on Franconia Brook Trail (5.2 miles, basically flat)
  • Lincoln Woods trail to Lincoln Wood trail head (2.9 miles, basically flat)

Total: 24.1 miles with 4900′ elevation gain

Three Garfields Backpacking Loop Route
Three Garfields Backpacking Loop Route (click for interactive map on Caltopo.com)

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9 comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to stay at Thirteen Falls to split the Pemi in half and also explore Owl’s Head, but I’ve heard horror stories about bears at the Thirteen campsite.
    Any issues? Is there a box there?

  2. I stayed there for two nights several years ago when bagging Owlshead. It is one of the best sites in the Whites. The falls are nearby and the earthen platforms were well planned. They do have a bear box and a kitchen area well away from the platforms. Never had an issue with bears. Spend a night or two there, you won’t regret it.

  3. What a beautiful hike. Very nice adult picture book, Philip. Your captions and pictures told the whole story. What pack did you carry that day?

  4. Love the long approach, that is how I did Garfield, Galehead, and South Twin as well. Lincoln Woods TH to the base of the “Garfield Cliffs” via Lincoln Brook is the most remote overnight bushwhack I have done to date. Felt I was in a wilderness that time, for sure.

  5. Very nice trip!

    One of your photos is entitled: “Climbing up Mt Garfield toward the Garfield Campsite and Summit.” That image should be required content every time discussion of the trails in the Whites refers to them as “rocky”. That picture “gives the picture”.

  6. I ran into you at Garfield tent site the day you did this hike …I could not believe my luck having meet you on the trail..made my day :) ….thanks for all you do for the hiking community

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