The White Mountain landscape is defined by its mountain passes (called Notches), perhaps even more than its peaks. Crawford Notch, Pinkham Notch, and Franconia Notch are just a few of the great valleys that channel visitors from one region of the White Mountain National Forest to the next. Without these mountain passes providing fast passage across the region, visitors would have to travel large distances around the mountains to get from the north to south or the east to the west.
While many of our major notches have had roadways built through them, there are still dozens of mountain passes in the White Mountains that are only accessible on foot. These are often quite scenic hikes besides wild rivers or through picturesque valleys, with moderate elevation gains and fairly easy hiking.
I recently backpacked a loop from the Kancamagus Highway outside of Lincoln, NH over to Waterville Valley and back, a fairly long drive by car, but only about 5 miles when hiked. My route looped through two mountain passes with a hike up and over Mt Tecumseh in between.
- Heading southwest: East Pond Trail from Kancamagus Highway to Tripoli Road (5.1 miles)
- Up and down Mt Tecumseh on the Mount Tecumseh Trail and to Livermore Rd by the Pipeline Ski Trail (about 6.5 miles)
- Heading northeast: Greeley Pond Trail through the Mad River Valley from Livermore Rd to the Kancamagus Highway (5.6 miles)
- Road walk along the Kancamagus Highway back to the East Pond Trail Head Parking Lot (1 mile)
I also hiked the following side trails off the main route.
- Little East Pond by the East Pond Loop and the Little East Pond Trails (3.2 miles)
- Up and down the Goodrich Trail (1.6 miles RT)
- Up and down the Timber Camp Trail (3.2 miles RT)
It was a fast backpack, just 1 night, with some great scenery, good viewpoints, without a lot of crowds. The total length of this hike is 24.2 miles although you could skip a few of the side trails I explored and reduce the mileage.
I started this trip at the East Pond Trail Head on the Kanacamagus highway Rt 112, a few miles outside of Lincoln, NH. The East Pond Trail parking lot is a 1 mile road walk down the Kanc from the Greeley Pond parking lot, making it possible to hike this route with just one car.
The East Pond Trail is a pleasant hike through the gap between the Mt Osceola and Scar Ridge. There’s a bit of a climb up to height of land at 3200′, before you head down hill to East Pond, the site of an diatomaceous earth (also known as tripoli) mining operation in the early 1900’s (click for an excellent history.)
At the pond, you have the option to continue 1.4 miles straight to Tripoli Rd, a dirt road with backcountry camping along its length, or to turn west and follow a 3.2 mile loop to Little East Pond which lies below Middle Scar Ridge, a formidable off-trail peak on Scar Ridge.
I wanted to scope out the East Pond Loop because I need to bushwhack Middle Scar and my buddy Kris said he climbed it from this side. It’s a pretty trail with easy hiking to the pond, continuing past on the Little East Pond Trail back to the trunk East Pond Trail (confusing repetitive names..) and then down to Tripoli Rd.
When you get to Tripoli Rd, it’s a short road walk east – maybe 100 yards – to the base of the Mt Tecumseh Trail. I suppose you could camp along the road at one of the designated camp sites. I thought about that for about a second, but it’s not the most pristine camping location (from overuse) and figured I’d just keep going up and over Tecumseh and camp someplace on the other side of the mountain. The terrain levels off around 2200 feet and I figured I could find a backcountry site there.
That required carrying extra water for a dry camp, so I loaded up with 5 liters and humped up the peak. Later, I discovered that the Platypus in my outside rear pocket was leaking water at the seams. but the leak was slow enough to not matter. While it soaked the bottom of my pack, my gear didn’t get wet since I line my pack with a trash compactor bag.
While I looked for a flat pitch on my way up the mountain, I didn’t really find anything I liked. I was carrying a tent on this trip instead of my hammock, which would have been a better shelter for this hike since I could have hung it just about anywhere.
I got to the summit of Tecumseh (4003′) a bit before 6:00 pm, but knew that I wanted to get down to 2200′ to camp and because I’d be a lot warmer that night at a lower elevation. I was racing the clock though because I wanted to find a level tent pitch before it got dark at 7:00 pm, which can be tricky in dense woods with ground that is full of roots and rocks. So I flew down the rocky trail at a breakneck speed, getting down to 2200′ about an hour later, just before dark.
I found a fairly decent site, about a body and a half wide, and set up the two person tent I’d brought (a MSR Freelite 2 – review forthcoming) pitching it by the light of my very bright Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. I switch to a high-powered headlamp in Autumn, when being ‘benighted’ (caught out after dark) becomes higher consequence in the mountains. I ate a quick hot meal – maple-flavored instant Cream-of-Wheat cereal and a Payday bar – and hit the hay. I just wanted to sleep.
The next morning I got an early start, hiking down the rest of the Tecumseh Trail which ends in the Waterville Valley Ski resort parking lot. I had to get from here to the Livermore Trail parking lot off Tripoli Rd, about a mile away, where the Greeley Pond Trail begins. While I was prepared to bushwhack through the forest to get there, I figured I’d look to see if there was a ski trail connecting the lodge to their cross-country touring center, which is down that way. Sure enough, I came to the very pretty Pipeline Trail, which runs through the woods down to Tripoli Rd.
When you get to the end of the Pipeline Trail, you make a right on to Tripoli Rd and then a left at the next paved street. Cross over a short bridge and you’ll see the Livermore Trail Head Parking Sign. Turn left at the sign and follow the logging road that leaves from the leftmost side of the lot. This area is a little confusing because the ski resort has put up their own signs and their trail names differ from those used by the Forest Service. There are maps of the ski trail system posted at most of the trail junctions, so you should still be able to find your way if you get turned around, and you carry an AMC map of the local hiking trail system.
I started down the logging road that leaves the Livermore Lot and came to another major trail junction. Stay left and cross the wooden bridge in front of you. The Greeley Ponds Trail begins just over the bridge on your left, and is easy to follow all the way back to the Kancamagus Highway.
This trail was severely damaged by Hurricane Irene when a wall of water poured down the Mad River which runs along the trail. The entire trail has only been recently reopened after being closed for several years while repair efforts were underway. While the section shown here is well-graded gravel, the trail takes on a more natural and weathered appearance after it passes the Timber Camp and Kancamagus Brook Ski trails further up the Mad River valley.
At 1.2 miles, the Goodrich Rock Trail climbs the west side of the valley, weaving through a “boulder field” of huge glacial erratics. The trail ends at the largest erratic, a huge boulder named Goodrich Rock that you can climb via a wooden ladder. This trail was one of the high points of my hike and well worth visiting when you’re in the area.
Hiking back to the Greeley Pond Trail, I continued to my next scenic detour, a hike up the Timber Camp Trail to a scenic view of the Tripyramids.
The site of an old lumber camp, the Timber Camp Trail leads to the area below Painted Rock, a huge cliff face that towers over the trail and the Mad River Valley. While the trail ends at 2544′ at a cairn next to some old lumber artifacts, there is a herd path that continues up the slope beyond it and may well lead to the top of the cliffs. I followed it up to 2800′ until it started to peter out and decided to defer climbing further until I could return with friends at a later date. Steve Smith, editor of the White Mountain Guide, has written about his adventures on the Timber Camp Trail, in this trip report.
Hiking back down the trail, I spied this pretty view of the Tripyramids and what looks like Scaur Ridge and Flume Peak. The Timber Camp Trail starts at 2060′ and only climbs about 500′ so it’s an easy walk for this pretty view.
Hiking back down to the Greeley Pond Trail, I continued up the Mad River Valley to the next scenic wonder, the beautiful Lower and Upper Greeley Ponds, which lie below the southern cliffs of giant Mt Kancamagus. I’d snowshoed this section of trail last winter, hiking over the ponds when they were frozen, following the backcountry ski trail that passes through the area.
This trail and these ponds have a special significance for me since they were the first hike I ever did in the White Mountains, decades ago. It took me about 10 years to rediscover the mountains after that hike (while I was busy climbing the corporate ladder), but I did make it back.
Once past Upper Greeley Pond, it was a short walk to the Mount Osceola Trail junction and down to the Greeley Pond trail head parking lot. followed by a 1 mile road walk back to the East Pond Trail head parking lot where I’d left my car. This is a nice loop hike over to Waterville Valley and back, perfect for an early autumn hike.