Backpacking a 2Moose Loop

Mt Moosilauke is a massive mountain located in the southwest corner of the White Mountain National Forest. The main summit has an elevation of 4802′, which makes it the 10th highest mountain on the AMC’s 4000-footer list. My goal on this trip was to summit Moosilauke twice, once from the east, and once from the west, while looping around the south end of the peak to get from one side of the mountain to the other. This amounted to about 28 miles of hiking with 7,500 feet of elevation gain.

I’ve hiked all these trails before, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been on some of them. I’m writing another backpacking trip plan for my free guidebook Backpacking the 4000 Footers and I wanted to refresh my memory of them, take some pictures, and decide which ones I want to include. Writing a good trip plan is a tricky process because you need to choose between competing variables like scenic beauty, daily mileage, route finding difficulty, and trail conditions in order to create a route appeals to a wide range of experience and endurance. While there are a lot of good loops you can hike on Moosilauke, most of them don’t make good backpacking trips.

The route I hiked is too difficult to include in the guidebook, but hiking it gave me a lot of good information about current trail conditions and their aesthetic appeal. The trails around Moosilauke are fairly “dynamic” and continuously impacted by adverse weather events like heavy rainfall, flash floods, and avalanches. But there’s been quite a lot of excellent trail work to mitigate these impacts and keep the trails open. A refresher trip to check things out was definitely a worthwhile idea.

GeoPDF Map

Here’s a map of the route. This is a georeferenced PDF created using Caltopo. You can navigate with it using an app like Avenza (directions here) or just print it out. Backpacking Around Moosilauke

Here’s what the trail sequence looked like. See the While Mountain Guide for segment mileages.

  • Start near Ravine Lodge
  • Gorge Brook Trail to Moosilauke Summit
  • Carriage Road Trail
  • South Peak Spur Trail to South Summit (4523′)
  • Carriage Road Trail
  • Hurricane Trail
  • Glencliff Trail
  • High Street, then Forest Service Rd 19
  • Tunnel Brook Trail
  • Benton Trail
  • Beaver Brook Trail to Moosilauke Summit
  • Beaver Brook Trail to Asquam Ridge Trail, passing Mt Blue (4529′)
  • Asquam Ridge Trail over Mt Jim (4,132′) and back to Ravine Lodge

Gorge Brook Trail

The Gorge Brook Trail starts at Dartmouth’s newly refurbished Ravine Lodge at the base of Moosilauke’s east side. It’s a challenging climb if you’re not used to climbing 3000′ feet up a rock and root-filled trail. The last water is at about 3230′. I’d drank extra water before this hike before starting the climb, so I only carried two liters with me, but if you wanted to go light you could fill up here.

There’s been a lot of trail work on all of Moosilauke’s trails and Gorge Brook has seen its share. In fact, there’s been a huge amount of trail work and trail reroutes all around Moosilauke since I was there last. Erosion (mostly) and overuse have taken their toll, but I’m pretty impressed with the amount of effort and skill that the Dartmouth Outing Club puts into their trail maintenance operation.

The Gorge Brook Trail ascends in forest, but there are a few viewpoints along the route. There’s a viewpoint of Mt Cushman at 3830′ to the southeast. It’s a trailless 3000-footer on the northern border of the Hubbard Experiment Forest (part of WMNF) where the Forest Service tracks climate change. That area is a great place to backpack, although I’d recommend bringing an ax or a chainsaw with you if you drive on the forest service roads there. I’ve had to clear trees that have fallen across the road at night to get out.  I’ve never bushwhacked Cushman and it looked inviting as well as daunting. I’ve heard that the summit area is pretty dense.

There’s a viewpoint of Franconia Ridge that’s been opened by trail crews at 4250′ and an even better one at 4500′ from the trail. You just have to turn around and look behind you to see it.

Dartmouth Outing Club Alpine Zone Sign

The Gorge Brook is heavily forested until you reach the Krumholz at about 4500.’ Moosilauke’s unique Alpine Zone Signs start at 4650′ on this side of the mountain and full exposure begins at a 4670′. I can remember one winter hike when we hunkered down here before hiking “very quickly” to the summit in 50 mph while clothed in full winter gear w/ ski masks and face protection.

My pace was more leisurely on this hike and I got to admire the rock cairns marking the trail across the alpine grass on the way to the summit sign. I’m not quite sure why they appeal to me so much, but I love going to all the places in the Whites where your eyes can follow cairns as they grow smaller across the horizon.

Moosilauke Summit Cairns

I got to the summit shortly before 10:30 am and had a bite to eat. There were several thru-hikers at the top who’d slack-packed to the summit and left their gear down at the Hiker’s Welcome hostel for the day: they’d be picked up later at the bottom of the Beaver Brook Trail and return to the hostel for the night. They were very pleasant to speak with and I enjoyed their company at the summit.

South Moosilauke Summit Cairn

Moosilauke Carriage Road Trail and South Peak Spur

The day was young, so I headed off down the Carriage Road Trail to Moosilauke’s South Peak 0.9 miles away. The South Peak Spur is a very short trail at the junction of the Carriage Road and Glencliff Trails that’s totally worth following whenever you pass by on the way to the main summit. The South Peak is also a 4,000 footer although it’s not on the AMC’s 4000 footer list. I ran into a Canadian Hiker I’d chatted with at the main summit who was down from Quebec for the day to hike Moosilauke. She’s already finished the Adirondack 46’ers and is about halfway through the White Mountain 4000 footers. I love running into our French-speaking neighbors on my hikes and chatting with them.

Moosilauke Carriage Road Trail

I backtracked to the Carriage Road, which isn’t a carriage road anymore, of course. It’s a long but wide, 5.1-mile trail that was used to carry guests to the Tip Top Hotel that used to be located on Moosilauke’s summit but is mainly used by winter hikers and backcountry skiers today. The trailhead at the bottom is tough to access though because the road (Breezy Point Road) has been washed out. I hope they repair it sometime. It’s a historic trail.

I flew down the Carriage Road Trail, because gravity is my friend, and turned onto the Hurricane Trail headed west.

Hurricane Trail

The Hurricane Trail loops around the southern end of Moosilauke, climbing a 3000-footer named Hurricane Mountain. There’s a new viewpoint near the top and there’s been some substantial rerouting of the trail by maintainers, that looks like it’s ongoing. Despite being blue-blazed, because it links the Appalachian Trail to Dartmouth’s Ravine Lodge, it’s not a heavily hiked route and has a distinctly wilder feel to it. For example, I startled a moose when I hiked it and he startled me, before running off downhill.

Hurricane Mountain Viewpoint

The new viewpoint spur that runs 150 feet off the trail and is worth hiking out to, although it was a hazy day when I visited and I couldn’t see much. It leads to a big rock ledge where I let my shirt dry, had some water, and a short break.

Glencliff Trail and Sanatorium Road

The Hurricane Trail leads to the Glencliff Trail, which is the trail most northbound AT thru-hikers use to climb Moosilauke from the south. It’s become the most popular winter route to the summit in recent years because you can drive to the trailhead. Turning left (south), it soon leads to a big field and continues, veering left at a sign that directs you to the Town Line Trail and leads to Sanatorium Road.

Veering left when you see this sign

When you read the road, turn left and walk about 200 yards past a wooden bridge on your right. Immediately after it, turn right onto a gravel road which has a gate about 100 yards downhill. This is Forest Service Road 19. Cross over the bridge, passing a sign for the Town Line trail on your left, bearing right on the road until you come to the Tunnel Brook Trailhead. The gate was closed when I passed by and there appears to be some ongoing road construction along the road, which I believe is sometimes called Long Pond Rd as well. More flood damage.

Forest Service Rd 19

Tunnel Brook Trail

The Tunnel Brook Trail runs down the deep valley between Mt Clough (pronounced “Cluff”) and the west side of Moosilauke. It is a wild, wild place and I didn’t see a soul when I hiked it. The best camping on the trail is at the north end, above the beaver ponds. It’s all dispersed camping, without any prepared campsites.

The trail parallels Tunnel Brook for most of its length, almost always within earshot. The weird thing about Tunnel Brook is that the north end and the south end flow in different directions, which often warrants a name change in my experience.

One of several ponds along the Tunnel Brook Trail

While there is a slight gradient as you hike up to height-of-land (the highest point between two watersheds), it’s a fairly gentle climb with a lot of scenic interest. There are excellent views of the cliffs on Mt Clough, which is a trailless 3000-footer, a number of beaver ponds, and avalanche slides on the west face of Moosilauke.

The northernmost end of the Tunnel Brook Trail follows a logging road

The north end of the trail passes through avalanche debris before crossing a new gravel logging road. It then continues down an older logging road to the Benton Trail junction.

I camped off one of the upper ponds on this trip, close to a stream crossing for freshwater. I was pretty tired at the end of the first day and fell asleep immediately after dinner.

I camped at the northern end of the Tunnel Brook Trail

Benton Trail

I hiked down to the Benton Trail the next morning headed back to Ravine Lodge in a roundabout way, after climbing to the Moosilauke summit again.

The Benton Trail climbs up the Little Tunnel Brook Ravine to the Beaver Brook Trail

The Benton Trail crosses Tunnel Brook and then climbs steeply (3000′), but on good footing to the Beaver Brook Trail, just 400 feet below the Mooseilauke summit. It’s a really nice trail, but dry, so you’ll probably want to carry extra water to the Moosilauke summit and back down to where you can resupply.

Top of the Beaver Brook Trail, just below the summit

Beaver Brook Trail

The Beaver Brook Trail climbs to the Moosilauke summit in 0.4 of a mile. It’s a rocky beast of a trail, but the real fun starts when you turn around at the summit and follow it down to the Asquam Ridge Trail, which is signed simply and confusingly as the “Ridge Trail.” I’d completely forgotten how hard and scrambly this section of Beaver Brook was. They say people forget pain. That seems about right.

The Asquam Ridge Trail runs over Mt Jim before dropping bag down to Ravine Lodge

Ridge Trail

The thing that makes Moosilake so big are all of the ridges that run off the main peak. The Asquam Ridge Trail runs on top of one of these, over another 4000 footer named Mt Jim, also not on the AMC’s 4000 footer list. Luckily, there isn’t much elevation gain to climb it. From there, you drop down over heavily eroded trails all the way back to Ravine Lodge. It’s a great route actually but makes for a much longer ascent of Moosilauke’s main summit than hiking up the Gorge Brook Trail.

Upper Baker River near Ravine Lodge on Mt Moosilauke

Epilogue

I took the next day off and then returned the day after to finish hiking of few of the trails that I hadn’t fully hiked end-to-end previously. At this point, I think I have a pretty good handle on what my Moosilauke Backpacking Trip Plan Route will be. I expect to publish that in the next week or so, so stay tuned if you’re interested in Backpacking Moosilauke.

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide and is 98% of the way through a second round. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Philip, sorry for harassing you on the Gorge Brook Trail last week and thanks for the photo op! It was cool to run into you again (last time was on Brookside coming down from Madison). Thanks for this trip report — these are always great. I used your Wild River Wilderness guides to plan a 3-day trip a few weeks ago. My first time backpacking in that area and I loved it, especially the Rainbow Trail — so pretty!

  2. I did the western half of this loop three years ago, starting at Sanatorium Rd, going counter-clockwise. We didn’t see anyone after the summit of Moosilauke. I loved the remote feeling of Tunnel Brook, like you said , very wild! Thank you for a great trip report.

  3. Love the report Phil, I’ve done all the trails on “The Moose” and must say that Benton trail and Gorge Brook are my favorite. Benton is nice because you don’t see too many others on it.
    Really enjoy visiting with the Thur Hikers. A lot of respect for these folks.

  4. You look at the map and you see a stream off the Benton trail. Was hoping to set up 3 tent sites this fall. Is it all that dry? Are there any spots off the trail with views? Camped at the mud ponds too, loved it. Want to hit the top of the Moose, my knees require some rest so I liked to make it a long weekend

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