Backpacking a Bonds Traverse

Backpacking a Bonds Traverse

A Bonds Traverse is a 2 day, 20 mile traverse of Zealand Mountain, West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff Mountain. Bondcliff is one of the most picturesque mountains on the 4000 footers list and many hikers like to pose for photos on its western cliff. While it is possible to day hike this route on a very long day, it’s much nicer to take your time, stargaze from Mt Bond, and watch the sunset or sunrise over Bondcliff.

Bonds Traverse PDF

Rating/Difficulty

****/3 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

20 miles w/3700′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Zealand
  • West Bond
  • Mt Bond
  • Bondcliff

Recommended Duration

2 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

This route passes through the Pemigewasset Wilderness Area. Please observe all wilderness area restrictions. 

New to the White Mountains? Read this Quick and Dirty Guide to Backpacking in the White Mountains for information about camping regulations, road access, trail shuttles, lodging, dangerous wildlife, weather, etc.

Trailhead Directions

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Map 2: Franconia-Pemigewasset (2017 ed), which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way.

Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • Zealand Trail – 2.3 miles
  • Ethan Pond Trail – 0.2 miles
  • Twinway – 3.1 miles
  • Zealand Mountain Spur Trail 0.2 miles (out and back)
  • Twinway – 1.3 miles
  • Bondcliff Trail – 0.8 miles
  • West Bond Spur – 1.0 miles (out and back)
  • Bondcliff Trail – 7.9 miles
  • Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.9 miles

20 miles with 3700′ elevation gain.

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances on the route to each view or landmark.

  • Zealand Hut/Zealand Falls – 2.7 miles
  • Zeacliff Viewpoint – 4.2 miles
  • Zealand Summit – 5.8 miles
  • Mt Guyot Summit – 7.1 miles
  • West Bond Summit – 8.4 miles
  • Mt Bond Summit – 9.4 miles
  • Bondcliff Summit – 10.5 miles
  • Franconia Falls – 16.9 miles

Camping and Shelter Options

Water

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

The Appalachian Mountain Clubs Huts are taking reservation in 2021. Contact the AMC for reservations and information at outdoors.org. (Note: You don't have to stay in their facilities when hiking in the White Mountains.) All Randolph Mountain Club Cabins remain closed for 2021, but the tentsites are open on a first come first serve basis.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Pemigewasset Map in Guthook Guide’s New England Hiker Smartphone App (IOSAndroid) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

This route starts at the Zealand Trailhead at the end of Zealand Road. Follow the Zealand Trail towards the AMC’s Zealand Hut passing through forest and across a few easy stream crossings. While hidden by trees, the Zealand River runs besides the trail with numerous pools and cascades where you can swim or wade in hot weather.

Raised walkways over beaver ponds
Raised walkways over beaver ponds

You soon enter a wetland area, where the trail crosses numerous beaver ponds over wooden walkways and bridges. The foliage here is breathtaking in Autumn, when the valley and surrounding hills explode in seasonal color.

After passing a trail junction with the A-Z Trail, the Zealand Trail ends. Continue along the Ethan Pond Trail for 0.2 miles toward the AMC’s Zealand Hut. Turn right when you reach the Twinway Trail junction and continue 0.2 miles to the hut. Before you reach it, there is a short spur trail on your left to Zealand Falls which is pretty, especially after rainfall.

Appalachian Mountain Club's Zealand Hut
Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Hut

Drop your pack on the porch and go inside the hut to check it out. While reservations are required for overnight guests, anyone can pop into an AMC hut during the day and buy snacks, top off water bottles or use the facilities. All of the huts post daily forecasts and have weather instruments that you can check, along with maps, and guidebooks.

From the hut, continue along the Twinway, climbing steeply for 1.2 miles to Zeacliff, a cliff-side viewpoint down a short side trail (signed) overlooking Zealand Notch that has a great view of Mt Carrigain in the distance. Continue along the Twinway toward Zealand Mountain, passing another trail to your left to Zeacliff Pond, a small alpine pond, which also has a good view of Carrigain. In 1.0 miles, you’ll come to another spur trail on your right which leads to the viewless Zealand Mountain summit and its hand-carved summit sign.

Zealand Mountain Summit Sign
Zealand Mountain Summit Sign

Retrace your steps and turn right when you reach the Twinway,  heading toward Mt Guyot. Guyot (pronounced Gee-oh with a hard ‘G’) is a bald dome covered with low lying shrubs, called krummholz, a German word used to describe the stunted trees that grow on exposed mountain tops above treeline. The Twinway continues over Guyot and leads to the Bondcliff Trail junction. Turn left onto the Bondcliff Trail and follow it 0.8 miles to the Guyot Shelter and Tentsite Spur. I’d recommend that you stay here overnight because it the only spot with a reliable water source for some distance.

Mt Guyot
Mt Guyot

The West Bond Spur Trail leaves the  Bondcliff Trail just 0.2 miles past the side trail to the Guyot Shelter and Tentsite. The open summit is a short hike through stunted trees. This is probably the best viewpoint in the White Mountains to admire Bondcliff’s graceful ridge and a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunset or sunrise. Just be sure to bring a headlamp.

Avalanches scar the face of West Bond Mountain
Avalanches scar the face of West Bond Mountain

Backtrack to the Bondcliff Trail and turn right to summit Mt Bond in just 0.5 miles. Mt Bond also has great views.  It is high enough at 4698′ that you can see the Presidential Range to the northeast and Franconia Ridge to the West.

Mt Bond
Mt Bond

While West Bond and Mt Bond have been easy to climb so far, the same can’t be said about Bondcliff Mountain. Leaving Mt Bond, the Bondcliff Trail descends steeply down a boulder choked trail that’s slow going until you reach the first open ledges on about 1 mile away. This is also a very hot section of trail in summer when the sun beating down on the rocks. Be sure to carry plenty of water and to stay hydrated. Also use caution when hiking along the cliff in fog or high winds. The steep valley below the cliffs is called Hellgate.

Bondcliff Mountain - A sight that never gets old
Bondcliff Mountain – A sight that never gets old

Midway down the cliff, there’s a prow-like ledge that juts out from the cliff and is the perfect place to stand for a portrait with West Bond and Mt Bond in the background. Countless hikers have had their photos taken here and it’s a right-of-passage for many 4000 footer peakbaggers

When you’re ready to leave Bondcliff, proceed down the ridge towards treeline, scrambling down a 15 foot rock ledge called “Hillary’s Step.” I’ve found the best way to climb down this is backwards, so you can maintain a firm grip on the handholds. From here, the trail drops steadily back down to the Pemigewasset River passing through forest with a few easy stream crossings. These may be dry in summer, so don’t count on finding water at them. Significant portions of this trail have been heavily eroded from recent storms, so take your time in descending.

Take a hard right turn at the base of the descent, continuing along the Bondcliff Trail, following an old railroad right of way. Many of the railroad ties are still in evidence to this day.

Railroad ties
Railroad ties

After crossing a bridge over Franconia Brook, there’s a short spur trail to your right which leads to Franconia Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls and swimming holes in the Whites. There are a series off cascades, slides, and pools here that you can frolic in or just soak your feet in the river to cool them off.

Lovely Franconia Falls
Lovely Franconia Falls

If you decide to bypass the spur trail, continue along the Lincoln Woods Trail along the Pemigewasset River, which also provide numerous swimming opportunities. Cross a suspension bridge over the river in 2.9 miles, which leads to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead and the end of this route.

About the author

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, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. 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.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

Click for More Free 4000 Footer Backpacking Trip Plans

Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!

Most Popular Searches

  • bobdclif hike camping
  • bond tracerse
  • bond traverse

22 comments

  1. Don’t go on weekends or national holidays. If you can’t get into the shelter or a tent site, you have a long walk ahead of you. There really isn’t very good camping for miles and no water.

  2. Call some AT hostels. There’s very little transportation in the whites except your own and that would be an impossible hitch.

  3. Forgot about the AMC. Their schedule is so limited, its rarely an option.

    • Christine Benton

      Hello, I disagree. I have hiked The Bonds several times using various trails. As a hiker without a car, if you plan to end up at the Lincoln Woods visitor center, there’s a very convenient AMC shuttle which can take you a short ride into Lincoln where you can get a bus to Boston.

      Also coming down from Bondcliff you cross two streams with water. At the second stream there’s an obvious little path into the woods with some nice camping areas. Have camped there several times. From there you can get up early the next morning and hike out to the visitor center to catch the shuttle.

      My one complaint about this shuttle is that the last time I used it, it left 10 mins. before the scheduled time. It didn’t affect me because I was there with plenty of time to spare. As I was the only one waiting, the driver obviously thought he wouldn’t have any more passengers. But, if I had arrived only 5 mins. before the posted departure time, the shuttle would have been gone. I complained about this to AMC and they said they would talk to the driver.

  4. If you have long enough straps. You still need to pick a tent site. Your second question should be obvious, provided there are trees, which are in short supply above treeline. You’ll probably have to hike some more to find some where its legal to camp.

  5. That bridge was removed years ago. I wouldn’t ford the East pemi if you paid me. It’s just too dangerous.
    The Thoreau Falls bridge has also since been removed.
    It’s only safe up near stillwater junction.
    You might find this trip report interesting.
    https://sectionhiker.com/crossing-the-east-branch-pemigewasset-river/

    • Thanks for the quick reply. I guess I should have included my proposed trip date: July. I’ll check out that trip report. Thanks again.

    • Do you think it can be crossed with a packraft?

      • Do you know how to ferry (cross a river) with a packraft?
        Honestly, it would be a heck of a lot easier to just walk down to the bridge and back up the other side, or go to that north river crossing I mentioned.
        And you still couldn’t pay me to ford the Pemi in July (said the former class 4 white water kayaker/creek boater)

  6. A motel. Bring a water filter. Learn how to use one. It will save you a lot of grief.

    • Emanuel Pariser

      Ok, great many thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

      • You do need a filter at a campsite that hosts 75 people on a busy weekend. Consider just how much water you’d have to carry for a 25 mile hike over 2 days and you’ll see the logic of carrying a filter.

  7. I don’t know many water sources I’d personally drink from these days without filtering. My brother used to tease me for filtering my water when we hiked together in Montana. After he had a bout with Giardia, the teasing stopped… and his filtering started!

  8. I am a total newbie to hiking, (not camping) and I am looking for some trails to hike with my wife, with at least one or 2 over nights in probably a small tent, or hammocks. Can you please suggest one or 2 of these trails that might be worth hiking. Thinking sometime late June or early August of 2020.
    Thank you,
    RB

  9. If I hike from Zealand Trailhead to Lincoln woods that would be ~20 miles correct? And then without a car I’d have to hike the 20miles back to Zealand lot?

  10. Would it be nuts to do this trail in reverse?

    • Doesn’t matter which way you go. Just plan out your water sources. We’re having a bit of a drought.

    • Nothing “nuts” about it – there’s no section that I remember that would be more difficult doing it in reverse but overall you do about 1K foot more “up” elevation going South to North than the other way around. Also, if you’re going to stay at Guyot you’re going to have your longer day, with the majority of ascent, on day 1.

  11. I don’t really have a favorite way of doing this traverse either having done it over 25 times. In the summer I guess I wold go south to North just so that I hike Lincoln Woods in the morning rather then having it be a long slog on the way out.

    Sleeveless

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *