Backpacking a Twins/Bonds Traverse

Backpacking the 4000 Footers Twins/Bonds Traverse

A Twins/Bonds Traverse is a 2-3 day, 20-mile traverse of North Twin, South Twin, West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff Mountains. This route is an alternative to the classic Bonds Traverse which approaches the Bondcliff Trail from the east over Mt Zealand. While the Twins/Bonds Traverse is a more strenuous and challenging route, it’s also considerably more scenic with far-reaching views of the Presidential Range and the Pemigewasset from the open summits of North and South Twin.

Twins-Bonds Traverse

Rating/Difficulty

*****/5 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

20.8 miles w/6000′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • North Twin
  • South Twin
  • West Bond
  • Bond
  • Bondcliff

Recommended Duration

2-3 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

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

This trip begins at the North Twin Trail Parking Area and ends at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead. You’ll want to drop a car at the end.

Both of these trailhead parking lots get very crowded on weekends and in summer. Parking is permitted on the left-hand side of Haystack Rd (FR304) as you approach the North Twin Trail parking lot. Overflow parking is also permitted west of the Lincoln Woods lot towards Lincoln, NH along the Kancamagus Highway (Rt 113). When parking along Rt 113, make sure all of your wheels are off-pavement, including the emergency lane. Otherwise, you may get a ticket.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountain 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. More detailed trail descriptions can be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • North Twin Trail – 4.3 miles
  • North Twin Spur – 1.3 miles
  • Twinway – 2.0 miles
  • Bondcliff Trail – 0.6 miles
  • Guyot Shelter Trail – 0.2 miles
  • Bondcliff Trail – 0.2 miles
  • West Bond Trail – 1.0 miles (out and back)
  • Bondcliff Trail – 7.9 miles
  • Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.9 miles

Scenic Highlights

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

  • North Twin Summit – 4.3 miles
  • South Twin Summit – 5.6 miles
  • Mt Guyot Summit – 8.6 miles
  • West Bond Summit – 9.9 miles
  • Mt Bond Summit – 10.8 miles
  • Bondcliff Summit – 12 miles
  • Franconia Falls (side path) – 18.2 miles

Camping Shelter Options

Water

There aren’t any water sources between mile 1.9 on the North Twin Trail and the Guyot Shelter and Tentsite, a distance of 7.3 miles, so be sure to pack extra. While that doesn’t sound like a long distance, that initial section of the trip involves climbing over 3000′ which can make you quite thirsty on a hot day.

While natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains, you may need to descend to them from ridgelines via 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

North Twin Trail Parking Area
North Twin Trail Parking Area

Leave the North Twin Trail parking area and begin a gradual climb within earshot of the Little River. There are three river crossings along the trail before you begin a steep climb to the North Twin Mountain summit. They’re fairly easy rock hops, but they can be more challenging after heavy rain. Note: if you don’t see a sequence of rocks you like, try moving up or down the bank a bit to find a set you do like.

You can also bypass the first two of the water crossings by following a herd path that bears left and straight before the first water crossing and continues up the left-hand side of the river. While it is unblazed, it is quite heavily traveled and easy to follow. It is also described in the AMC’s White Mountain Guide entry for the North Twin Trail, for more information.

First water crossing
First water crossing

After the third water crossing, which is the easiest of the three, begin climbing to North Twin Mountain gaining 2300′ of elevation in the next 2.4 miles. The trail increases in difficulty as you climb, becoming quite eroded and rocky in its final mile before you reach the treeline.

Treeline along the North Twin trail
Treeline along the North Twin trail

From there, the trail continues through Krumholz (dwarf spruce) providing limited protection from the elements in bad weather, before reaching a view, marked with a cairn and sign at 4.2 miles, and the summit at 4.3. From the summit, there are great views of Mt Zealand fr0m an unusual angle, Mt Washington, Mt Carrigan, and South Twin.

Great view ledge on North Twin, although you need to bring your own chair
Great view ledge on North Twin, although you need to bring your own chair

Continue past the North Twin summit to South Twin Mountain along the North Twin Spur Trail. This is a quite pleasant trail that passes through a stunted forest, dipping into a shallow col before climbing back up to South Twin. This section of the trail can be quite muddy after it rains.

View of Mt Garfield and Franconia Ridge from South Twin
View of Mt Garfield and Franconia Ridge from South Twin

The South Twin summit area is much larger than North Twin’s and there are many large boulders where you can sit and admire another excellent view. The North Twin Spur Trail also intersects the Twinway here, which is a major trunk trail around the Pemigewasset Wilderness, making it a natural meeting place for hikers.

South Twin is a huge mountain overlooking the Pemigewasset Wilderness
South Twin is a huge mountain overlooking the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Turn left onto the Twinway and hike 2 miles to Mt Guyot (Pronounced with a hard ‘G’ as in gee-oh) and the Bondcliff Trail Junction. This section of the Twinway runs along the top of South Twin, running over boardwalks and through a lush forest. South Twin is a huge mountain that overlooks the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, although there are few views of it along the trail. The Appalachian Trail follows this section of the Twinway Trail and you can meet dozens of thru-hikers in July and August making their way to Maine.

The Twinway run along the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness
The Twinway run along the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness

Turn right onto the Bondcliff Trail and follow it a short distance, at first through Krumholz, to the summit of Mt Guyot. Guyot (pronounced Gee-oh with a hard ‘G’) is covered with low-lying shrubs and blueberry bushes in summer. The peak is named after Alfred Guyot, a geography and geology Professor at Princeton University who is credited with making the first accurate map of the White Mountains. The summit of Mount Guyot consists of two bald domes of nearly equal height, but the south dome is considered the summit and has a large summit cairn built on top.

The summit of Guyot is marked with a quartz-topped cairn
The summit of Guyot is marked with a quartz-topped cairn

Continue along the Bondcliff trail for 0.6 miles to the side trail for the Guyot Shelter and Tent site. The spring at this tent site is the only water source for miles and you don’t have to stay if all you want is to refill your water supply. In summer, the tent site (platforms) is often full, and since platform spots are first come first serve, it’s best if you arrive by 4:00 pm to get a spot. Even then expect to share the platform with other people who aren’t part of your group. Overflow camping is available along the Bondcliff Trail, within the Forest Protection Area surrounding the tent site, but it’s not free and you’re likely to be charged the current Guyot per person fee for the night.

The spring at the Guyot Shelter and tent site is the only water for miles
The spring at the Guyot Shelter and tent site is the only water for miles

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.

Avalanche scarred sides of West Bond Mountain
Avalanche scarred sides 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 about 1 mile away. This is also a very hot section of the 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 as seen from West Bond
Bondcliff Mountain as seen from West Bond

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

Rock ledge on the Bondcliff Trail that locals call the Hillary Step
Rock ledge on the Bondcliff Trail that locals call the Hillary Step

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 backward, so you can maintain a firm grip on the handholds. From here, the trail drops steadily back down to the Pemigewasset River passing through the 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 is a series of 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 provides 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. 

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