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Backpacking the Cannonball Loop

Backpacking the Cannonball Loop

The Cannonball Loop is an epic 2 day, 15 mile loop hike that climbs THREE 4000 footers, visits three lakes, and provides outstanding views of Cannon Cliff and Franconia Notch. Don’t let the short distance of this loop hike fool you. It traverses gnarly mountain terrain with steep climbs and rocky scrambles. But it’s a fun route with lots of opportunities for swimming in alpine lakes, a visit to a high mountain hut, and even some excellent fly fishing.

Cannonball Loop

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B3 - Toggle Open for Key


A: Less than 15 miles in distance

B: 15-20 miles

C: 20-25 miles

D: 25-30 miles or less

E: more than 30 miles

Elevation Gain

1: 3000 ft or less

2: 4000 ft or less

3: 5000 ft or less

4: 6000 ft or less

5: over 6000 ft

Distance/Elevation Gain

15 miles w/5000′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Cannon
  • North Kinsman
  • South Kinsman

Recommended Duration

2 days


June thru October

Permits Required



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


The Appalachian Mountain Club publishes the best maps for the White Mountains and I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set. It contains three waterproof maps (2 regions per map) although you only need carry one or two on any trip. I also use GPS apps for navigating, but these maps contain relevant trail, shelter and topographic information that is often not included in electronic maps. More detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide, which is considered the hiking bible for the region. It includes detailed driving directions to remote trailheads and is indipensible for navigating to them, especially when you're out of cell tower range. Take photos of the pages you need using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

Navigation Apps

I also recommend purchasing a GPS Phone App such as Far Out's White Mountain National Forest Guide, which lists most of the trails, trailheads, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. GaiaGPS is another GPS Phone App, which is stronger in terms of topographic map coverage for the White Mountains but does not have as much information about trailheads, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources. I use both frequently.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence.

  • Kinsman Ridge Trail (to South Kinsman) – 7.1 miles
  • Kinsman Ridge Trail (back to Kinsman Junction) – 1.6 miles
  • Kinsman Pond Trail (out and back to Kinsman Pond Campsite and Shelter) – 0.2 miles
  • Fishin Jimmy Trail – 2.0 miles
  • Cascade Brook Trail – 0.8 miles
  • Lonesome Lake Trail – 0.8 miles
  • Pemi Trail – 2.0 miles

Scenic Highlights

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

  • Cannon Mountain Summit and Fire Tower – 2.0 miles
  • Northeast Cannonball – 3.0 miles
  • Kinsman Pond – 5.6 miles
  • North Kinsman Summit – 6.2 miles
  • South Kinsman Summit – 7.1 miles
  • Kinsman Shelter and Tent Platforms 8.7 miles
  • AMC Lonesome Lake Hut/Lonesome Lake – 10.8 miles
  • Cannon Cliff View (from Franconia Notch)- 14 miles
  • Profile Lake – 14 miles

Camping and Shelter Options


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 2023. Contact the AMC for reservations and information at (Note: You don't have to stay in their facilities when hiking in the White Mountains.) All Randolph Mountain Club Cabins have reopened for 2023 on a first-come-first-serve basis.

On the Trail

Leave from the designated hikers parking lot at the southeast corner of the Cannon Tramway Lot. Look for the sign that reads “Kinsman Ridge Trail”. The trail leaves from a clearing at the end of a short service road and leaves from the left side, climbing into woods. After a gradual start, the trail begins to climb steeply across heavily eroded trail, gaining 2100′ of elevation in the first 2 miles.Blazed in blue, the trail crosses a ski trail several times as it climbs. Take your time on this stretch and exercise caution as you cross rocky ledges which are slippery when wet.

Hiking Up Kinsman Ridge Trail
Hiking Up Kinsman Ridge Trail

A spur trail branches off at the top of this climb and descends over ledges at the top Cannon Cliff for a fine view of the Franconia Ridge on the other side of the Notch. Return to the main trail and climb to the fire tower at the summit of Mt Cannon.

Climb through scrub to the Mt Cannon firetower, with views of I-93 and Franconia Notch below
Climb through scrub to the Mt Cannon fire tower, with views of I-93 and Franconia Notch below

The Cannon fire tower is a metal structure open to hikers with a large viewing platform on top. The tower is usually quite busy because tourists can reach it by taking the nearby aerial tram to just below the summit. Originally built in 1938, the Cannon Mountain Tram was the first passenger tram in North America and is a great way to show friends and family the splendor of the mountains without making them climb the mountain on foot.

Franconia Ridge from Mt Cannon Fire Tower
Franconia Ridge from Mt Cannon Fire Tower

While the fire tower has 360 degree views, most people are riveted by the sight of Franconia Ridge on the other side of Franconia Notch. On a clear day, Mts Lafayette, Lincoln, Little Haystack and Liberty look close enough that you can reach out and touch them.

Northeast Cannonball Mountain seen from Lonesome Lake below
Northeast Cannonball Mountain seen from Lonesome Lake below

Descend from the tower and continue along the Kinsman Ridge Trail, being careful not to take another side trail off the summit. The next stretch of trail runs over three small mountains, called the Cannonballs, each separated by small cols. The first Cannonball (the northeast peak) has an elevation of 3769′ and is one the New Hampshire 100 Highest List, a fact worth noting if you ever decide to peakbag this list. It also overlooks Lonesome Lake, which is on the return route for this trip. The next two Cannonballs have elevations of 3,693 feet and 3,660 feet. The trails dips between each in turn and requires some scrambling.

North Kinsman Mountain
North Kinsman Mountain

The Kinsman Ridge Trail climbs one final hump before arriving at Kinsman Junction junction near Kinsman Pond, where it meets the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail and the Kinsman Pond Trail. The Kinsman Pond Campsite and Shelter are located nearby. Continue right at the junction headed toward North and South Kinsman, passing the Mt Kinsman Trail which branches to the right.

Climb a steep ledge, arriving at the summit of North Kinsman in 0.4 miles. A short spur trail to the left has a tremendous view of Franconia Ridge on the other side of Franconia Notch. Retrace your steps, turning left onto the Kinsman Ridge Trail toward South Kinsman. Descend a steep and rocky col before climbing through scrub to a large cairn at the summit of South Kinsman Mountain. This peak is quite exposed, so use caution in bad weather.

Philip and friends at the South Kinsman summit cairn
Philip and friends at the South Kinsman summit cairn

From the cairn, retrace your steps back to the North Kinsman and Kinsman Junction beyond that, turning right onto the Kinsman Pond Trail where you’ll reach the Kinsman Pond Shelter and Tent Platforms in just 0.1 miles. Kinsman Pond, is just behind the shelter, below the North Kinsman summit. Kinsman Pond freezes in winter, so the word is that it doesn’t hold trout. While the pond is good for a quick dip on a hot day, it’s best to wear wading shoes if you plan to do a little swimming as the bottom is mucky and there may be leeches in the water. While the water in Kinsman Pond is drinkable, filtering or water treatment is recommended.

Kinsman Pond
Kinsman Pond

Return to Kinsman Junction and turn right onto the Fishin Jimmy Trail, a rocky and rolling mountain trail that runs to the Lonesome Lake Hut. Be sure to visit the hut which is open to day hikers. In addition to clean water, there are bathrooms and baked goods for sale. If you want to swim in Lonesome Lake there’s a beach area below the hut. The lake fishing is also very good here, with trout rising the snatch the hatch.

Lonesome Lake
Lonesome Lake

Leave from the lake side of the hut and hike down to Lonesome Lake, following the Cascade Brook Trail for 0.8 miles over boardwalks to the Lonesome Lake Trail. Continue on the Lonesome Lake Trail, descending to a trailhead parking lot in Franconia Notch, next to the Lafayette Place Campground.

Cannon Cliff seen from the Pemi Trail, Franconia Notch
Cannon Cliff seen from the Pemi Trail, Franconia Notch

Turn left when you reach the lot before quickly turning right onto campground entrance road, headed west, away from the campground. The Pemi Trail soon turns left, crosses the river, and then runs north through the upper part of Franconia Notch, parallel to I-93. A fine view of Cannon Cliff will soon be visible to your left. This is a popular rock climbing spot and you may encounter climbers making their way to routes along the cliff face.

Profile Lake, located at the base of Cannon Cliff, is a popular fly fishing destination.
Profile Lake, located at the base of Cannon Cliff, is a popular fly fishing destination.

Continue north along the Pemi Trail, passing Profile Lake on your right. This is a great lake for fly fishing, although the best fishing requires waders or a boat. Imagine standing at the bottom of a great mountain pass surrounded by cliffs and casting a fly rod. You get the picture.

Hike past the end of the lake until the Pemi Trail ends, continuing north along a short stretch of pavement until you reach the Cannon Mountain Tram parking lot, where the route ends.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 8500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 articles as the founder of, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 10 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 560 summits in all four seasons. He is also 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. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.

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, 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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  1. That’s why I tell you exactly where to camp in the trip plan….the Kinsman Pond Shelter and tent platforms at 8.7 miles into the trip. That’s where you should camp. If that’s too far for you to go in one day, climb North and South Kinsman on day 2. They’re very close to the shelter and tent platforms.

  2. You can really start at any lot between L.Place campground and the tram lot. Personally, I hate walking on flat after hiking in elevation, so it would have been nice to park where climbers access the Cannon Cliff. That could just be me, though.

    Great loop, challenging but not excruciating.

  3. Are there any good spots along this route for just regular old wild backcountry camping :-)? Maybe near one of the lakes?

  4. What is the best place to park for the Cannonball loop? Is parking limited? Do you need a pass?

  5. I just did this loop a few days ago – epic indeed! I ended up pushing N & S Kinsman to day 2 to enjoy some time by the lake. Really a great shelter and a fun overnight. Thanks for the trip plan!

  6. Hi! We’re considering part of this trail loop as a first backpacking/camping experience with our two dogs. We thought we’d try one night – trailhead to the first camping spot and then back out before trying more nights. What happens when you get to the first wilderness campsite option and there are already people there? Do you share the site? Is there room for multiple tents on the sites or would we just keep going and make our own site off the trail per White Mountains Backcountry camping protocols?

    • You’ll have a hard time finding a backcountry site at this location unless you all sleep in hammocks. The terrain is just too rugged. If the site is full, you can try to negotiate with the people occupying the shelter or platforms, but if it’s really full…good luck with that. I would just pick a different route. Something far less popular like the loop around Mt Moosilauke. Lots of places to camp back along Tunnel Brook. Or the Wild River Area. ditto.

  7. Hey Philip,
    A few friends and I are doing a backpacking trip this upcoming weekend (Memorial Day Weekend). We want to do a 2 day loop and are novice to intermediate hikers. We were planning on doing this loop, but are concerned that the campsites might be filled up, and you mentioned in a comment that backcountry sites may be difficult to find. Do you have any recommendations for other loops or loops that might have better backcountry camping spots or where you wouldn’t be concerned about campsites filling up? Any guidance would be super helpful and appreciated!

    • Ian – if you’re headed up here with novice hikers, I’d caution you about attempting a 4000-footer with them on a backpacking trip. Backpacking a 4k isn’t easy and I recommend doing day hikes to start. I suggest you find a campsite, either USFS, State of NH, or commercial, so you can basecamp and ease your friends into some scenic day hikes like Mt Chocorua, Mt Tremont, Welch Dickey, Boulder Loop. All these hikes provide tremendous bang for the buck.

      • Thanks Philip and Bill.

        “Novice” may have been downplaying our hiking experience a bit haha. Most of us have gone on one or two backpacking trips (Willey Range Loop in White Mountains, Overall Run & Beecher Ridge Trail in Shenandoah, etc.) and the other is ready for their first. So we are pretty comfortable with going on a backpacking trip, just maybe not this one since we have concerns about the campsite situation, and from what Bill said, it seems very steep and difficult. So we will still do a backpacking trip but maybe a less difficult one. Is there another on your list that might be a better fit?

        Btw we postponed the trip due to the storms on Saturday and will likely be doing this in late June or July.

        Thanks for all your help and guidance! Really appreciate it.

    • Ian, I did this exact loop last August. Philip is correct, the section from the parking lot to the summit of Cannon is pretty much straight up. Then the section of descending Cannon towards the Balls is pretty much straight down and very rugged. It’s making me consider doing the loop in the opposite direction to avoid that descent in the future As far as camping, I stayed at Kinsman Pond Shelter area. All of the platforms were full and the over flow sites were full as well. It was a non holiday weekend to boot.

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