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

Rating/Difficulty

*****/4 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

15 miles w/5000′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Cannon
  • North Kinsman
  • South Kinsman

Recommended Duration

2 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

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountain Trail Map 4: Moosilauke-Kinsman (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. 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 relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • 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

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.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Sandwich Range 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

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 Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He's also finished hiking many of the region's peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

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. 

Published 2018.

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3 comments

  1. Just wondering if you did this in one day. From the way the established camping sites are, I’m not sure how I’d break it up. Any advice on where/when to set up camp would be appreciated!!

    • 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.

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