“That was a much bigger ass-kicking than I expected,” said Trey, describing the hike we did of the Belknap Range in Southern New Hampshire. We’d just climbed all 12 of the mountains required for the Belknap Range Patch in one 11 hour hike and we were exhausted. Trey had estimated the distance at 15 miles with 5600 feet of elevation, although I came out with 18 miles and 6000 feet when I got home and mapped our route in Caltopo, shown below.
Whatever, the Belknap Range is a great place to hike if there’s still snow in the White Mountains in spring or if you want a challenge closer to Boston (which is only about 90 miles south). Overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee, the views are gorgeous and the trail system is well maintained. For a good map of the peaks and trails, see https://belknaprange.org/images/Two-sided_Map_for_Website.pdf.
We started our hike on Mount Major which is the easternmost peak in the range and ended our traverse at Mt Rowe, just north of Gunstock Mountain, where we’d left a car for the reverse shuttle in the ski resort parking lot. Both lots see heavy traffic and are heavily patrolled by the local cops, so cars are safe if left for the day. There is no camping along the trails which are privately owned for the most part, and unprotected (meaning – don’t piss off the landowners who permit the public to use the land for day use.)
While the peaks in the Belknap Range aren’t very high, there are a lot of them, and the elevation really starts to add up if you try to hike all of them in one day.
- Rowe (1690′)
- Gunstock (2250′)
- Belknap (2382′)
- Piper (2044′)
- Whiteface (1664′)
- Mack (1945′)
- Klem (2001′)
- Rand (1883′)
- Anna (1670′)
- Quarry W. (1894′)
- Straightback, S, (1890′)
- Major (1786′)
The terrain is a combination of open forest and ledge with a surprising number of bald open summits, making for outstanding views of the surrounding ridges, peaks, and the Winnipesaukee archipelago. If you’re familiar with the Middlesex Fells outside of Boston, also the location of an old volcano, the terrain is surprisingly similar but higher in elevation.
When planning to hike the Belknap Range, you simply can’t follow the BRT trail marked on the map and expect to bag all 12 peaks. Doing so requires at least two out and backs, the first from North Straightback Mountain to W. Quarry and Rand, and the second from Piper Mountain out to Whiteface and back up to the Piper summit en route to Mt Belknap. Other routes are possible, but can add significant mileage to a regular BRT traverse.
Water is available at Round Pond and in several nearby streams. You must treat it however, so bring a filter or Aqua Mira. In all, I went through four liters on this hike. One for prehydrating in the car, two which I carried in, and one which I resupplied along the way. I needed it.
There was still some ice and snow when we hiked the route, but mostly on the north face of Mt Belknap and Gunstock, which are the two highest peaks on the range. Even then, we were able to skirt most of the ice by bushwhacking or using the roots and rocks along the trail to make our way without falling. There is some monorail on the higher peaks, but it’s mostly soft mush at this point and not deep enough to posthole. We got by with lightly insulated winter boots and gaiters for this hike.
We were all quite impressed with the trail system which is well blazed and signed. There are plenty of opportunities for shorter excursions in this area and excellent picnicking potential on the bare open summits.
While Mount Major is probably the best known peak in the range and a popular hiking destination due to it’s fine views of Lake Winnipesaukee, my favorite peak on this hike was definitely Piper Mountain with 360 views of the lakes region including the awesome southern ledges of Mount Belknap.
For more information about hiking in the Bellknap Range and nearby trail systems south of the White Mountains, check out the AMC’s Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide which complements the maps available from the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition.