Hiking an Attitash Trail Traverse

Paul surveys the Sandwich Range from a Table Mountain ledge
Paul surveys the Sandwich Range from a Table Mountain ledge

The Attitash Trail runs west to east over Table Mountain and Big Attitash (Mtn) before dropping down to Diana’s Baths outside of North Conway. It’s a pretty trail to hike in autumn when the leaves have fallen and you can see views of peaks and waterfalls that are normally hidden by the trees. I hiked it on a recent Friday accompanied by a few friends from the Random Hikers Meetup Group who have the flexibility to hike during the week and wanted the opportunity to get out on a fine day.

The White Mountains have been experiencing a drought over the past two months, but several days of constant rain had refilled the rivers and streams, which were gushing along the trail. These were pretty to observe at a distance, but necessitated a surprising number of stream crossings. I’m pretty much immune to wet shoes, but it was a learning experience for some of my companions who have led a charmed life when it comes to wet boots and footwear. They picked up the basics of stream fording pretty quickly after they got their shoes wet and there was no point in trying to rock hop anymore (see Expert Stream Crossing Tips.)

Lucy Brook was running higher than normal requiring some wet stream crossings
Lucy Brook was running higher than normal requiring some wet stream crossings

The western trail head for the Attitash Trail leaves from Bear Notch Road, a seasonal road that’s gated and closed to wheeled vehicles in winter. No one knows the exact date that the State of New Hampshire will decide to close it for the winter, although it’s usually around Thanksgiving or the first decent snowfall.  Once closed, there’s no good way to get to this end of the trail short of a snowmobile.

We ran a shuttle for this hike, parking at the lot for Diana’s Baths on Westside Rd and then driving a few cars back to the Table Mountain trailhead. It’s a 9.6 mile thru-hike end to end with only one intersecting trail near the east end, so it’s pretty all or nothing unless you’re willing to backtrack. Parking at the Table Mountain trailhead is very limited and rough, so bring a high clearance vehicle if you have one.

Previous Trip Reports and Nearby Excursions

The trail climbs steadily from the trailhead adjacent to a stream, passing a marvelous falls and swimming hole. It’s a bit of a hike in, but well worth it if you want a cool summertime diversion that few people know about. The trail was in good shape, but moist from the recent rains and I cursed silently whenever I felt cold water entering my mesh trail runners. It’s getting to be that time of year where I need to switch to insulated waterproof boots, but I’m trying to put that moment off as long as possible.

The trail climbs steadily through open woods to Table Mountain
The trail climbs steadily through open woods to Table Mountain

The trail curves uphill steadily and reaches a series of marvelous viewpoints on Table Mountain, with excellent views of Mt Chocorua, high peaks of the Sandwich Mountain Range, and the mighty Swift River below. We lingered for a long time at each ledge, the next bigger than the last, soaking up the sunshine and the views below.

Beyond Table Mountain, the trail drops into a col before climbing steeply through spruce to Big Attitash Mountain. The last time I was here the trail was thickly overgrown and difficult to follow with spruce branches from the adjacent trees closing in on the trail. The trails has since been brushed and is now easy to follow. After climbing a false summit, the trail travels through an alpine bog which you have to walk through if you want to get to the summit just beyond. There’s no way to avoid getting your shoes or boots soaked here unless you have a jetpack.

Denise walks into the alpine guard bog below Big Attitash Mtn
Denise walks into the alpine guard bog below Big Attitash Mtn

When we arrived at the summit of Big Attitash, there was evidence that a small forest fire, with burned tree trunks where the summit canister had been the last time I’d visited the peak. It’s hard to know if the fire was natural or man-made. We stopped and had a quick lunch here, but quickly packed up when people started to get cold.

The descent down the back side of Big Attitash is quite steep, but coming down is better than going up with gravity against you. The trail runs adjacent to a small stream which plunges down a narrow ravine creating picturesque cascades within arm’s reach. The trail bottoms out eventually where we saw a high waterfall, one that is likely invisible when the trees have leaves. I’m going to have to tell Greg Parsons, author of New England Waterfalls about this one and see if he knows about it. It’s a big one!

Two waterfalls merge at the bottom of the climb up to Big Attitash
Two waterfalls merge at the bottom of the climb up to Big Attitash

While our shoes were damp when we got to this point, the real fun – in terms of water crossings – was yet to come in the final 3 miles to Diana’s Baths. The small stream that runs adjacent to the Attitash Trail grows larger and larger as you walk down the valley, becoming Lucy Brook, before emptying into the Saco River (at the stretch with the best fly fishing on the river.)

We had to cross Lucy Brook several times. Some of these were rock hops, but three of the crossings could only be achieved by fords that reached up mid-calf or higher. Most of us were wearing mesh trail runners, but a few of our party were in leather boots and they weren’t too happy about having to cross these streams under water. That’s the way it goes. Once they took the plunge and gave in to the inevitable, they quickly adjusted to wet socks and wet boots, hesitating less and less at every crossing we had to make.

The last stream crossing across Lucy Brook near the Red Ridge trail junction
The last stream crossing across Lucy Brook near the Red Ridge trail junction

While seldom hiked in its entirety, the Atttash Trail is really nice day long day hike that travels through diverse terrain. While the trail travels off the beaten path, it’s actually quite close to North Conway and Bartlett, making for a nice adventure when you don’t feel like driving a huge distance to experience some solitude.

Attitash Trail (Click for Printable PDF)
Attitash Trail (Click for Printable PDF)

Total Distance 9.3 miles with 2500′ elevation gain.

Written 2017.

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One comment

  1. Philip,

    Sounds like a fun hike – minus the wet boots! I also enjoy hiking during the fall, because you can see new views that would normally be hidden by the leaves.

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