Hiking Franconia Ridge
Franconia Ridge is one of the top alpine traverses in the White Mountains, so when I learned we’d get a clear day last Saturday, I decided to hike it again to take in the views and climb two 5,000 footers, Mt Lafayette and Mt Lincoln. The weather turned out to be awesome, cool and very clear. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Hike: Franconia Ridge
Location: Franconia Notch, Lafayette Place Parking Lot off Interstate 93 north
Route: Falling Waters Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Old Bridle Path, Greenleaf Trail, Franconia Bike Path back to parking
Mountains: Little Haystack (4,780 ft), Mt Lincoln (5,089 ft), Mt Lafayette (5,260 ft)
Elevation Gain: 4,000 ft
Distance: 11 miles
Available Water: Shining Rock (requires filter), Greenleaf Hut
I took a few new trails on this climb, ascending by the Falling Waters Trail and descending by the Greenleaf Trail through Eagle Pass, on the northwestern flank of Mt Lafayette.
The Falling Waters Trail is lovely but fairly steep, climbing about 2,700 feet in 3 miles. There are lovely cascades and waterfalls along the climb though, with plenty of nice spots to stop or refill your water if you have a filter or purifier. There is water along the trail to about 3,000 feet or 1 hour into the climb. The summit ridge trail is dry.
The Falling Waters Trail climbs up to the summit of Little Haystack at 4,780 ft. Just below it,at about 4,300 ft, is a huge rock slab called Shining Rock which you can see from the base of Franconia Notch. It is reachable via a signed spur trail and is an excellent location for lunch or a snack break with an excellent view of Cannon Cliff. There is also water here, running down the face of the rock and in a very small stream.
The summit of Haystack is fairly exposed when you get to it although there is some cover on the east face below the summit if you want to get out of the wind. The Franconia Ridge Trail, which is on the Appalachian Trail, intersects the Falling Waters Trail here. To get to Mt Lincoln and Lafayette, turn left (north) and to get to Mt Liberty and Mt Flume, turn right (south). All of these peak are located on the same 5 mile ridge walk, making this an incredible end-to-end traverse, if you feel up to doing it all in one day.
After reaching the top of Haystack, I put on a windshirt and headed north in brilliant sunshine and relatively light wind. To give you a sense of scale, the summit of Mt Lincoln is 2/3 of a mile away.
To get to the summit, you walk along a knife edge trail bordered by cairns because you are way above treeline. The views from up here are tremendous on a clear day and you can see dozens and dozens of other 4,000 footers to the east and west. Many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers consider this ridge to be one of the pinnacles of their 2,000 mile hikes and for good reason.
After the summit of Lincoln, you come to a small knob which is frequently unnamed on maps, but has been known as Mt Truman or simply North Lincoln, in the past. It’s a nice place to stop for a picnic in the sunshine before you continue on to crowded Mt Lafayette, the highest peak on the ridge.
Lafayette is crowded because there’s an Appalachian Mountain Club hut called the Greenleaf Hut about 1 mile below it’s summit where hikers can get potable water and sit down rest as they climb or descend the peak. If you want some solitude, the best place for it is slightly north on the shoulder of the big peak. No one walks here except thru-hikers and there are many excellent places to sit and hang out. The area below the summit of Lafayette, around the alpine tarns, called Eagle Lakes, is another nice place, but is now closed for vegetation regeneration.
I descended from Lafayette down to the hut, refilled a water bottle, and continued down a lesser known path called the Greenleaf Trail. This trail was the original trail up to the hut and Lafayette before the Old Bridle Trail was constructed. It’s a much easier descent in my opinion, but it is not as well maintained and needs a good brushing.
I came this way because I wanted to experience Eagle Pass, which is narrow ravine on the northwestern face of Lafayette. Amazingly, there is still snow in it, deep amidst the moss and rocks.
Continuing further, the Greenleaf trail ends on at the access road to Cannon Mountain, close to the Franconia Notch bike path. From there, it was about a 2.5 mile walk back to the base of the Falling Waters and Old Bridge Path trails, where I was parked.
Just an amazing hike, in perfect weather. If you’ve never been on Franconia Ridge, you don’t know what you are missing. This is the White Mountains as it’s best.
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