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Hiking South Twin Mountain in Autumn

Mt Garfield and the Franconia Valley
Mt Garfield and the Franconia Valley

Nature Girl and I took a very long hike to South Twin Mountain (4,902 feet) on Saturday, one of my favorite Autumn viewpoints in the White Mountains. We had glorious hiking weather with 50 miles views from the summit. The leaves in the valleys are starting to peak but there is plenty of autumn left up north and you still have time to experience it’s glory.

Hike: South Twin Mountain
Location: Gale River Trail Lot (Haystack Rd), off Rt 3, near Twin Mountain, New Hampshire
Route: Gale River Trail, Twinway
Mountains: South Twin (4,092 feet)
Elevation Gain: 3,400 feet
Distance: 10.4 miles
Available Water: Galehead Hut, Gale River Trail (filter required)

There are thee different routes  to get to South Twin. The first is from Zealand Road via the Twinway and the second is from Mt Garfield via the Garfield Ridge Trail (both of these are sections of the Appalachian Trail). The third and the way we hiked it is via the Gale River Trail which starts at the Gale River Trail Head parking lot, just off Rt 3. This is the easiest of the three routes, except for the last mile up to the AMC Galehead Hut (4.6 miles in) at the base of South Twin. This last section is very steep and we were both huffing and puffing up it.

The Gale River Trail has seen a major reroute since Hurricane Irene hit the region in August. The old route used to follow the Gale up an old lumber railroad grade, but two hiker bridges were wiped out in the storm so the Forest Service re-routed the trail around them. I’m a little conflicted  about the new stretch of trail and I think it’s an eyesore, but that may be because it’s not finished yet.

AMC Galehead Hut
AMC Galehead Hut

We took a 15 minute break at Galehead Hut to eat some foot and camel up before the final push up to the summit of South Twin. The sun was shining brightly and I felt like I could have sat on the porch all day, talking to the other hikers passing through.

I stuck up a conversation with one guy named Brian (trailname Queequeg) who was climbing South Twin to do trail maintenance. He’s the trail adopter for the rugged 2.0 mile stretch of the Twinway that runs from the South Twin summit to the Bondcliff Trail at the base of Mount Guyot. A lot of this section is in krumholz and he had a pair of loppers with him to cut it back. Brian’s been hiking and doing trail maintenance in the Whites for a long time and extolled the benefits of maintaining a remote trail because it forces you to hike into it. This resonated with me. He reckoned that he’s climbed South Twin 70 times!

The Windy South Twin Summit
The Windy South Twin Summit

I’ve climbed South Twin several times before but this was Nature Girl’s first time up it and it’s a challenging scramble to the top. From the GaleHead Hut, the trail to the summit rises 900 feet in 0.8 miles, which qualifies as steep in my book. Going up is easier than coming down though, especially over the parts that have water running down over them!

The views from the top were excellent although there was some lingering haze over Franconia Ridge to the west. The wind was steady at 30 miles an hour, but the temperature was warm, and far warmer that we’d been expecting. We hung out for a while and talked some more to Brian, before gingerly picking out way down to the hut again and hiking out.

Gale River Trail in Autmn
Gale River Trail in Autumn

This was a very pleasant hike, but it was a long one, taking us 8 hours to hike cover to 10.4 miles and 3,400 feet of elevation gain. Frankly, I needed this one and it was good to be in the mountains again. In another month, we’ll be into winter up here, and this hike was a good reminder that I need to get the most out of Autumn before it’s over.


  1. Beautiful! Some day I want to explore the Whites when I am not driven on a thru-hiking mindset!

  2. This mountain is on the AT – you can't miss it!

  3. South Twin is a classic in the Whites. Without really meaning to, I think I've climbed it more than any other 4000 Footer in New Hampshire. And I certainly can't complain about that! Glad you made it up there so you could show us the photos. Glorious.

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