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Owl’s Head Revisited

Lincoln, Lafayette, and Garfield from Owlshead - White Mountains

I had a big walk on Saturday, climbing another 4,000 footer on the White Mountain List named Owl’s Head (4,025 ft), hiking the 18 mile round trip with about 2,500 of ascent in exactly 9 hours, starting from the Lincoln Brook trail head off, the Kancamagus Highway.

Climbing Owl’s Head is not that hard, but the hike in is quite long and involves a lot of stream crossings. Most people shorten the route by doing a bushwhack, but I took the long way hiking up the Lincoln Woods Trail to the Franconia Brook Trail and then along the Lincoln Brook Trail to the base of the peak.

It’s a very beautiful walk alongside a large White Mountain stream with plenty of very private swimming holes, and I can’t imagine why people insist on taking the bushwhack shortcut.

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The highpoint of climbing Owl’s Head is definitely the western slide, which rises about 1,300 feet in just over a mile. If you like bouldering or rock scrambling this is a delightful climb with lots of great rock problems on the way up. While the summit is viewless, there are excellent views of the east side of Franconia Ridge from the slide, including views of Mt’s Lincoln, and Lafayette and Mt Garfield in the distance (top photo.)

Franconia Ridge from the East

Descending the slide is harder, but even more fun if you like this kind of thing. On the way down, I collapsed my poles and attached them to my pack using the ice axe loops so I could climb down facing the rock face. The lower parts of the slide have the consistency of gravel, so you need to watch your footing, but it’s not that difficult if you are patient.

The weather on Saturday was extremely hot reaching 94 F with high humidity. Luckily, this hike had a lot of stream crossings (and mud), so I was able to stay reasonably cool. The water temperature is still in the low 40’s up here even in the heat of summer.

I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and backpacking in the Sandwich and Pemigewasset Ranges of the Whites this year, and I’m a little burned out on hiking the same trunk trails. The time has come to swing my attention back to AT Section Hiking and some other long hikes in the Presidential and Pilot Ranges I want to do. Fun stuff, and even more remote, on the horizon.


  1. Beautiful Pics! Wow, 18 miles Sounds like it was a great hike.

  2. Did you notice any good areas around Owlshead trail that would be good for backcountry camping? beautiful back there and this would cut up the trip into two nice days. I know there are a lot of wet areas

  3. The place is so over-run that I'd recommend doing it as a day hike, or only staying at designated camp sites. The people impact, especially at the bottom of the owls head slide is really ugly. There are 2 campsites nearby, but both are probably sub-optimal. The 13 Falls site would be nice, but the trail between it and Owlhead is in very poor repair and almost invisible. I got lost on it the first time I tried to climb the peak.

    The other campsite is on the other side of the Pemi above the Lincoln Woods visitor center. The problem with it is that you'd need to ford the Pemi to avoid hiking the entire route. I'm not sure what the stream crossing there is like or if it's even possible. Let me know if you do it. It would make the Bonds hike shorter too.

  4. I've been on that back side of the trail coming off of the Bonds- It definitely isn't a cakewalk in the dark. I have to add one more note to anyone using this as research. In summer this is one very dark trail in the dark- The tree cover is heavy and the trail while flat, is not straight, meandering around trees. Headlamp and extra batteries are highly suggested. A long trip out in the dark is a real head game.

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