The Snows Mountain Trail is a loop hike in Waterville Valley, on the southwest side of the White Mountain National Forest. The trailhead is hard to find, being situated halfway up the hill of a now-defunct ski slope, but well worth the effort.
This part of the White Mountain National Forest is licensed by the Waterville Valley Ski Resort which has developed their cross-country ski trail system amidst the national forest’s hiking trail system. That can make navigation a bit difficult in Waterville Valley, since the ski resort doesn’t list the free Forest Service Trails on their maps and local mapmakers don’t list the ski resort’s trails on theirs, even though the two are tightly intermingled. Therefore, I always bring a GPS along when I hike in Waterville Valley, usually the Gaia Navigation App on my iPhone, to avoid getting hopelessly lost in the maze of trails here.
I needed it for this hike of the Snows Mountain Trail since finding the trailhead half-way up this defunct ski slope was difficult. The challenge was well worth it however because the Snows Mountain Trail is a gem and barely used. The day I hiked it I had to wear snowshoes for the entire route. The snow was quite deep with over a foot of fresh powder. There was no evidence that anyone had been there this winter before me, just a four mile loop of undisturbed snow.
I don’t normally snowshoe solo in winter, but I figured this hike was a justifiable risk since the adjacent trails are heavily patrolled by ski resort staff. It was a blustery day though, so I bundled up and brought a pair of insulated water bottles full of hot boiled herb tea.
While the snow was deep, probably 3-4 feet on the ground, it was dry and fluffy and not that difficult to snowshoe through. The trail was also well-marked with yellow blazes, although you had to look hard for them occasionally. Many of the blazes were quite old, literally chopped through the bark and into the tree (later painted), so I figured this must be a very old trail cut before trail maintainers stopped blazing trails that way.
The Snows Mountain Trail is a loop hike up and along a long ridge, with a short spur trail at the end to an outlook over the Acteon Ridge. The southern half of the trail drops below the ridgeline and loses elevation quickly as it plunges down into the valley below.
The first part of the loop climbs gradually up what is called the Woodbury Trail on the map above, before it was renamed and subsumed by the Snows Mountain Trail. Once you’ve attained the ridge, the trail runs on top in open forest. The spur trail at the end leads to a viewpoint on top of a moderately sized boulder, although the view is now somewhat obscured. Despite that, I could recognize the distinctive top of Jennings Peak, located on the other side of Rt 49.
As I stood there admiring the view, I opened up my pack and decided to have a snack. Lacking plastic bags, I’d used a yogurt container to hold my snacks: bagel chips, animal crackers, and a few chunks of bulk milk chocolate. Fortunately or unfortunately, the yogurt container had sat next to one of my hot water bottles inside my backpack, melting the chocolate all over the bagel chips and animal crackers. It’s times like these when you’re glad no one is around! I dug in anyway and enjoyed my accidental s’mores, melted chocolate covering my hand.
Restored, I about faced and boogied down the southern section of the trail, skiing on my snowshoes during the steepest parts of the descent. Hiking up the north side and down the south side is definitely the best direction to hike this trail, especially since the southern trail head is obfuscated by vacation homes. I popped out of the woods in someones driveway (this is actually where the trail terminates), but couldn’t find any sign indicating that the Snow Mountain Trail begins. It might have been plowed under in their driveway.
Total distance: 4.1 miles with 1300′ of elevation gain
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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