The Squam Range overlooks beautiful Squam Lake in the southernmost part of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. It’s possible to hike over all of the mountains in the range by following the 11.3 miles Crawford-Ridgepole Trail which runs from Sandwich Notch Road in near Center Sandwich to the top of Cotton Mountain, just outside of Holderness, NH.
- Doublehead Mountain (2158′)
- Mt Squam (2223′)
- Mt Percival (2212′)
- Mt Morgan (2200′)
- Mt Webster (2051′)
- Mt Livermore (1500′)
- Cotton Mountain (1210′)
While the peaks along the Squam Range are not as high as the 4000 footers to the north, this traverse has over 3000 feet of cumulative elevation gain along its length, making it a good training hike for some of the longer day hikes and traverses one can do in other regions of the Whites. The Squam Range Traverse is also a very good early spring hike (April/May) that doesn’t have any lingering ice or monorail on it, since the peaks along the ridge are all under 2,500 feet in height.
A car spot is required for this hike. The best place to park is at the Beede Falls trailhead off Sandwich Notch Rd which has space for about 6 cars. From there, it’s about a 1/2 mile hike (north along the road) to the start of the Crawford Ridgepole Trail. The best place to park at the southern end of at the Cotton Mountain Trail kiosk which is 1.0 miles north of the intersections of Rt 3 and Rt 113 in Holderness. The best map for this hike is published by the Squam Lake Association which maintains the Crawford Ridgepole Trail (yellow-blazed). I’ve also published a GPS route below which can be exported via Caltopo.com and I’ve shared my GPX files with the OpenStreetMap Project, so you can download maps with accurate trail information using the GaiaGPS Smartphone App.
The hike starts with a steep climb up Doublehead Mountain, which is the northernmost peak on the route. Once you reach the ridge, you’ll stay on top of of it for most of the hike only dipping and climbing again in the cols between the peaks.
The northern half of the ridgeline is quite exposed to the wind, sun, and elements, so be sure to bring a wind shirt, rain gear, and sun protection depending on the weather conditions. There is a significant amount of open ledge and granite during the walk, with excellent viewpoints from most of the peaks or their subsidiary ledges.
Upon reaching the junction with the Doublehead Mountain Trail, be sure to hike down that trail for about 1/10 of a mile to a magnificent open ledge with a grand view of Squam Lake and the surrounding region.
The best place to stop for lunch is at the wide open summit ledge on Mt Percival about 40% of the way through the hike. You can see the entire northern and southern extent of the ridgeline from this point, as well as the Rattlesnake Mountains at the foot of Percival along the shore of Squam Lake and neighboring Mt Morgan. Morgan and Percival are one of the favorite loop hikes of the White Mountains and well worth a return visit to approach the peak using different trails.
Upon reaching Mt Morgan, one has the option of descending following the Crawford-Ridgepole trail around the summit ledges or taking a short detour and climbing down the famous ladders down the front face of Morgan, which rejoin the Crawford-Ridgepole shortly after. Scrambling down the rocky face of Morgan is not for the faint of heart though and can be avoided by staying on the Crawford-Ridgepole Trail.
Once past Morgan, the trail becomes significantly less rocky and faster to hike, as you gradually descend back to the level of the lake passing Mt’s Webster, Livermore, and Cotton Mountains. There are also excellent views from each of these peaks, but the hiking takes on a softer, forested aspect and its possible to make up a little time if you spend longer than expected gawking at the views farther north.
The Crawford-Ridgepole Trail ends when you reach the top of Cotton Mountain. Simply follow the yellow blazes downhill, past a gravel pit (bearing right), and you’ll soon come to the kiosk where your car is parked.
The total distance for this hike is about 13 miles and it can be hiked in about 8.5 hours, with ample time for breaks and view appreciation as you work your way south.