Looking to hike one of the best hikes in New Hampshire? In this guide we’re sharing how to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop in the White Mountains.
A couple years ago we learned about New Hampshire’s White Mountains and instantly added the region to our hiking bucket list. The rocky peaks we saw in photos completely blew our little knowledge of what New Hampshire looked like out of the water and reminded us more of the hikes we had done out west, not out east.
The top experience we wanted to have when we finally were able to visit the region in the fall of 2021 was hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop. Deemed the #1 hike in New Hampshire on AllTrails, we had some high expectations for this trail and we’re happy to say it completely blew us away.
Watch our experience hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop in New Hampshire.
With waterfalls, a beautiful forest, SO many mountain views, and even snacks, this hike totally deserves its praise and popularity. We had the best morning and afternoon on this trail and despite hiking a ton of epic trails out west in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming beforehand, it easily ranks as one of our favorite hikes of 2021.
In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop, including the trailhead, parking, what to expect along the way, and things to bring with you. We hope you enjoy this trail as much as we did!
Looking for more things to do in New England?
- Hiking to Mount Pisgah in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom
- How to hike to the Bald Mountain Fire Tower in Vermont
- 7 Day Vermont Road Trip Itinerary
- How to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
- The BEST Things to do in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
- The ULTIMATE Guide to driving the Kancamagus Highway
- How to Backpack the Cutler Coast in Maine
- About the Franconia Ridge Loop
- Franconia Ridge Loop Stats
- How to get to the Franconia Ridge Loop
- When to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop
- Things to know before visiting the Franconia Ridge Loop
- What to Bring to the Franconia Ridge Loop
- Our Experience hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop
- Where to stay near the Franconia Ridge Loop
- Other things to do near the Franconia Ridge Loop
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About the Franconia Ridge Loop
New Hampshire’s White Mountains cover about 25% of the state and feature some of the most rugged mountains in all of New England, including the majority of the state’s 48 4,000 footers, which are peaks over 4,000 feet tall and with a prominence of at least 200 feet.
Conquering 4,000 footers is similar to conquering 14ers in Colorado and if you are one of the hardy souls to hike to the summit of all the NH48, you will earn a nifty patch! Not sure where to start? The Franconia Ridge Loop is a good option, as it summits two 4,000 footers, Mount Lafayette (5,260 ft) and Mount Lincoln (5,089 ft), plus Little Haystack (4,725 ft), which isn’t technically a 4,000 footer due to its low prominence.
While the views from these summits, as well as the ridgeline between them, are incredible, along the trail you’ll also be treated to many waterfalls as you steeply climb through the forest, as well as the Greenleaf Hut on your way down.
The Greenleaf Hut is perched above Eagle Lake, below Mount Lafayette, and is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The hut is open for full service from June-mid October and they have bunk rooms for overnight hikers, as well as hot meals. But for day hikers, they have some delicious treats and drinks you can buy as well!
With waterfalls, mountain views, AND snacks, the Franconia Ridge Loop is basically the best hike ever!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Franconia Ridge Loop Stats
Miles (round trip): 9.3
Elevation gain: 3,809 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The Franconia Ridge Loop consists of a few different trails: the Falling Waters Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail (which is part of the Appalachian Trail), Greenleaf Trail, and Old Bridle Path Trail.
You can go clockwise or counterclockwise on this loop, but we decided to go counterclockwise (taking the Falling Waters Trail first) so that we could summit the tallest peak last and also visit the Greenleaf Hut on the way down. We recommend this if you want the full experience of this hike!
While this is a popular hike, it’s definitely not easy and we wouldn’t recommend it as your first-ever hike. The trail is steep, gaining 3,809 feet, with the majority of it being in the first 3.6 miles on your way up to Little Haystack (if going counterclockwise). We were breathing pretty heavily and our legs were burning a bit towards the end of this stretch!
But once you reach your first summit, it’s relatively flat across the ridgeline to the next two summits, with minimal elevation gain as you approach the summit. This is hands down the best part of the hike, as you have phenomenal views in every direction. Unlike some hikes we have done out east, where you only really get views at the summit, this hike offers views for a solid 1.5 miles along the ridgeline.
Another thing we loved about this hike is that since it’s a loop, you get a different experience on the way down. However, going down is very steep as well, especially if going counterclockwise, as you’ll be descending from the highest peak back down to the trailhead. Thankfully there is the Greenleaf Hut along the way to offer your legs and lungs a bit of a break and we also found the Old Bridle Path trail to offer a few more views when going down.
How to get to the Franconia Ridge Loop
The Franconia Ridge Loop begins at the Old Bridle Path Trailhead, which is located in north-central New Hampshire in the White Mountains, just south of Littleton and north of Lincoln. While not super close to any major cities, the area itself offers a TON to do and is also close to other popular destinations in both Vermont and Maine.
Flying to the White Mountains
The best airport to fly into to visit the White Mountains is the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), which is a massive airport that is serviced by all major airlines and offers nonstop flights from many destinations in the United States. The drive from Boston to the trailhead is between 2-2.5 hours.
Driving to the White Mountains
If you are driving to the White Mountains, here is how long you can expect to drive to the trailhead from some various cities nearby:
Stowe, VT: 1 hour, 45 minutes (88 miles)
Portsmouth, NH: 2 hours (128 miles)
Burlington, VT: 2 hours, 10 minutes (118 miles)
Portland, ME: 2.5 hours (103 miles)
Acadia National Park: 4 hours, 45 minutes (245 miles)
When to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop
The Franconia Ridge Loop can be hiked year round, with each season offering a different experience. For this guide we’ll be focusing on hiking in the summer and fall, as that’s the most popular time to hike (and when we hiked) and gives you the full Greenleaf Hut experience, but here’s what you can expect in each season.
The White Mountains receive on average 70+ inches of snow per year, with Mount Washington, the highest point in the state receiving 23 FEET! If you enjoy snowy adventures, you can hike the Franconia Ridge Loop in the winter, with some people even hiking all 4,000 footers in the winter, but you will need microspikes or snowshoes.
The spring is known as “mud season” in New Hampshire, which is when the snow starts to melt, creating wet and muddy trails. If you want to beat the crowds, hiking in the late spring, before the summer rush, will be a good time to have some solitude. Just make sure to read trail reports beforehand and bring microspikes just in case!
Summer is a gorgeous time to visit the area, but it is also the busiest, so prepare to encounter more people. The trees will be nice and green, making the views extra pretty, and the weather should be perfect, with sunnier skies and highs in the 70s or 80s. It will feel colder at the top though, so make sure to still pack layers!
The Greenleaf Hut opens for full service in June, so if you want to experience this unique feature on the trail, summer is a great time to go!
We hiked this trail in early October, close to peak foliage for the area, and it was incredible to see the fall foliage from the top! Fall foliage varies year to year and we found this website to be helpful to find out about the current conditions.
During our visit to the area in the fall, the weather varied a bit. The days before our hike, the area got nonstop rain, so we put off the hike until a clearer day and we’re so glad we did. We ended up hiking on a super clear, warmer than expected (70+ degrees) sunny day…it was perfect! We highly recommend waiting for a clear day to do this hike so you don’t miss out on the views.
Another thing to keep in mind if hiking in the fall is that the Greenleaf Hut is open until mid-October, so we suggest hiking by that timeframe so you can experience the Greenleaf Hut while on your hike.
Best days and time to hike
This hike can get VERY busy, especially during the summer, fall foliage, and on the weekends. We suggest hiking on a weekday if possible and starting before sunrise. We hiked on a Friday in October (right before a holiday weekend) and started right before sunrise and while we saw people, it wasn’t too horribly busy.
Things to know before visiting the Franconia Ridge Loop
Before heading to the trail, here are a few more things to know to ensure you’re prepared and have a fun hike.
There are 133 spots at the trailhead, which may seem like a lot, but it fills up fast! When we started our hike before sunrise, there were probably 40 cars parked, with some people being overnight backpackers we assume. When we returned from the hike, it was 100% full, with people having to park across US Highway 93 at Lafayette Place (there are only 22 spots) or in an overflow lot and take a shuttle (more on that below).
As for parking fees, we had read some conflicting info on this, with some websites saying it costs $4/person and others saying it’s $3/day to park in the trailhead parking lot. But when we arrived there was a sign saying payment was not required. We suggest bringing some cash just in case this changes, as we have struggled to find accurate information online whether that was normal or just a one off situation.
If the parking lot is full there is a shuttle from the “Peabody Big Lot” at Cannon Mountain. It is the big, gravel lot directly across the road from Cannon Mountain Base Lodge. This will take you southbound and drop you off at the Lafayette Campground which is across US Highway 93 from the trailhead. There is a pedestrian pathway that passes under the highway to get you to the trailhead safely. When you’re done with your hike, the shuttle will take you back to the gravel lot from the trailhead.
The four shuttle vans run on Saturdays and Sundays 8:30 AM to 8 PM. The shuttle costs $5 roundtrip per hiker, cash only, and you’ll pay the driver and they will give you a ticket. Be sure to hang on to this ticket during your hike because you will need it for your return trip.
The last shuttle leaves at 8 PM, so don’t miss it! You can use your ticket the next day if you’re staying overnight, but only if the shuttle is running. You can also take your well mannered dog onto the shuttle. For more information about the shuttle, check out the state park website.
There are restrooms right after you start the trail, as well as several portapotties in the parking lot. Along the trail, there are no restrooms until you reach the Greenleaf Hut, so if you decide to use the restroom on the trail, please ensure you go at least 100 feet from any water source.
And PLEASE pack out any toilet paper and make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole for human waste. You can also bring a wag bag to carry out your waste, although not required.
Dogs are welcome on the Franconia Ridge Loop, but please keep them on a leash, especially when in the alpine area, as it’s very fragile terrain. The trail is mostly easy for dogs, but there are many steep sections and big rock slabs you will need to traverse. Kona loved every bit of this hike because we believe she is part mountain goat.
What to Bring to the Franconia Ridge Loop
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. And if you’d like to stay the night at the Greenleaf Hut, you can see all of our backpacking gear, plus a packing list here.
But for this specific hike, we want to emphasize bringing a few items with you:
If you want to get a treat or drink at the Greenleaf Hut (we will share more about this in the “our experience” part of the guide), make sure to bring cash! We spent under $10 for a piece of coffee cake and lemonade. You may also want to bring cash just in case they are charging for parking.
We don’t typically use hiking poles because we just do not have enough hands with filming and walking Kona, but we can definitely see how these could be helpful on this trail, as it’s pretty steep and our knees hurt a bit. If we were to buy some we’d most likely have these, as they are super light.
If hiking in the winter or early spring, you will want to bring some extra gear with you, including snowshoes and microspikes. The Kahtoola MICROspikes are AMAZING and the best investment we have made for hiking. They have made hiking in icy and snowy conditions so easy! We also suggest bringing gloves and hothands, which will come in handy (get it?!).
Our Experience hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop
After arriving at the Old Bridle Path Trailhead parking lot in the dark, we waited a bit in the van to hit the trail right before sunrise. Despite our love of beating crowds, we didn’t want to start too early, since we heard that there was a nice waterfall on the trail and we wanted to be able to see it with some light.
Regardless if you do the hike clockwise or counterclockwise, you start on the same trail, before splitting off about 0.3 miles in. Once getting onto the Falling Waters Trail, we quickly learned why it was given that name, as we kept coming across rivers and small waterfalls. We weren’t expecting so many and it was gorgeous!
The trail starts to gain elevation once on the Falling Waters Trail and at about 1.5 miles in, we reached Cloudland Falls, which is the largest of the falls on the trail and cascades down a rockface. It’s beautiful!
From here, it’s pretty much up and up and up through the forest as we approached Little Haystack. At first, the elevation gain didn’t seem too bad, but towards the end of the forested stretch we were exhausted.
But as soon as we reached Little Haystack, we were treated to the most incredible views. We gasped as we saw mountains ALL around us! While Little Haystack isn’t an official 4,000 footer, it still offers stellar mountain views all around.
We ate a quick snack and continued along the ridgeline to Mount Lincoln. The ridgeline is mostly flat, with some elevation gain and a bit of scrambling as we got closer to the top, but nothing difficult. We really loved being on the ridgeline during this hike, it made the payoff of the steep forested climb so much greater by getting to spend so much time above the trees.
At the top of Mount Lincoln, we had more amazing views and despite not being too far from Little Haystack, each peak offered a slightly different view, as more scenery emerged. We could see Mount Washington, which is the highest point in New Hampshire at 6,288 feet, and is known for having CRAZY winds at the top, with the highest recorded being 231 mph in 1934, the second highest wind speed ever recorded on earth.
While you can hike, drive, or take a cog railway up to the top of Mount Washington, we decided to skip it this time and are so glad we did the Franconia Ridge Loop. We continued the final stretch along the ridgeline to Mount Lafayette, which is the tallest of the three peaks.
Once arriving at the top of Mount Lafayette, we could see even more views out to the north and northwest. The summit was pretty large, with plenty of rocks to spread out and enjoy a snack, but just make sure to keep an eye out for fragile alpine terrain.
One thing we loved about the summit is that unlike Mount Marcy in New York, it was not super windy! While this can vary everyday, we were fortunate to get to enjoy the summit without having to yell at each other to talk or feeling like we may fall over.
We could see the Greenleaf Hut from the top, which was our next destination, and began our descent down to it. This part of the hike was super steep and it was the first time my (Kathryn) knees have really bothered me on a hike, so hiking poles would be helpful here.
After a very long mile, we made it to the Greenleaf Hut, which brought us back a bit to our time in the Italian Dolomites, where refugios are super common in the mountains and offer shelter and food items. We found a spot around back to sit with views of the lake below and grabbed some food items inside.
They have a tray of sweet treats to pick from and you leave cash in a pumpkin bucket. We got an apple coffee cake, which was so moist and delicious and definitely the best thing we’ve ever eaten hiking, and a lemonade. Getting to enjoy these treats with a view of where we just climbed down from was amazing!
We tried to book it down the rest of the way, as we were tired and the sun had been beating on us for the entire ridgeline. The hike down was steep, with some spots where we had to crouch down and use our hands, but overall it wasn’t bad and offered more views of the three peaks we had just summited, as well as the surrounding area.
The whole way down we dreamt of a delicious post hike meal, so as soon as we got back to the van we booked it to Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers in North Conway, which was SO delicious. We highly recommend the Wicked Hangry burger, which was an accurate description of how we felt during the end of this hike.
This spot isn’t the closest to the trailhead, at an hour away, but it was towards the direction we were heading, so it was worth the trek. We did almost go to Black Mtn. Burger Co, which is closer to the trailhead.
Although we were completely beat after this hike, we loved every second of it! There is a reason people say it’s not only the best hike in New Hampshire, but also offers some of the best views in New England. It has incredible scenery, unique features, and diverse scenery, which in our opinion, is the recipe for the perfect hike!
Where to stay near the Franconia Ridge Loop
The White Mountains are a very popular region of New Hampshire to visit and offer many lodging options in the many small towns that line the mountain range, including Littleton, Lincoln, and North Conway, which is on the other side of the mountains, but is still a pretty close drive.
North Conway, NH
Dream A-Frame (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This dreamy A-frame is nestled in the New Hampshire woods, beautifully decorated, has an equipped kitchen, fireplace, and a cozy upstairs loft.
Bear Ridge Lodge (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This epic log cabin lodge sleeps 8, so it would be perfect for a group or big family. It has everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay, especially the beautiful fireplace in the large living area and covered front and back patio with beautiful mountain views.
The Lil’ Red Caboose (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): How can you pass up a stay in a caboose?! It has a bathroom inside, which isn’t something you always see in unique stays like this, and you can even sleep in the cupola!
Luxury Riverside White Mountains Resort (Studio, 1 bathroom): This condo is located right by the town of Lincoln and the Kancamagus Highway, making it a great homebase to some of the best spots the area has to offer!
Relaxing Resort Getaway (Studio, 1 bathroom): This bright and airy studio has everything you need for a comfortable stay in a perfect location.
North Conway, NH
North Conway Cabin (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This cabin sleeps 4 and is a great location to Conway and North Conway’s shops and restaurants.
The Overlook (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This house would be perfect for a group or family, with plenty of space to hang out inside and outdoors, with a great kitchen, a fire pit, and a hot tub. It also has the perfect wooden, modern cabin vibe!
Mountain Chic New Hampshire Family Getaway (3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This gorgeous house is super bright and well designed, with huge windows!
The most convenient place to stay to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop is the Greenleaf Hut, as long as you don’t mind hiking to it. This hut offers coed bunk rooms and separate bathrooms, with cold running water and composting toilets. Keep in mind there is no heat, electrical outlets, or lights in the bunk rooms, so you’ll need a headlamp to light your way and a sleeping bag to stay warm at night.
The Greenleaf hut operates under two different seasons from early May to mid October. The Self Service season is from early to late May. In this season, there is a caretaker available at the hut during specific hours, but guests need to pack in their own food and have full use of the kitchen to prepare meals.
The Full Service season runs from early June to mid October. Hiking gear, sleeping bags, and pillows are available for rent and breakfast and dinner are included with your stay. They also offer snacks and drinks for purchase during the day, including for day hikers, like we mentioned earlier. No matter when you come, be sure to pack out all of your personal trash!
Lafayette Place Campground
This campground is located across the street from the Franconia Ridge Loop hike. It is open mid May to early October with 97 tent sites, 88 of them can be reserved, and 7 are first-come, first-served. All sites are $25/night and pets are not allowed.
Twin Mountain/Mt. Washington KOA
We stayed here for a few nights during some nonstop rain when first reaching the White Mountains, since we knew having enough power would be a struggle. This campground is super nice, although pricey, and we really enjoyed it!
This campground is located at the western end of the Kancamagus Highway, just east of Lincoln, NH. The campground offers 56 tent sites at $25/night and are first-come, first served.
Big Rock Campground
This campground is also located at the western end of the Kancamagus Highway, just east of Lincoln, NH. The campground offers 28 tent sites at $25/night and some are first-come, first served.
Covered Bridge Campground
This campground is located on the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway, near Conway, and has 49 sites, which cost $25/night.
Crawford Notch State Park
This park offers 36 wooded sites, including some tent only sites, as well as lean-tos. These sites do not have hookups and cost $25/night.
During our time in the White Mountains we found two FREE camping areas, one along Haystack Road and one along Gale River Road. For both of these areas you must camp in designated sites, so you cannot just pull off and find a spot. We had tried Gale River Road first and had no luck, but thankfully found a spot on Haystack Road. We camped in one of the first spots and had a tiny bit of cell service to work, but be prepared to be mostly off grid here.
You can also sleep overnight at the Walmart in Littleton, which we did for a night or two as well! This Walmart is small and doesn’t offer produce, but it’s right next to a grocery store.
Other things to do near the Franconia Ridge Loop
Looking for more things to do in the White Mountains? Check out our guide with the best things to do in the White Mountains, as well as our ultimate guide to driving the Kancamagus Highway! (coming soon)
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