Lincoln, Grafton County, NH (White Mountain National Forest)
No (Not on Loop Trail)
Free (or $5)
Yes, Free spots nearby
Panoramic views, Longer hike, Great way to spend a day
One of the most popular hiking destinations in North America is easily accessible from I-93 in New Hampshire, but it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. While the White Mountains are more commonly associated with Mount Washington, there is one hike that is far more popular among avid hikers.
Countless outdoor lovers have reviewed this gem thoroughly, we’re here to give you our take. Here’s our honest review of Franconia Notch State Park, and more specifically, the famous Franconia Ridge Loop Trail.
Getting to Franconia Notch State Park
Franconia Notch State Park is located in Grafton County, New Hampshire in the most easily accessible part of the White Mountains for most New Englanders.
Driving to Franconia Notch is very easy for anybody living in most of New Hampshire, Vermont, or Massachusetts. If you have access to I-93, then it’s essentially a straight shot.
At the time, we were coming from Providence, Rhode Island, and it took us just over 3 hours on the road to reach our campsite. The signs for both the campgrounds and the parking are clearly marked, along with their respective exits off I-93. However, remember to pay attention to the signs and not the scenic views!
Fortunately, there is free camping available nearby, which is a new concept to anyone from southern New England. However, it is first-come, first-serve, so picking a day during the week or arriving earlier will help you find a campsite.
Backcountry tent camping is both free and legal throughout White Mountain National Forest without the need for any permit. If you want to go to a designated camping site, it’s only a five- to ten-minute drive from the State Park, where you will have your own private fire pit and
Remember, it is New Hampshire law to extinguish all fires completely before leaving them unattended. Illegal fire hazards in the White Mountain National Forest could result in fines of up to $5,000.
Other than that, these campgrounds are very spread out. We’ve camped here a few times now and never heard another person, even when all spots were taken.
The camping spots closest to the main road will hear traffic periodically, but that’s it. Overall, it’s an excellent amenity for visitors looking to enjoy nature.
Parking & Fees
Depending on where you park, you shouldn’t have to pay. We parked at the trailhead and it was free at that time
To be honest, we weren’t sure if we were going to come back to our car or not. We didn’t get to the parking lot until fairly late in the morning (around 10 am), and we were shocked to see how many cars were there.
Keep in mind, this experience was in early July, so you may not experience such high volume at different times in the year. While we would never recommend this hike during the winter, especially for beginners, you will certainly find less traffic during the colder months.
On average, this hike takes the average person between 7 and 8 hours. Keep in mind, the majority of people attempting this hike are fairly skilled hikers, so prepare for a longer hike.
Remember, this loop trail covers three mountain tops and goes back around for a total of 9.3 miles and 3,809’ elevation gain. If you are a beginner, then we will put it bluntly and say this is not a safe hike for you.
Once you get to the first peak (going clockwise), you will find a great place to rest and enjoy a snack with a building and drinking fountain available. Don’t rely on this drinking fountain for your water needs, but it is handy for refills!
However, if you’re up for the challenge and you know the risks, then this will be one of the most rewarding and unforgettable hikes of your life! Here’s what you need to know.
When preparing for this hike, pack more food and water than you think you need, and even if you start at 6 am, bring a map, a first aid kit, and a flashlight.
New Hampshire is the only state in the US that actively charges hikers for search and rescue, and they will usually waive fees for those who come prepared. If you get hurt, you don’t want extra fines on top of your potential hospital bills.
Conversely, you should also pack an extra layer, even if it’s hot. The wind at the top of the mountain is very strong, as the White Mountains are famous for. You will spend at least an hour exposed to this wind, and that’s if you’re going fast. For that reason, packing a windbreaker is highly recommended.
From there, the only other thing to prepare is yourself, both physically and mentally. If you’re reading this early in the season, we recommend planning for this hike a few months in advance and preparing yourself. There’s a reason experienced hikers come from around the world to hike this trail.
In the beginning, you will have the option to take the trail clockwise or counterclockwise. If you choose clockwise, you will have a steep ascent with a more mild descent and vis versa.
Now, we chose to go clockwise because we’d prefer to get the more strenuous parts out of the way. However, we did experience some knee pain on the way down, so there is a trade-off.
For those hiking in the winter, we would generally recommend going clockwise, as descending on steep ice poses greater safety risks.
While hiking upward, take breaks. It is mentally and physically taxing, especially if you are expecting the peak to come soon (don’t do that). Regardless of the direction you take, expect it to be hours.
Mount Lafayette is widely recognized as having some of the most stunning views in the entire country. If you go in the spring or summer, you will see nothing but vibrant green all around you.
Keep in mind, these images were shot with an iPhone 7, so there are no fancy camera tricks at play. The colors are even more vivid in person.
In the fall, you will see some of the most amazing views, even for New England. The 360 panoramic views blow the Kancamagus Highway out of the water, and you still get to walk with open views for well over a mile.
Of course, during the winter, from December through April, you will get to experience the true White Mountains. However, this hike is for advanced hikers, even in the summer. If you don’t have the experience, then we wouldn’t recommend it.
Franconia Ridge Loop Trail Winter Hiking
Of course, they don’t call them the “white mountains” for nothing. Expect a difficult, icy terrain on any mountain in the area during the winter.
However, if you plan to do this hike in the winter, then we have a few suggestions; do your homework, get in shape, and come prepared.
Getting rescued in the winter may not even be an option, so bring everything you think you need and more. Here’s what you will need.
Spikes are essential when winter hiking on this trail. It is not a well-maintained trail during the winter and it’s challenging enough on its own without ice and snow on the ground. For your own safety and to prevent unnecessary strain, use microspikes or snowshoes from start to finish.
Beyond that, a good set of trekking poles is non-negotiable. You can get a decent pair for under $30 that will make this trek a lot easier, so plan ahead for that if you don’t currently own any.
Although, chances are that if you’re doing such a challenging hike in the winter, you likely already have the right gear!
A lot can go wrong on such a long hike, especially in the winter. For that reason, you need to come prepared for the worst.
If you have a lightweight backpacking tent, bring it. An emergency shelter could save your life with the unforgiving winds and temperatures, especially if you are stuck overnight.
Also, bring something to start a fire and enough food and water to last you for 48 hours. Again, you can’t rely on a rescue, so come as prepared as possible.
Enjoy the Views
Our honest account of the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail is that it was our favorite we’ve ever done, and that’s no exaggeration. The hike is strenuous and challenging, but it’s more worth the reward than any other challenge we’ve tried personally.
If you’re a beginner hiker, spend the season preparing for this challenge. We promise it’s worth the wait!
As always, feel free to share your experiences with Franconia Notch in the comments below, and keep reading our blog for our latest reviews of your favorite New England destinations!
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