Where has the time gone?! It seems like just yesterday the White Mountains were enveloped in hues of red, orange, and yellow. In the blink of an eye we’ve now entered stick season: the lovely “in-between” period from late October to early December when the colored leaves have fallen but snow has yet to arrive—at least in the lower elevations. Many people believe they now have to wait until springtime to hike in the mountains again, but stick season is perfect for hikers looking to trek in cooler temperatures and find some solitude on the trails.
Here are 7 smaller hikes you can tackle before the snowfall appears!
*When it comes to hiking in the White Mountains anytime between September and May, think WINTER. While the trails listed below are at lower elevation, we encourage you to pack and prepare for ice, snow, winter storms, below freezing temperatures, high winds, and other potentially hazardous conditions. The conditions you see at the trailhead are not indicative of what you will encounter as you ascend in elevation. For additional information on what to expect, visit Winter Hiking.*
MOUNT PEMIGEWASSET TRAIL (Lincoln, NH)
Conveniently located right off I-93, Mount Pemigewasset (otherwise known as Mount Pemi) is easily accessible to just about everyone! Beginning at the Flume Gorge parking area, hikers will start their journey along a bike path before branching off to the 3.2-mile out-and-back Mount Pemi Trail. Following the well-marked blue blazes, this hike takes just a few hours to complete and the summit ledge offers hikers incredible views of the White Mountains and the town of Lincoln, NH below.
MOUNT ISRAEL VIA WENTWORTH TRAIL (Center Sandwich, NH)
What’s a hike in the White Mountains without a creek crossing or two? While not overly difficult to cross, depending on how much rain the month prior has brought, you may want to bring an extra pair of hiking socks for this one. Mount Israel affords its visitors with great views for moderate effort on its 4.1-mile-long trail. Unlike most trails, you’re able to catch glimpses of the surrounding mountains and viewpoints along the way. From the open summit, you can enjoy outstanding close-up views of the higher Sandwich Range peaks, and various different mountains depending on what part of the summit ledge you’re standing on.
DRAKES BROOK TRAIL TO JENNINGS PEAK (Waterville Valley, NH)
Funnily enough, the most popular time to hike Jennings Peak is during stick season when the views have vastly opened up due to the fallen autumn leaves. This 6.1-mile loop trail is best completed counter-clockwise so you can get the steeper parts out of the way and make the descent more manageable. The 180-degree summit views are unmatched with layers of mountains spread out before you, seemingly so close you can almost touch them!
STINSON MOUNTAIN TRAIL (Rumney, NH)
Standing at almost 3,000 feet, Stinson Mountain is highly recommended for beginner hikers. In the 2 miles it takes to reach the mountaintop, you’ll gradually ascend a somewhat rocky trail that winds through a picturesque forest. Once you’ve reached the summit, you’re rewarded with magnificent southerly views of Mount Cardigan and the Lakes Region. Also atop the mountain lies the remnants of an old fire tower where you can take a seat, eat your well-deserved summit lunch, and take in the sights. The trailhead offers limited parking, so plan accordingly!
MIDDLE SUGARLOAF TRAIL (Twin Mountain, NH)
This short 2.7-mile hike is ideal for absolutely anyone! Middle Sugarloaf Trail is great for families and beginner hikers, and it’s an excellent introduction to the White Mountains for a first-time visitor. With less than 1,000 feet in elevation gain and close to a 360-degree view at the summit, you’ll get more bang for your buck here than almost any other trail in the Whites. Be sure to bring your binoculars as you get big views of the Presidential Range and the mighty Mount Washington itself.
LONESOME LAKE TRAIL (Franconia, NH)
Lonesome Lake is one of the most iconic locations in the White Mountains. It serves as a refreshing swim after a hot summer hike, beautiful backdrop in fall foliage pictures, and dreamy landscape for snowshoeing. However, hiking this trail during stick season is unrivaled since the chances of encountering hordes of people during this time are slim to none. Don’t let the relatively short mileage fool you—there are several steep sections along the way. But once you reach the lake and see the snow-capped Franconia Ridge in front of you, nothing else seems to matter! As an added bonus, check out the nearby Appalachian Mountain Club's Lonesome Lake Hut to use the restroom, purchase a snack, and grab a hot beverage before you begin your 1.5-mile descent.
BLACK MOUNTAIN TRAIL (Benton, NH)
Clocking in at a total of 4.2 miles, hikers can without a doubt conquer Black Mountain in 3-4 hours. Starting off on an old logging road, the first mile of this out-and-back trail is relatively flat. Soon after, hikers will begin their climb up a moderately inclined rocky path surrounded by dense forest. It’s only once you’ve reached the wide-open summit that you are rewarded with a spectacular vista of multiple different mountain ranges.
With a plethora of hiking trails scattered throughout the White Mountains of New Hampshire, you’ll never find yourself bored—no matter the time of year. If winter hiking isn’t your thing but you also want to avoid the large crowds that the summer and fall months typically bring, be sure to add these 7 trails onto your stick season itinerary. You definitely won’t regret it!