Mount Lafayette Loop via Falling Waters Trail and Old Bridle Path
Falling Waters Trail:
This is one of the most popular hikes in the White Mountains, complete with waterfalls and a beautiful ridge trail. Be sure to check the mountain weather forecast, as there is signficant distance above treeline with full exposure.
Note: this hike is about 9 miles, with a book time of 8 hours. Many experienced hikers complete it in 5-6 hours. Total elevation gain is 3900 feet.
If you are planning on taking the Falling Waters trail up Little Haystack Mountain (the most popular way) the trail starts fairly gradually. There are 6 brook crossings, the first of which is bridged. You will pass Stairs Falls, Swiftwater Falls, and Cloudland Falls. About 1.3 miles in, after crossing below Cloudland Falls, the trail becomes steep and rough, with intermittent switchbacks. and remains that way until you reach the side path for Shining Rock at 2.8 miles, which is short (.1mi) but steep, rough and often wet. Once the sun clears the ridge is a amazing spectacle with water constantly flowing down and the sun's rays beaming off. From the Shining Rock split it is about .5 miles straight up to the Little Haystack summit and the Franconia Ridge Trail.
Note: Depending on the day of the week/time of day, if you take this trail down you will run into many groups of people having to stop and move over every few minutes. This trail is not recommended for descent especially in wet or icy conditions.
Franconia Ridge Trail:
Please keep within the scree walls, in order to protect the fragile alpine vegetation that grows along the ridge. Keep dogs leashed and within the scree walls as well.
The ridge goes all the way from Little Haystack Mountain to Mount Lafayette, crossing Mount Lincoln between the two. From Little Haystack to Lincoln is .7 miles and gaining 400 vertical feet, with spectacular views on both sides. Ascending Lincoln is fairly easy with steep cliffs on either side (but with a wide enough trail for little to no danger.) From the top of Lincoln you get your first view of Lafayette, which from this perspective looks very prominent. On a clear day you can see Mount Washington which is the tallest mountain in the northeast. From Lincoln to Lafayette is .9 miles, gaining 500 feet of elevation and crossing Mount Truman. At Mount Lafayette you have reached the highest point of the climb and the views do not disappoint. This is also the highest point in New Hampshire outside of the Presidential Mountains and the Fifth highest peak in New England. on a clear day you can even see Mount Mansfield.
This trail leaves Lafayette heading west, descending 1.1 miles to the Greenleaf Hut which is operated seasonally by the Appalachian Mountain Club. There are cairns marking the trail from the summit until you hit treeline. When open the hut is an opportunity to resupply with water and snacks, or use the restrooms. Hot beverages and other supplies such as maps are available as well. The Greenleaf Trail leaves north from the hut and terminates at the Cannon Mountain Tramway parking lot.
Note: To return to the Falling Waters parking lot you must descend the Old Bridle Path.
Old Bridle Path:
This trail leaves west from the Greenleaf hut. The descent on this 2.7 mile trail is moderate and offers great views across to the southern part of the ridge. Shortly below the hut is a ledge of reddish basalt rock which can be slippery even when dry. The rest of the trail is generally easy to navigate. The Old Bridle Path intersects with the Falling Waters trail (bear right at the intersection and reaches the parking lot in .2 miles.
Parking along the Franconia Notch Parkway/ Route 93 is illegal and you may be ticketed or towed. It is one of 2 parkways in the interstate system. Parking is at Lafayette Place, with the larger lot on the northbound side and limited parking on the southbound side (this lot serves other hiking destinations on the west side of the highway.) There is a path leading under the highway connecting the two parking lots. These lots are in Franconia Notch State Park, and a shuttle is offered at $5 per person/dog from the Cannon Mountain Tramway parking lot if the other lots are full. You can also choose to walk 2 miles from the tramway parking to the Lafayette Place parking, then descend via the Greenleaf Trail back to the Tramway.
This is a safe hike for children who are experienced hikers, but it is physically demanding. Approaching this way allows you to turn around early but still enjoy the waterfalls or Little Haystack if the full loop is too much.
Sights to See
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