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Mount Lafayette Loop via Falling Waters Trail and Old Bridle Path

43 reviews #2 hike out of 14 in
8.2 mi
Distance
3 hrs 29 min
Time
terrain
3,422 ft
Elev Gain

Overview

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.

Greenleaf Trail

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.

Getting Started

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.

Taking Children

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.



    Rate this Hike

    user_profile
    1 year, 4 months ago
    Great loop - be prepared for a lot of people (I passed 36 on the climb on a weekday and I'm a 60 year old guy). Have not seen it mentioned but I would not recommend this one for dogs - its pretty rugged and rocky.
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    user_profile
    1 year, 9 months ago
    5/21/22 Parked in trailhead lot at 7:45 and already lot 3/4 full. This got 3/5 instead of 5/5 because of rude hikers and too many people. And this is the weekend BEFORE opening season. 83 degrees in Franconia, 73 up top HOT when hiking the ridge. Absolutely gorgeous views up Falling Waters and along ridge. This is NOT 8.3 like it says here. This is 9.3 —verified by Apple Watch, another hiking app and gps. NO WATER after the uphill climb on Falling Waters. Make sure you have plenty of water with you when you start your ascent to little haystack or else your stuck for miles until the Greenleaf Hut. Spikes were on & off up Falling waters. The rest of the family didn’t take theirs so you could easily have done without. I also ditched my poles as there’s a ton of rock scrabble and bouldering which the pole just are in the way.
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    user_profile
    2 years, 5 months ago
    lol I’ll Loop I’ll o
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    user_profile
    2 years, 6 months ago
    I did this beautiful trail on 2010 the day I turned 60. Eleven years later, at 71, I did it again in 5.5 hours. It is still a magnificent hike. Beautiful views on the ridge.
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    user_profile
    3 years, 3 months ago
    Love this hike in all seasons. In the winter I like to go up falling waters because there are a few stream crossings that can be difficult/impassable and you don’t want to have to bushwhack to the highway to get back to your car. If you go falling waters to bridal you can always get back. If you go bridal across the ridge and down falling waters you might struggle a bit based on water levels.
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    user_profile
    4 years, 5 months ago
    This hike is rewarding!
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    user_profile
    5 years, 3 months ago
    Nice high NH peaks with phenomenal views along the majority of the hike.
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Public Tracks

user_profile
fred 4 years, 10 months ago
Lafayette via old bridle path RT
Charlie and I met at Forbes Road, stopped at McDonalds at Exit 20 per Charlie's request, missed Richard by 30 minutes, and chose to avoid Falling Waters Trail due to Charlie's expectation of swollen streams. Richard took Falling Waters and was ahead of us. The temperature was rising through the hike, but the the trail was quite good, no post-holes, good monorail. After Greenleaf Hut, the melting above tree line allowed us to skirt most of the remaining icy patches. Microspikes worked fine all the way, although I carried both snowshoes and crampons. At the Lafayette summit we met hikers who came up Falling Waters without issue. However, Charlie wanted to avoid it going down, so we headed back down to the hut from the summit. The peak was socked in, but clearing was evident on the descent to the hut. Richard caught up to us in the descent above the hut, and we were essentially together on the way down. By the time we reached the parking lot, the temperature was in the late 60s. The day cleared to bright sun, with the ridge open---quite a change from our stay (see pics). A good hike, just above book time..
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rogerhere 6 years, 8 months ago
Lincoln-Lafayette loop - July 3, 2017
Terrific loop hike. Mix of sun and clouds. Strong west winds on Franconia Ridge with temps in the 50s. The water crossings on the Falling Waters trail were manageable, being two days after the extreme rain fall amounts of July 1st.
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Westley 4 years, 3 months ago
Franconia Rigde Traverse
Winter hike of Little Falling Water, Franconia Ridge, and Old Bridel Path. Loop tags the summit of Little Haystack, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Lafayette. Wind speeds of 40mph and gusts of 50+ created well below 0 real feel temps.
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John Newton 7 years, 7 months ago
Franconia Ridge Loop
Created with Scenic, the iOS App for Planning, Navigating and Documenting your (Motorcycle) Trips. Copyright MotoMappers.com
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Michael 7 years, 9 months ago
Franconia Ridge Loop
Amazing weather and awesome views. This is a fun and challenging hike. One of the best views on the AT.
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Ashli 7 years, 9 months ago
Franconia Ridge Loop
Amazing weather and awesome views. This is a fun and challenging hike. One of the best views on the AT.
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ashli 7 years, 9 months ago
Franconia Ridge Loop
Amazing weather and awesome views. This is a fun and challenging hike. One of the best views on the AT.
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Michael 7 years, 9 months ago
Franconia Ridge Loop
Amazing weather and awesome views. This is a fun and challenging hike. One of the best views on the AT.
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MarjWallace 5 years, 7 months ago
Franconia Ridge NH 8/4/18 3:26:32 PM
Haystack, Lincoln and LaFayette with Jim
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