Best Hiking Trails in White Mountain National Forest
The White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) is located in New Hampshire with a small portion (less than 6 percent) crossing over into western Maine. The WMNF is home to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast United States, and is well known for its vibrant fall foliage and high alpine views. There are many wildlife species found in the White Mountains including moose, black bear, white-tailed deer. Year-round, the WMNF attracts visitors from all over to recreate in over 800,000 acres, with hikes for all abilities.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manages the land with the protection of trails and valuable resources and public resources with three ranger districts. Several Wilderness Areas make up the WMNF, including Great Gulf, Presidential Range-Dry River, Pemigewasset, Sandwich Range, Caribou-Speckled Mountain, and Wild River. Protected under the Wilderness Act and implemented by the USFS. These areas offer the most “wild” experience with no road access, shelters, with an emphasis on wilderness experience.
Approximately 175 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) bisects the WMNF. It’s common to see thru-hikers from as early as May and late into the fall. The AT traverses many of the popular peaks and ranges in the White Mountains.
The White Mountains are approximately 130 miles from Boston, Massachusetts and 80 miles from Portland, Maine. The White Mountains consist of many sub-mountain ranges, the most popular being the Presidentials which are accessed either by Crawford Notch from the west or Pinkham Notch from the east. Other popular destinations are accessed from Franconia Notch, Evans Notch, Kinsman Notch, or the Kancamagus Scenic Byway.
Many popular hikes are point to point and rather than spotting a car, there’s the option (if timed right) to utilize a shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). For more information on locations, schedule, and fees, visit the AMC Hiker Shuttle website.
There are many options within the WMNF to camp. Tent-sites, shelters, and several huts are spread out in the popular areas and camping in non-designated areas is often restricted to protect sensitive areas such as the high alpine.
When to Go
The most popular hiking season runs from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. However, winter is another great opportunity to experience the White Mountains, providing additional recreational opportunities such as skiing and ice climbing. Winter hiking comes with greater risks but hikers may experience winter-like conditions year-round. See the weather section for more information.
No permits for hiking or backpacking within the WMNF are required. However, there are some trailheads where parking fees are required. Annual and weekly parking passes are available from one of the several WMNF ranger offices, information centers, and outdoor retails stores, and online. Organized groups must apply for an outfitter-guide permit which includes a fee and hunting or fishing require state licenses.
Dogs are allowed on WMNF trails as long as they are under your control (leashes are not required) but clean up after your pet along the trail. Dogs are not allowed in the structures such as huts and resource centers unless certified as service animals.