The Franconia Ridge loop tackles the second-highest range of peaks in the White Mountains (after the Presidential Range) and is arguably one of the best hikes in New Hampshire and the New England area. With breathtaking 360 views, the trail traverses Little Haystack Mountain, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Lafayette. This Franconia Ridge guide breaks down trails, directions, and recommendations, and review of the hike.
Overall, the trail is considered difficult. There are steep paths, frequently slippery conditions, and the weather up top can be extremely windy and foggy. Be sure to check the weather the day you plan on going, as there’s a significant 1.5 mile stretch of trail above the treeline. Expect the trail to be moderately trafficked, and be aware the parking lots can start to fill up as early as 7AM!
FRANCONIA RIDGE GUIDE QUICK NOTES
- Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult
- Route: 8.6mi (14km) loop
- Hiking Duration: 6-7 hours with minimal breaks, 8-9 hours with longer breaks
- Parking: Park at Lafayette Place Parking Area (off I-93S) – the lot can fill up as early as 7:30AM
- Overflow parking is available along exit 34B, but will require 2 miles of additional walking on a bike path to reach the trailhead
- Location: White Mountains, New Hampshire
- Best Time to Hike: April – October
- Route Suggestion: Falling Waterfalls Trail up and Old Bridle down
– Greenleaf Hut
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FRANCONIA RIDGE DIRECTIONS
The trailhead for Franconia Ridge is accessible from the highway and Lafayette Place campground. Due to the popularity of the hike, the main parking lot can fill early in the morning. You want to arrive early for not only parking, but to also get an early start on the day. Overflow parking is available roughly 2 miles away. New Hampshire State Park website has further parking information for this hike.
If you have the option, I highly recommend camping at Lafayette Place campground. It’s well maintained and has direct access from the grounds to the trailhead, so you won’t have to worry about arriving early for parking. Check out this article for everything you need to know about the campgrounds.
Before arriving, take screenshots of any information you may need access to. Once you get off the highway and closer to the trailhead, service will significantly drop off.
If you need to buy anything before starting the hike, the town of Lincoln is only 15 minutes away on the highway. You can find grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, and more for whatever you’re looking for.
You’ll have to decide which trail you want to start on very soon into the hike. There’s a junction .2 miles in where you can choose to begin on the Falling Water trail or Old Bridle trail. Falling Waters tends to be a bit more crowded as you can see the falls earlier on in the hike, and some people only go up to the falls and turn around. If you don’t mind the potential of a bit more foot traffic, I would recommend starting this way. If you do want to avoid potential traffic and don’t mind waiting to see the falls until the afternoon, start on the Old Bridle Trail.
QUICK NOTE: Both trails pass by Greenleaf Hut. If you start from Old Bridge, it’s 3 miles deep. If you start on Falling Waters, it’s 6 miles in.
THE ASCENT – FALLING WATERFALLS TRAIL
The trailhead starts not too far from the parking lot. There’s a junction .2 miles where you can decide which trail to start on. To start on Falling Waterfalls, cross the bridge and continue onwards.
Falling Waterfalls definitely lives up to its name as there are numerous mini streams and falls along the beginning of this trail. Around .5 miles in is Cloudland Falls, which reaches up to 80 feet in height. I recommend taking a quick break here if the trail seems to be a bit crowded. Many people we encountered continued onwards without stopping here. Also be sure to watch your footing around some of the falls as the path can get slippery.
After Cloudland and a few other falls, the trail becomes increasingly more steep. Continue on the path for about 1.2 miles before reaching the end of the treeline and summiting Little Haystack Mountain.
Little Haystack Mountain marks the beginning of the 1.5 mile ridgeline, as well as the stunning panorama views. Right as you reach this part of the trail, the winds immediately start to pick up. Now is the time to take out all those extra layers you packed at the beginning of the day! Continue on by making a left and heading to Mount Lincoln. The small dirt path offers stunning views on both sides, and also passes by some spots of roped-off vegetation. During the course of the ridgeline, we found a spot off the trail blocked by wind to enjoy our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and lots of trail mix. If you choose to stop for a food break, be sure to not step in any of the growing vegetation in the area!
Once you reach Mount Lafayette, you’ve summited the highest peak outside the Presidential Range. You’ll see plenty of paths and signs on the summit as the ridge is part of the larger Pemi Loop that spans 3 separate ranges in the area. To continue on the Franconia Ridge loop, make a left and follow signs for the Greenleaf trail heading towards the hut.
THE DESCENT – GREENLEAF TRAIL & OLD BRIDLE PATH
The path immediately gets pretty steep descending from Mount Lafayette. Before reaching the hut, you’ll enter back into the treeline. The Greenleaf Hut is 6 miles in from the beginning of the trail, or 3 miles if you started on Old Bridle. The hut is open with bathrooms, a water refilling station, and snacks and coffee to purchase. Check here for more information on the hut. Enjoy a spot next to the lake situated alongside the hut as you take a break from the summits you just conquered. (Note: Due to Covid-19, staying overnight is not available at the moment)
To continue on, follow signs for the Old Bridle path. Along the way back down, the ridge will open up in some parts to stunning views of the valley. This part of the trail is significantly less busy as some people who start on the Falling Waterfalls trail turn around at Little Haystack. Once you start to hear the sounds of the highway and running water of the streams, you know you’ve made it back to the beginning. Be sure to reward yourself after a long day on one of the most beautiful hikes in New England! And as usual, Always Embrace the Adventure.
ARE YOU PLANNING YOUR OWN HIKING ROAD TRIP THROUGH NEW ENGLAND?
There’s plenty of articles and resources on the site to help you best prepare for your own adventure! Check out the 1-2 Weeks Ultimate New England Hiking Road Trip Guide to get a comprehensive look at the region, or read some article highlights below:
Want to make your own epic road trip adventure but don’t know where to start? Check out these
8 Simple Steps to Planning a Hiking Road Trip that will bring you from a basic concept all the way to your final checks before heading out.