First Five Winter Hikes
Let’s say you’ve already hiked a few of the White Mountains 4,000-footers. Maybe you’ve climbed Mt. Washington or finished the Franconia Ridge Loop. Perhaps you’re well on your way to completing all 48.
Thank you to Declan Kiley for the photo! You can see more of his great photos on his IG feed -- @declankiley
Either way, you’re having a blast and you’re ready for more, but there’s only one problem. Winter is coming, and at the highest elevations it’s already here.
Even for those with a good deal of hiking experience, climbing the 4,000-footers in the winter is a totally different ballgame. It requires a greater level of preparedness, which includes bringing the right gear, checking the latest forecasts and taking precautions to account for the effects of the cold (frozen water, dead batteries, etc.)
But when done safely, winter hiking can also be an incredibly fun and satisfying experience, especially if the conditions are good and the views are clear.
Make sure to check out our Introduction to Winter Hiking webinar here.
So for those of you out there who might be interested in giving winter hiking a shot, or who might have some new gear they would like to test out, here are five relatively easy, straightforward and enjoyable 4,000-footer hikes to consider first.
Mt. WaumbekSummit Elevation: 4,006 feet
Recommended Route: Starr King Trail
When we ran our list of Five First 4,000-footers, we highlighted Mt. Waumbek as not only a great peak for those just getting into hiking, but also a highly recommended spot for first-time winter hikers. Why? Mt. Waumbek has everything you could want in a beginner’s winter hike.
Mt. Waumbek is a relatively quick and moderate out and back hike with great views at the top. The Starr King Trail travels 3.6 miles and 2,600 feet of elevation to the summit, with most of the gain coming in the first 2.5 miles to the summit of Mt. Starr King, a 52 With A View peak that boasts an outstanding view across the valley to the nearby Presidential Range. From there the trail is relatively flat, and once you reach Mt. Waumbek’s wooded summit, another viewpoint can be found a tiny bit further past the summit marker.
Another advantage of Mt. Waumbek is its popularity. Unless you’re the first one out after a snowstorm, you can usually count on the Starr King Trail being broken out. Most of the trail is also sheltered from the wind by tree cover, which will limit your exposure to potentially dangerous windchill and make for a more forgiving experience if you’re still trying to get your winter gear in order.
Wildcat DSummit Elevation: 4,062 feet
Recommended Route: Polecat Trail to Wildcat Ridge Trail
Wildcat D boasts an unbelievable view across Pinkham Notch to Mt. Washington no matter what time of year you visit, but the experience of hiking the Polecat Trail in the winter is truly a unique and breathtaking experience.
Rather than spend most of your hike beneath the trees, the climb up Wildcat’s ski trails affords unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains virtually from start to finish. The 2-mile, 2,000-foot climb is moderate throughout, and thanks to the ski trail’s regular grooming you can always count on good footing.
Given that you’ll be climbing an active ski trail, it’s important to stay to the side of the trail to avoid a potential collision, that way you can remain an object of curiosity for the skiers instead of a potential safety hazard. Once you reach the top of the chairlift, it’s just another 0.1 miles up the Wildcat Ridge Trail to Wildcat D’s summit observation tower. If you’re feeling adventurous you can continue another 1.6 miles to the summit of Wildcat A if you’d like, though this stretch of trail is much more challenging.
Typically the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area charges a small fee for uphill access the Polecat Trail, but as of this writing in November 2020 the resort has not yet finalized this season’s uphill policies, which may be more restrictive than usual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Please contact Wildcat Mountain ahead of time and be respectful of all resort policies if you plan on visiting.
Mt. MoosilaukeSummit Elevation: 4,802 feet
Recommended Route: Beaver Brook Trail
Mt. Moosilauke boasts an extensive network of trails and provides an excellent experience for hikers of all abilities. While some of the more popular trails are significantly less accessible in the winter due to road closures, the Beaver Brook Trail, one of the peak’s most challenging summer trails, is totally transformed once the snow arrives.
“It’s the trail that I most enjoy in the winter when compared to the summer. It’s normally such a steep, treacherous trail in the summer, especially when it’s a little bit wet. It’s big rocks and really difficult,” said Burgeon Outdoor operations manager Justin Walsh. “But when you do it in the winter, especially in snowshoes with the heel lifts, it’s kind of like climbing a stairway on the way up and you can practically ski it out on the way down.”
The Beaver Brook Trail is quite steep, climbing 3,050 feet over 3.4 miles to the summit, but the last mile or so is considerably more moderate, and if conditions are good at the top you will be treated to one of the most beautiful views in the White Mountains.
Tom-FieldSummit Elevation: Tom 4,051 feet, Field 4,340 feet
Recommended Route: Avalon Trail, A-Z Trail, Mt. Tom Spur, Willey Range Trail, Avalon Trail
It’s hard to go wrong in Crawford Notch during the winter. Mt. Pierce, Mt. Jackson and many of the other peaks in the region make fantastic winter hikes. Most are easily accessible, feature moderate out-and-back routes that are usually broken out and boast excellent views from their summits. But the peaks that benefit the most from winter conditions relative to the summer are without a doubt the Willey Range peaks, and Mt. Tom and Mt. Field in particular.
Ordinarily Mt. Tom and Mt. Field boast unimpressive views from their summits, and the tree cover is too thick to see much of the surrounding landscape. But with the winter snow hikers will have a lot more clearance, making these peaks a much more rewarding experience than at other times of year. The routes up to the ridgeline are moderate and straightforward as well, making this a great winter peak bagging opportunity for beginner winter hikers.
One recommended route is the Tom-Field-Avalon loop, which is 6.6 miles round trip and climbs 2,750 feet of elevation up the Avalon Trail and A-Z Trail to the Mt. Tom Spur. Once you’ve bagged Tom, you’ll then follow the Willey Range Trail to Mt. Field and then descend down the Avalon Trail. Be sure to stop at Mt. Avalon on the way down, it’s a 52 With A View peak and boasts arguably the best view in Crawford Notch. If you’re feeling ambitious you can also tack on a 2.2-mile out-and-back to Mt. Willey from Field.
Summit Elevation: 4,100 feet
Recommended Route: Kinsman Ridge Trail
This one is short and sweet, but steep. From the Cannon Mountain parking area the Kinsman Ridge Trail climbs 2,220 feet in just under two miles, providing a quick but challenging hike to one of the best observation points in the White Mountains. This trail is super accessible and frequently broken out, and the consistent elevation gain provides a great opportunity to test out new snowshoes, especially ones with raised televators.
If you’re looking for a slightly longer, more scenic route, you can also start at the Lafayette Place Campground and hike up to Lonesome Lake before making your way up Cannon via the Hi-Cannon Trail. This route climbs slightly more elevation (2,420 feet) but spread out over three miles. Either way, Cannon is a great destination for anyone looking to give winter hiking a try.
Links for Planning your Hike
Other Hiking Blog PostsFirst Five 4000 Footers
Top Five 4000 Footer Views
Burgeon Outdoor was founded in 2019. Burgeon’s mission is to help mountain communities flourish. Burgeon proudly manufactures premium outdoor apparel in Lincoln, NH. By manufacturing locally, Burgeon creates year round jobs in the White Mountains. 5% of Burgeon’s sales support its community and environmental efforts. To learn more, please visit our studio at the Village Shops in Lincoln, our website burgeonoutdoor.com or call us at 603-745-7123.