Hedgehog Mountain

The fall foliage in New Hampshire has never been better than on our hike up Hedgehog Mountain and our drive along the Kancamagus Highway.

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Route Description

0 mi0 miStart at Downes Brook Trailhead
0.8 mi0.8 miUNH Trail to the loop junction
1 mi1.8 miClockwise on UNH Trail to summit of Hedgehog Mountain
2.1 mi3.9 miContinue clockwise on UNH Trail back to the loop junction
0.8 mi4.7 miUNH Trail back to trailhead

Map

Hiking Hedgehog Mountain

In late September, we did not expect to see some of the best fall foliage we’ve seen in New Hampshire yet. We assumed the peak would come in October. For whatever reason, the fall colors started popping early this year, and our hike up to Hedgehog Mountain provided incredible views of the Whites lit up by fiery tones of red, yellow, and orange. Hedgehog Mountain is on the New Hampshire 52 with a view list and with the incredible fall colors this year, it did not disappoint. 

After camping at White Lake State Park Campground, one of our favorites in the area, we ate our delicious cornbread that we picked up from Farm to Table Market, and drove down the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, a roughly 35 mile highway stretch through the heart of the White Mountains. With fall foliage at near peak, there were tons of leaf peepers paused at outlooks and roadside pull offs to enjoy the spectacular colors. We stopped briefly along the Kanc to walk down to the Swift River where we snapped some pictures of the vibrant trees glowing in the morning light before continuing to the trailhead.

Swift River view right next to the Kanc
Swift River

After we arrived at the Downes Brook Trailhead parking lot at around 10am, we quickly started up the 5 mile trail. The path started relatively flat, reminiscent of Lincoln Woods Trail, offering us a really nice warm up to our day. But, as with most hiking routes in the White Mountains, it did not stay flat for long and soon started to climb steadily.

Popping fall colors
Trail up to Hedgehog Mountain

The UNH trail to Hedgehog Mountain is a lollipop, meaning you hike in a short trail, then get to a loop where you can choose to go clockwise or counterclockwise. About 0.8 miles in, a sign marks the start of that loop. We opted to go counterclockwise, turning right, to take the shorter way up to the summit. Soon after the loop sign, we came to another sign pointing to a short spur trail towards Allen’s Ledge. We decided to take the few extra minutes to check out this first viewpoint, and wow was it worth it! Seeing the valley covered in a blanket of autumnal color was perhaps the best fall foliage we have seen in the White Mountains. These lower outlooks seem to offer better views of the fall colors – taller peaks are often too high and far above for the colors to really pop.

View from Allen's Ledge
Allen's Ledge

After spending 10 minutes taking pictures and standing awe-struck by the views, we quickly descended back to the UNH trail and followed that up toward the Hedgehog Mountain summit. The rooty trail, punctuated by large rock slabs, climbed steadily for the majority of the time. Along the way, bright red blueberry bushes and red maples lined our path. The cool breeze told us that we were getting towards the top, and before we knew it, we were there. 

Rooty ascent to Hedgehog Mountain
Blueberry bushes and rock slabs
Loved this spot full of red foliage

The summit offered a few different open ledges. The clouds rolled in and out, covering the sun, and muting some of the vibrancy of the trees. Still, we couldn’t believe how beautiful and gratifying this more moderate hike was.

View from Hedgehog Mountain summit
Ledge right next to Hedgehog Mountain Summit

Coming down off the summit, we passed a few more open ledges, and then entered a wooded section.

Looking out into a sea of yellow trees
Walking through the pine trees

We dropped some elevation and moved up and down an undulating path until we arrived at the next set of ledges called the Eastern Ledges that had seen from the top of Hedgehog Mountain. These rock ledges were pretty expansive. There was a ton of space to relax among scrubby pine trees and blueberry bushes while looking into the valley. The wind cooled us off as we ate our lunch. The trail continued along these ledges for a short bit until dropping down underneath the forest canopy again.

View from Eastern Ledge
Foliage on Eastern Ledge
Lots of space on Eastern Ledge to relax
More views along the ledges

The path descending on this eastern side was more mild and gradual than the ascent. Much of it was covered with leaves and pine needles, allowing us to move quickly. We came to the loop juncture, turned right, and made our way out to the parking lot. Afterwards, we relished the rest of our drive along the Kanc.

Those fall colors!
Beautiful flat trail at the end
Fall foliage on the Kanc!

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