Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette
Franconia Ridge Loop is one of the most popular hiking routes in the White Mountains and for good reason. It goes over two NH 4,000 footers, Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln, and provides about two miles of above treeline hiking.
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at Old Bridle Path Trailhead|
|0.2 mi||0.2 mi||Old Bridle Path to Falling Waters Trail|
|3 mi||3.2 mi||Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack Mountain|
|0.7 mi||3.9 mi||Franconia Ridge Trail to summit of Mt. Lincoln|
|1 mi||4.9 mi||Franconia Ridge Trail to summit of Mt. Lafayette|
|1.1 mi||6 mi||Greenleaf Trail to Greenleaf Hut|
|2.7 mi||8.7 mi||Old Bridle Path back to parking lot|
Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack
Hike Date: December 12, 2020
Hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop is hands down one of our favorite hiking routes of all time. It is one of the most popular hikes in New Hampshire, after all. This is the fourth time we’ve hiked the ridge, and the second time we’ve done this as a loop.
We started at Old Bridle Path trailhead, crossed a small footbridge, and turned onto Falling Waters Trail. As soon as we hit the trail, we remembered why hiking in winter conditions is so magical. Few people hike at this time of year, so the solitude and quiet is incredible, even on a popular route such as this. You can just get lost in your thoughts and truly slow down from the busyness of everyday life. Also, the woods are just beautiful when it is covered in a glistening white blanket. Although we have to carry more safety gear and deal with harsher elements, we think that winter hiking is completely worth it.
For the most part, this trail just climbs steadily up, with some flat sections and some relatively steep sections after the many small stream crossings. We wore microspikes the entire way, which gave us solid traction even on the uneven snow-covered trail. As we passed by multiple waterfalls along the way, some frozen, some flowing, and some half and half.
This trail gains 3500+ feet of elevation, with most of it from the trailhead to the first peak, Little Haystack. We climbed slowly, taking one step at a time in the “mashed potato-like” snow (a description for somewhat slushy that literally feels like you are mashing potatoes with your feet). As the trees started to change, we knew we were getting close to the ridgeline. We turned a corner and the trees opened up, ushering us into the alpine zone. We arrived at Little Haystack completely engulfed by clouds and fog. If the weather was clear, we would have seen views down into Franconia Notch and across to Cannon on one side with views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness on the other. But, being completely socked in, surrounded by gray haze felt otherworldly. After a tough ascent, we were immediately refueled with energy and excitement.
We threw on some extra layers and made it to Mt. Lincoln relatively quickly. Mt. Lincoln didn’t look like much in the middle of the dense clouds and fog. Without much to see, we continued into the clouds towards Mt. Lafayette. This section was a little bit more difficult. The trail was harder to find because of all of the snow drift and the snow got much deeper in some sections. After some route finding, a little bit of undulation through some scrubby trees, we made our ascent. It was kind of fun to climb without being able to see how far the summit was. We were able to stay more in the moment and focus on how much we enjoyed being outside instead of how much further we had to hike.
When we got to the summit of Mt. Lafayette, we were blown away by the feathery rime ice coating almost every rock around us. It truly looked like a work of art. We passed the ice-covered trail sign, found a little alcove behind a rock covered in rime ice to sit and eat lunch, and enjoyed a brief respite from the wind.
We headed off of the summit and down Greenleaf Trail, which stays above treeline for about a mile. This might have been our favorite part of the hike. Dropping elevation quickly, we moved below the clouds and got our first really clear views of Cannon Mountain, AMC’s Greenleaf Hut, and Franconia Notch. When we got to Greenleaf Hut, which was all boarded up for the winter, we looked back and saw our first incredible view of the entire Franconia Ridge. From there, we had a little less than three miles to go on Old Bridle Path. The snow was thicker and fluffier on this side of the mountain, so we opted to do some butt sliding down the trail, which is always fun!
Since we have hiked this before, we knew we were going to get an incredible view of Franconia Ridge from Old Bridle Path. When we got to the open section and looked left, we saw that the clouds had dissipated and Lincoln and Lafayette were now completely visible. Feeling really filled up, physically, emotionally, and mentally from our hike, we trotted down the last couple of miles. With nothing particularly notable, we were just grateful to wander through the snow-covered woods on a beautiful day.