Hiking Franconia Ridge Loop for Sunrise
Started hiking at 2:45am to see a glorious sunrise on Franconia Ridge.
Hike Date: June 5, 2021
|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|
For our first 4,000 foot hike back in the White Mountains since March, we decided to return to one of our favorite routes: Franconia Ridge Loop. We had to get up really early, but it was more than worth it. By hiking at the crack of dawn, we avoided crowds and enjoyed an unforgettable sunrise on the ridge overlooking the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
After a short night nap, we drove a little over 2 hours to park at the Old Bridle Path parking lot in Franconia Notch. There were plenty of spots because it was so early, but be forewarned, this lot fills up fast. Many people park at Lafayette Place Campground or have to take a shuttle from Cannon Mountain. At about 2:45am, we started up Old Bridle Path with our headlamps guiding us through the darkness. After crossing a bridge, we took Falling Waters Trail to do the loop counterclockwise. You could also stay on Old Bridle Path to the ridge and come down Falling Waters, but we wanted to get to the ridge as fast as possible to see the sunrise and Falling Waters is shorter than Old Bridle.
We continued up Falling Waters Trail and crossed Dry Brook a few times. The breezes and mist emanating from the waterfalls helped us stay cool on a really humid June morning. The climb was tough. The trail was very rocky and very eroded in many places. We could feel the small rocks under our feet and some fatigue in our calves and thighs as we trudged up the rock stairs and boulders. That said, we really loved this hike and felt really energized on the ascent.
About a mile from Little Haystack, the trail climbed steadily until we emerged from the trees to an open ridgeline at dawn. The wind was whipping, but nothing we couldn’t handle. After a few more steps, we saw the crescent moon shining above us and the sky turning shades of pink and purple. As soon as I saw the sky, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Grateful to share a connection with nature, we paused and took in the early morning colors.
Kevin, eager to get to Mt. Lincoln for sunrise, booked it to the peak, stopping only briefly to take pictures along the way. I moseyed over, enjoying the views and watching the sun light up the mountains and trees.
Kevin’s favorite view from the ridge is of Liberty and Flume from Mt. Lincoln. So, we spent about 30 minutes on Lincoln watching the rising sun transform our surroundings from dark to light. The sky turned from pink and purple to vibrant orange red to light gray and blue. It was one of the most awe-inspiring sights to behold.
The best part of Franconia Ridge Trail is how much time you have above treeline. We tried to savor our time with uninterrupted 360 degree views. This is our fifth time doing this ridge, and although we gain about 1,000 feet of elevation between Lincoln and Lafayette and the trail itself is challenging, it never felt like “work.” I felt so filled up by the solitude, openness, and freedom of walking without being hemmed in by trees.
On our way towards Mt. Lafayette, we looked across Franconia Notch to the left and watched the face of Cannon Mountain take on the orange hues of the sunrise. We dropped down a bit to a short section in the trees and then started the climb to Mt. Lafayette, which is the taller of the two peaks.
The summit of Lafayette had a lot of space to look back towards the ridge we just hiked and forward to the trail that continues towards Mt. Garfield. We turned left at the sign and descended Greenleaf Trail. This section was mostly an open boulder field that boasted views of Cannon Mountain, AMC’s Greenleaf Hut, and a small lake. We passed through a section in the trees and then made a short ascent to the hut. At Greenleaf Hut, we sat on the porch and watched the sun continue to rise over Franconia Ridge.
We turned left at the sign and descended Greenleaf Trail. This section was mostly an open boulder field that boasted views of Cannon Mountain, AMC’s Greenleaf Hut, and a small lake. We passed through a section in the trees and then made a short ascent to the hut. At Greenleaf Hut, we sat on the porch and watched the sun continue to rise over Franconia Ridge.
The first mile of descent from the hut included a lot of rocks, but also open ledges with views of Franconia Ridge and gorgeous purple rhododendrons in bloom. On our way down, there were a ton of people hiking up and we felt grateful that we had the trail almost all to ourselves for much of the morning.
The last stretch was relatively flat and easy hiking. We quickly got back to the junction with Falling Waters Trail and kept going on Old Bridle Path until we got to the parking lot. We’ve now hiked Lincoln and Lafayette in every season and will keep coming back because we love this area so much.