Hiking the Twins, Zealand, and Hale in Winter
Hiking North Twin, South Twin, Zealand, and Hale in a 20 mile lollipop loop is a big undertaking in any season, but even more so in winter. It was just 1 degree at the trailhead and below zero for much of the day! This was a really tiring hike, but one that we felt really proud of completing.
Hike Date: February 20, 2022
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at Seven Dwarfs Motel|
|0.8 mi||0.8 mi||Road walk and unofficial trail to Haystack Road|
|0.5 mi||1.3 mi||Haystack Road to North Twin Trailhead|
|4.3 mi||5.6 mi||North Twin Trail to summit of North Twin Mountain|
|1.3 mi||6.9 mi||North Twin Trail to summit of Sorth Twin Mountain|
|3.3 mi||10.2 mi||Twinway to Zealand Mountain|
|2.8 mi||13 mi||Twinway to Lend-A-Hand Trail|
|2.7 mi||15.7 mi||Lend-A-Hand Trail to summit of Mount Hale|
|2.2 mi||17.9 mi||Fire Warden’s Trail to North Twin Trail|
|1 mi||18.9 mi||North Twin Trail back to the trailhead|
|0.5 mi||19.4 mi||Haystack Road back to unofficial trail|
|0.8 mi||20.2 mi||Unofficial trail and road walk back to Seven Dwarfs Motel|
Parking for North Twin and South Twin in Winter
The road to the trailhead is not plowed in winter, so it’s not accessible by car. To minimize the road walk distance, we parked at the Seven Dwarfs Motel on Little River Road. The owners let hikers park there for $10 that you leave in their mailbox with a note of your car’s details. We walked up the road and turned right across a wooden bridge. Just after the bridge is a trail that hikers previously used to get to the North Twin trailhead. New owners do not allow this, so don’t not take this trail because you would be trespassing on private property – the signs make it clear! Keep going up the road and turn left where there is a little trail sign hammered into the dirt. It’s really not much further at all. We walked a short bit on a flat trail until we got to Haystack Road. We turned left and took the road up to North Twin Trailhead. From there, it was 4.3 miles to North Twin.
The beginning of the trail is quite flat and we passed by some beautiful icicles hanging from the rocks along the way. The trail technically crosses the river a few times back and forth, but there is a herd path that stays to the left of the river at the first crossing. We took that and definitely recommend it so that you don’t have to make precarious water crossings multiple times, but only once. When we hiked, the color of the river was an incredible vibrant green with some fresh snow blanketing everything from an overnight storm. At the last crossing, we took careful steps, placing our feet on the rocks that were covered with thick sheets of ice. Then, we switched out our microspikes for snowshoes and continued to follow the yellow blazes.
As we continued on the hike, the sun began to rise and we were so grateful for its warmth. The climb up was relatively mild, with only a few steep but short sections. Luckily, the televator lift on our snowshoes helped tremendously with the climb, especially with a few inches of fresh snow to contend with. Just before the North Twin summit, there is a large open ledge with remarkable views of the Presidentials and of South Twin in the distance.
Even though it was incredibly cold, we were happy that the wind stayed mild. On the summit of North Twin, we decided not to take the short spur path to the viewpoint since we had so many miles still ahead of us. Instead, we snapped a quick picture with an equally great view from just past the summit and then ducked down underneath the trees to make the gradual ascent to South Twin.
Atop South Twin, we took in the views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness while piling on layers to keep ourselves from freezing. We briefly considered ending the hike there and heading back because we were so cold, but we knew the temps would rise through the rest of the day so we chose to continue on and we’re glad that we did!
South Twin to Zealand
From South Twin, we joined the Appalachian Trail and started on the Twinway Trail to Mount Guyot, not an official 4,000 footer but a domed mountain along the way to Zealand. This section of the Twinway was probably our favorite of the entire day, but it was also the most exhausting. It had snowed the evening before and it was clear that not many people hike the Twinway because we had to break trail for the entire two miles between South Twin and Guyot. Initially, it was difficult to find the trail because all of the white blazes were covered up by snow sticking to the trees. But soon, after we got our bearings and checked our GPS, we felt confident about staying on the trail. We switched off hiking leaders when our legs got fatigued from trudging through the fresh and loose snow. Honestly, this was one of the most breathtaking sections and it was well worth all the effort. The snow was untouched and we were completely alone in the woods – just the way we like it.
We emerged from the tree cover and turned left at the next juncture to stay on the Twinway and climb up Guyot (not an official 4,000 footer) where we got great views of the Bonds and the rest of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
From here on out, the trail was totally broken out which was a very welcome change. With two more peaks to go, we kept it moving. We dropped a bunch of elevation and appreciated a relatively mild and short ascent to Zealand. We turned left on the short spur trail to the official summit, snapped a picture of one of our favorite summit signs, and made our way towards Hale.
Zealand to Hale
The last push to Hale was the most tiring of the day, not because it was the hardest climb, but because we were exhausted after hiking 15 miles and almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain already. We dropped off of Zealand and crossed two small streams just before Zealand Falls Hut. People had put down some logs for us to walk over which made them really easy. After the trail juncture that split off toward Hale, we hit a steep section. We climbed very slowly on tired legs, then traversed over some undulating trail. With our energy levels fading, these last couple of miles felt like a huge slog! When we got to the summit of Hale, which is marked by a large pile of rocks, we were exhausted and so proud of ourselves.
Descending the Fire Warden’s Trail
With the sun setting, we took the Fire Warden’s Trail down a couple of miles to meet the herd path of North Twin Trail that we began on. When we got there, we traded out our snowshoes for microspikes, turned right, and practically jogged the rest of the way back to the road. We got to the car just before it was too dark, no headlamps needed.