Where to Snowshoe in New Hampshire
The best scenic trails for every skill level
courtesy of skinh/gunstock
You don't need a lot of gear to hit the snowshoe trails.
A snowshoe trek can be a magical way to explore winter’s striking scenery. When snow falls, familiar backyards, parks and mountain trails are transformed into an exotic world of sparkling white.
“Enthusiasm for snowshoeing just keeps growing as people learn how much fun it is to get out and explore the winter woods,” says Appalachian Mountain Club spokesman Rob Burbank.
Snowshoeing, which allows travel on snow without sinking, is a relatively simple pursuit that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s fun, easy and fairly inexpensive — and it’s a good way to burn calories and enjoy nature.
With minimal equipment, it’s possible to be out enjoying the quiet of the woods while getting a good workout. Whether climbing a mountain or enjoying a mostly level excursion to the frozen shores of a pond, snowshoers quickly learn they’re rarely alone — crisscrossing tracks left behind by a wealth of four-legged creatures are evidence of other winter walkers in the woods.
Though the wooden snowshoes of yesterday are often relegated to a decoration over a roaring alpine fireplace, they are tried and true. But modern snowshoes are generally made of aluminum or composite. They come with adjustable bindings, with many styles allowing for pivoting near the front of the feet. Crampons, or cleats, underneath give greater grip, which are particularly helpful in crusty and icy situations.
“Because of the flotation they provide, snowshoes are a big help when following animal tracks in the snow,” says Burbank. “And, because of the narrower design of some of the newer models, you no longer have to walk like a duck to get around on snowshoes.”
Many snowshoers like to use poles for balance while out on the trails. If you have a ski or adjustable hiking poles, you have a snowshoe pole. As for footwear, hiking boots work. Being waterproof and insulated is a plus. Wearing breathable layers with a windproof shell is a good idea, remembering that you’ll warm up as you go. Don’t forget a hat, gloves, pack, food, water, and navigational and emergency items.
Taking the first steps on your own is fine. But some like paying for a trail pass at a cross-country ski center with packed-down, well-signed, snowshoe-only trails. You can also rent gear, pepper staff with questions, take a tour, and rest assured you’re not that far from a cup of hot chocolate.
As Jackson Ski Touring Foundation Executive Director Breanne Torrey says about the foundation’s 45 kilometers of designated snowshoe trails for all fitness levels and abilities, “We have everything you need.”
So, where should you go?
In the White Mountains, Mount Willard in Crawford Notch is a half-day excursion serving up a bird’s-eye look at the U-shaped valley below, which was carved by glaciers long ago. The 3.2-mile round-trip hike from the Route 302 trailhead uses the Avalon and Mount Willard trails with largely gentle to moderate grades. Burst out from the shelter of the forest to the peak’s wide ledges for an incredible look at the slithering roadway and jagged mountains.
Lonesome Lake is a little treasure in Franconia Notch State Park. From its frozen shores tucked below North and South Kinsman mountains, peer across to the jagged Franconia Range on the horizon. For those looking for an overnight adventure, the trek can be augmented with a stay at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lonesome Lake hut. Day-trippers can also stop in to warm up. Altogether it’s a little more than 3 miles along the Lonesome Lake, Cascade Brook and Fishin’ Jimmy trails.
Just outside Lincoln on the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) is the wonderfully benign Lincoln Woods Trail. In the White Mountain National Forest, the wide trail that was once part of a logging railroad follows the rock-strewn waters of the east branch of the Pemigewasset River about 3 miles to the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. This is one of those outings where you can set your own distance since there are numerous viewpoints. It’s also fun to cross a long suspension bridge over the river.
If there ever was a place to fall in love with a beautiful New Hampshire winter, it’s along the Old Bridle Path in Holderness. Located off Route 113, it goes up West Rattlesnake for a jaw-dropping shot of Squam Lake with all its nooks and crannies. The relatively easy Lakes Region family-friendly mile leads to a horizon that also includes Lake Winnipesaukee and peaks in the Belknap and Squam ranges.
The 10,000 undulating acres of Bear Brook State Park southeast of Concord in Allenstown have a wealth of snowshoeing options and are a popular destination for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. Be sure to pick up a trail map for this one, as there are many twists and turns. Snowshoe to Hayes Marsh using the Little Bear and Hayes Farm trails, or trek to the top of 700-plus-foot Catamount Hill on the One Mile and Catamount trails.
Southwest New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock is a beacon for winter walkers. Snowshoeing up the 3,165-foot peak is a serious undertaking as summit ice and exposure can sour a day fairly quickly. That said, the views are stunning and, on clear days, you can see neighboring states. In Jaffrey’s Monadnock State Park, the White Dot Trail is the most direct way to the top, while White Cross Trail is a less taxing option. Get the latest weather forecast before heading up.
Holt’s Ledge in Lyme is an excellent perch for views to Upper Valley-area mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont. The undemanding snowshoe along the Appalachian Trail to a side path leaves from the Dartmouth Skiway parking lot and heads through the northern hardwoods to the cliffs, which happen to be a nesting area for peregrine falcons.
Prefer a tour or workshop? The AMC’s Highland Center and Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch are fine launching points into snowshoeing. So are XC centers like Jackson, Bear Notch in Bartlett, Bretton Woods, Great Glen Trails and Gunstock in Gilford.
So strap in and snowshoe.