Everyone thinks we’re crazy. And I guess to some extent, we are. After all, most people would be content to spend their weekends running errands, catching up on household chores, and taking an afternoon nap. Nothing wrong with that.
But its just not for us. Not every weekend. You see … we love to hike.
As a result, we spend many of our weekends driving for hours to remote locations where we’ll sleep in a tent and pee in a hole all weekend just so we can tackle some of New England’s most challenging mountainous terrain. We return, exhuasted, covered with bug bites and bruises before we trudge sleepily into work on Monday morning.
Ah, but it’s worth it. It’s so worth it.
We experience views most people never see. We witness wildlife encounters others only see on TV. Hiking opens us up to an entirely different side of New England that we would never know existed if we simply stayed home. And believe it or not, we do it all by taking nearby day trips or over-nighters in our home region of New England. We believe that authentic, rewarding travel does not require nearly the amount of time or money that most people expect it to.
You, too, can enjoy some of the same incredible wilderness experiences we’ve had in New England. All you need is a few days for travel, an adventurous spirit, and a pair of hiking boots!
Here are some of the best day hikes in New England:
Mt. Greylock & the Appalachian Trail (Massachusetts)
Mt. Greylock, nestled in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains on the border of Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, is the highest peak in Massachusetts (3,491 ft). It also happens to be one of our favorite places in all of New England. Although you barely break treeline on this hike, you’ll be rewarded at the summit with spectacular views of the Berkshires, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and the surrounding valley. Greylock can be attempted from all directions — north, south, east, west — or can be reached by traveling along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). To travel north along the A.T. toward Greylock, begin at the intersection of MA-8 in Cheshire. Heading north on MA-8, you will come to Cheshire Center. Turn right onto Church Street until you reach Furnace Hill Rd., where you will take another right. You will find parking at a local bicycle path. From there, follow the white blaze marking the A.T. northbound. Continue following the A.T. for 8 miles until you reach the summit of Mt. Greylock. From there, you will continue northward until the at Pattison Rd. in North Adams. There is a parking lot here where you could drop a second car, or you could camp in a nearby lean-to and head back to your car the next day. The hike from Cheshire to North Adams is just under 12 miles. If you have time, continue northward on the A.T. into Vermont. The scenery is worth it!
When to hike it:
For the most beautiful foliage, hike the last week of September through the second week of October. Avoid early Spring until the beginning of May as winter snow-melt may make some water crossings impassible. The route can also be completed in winter, but be sure to bring snow shoes and plenty of warm clothing.
Franconia Ridge (New Hampshire)
There are few places in the mountains of New England with views that will surpass the ones you’ll experience on this hike. The Franconia Ridge, located in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, is one of the regions most popular day hikes. It’s easy to see why (You see the photo at the very top of this post? That’s the view from the ridgeline!). But despite its popularity and well-traversed path, this hike is not for the faint of heart or the physically unfit. The White Mountains are extremely rocky and are quite steep. Although this hike does not really require any scrambling (the use of all fours), it will take its toll on your quads. Many hikers opt to use trekking poles to ease the strain on the knees, particularly on the descent.
This 9-mile hike can be accessed by parking at the LaFayette Place campground along Interstate 93 in Franconia Notch State Park. Head east at the trailhead along the Falling Waters Trail. You will ascend for close to 2 miles before you reach the ridgeline and your first summit of the day, Little Haystack (4,780 ft.). This is a great place to enjoy a lunch and fuel-up for the rest of the hike. You’ve still got two peaks to go before you can head back down! Continue northward along the Franconia Ridge Trail (also the Appalachian Trail) to the summit of Mt. Lincoln (5,089 ft.). To the east you will enjoy panoramic views of the White Mountains’ other famous range — the Presidentials. Continue north to reach your final peak of the day, Mt. Lafayette (5,260 ft.). Just 3.1 miles to go! Heading west past the summit, follow the blue blaze of the Greenleaf Trail until you arrive at the Greenleaf Hut (pictured above). From here, continue down the Old Bridle Path to the parking lot at Lafayette Place.
When to hike it:
You will have the most favorable weather June through September, although you should be prepared for dramatic changes in weather at any time when hiking in the White Mountains — rain, wind, cold, even snow. Do not attempt this hike in winter unless you are an experienced winter hiker and have the proper equipment, including crampons and an ice axe.
The Long Trail (Vermont)
Ok, so Vermont’s famed 270+ mile Long Trail is not exactly a day hike. In fact, to complete the entire route — from Canada to Massachusetts – you would need at least a month. But if you’re like us, you are pressed for time and a simple day or weekend hike will suffice. The Long Trail traverses the entire length of Vermont from north to south. You can travel either direction on the trail. Whichever way you choose, it’s going to be tough. The Long Trail is infamous for its rocky, stair-step style paths that alternate between up and down all day long. Trekking poles are a good idea for this one. We recommend hiking one of the northern sections of the trail in the Green Mountains. We focused on the area of Mt. Mansfield (Vermont’s highest peak) and the Camel’s Hump, a bald rockface at the summit and an alpine zone.
When to hike it:
Avoid spring, particularly April, as this is the season for mudslides throughout Vermont. June through September will offer the most enjoyable weather, though, like the White Mountains, be prepared for anything. The Black Flies are particular severe in June. Bring plenty of bug repellant and tie a scarf or bandana around your neck to avoid bites. Long pants, though hot, are not a bad idea. Brimmed hats will deter the flies from biting your face. October is a beautiful time to hike, though it will be quite cold toward the summits and snow is possible.
Mt. Washington (New Hampshire)
At 6,288 ft., Mt. Washington is New England’s highest and most famous peak. We must admit, it’s pretty epic. But it’s not just it’s steep ascents and descents that give it the epic-factor. It’s that it boasts some of the worst weather ever recorded in the world (winds exceeding 200 mph!) and well over 100 people have lost their lives on this mountain over the past 150 years. This mountain doesn’t kid around and neither should you.
If you want to experience Mt. Washington in all it’s glory — challenging terrain as well as gorgeous views — we recommend completing an 11 mile loop that will take reasonably fit hikers the whole day. Begin your hike at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center just south of Gorham, NH and head up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. You will hike for 2 miles before you reach the Hermit Lake Shelter, which provides beautiful views of Tuckerman’s Ravine and, if there’s not much cloud-cover, the Mt. Washington summit. Continue up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit, where there is a weather station, a visitor’s center, and a small museum. There’s also a food court and restrooms. Once you’re ready to begin your descent, head down the Crawford Path (also the Appalachian Trail) toward the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. You can rest at the Hut while enjoying the views of these alpine lakes. Then you will cut across to the Davis Path before beginning your longest descent down the Boott Spur Trail. Be sure you refill your water bottles and take plenty of snacks as this trail continues for nearly five miles along joint-punishing terrain. You will then re-connect with Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail briefly before you arrive back at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center.
When to hike it:
Mt. Washington’s weather is serious. Be prepared for any time of weather in all seasons. Snow or thunderstorms can come on quickly, and you are most at-risk above treeline. Do not attempt without warm clothing in your backpack and plenty of food in case you become stranded. If signs of inclement weather begin to appear, descend immediately. Do not attempt this hike in winter without proper mountaineering experience and equipment.
Mt. Katahdin (Maine)
Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, is located in north-central Maine’s Baxter State Park. This area is quite remote, and even though you can complete the hike in one day, you will need to camp in the park for at least two evenings. The park itself stretches for nearly 210,000 acres of wilderness and includes 215 miles of hiking trails. Katahdin is the highest peak in Maine, and at 5,268 ft. is the park’s most popular attraction. Katahdin’s allure is in large part due to its unique crescent shape, forming a wide basin in the center. Although the mountain resembles structures that have been created by volcanic eruption, Katahdin is not volcanic. Intead, its unique shape is the result of centuries of glacial movement.
For a one-day attempt of Katahdin’s summit, we recommend camping at the Roaring Brook Campground within Baxter State Park. You will want to reserve your spot several months in advance if possible. Begin your hike by following the Chimney Pond trail for several miles until you reach the Chimney Pond campground and ranger outpost. From here, follow signs for the Cathedral Trail. Although this trail is less than two miles to the summit, it is quite steep and will require some scrambling. Be prepared to use your hands. We recommend bringing gloves, particularly gloves with some level of grip if possible. Good hiking boots are also recommended. Once you reach the ridgeline, you are almost to the summit. Turn left and head briefly along the Knife Edge Trail until you reach the official summit. Continue in the same direction along the Knife Edge Trail until you reach the Helon Taylor Trail. Continue to descend until you arrive back at Roaring Brook Campground.
When to hike it:
The same guidelines apply to Mt. Katahdin as to Mt. Washington. Take great care and preparation when attempting to summit this mountain. Be prepared for sudden, drastic changes in weather. Be sure to bring dry, warm clothes to change into once back at camp.
What’s the most impressive day hike you’ve ever done? Share your recommendations below!