This is the perfect time of year to hit the trails. The weather may be hot, but a shady mountain hike is a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the natural beauty of the Upper Valley. And hiking is a Hanover legacy! Ever since the Appalachian Trail was finished in 1937, a part of that famous 2,100-mile path from Maine to Georgia has run through downtown.
Here are 13 trails you’ll want to check off your must-hike bucket list:
1. Mount Moosilauke
The westernmost 4,000 footer in New Hampshire at 4,802 feet, Mount Moosilauke gets its name for its bare summit—Moosilauke is the Algonquin word for “bald place.” According to the Appalachian Mountain Club website, the mountain has two suggested trails. The moderate one is the Gorge Brook Trail with a long but moderate climb to the summit offering views of the Franconia Ridge. The more strenuous is the Beaver Brook Trail—a very steep, rough trail around the Beaver Brook Cascades. The Appalachian Trail follows the Beaver Brook Trail to Kinsman Notch.
2. Gile Mountain
An easy hike of just 1.4 miles with a summit at 1,873 feet, Gile is located just over 7 miles from Hanover. Once you get to the top, climb the fire tower for views of the Connecticut River Valley all the way to the White Mountains. This is a good hike for beginners. You’ll find the trailhead off Upper Turnpike Road in Norwich. Parking is available at the parking lot designated for the Tower Trail.
3. Smarts Mountain
Part of the Appalachian Trial, the 7.6-mile hike will take you to the 3,240-foot summit in about 5 hours. There you will find an abandoned fire tower and a nearby ranger cabin that is now a shelter for camping. The trailhead is located in Lyme, close to the iron bridge over Grant Brook.
4. Mount Cardigan
This 3,155-foot mountain provides a moderate day hike of 3.3 miles. In 1855, a fire burned the summit, taking all the vegetation and soil. Today it’s still bare and rocky, but it offers a super view of rural New Hampshire and the White Mountains. The trailhead is found in Cardigan Mountain State Park in Orange.
5. Moose Mountain
An easy day hike of 4.1 miles will take you to the highest point within Hanover’s town boundaries. In 1968, a Northeast Airlines plane crashed on the south ridge below the summit. A bulldozer was driven up from the Harris Trail and cleared the summit for a helicopter landing area. Then, a caterpillar infestation killed much of the remaining timber, creating an open view on the forested summit. You can see east toward Mount Cardigan and southeast toward Mount Kearsarge. The town of Canaan lies in the valley below.
6. French’s Ledges
Located in Plainfield, New Hampshire, the summit of French’s Ledges offers a beautiful view of the village and surrounding mountains. The trail is fairly steep, and it zigzags, offering a moderate-level hike. To find the trail, park at the Plainfield Elementary school and look for the trail map at the edge of the woods.
7. Mount Ascutney
Spend the day taking this moderate 6.8-mile hike up what was once an old volcano that stood 20,000 feet high! Vermont’s first mountain-hiking trail was created here in 1825. Today there are two trails, the Windsor Trail and the Brownsville Trail, with trailheads separated by a mile of road.
8. Bicknell Brook Loop Trail and Colette Trail
These trails follow Bicknell Brook on its way to Crystal Lake. On your trek, you’ll see the brook transform from a lazy stream to cascading waterfalls. There are also wetlands caused by beaver activity and the remains of old mills to explore. Trailhead parking can be found on Grafton Pond Road in Enfield.
9. Velvet Rocks
This is a must for everyone. The easy 5.2-mile trail starts at the Hanover Green. The Velvet Rocks Trail was the first protected corridor of land for the Appalachian Trail. Begin at the corner of Main Street and East Wheelock Street in front of the Hanover Inn. As you head toward the Post Office, you’ll notice the white rectangular blazes on telephone poles and the backs of signs marking the AT. Once you reach Velvet Rocks, you’ll understand how it got its name as you enjoy the moss-covered rocks, smooth ledges, and thick vegetation.
10. Mount Cube
Mount Cube is at the northern end of the long ridge stretching north from South Moose Mountain to form the eastern edge of the Connecticut River Valley. This is an easy day hike of 6.6 miles. Mount Cube is known for its pinkish-gray quartzite summit, the same rock that runs from Lebanon, over Moose, up Lambert Ridge, and on to Cube. The summit ledges are a great spot for a picnic.
11. Camel’s Hump
A moderate 6.6-mile day hike, the 4,083-ft summit of Camel’s Hump makes it Vermont’s third-highest mountain. That summit is Arctic tundra, featuring low, waxy plants and grasses left over from the retreat of the glaciers. The views stretch from the Adirondacks of New York to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and include the highest peaks in three states: Mount Marcy in New York, Mount Mansfield in Vermont, and Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
12. Franconia Ridge
Want a real hiking challenge with finicky weather thrown in? This difficult 8.9-mile hike is one of New England’s most dramatic. Part of the trail is above the tree line and along a steep-sided ridge known as “the Knife Edge.” Since this ridge is the first barrier to thunderstorms traveling across the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, lightning strikes are common. Winds can also be fierce and very chilly when a cold front passes through. This is a popular hike, so you’ll have lots of company on the trail if you go on a holiday weekend.
13. Holt’s Ledge
This is an easy 2.2-mile day hike that should take you only a couple of hours. Holt’s Ledge is a cliff with views to the east that was one of the first sites in New Hampshire where peregrine falcons were successfully reintroduced after being decimated in the area because of DDT. The cliff edge is fenced off to protect both the peregrines and unaware hikers on foggy days. Parking for this hike is Dartmouth Skiway