Outdoor adventures: Looking for peaceful solitude? Go on a winter hike

For the Monitor
Saturday, January 14, 2017

Whether bare-booting, snowshoeing or trekking about with micro-spikes underfoot, heading out on the trails in winter is invigorating and, if you want, can provide plenty of peaceful solitude.

Correctly equipped, traipsing about during the insect-free big chill months shines a new light on summits, ponds, alpine features and so much more.

Craggy Franconia Notch State Park is a winter wandering utopia from its alpine summits to its gelid waterways. The park in the shadows of Cannon Mountain also contains waterfalls that transform themselves into beautiful frozen sculptures.

New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development communications manager Kris Neilsen suggests a moderate hike with a “great pay off” – the Falling Waters Trail to Cloudland Falls.

“Actually there are three waterfalls on this route,” Neilsen said.

Eighty-foot high and fan-shaped Cloudland Falls is the crown jewel in the dazzling trio, while 60-foot high Swiftwater Falls and Stairs Falls are the other shining gems on this hike.

Though the trail from the Lafayette Place lot off Interstate 93 goes to the Little Haystack summit, a 3-mile roundtrip jaunt to Cloudland and back is a delightful outing under the hardwoods with some bridge walking and water crossings.

A notable upper valley landmark, 3,144-foot Mount Ascutney via the Weathersfield Trail, is a popular hike during the winter, according to Rick White, a forester with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

The strenuous six-mile roundtrip pathway through Mount Ascutney State Park has an elevation gain of approximately 2,000 feet and “should only be attempted by experienced hikers using appropriate gear,” according to White.

White also advised that, depending on snow conditions, ice cleats or snowshoes with aggressive cleats should be used to navigate the trail.

The Weathersfield Trail on the mountain’s south face is one of four trails that run from the base to the Monadnock summit and serves up a handful of vista opportunities as well as ice formations found on ledges along the pathway. The trailhead is located in Weathersfield, Vt., off Route 131 and Cascade Falls Road.

Have a hunkering to summit a 4,000-footer during wintertide? Head over to 4,083-foot Camel’s Hump, one of Vermont’s highest peaks. Its ledgy summit contains dazzling far-reaching looks over the Champlain Valley. In the west, the rugged Adirondacks hold court in New York. The Green Mountains appear to the north and the eastern sky contains the rippling While Mountains.

“The best part of Camel’s Hump in the winter is the alpine summit where rime ice covers the rocks, stunted plants, and trail signs,” said Amy Potter, the Green Mountain Club visitor center manager.

Potter suggested the Burrows Trail from Huntington as a great winter option for the mountain. Potter said that compared to hiking most other 4,000-foot mountains in the winter, reaching the summit is only moderately strenuous. It’s a 4.8-mile undertaking that’s not particularly steep. Located in the 21,000-acre Camel’s Hump State Park, the beloved double hump is also graced by the Long Trail across its summit.

Appalachian Mountain Club director of media and public affairs Rob Burbank points to a couple of sub-2,000 foot under-the-radar peaks to try in winter – Peaked and Middle Mountains. The 1,739-foot Peaked and 1,857-foot Middle mountains are located in the Nature Conservancy’s 12,000 acre Green Hill Preserve that also offers some nice mountain biking. For hikers, the craggy knoll atop Peaked is a nice vantage point to gaze down upon the Saco Valley and off to Mount Washington and other mountains, while Middle’s stage includes Mount Chocorua, and the Ossipee and Moat ranges.

Winter trekkers can reach both mountaintops on a single five-mile hike using the Peaked Mountain and Middle Mountain trails.

The Old Bridle Path up West Rattlesnake Mountain in the Squam Lakes area is New Hampshire’s cupid shooting an arrow into the heart of hikers. The simple under 2-mile trek is a year-round delight to a series of ledges overlooking some of the most beautiful frosty real estate in the Granite State. The trailhead leaves from Route 113.

For novices who have never experienced the winter woods, or those looking to resuscitate the passion, steps taken there will not disappoint.