Day 1 – Mount Willard
After being in a car for five hours until we reached the White Mountains area of New Hampshire, all I wanted to do was to stretch my legs. And I decided to do it on a mountain over 2,000 ft. tall: Mt. Willard. It takes about an hour to hike 2,864 ft. and the summit has amazing views of Crawford Notch.
Even before you start the hike, as soon as you park you will notice that the area is fraught with hikers with trekking poles that look like they should be in an REI ad. Don’t worry if you feel out of place because we all start somewhere! We parked near the Crawford Notch Station, which is right next to the Appalachian Mountain Club Center. The trail starts behind the yellow station and railroad tracks.
After some yards in you will notice that the trail divides in two: either to Mt. Willard or Mt. Avalon. The beginning is not too much of a challenge and about 20 minutes in, after crossing a couple of streams, you will get to the Centennial Pool. This is a great place to compose yourself and take a short break. Throughout most of the first half of the hike, you can hear running water in the distance.
The middle chunk of this hike is the toughest because you will have to maneuver the inclination and array of small rocks. Definitely watch your step. Once you get to the last ten minutes of the hike, the small rocks start to become scarce and it will be more like a gravel and dirt path. You will see a light at the end of what looks like a small tunnel. Except it’s a tunnel made out of trees.
All of sudden, when you get to the end, the trees disappear and you reach a substantial cliff where you can sit down and admire Crawford Notch. Birds will fly around you and shy away when you get too close, and you can see what look like miniature cars zip down the highway. Of course, the best view is the surrounding mountain range.
Total Time to Summit: 1 hr and 4 minutes (We took a couple of breaks)
Total Time of Hike (including stops, photos and enjoying the view): 2 hrs and 43 minutes
Elevation Gain: 900 ft.
Total Elevation: 2,864 ft.
Day 2 – Arethusa Falls
Sometimes we plan for specific events on trips and never get to do them. Unfortunately, this was one of those times. For weeks, I had been mentally preparing myself for my first 4,000 footer: Mt. Willey. I knew that Saturday and Monday wouldn’t be an option because we would drive to and from our weekend destination. I had left this challenging hike for Sunday, but suddenly there was a 100% chance of rainstorm. I didn’t want to risk getting caught in a storm on a strenuous hike. Instead, we decided to do another easy hike up to Arethusa Falls.
When you arrive to Arethusa Falls Road, you can either park your car at the very entrance and start the hike there or start it at the parking lot at the end of the lane. We started the hike at the end of the road, and began walking behind the railroad tracks. A man asked us to move our car because he said it would obstruct his view of the Crawford Notch Train that would be arriving in 10 minutes. In a couple of minutes even more people with DSLR cameras appeared. Then all of a sudden a beast of a train appeared. It was pure coincidence we showed up at the right time. That’s when we learned you can take this train to enjoy the mountainous views of New Hampshire. Click here for more information about the Conway Scenic Railroad.
Right after the train and the photographers disappeared, we began our hike to Arethusa Falls. For some reason, even though this hike wasn’t as difficult as the one from the previous day, I felt like it was a little bit more challenging. I think I was just plain tired.
There are a lot of large rocks on the trail and smooth stairs. The most challenging part would be towards the end, where the trail seems to take a dip and then when you return, it feels like you have to climb a small cliff again. I have included a screenshot of what I’m referring to based on my hike app:
It was sad to see this bridge in disarray. Another hiker told me that she saw it back in June and keeps on getting worse.
Once you see some stairs, at about the 45-minute mark, the path starts to change and you know you are getting close to the waterfall. The last 10 minutes is where you have to be careful, as there is no stairs to help you along the route. This is what appears when you finally arrive:
Even though it was evident the rain would shortly start, there were many people on the trail with sweaters, rain jackets and even biker jackets. We admired the falls for about 15 minutes before it began to pour and head back on the trail. Ugh, I was hoping it wouldn’t rain but we were lucky enough to have arrived to the falls before the storm did. I’m glad I got this short hike done before the rain lasted late into the night.
Total Time to Falls: 55 minutes
Total Time of Hike (including stops, photos and enjoying the view): 1 hr and 55 minutes
Elevation Gain: 500 ft.
Total Elevation: 2,023 ft.
Miles to Arethusa Falls: 1.5
Height of the Falls: There is conflicting information online. The AMC club believes it is 140 ft. tall but other organizations have made different approximations.
Day 3 – Mount Washington
We saved the easiest and laziest option for the last day of our return trip with a drive up the tallest mountain in the Northeastern of the U.S.: Mt. Washington. My husband and I are definitely not physically prepared or have the experience to hike up a mountain that has taken the lives of even the most experienced hikers. Therefore, we decided to drive up to the summit instead. On September 1, 2017, a day before we drove to NH, it even snowed on the summit and high winds resulted in trail closures. Overall, the conditions near the summit of the mountain can change so quickly and drastically that it can confuse even the most advanced hikers. Even going up by car, the changes in temperature, wind speed and visibility were truly astonishing.
It was a clear, warm but breezy day at about 75 degrees when we got to the entrance of the Mt. Washington Auto Road. As we got to the entrance to pay for the tickets ($29 for car and driver plus $9 for passenger= $38), the man at the booth informed us that the road was closed because the winds were approximately 80 miles per hour at the summit. No cars were allowed up, but we could go up with guided tours. We turned around and headed across the street to buy our tickets. We were bummed out but wanted to go up anyway. Once I entered to pay for the tickets, I overheard a Mt. Washington Auto Road employee say they would possibly open the auto road in the next 20 minutes. This is why it’s imperative to check for updates on the website. Don’t assume the road is open. It might be a beautiful day in the neighboring towns, but the road might be closed due to conditions on the summit. We waited for about half an hour and then got the green light to go up in our own car.
When you buy your tickets, you are given a “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” sticker and a CD. Make sure you listen to the directions so your car doesn’t overheat. When you go up the mountain, you’ll surely catch a whiff of the lingering smell of overused brakes. Your car will go up the 6,000 feet in less than half an hour, depending on whether you stop to take in the view or not. The first half of the drive, I saw many hikers crossing the auto road. Props to them. I hope to be like them one day.
I started panicking at 4,000 feet. It got extremely foggy and I could barely see the car’s lights some feet in front of me. Are you the type of person that starts giggling uncontrollably when panic sets in? Because that was my husband’s reaction… followed by mine too. My thoughts went back and forth from this experience being one of the dumbest I had set out to do and wondering if any cars had gone flying off the auto road. But somehow, we made it to the top and parked our car. I knew it had recently snowed so I had brought my winter jacket with me, and I’m glad I did. A lot of people were wearing thin sweaters because it looked like such a beautiful day some 5,000 feet below.
When we got to the top, we explored the Tip Top House (where hikers used to bunk in the last century) and the Extreme Mount Washington Museum. Of course, we also took pictures at the summit sign. I met a couple of hikers who did the entire hike with their small dog. I took a photo of them with the sign and asked unnecessary questions. You’ll start to think you can do it too until you see the names of everyone who has passed away… Don’t attempt to climb this mountain if you are not an experienced hiker!
The museum provides you information on the summit during the winter (when the road is closed to the public) and how it is manned by courageous workers in exceedingly cold weather. Don’t miss out because you will learn a lot of cool facts, including that the highest wind ever recorded was right there on Mt. Washington. Pretty astonishing for a mountain in the U.S. because I would have never imagined it would be here!
The photos below were taken on our way down the mountain at different heights. It is just truly astounding to understand how quickly a landscape can change due to height!
In no way can you see the White Mountains in three days or three weeks or even three months. People spend their entire lives hiking the area. I finally got to see a bit of it, and I will come back for more. Hope you get the wanderlust bug to get out on these trails and the auto road!
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