Facts and Statistics
The Franconia Ridge Loop is one of the most beautiful higher summit trails in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Situated in Franconia Notch, the route passes through Mount Lafayette and Mount Lincoln which are both 5000-footers and a smaller peak. Most of this trail is defined as Class 1. However, there are few mini-scrambles on this trail that would be classified as Class 2.
The section on higher elevations of Mount Lafayette and Mount Lincoln is on a narrow ridge and well above the tree line. This would be classified as knife-edge by most hikers. Although it is narrow, there is easy footing to hike along. You would be very careless to fall off from the edge of this cliff. This is not the trail to hike during bad weather.
Due to the open summits and high elevations, temperatures can change dramatically while winds can be very strong. Although it can be done during winter, you must bring proper gear. Hypothermia has been the chief cause of most fatalities occurring on this trail. When there are thunderstorms during summer, the trail can be very dangerous, since it is so up high. When there is bad weather, just choose another trail or destination.
Hiking the Trail
Once you hit the ridge, hiking is somehow easy, as long as you have warm temperatures, little wind and clear skies. However, such ideal weather is rarely available that makes this trail challenging and risky. The hard part of this traverse is getting to the ridge. This is made hard by the fact that you have to gain several thousand feet of elevation over rocky trails and challenging mountains.
Attempting to cover all the peaks in a day is also challenging since a full traverse results to a very long loop hike, of about 16 miles. You will also require numerous car spots at the start and end of your route. You can also hike Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette as a loop, leaving out Flume and Liberty for another day.
When planning a thru-hike you need to determine whether you want to move from north to south, or south to north. The north to south route passes through the peaks Lafayette, Lincoln, Mount Liberty and Flume. The south to north route, is a reverse starting from Flume, Liberty, Mt Lincoln and finally to Lafayette.
Hiking from north to south has its advantages. First, most of the elevation for the hike is out of the way. You can also stop by AMC Greenleaf hut as you approach Lafayette, get away from the weather, enjoy some good food, and resupply before you proceed to climbing the peak. The hardest mountain to climb on this series is Lafayette. Additionally, the route tends to be very dangerous when there is bad weather since it is completely exposed.
The advantages of hiking from south to north is that the tree cover protects the route from bad weather immediately before Mt. Lincoln. This allows you to climb Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume even when the weather is not perfect, before proceeding to hike Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette, which are above the tree line. Water is also available near the Liberty Summit during spring. You can refill your water bottles here as you head above the tree line.
North to South
You can use three trails to Lafayette, if you hike from north to south. The Old Bridle Path is the most popular. It is a rocky and challenging trail, leaving a parking Lot Off Interstate-93 and passing through the AMC Greenleaf hut.
You can also use the Greanleaf Trail that starts near Mt Cannon Tramway. It used to be the main route for hikers climbing to the AMC Greanleaf hut. However, it not regularly used nowadays, although it is very beautiful.
The Garfield Ridge Trail is the third route that you can use to climb Mt Lafayette. You will approach the mountain from the north. It is very popular with backpackers. The route also requires climbing a sub-peak of the mountain, towards the northwest side.
South to North
If you decide to take the South – North route, you can use three trails that will take you to the trailhead of Franconia Ridge. The trail begins approximately 0.1 miles south of the summit of Mt Flume.
The easiest route is the Osseo Trail. it commences 5 miles from the parking lot of Lincoln Woods, passing through the Kancamagus Highway. The trailhead is at the end of Osseo Trail. At this point, it also intersects with Flume Side Trail.
You can also use the Liberty Spring Trail starting from Franconia Notch Bike Path. It is a good choice for those hiking alone, since they can follow the bike trail that is clear and easy to hike along. You go also go back to your car after ascending Mt Lafayette. If you first climb Mt Liberty, you will need to take a south hike to Mt Flume then climb Mt Liberty again, if you want to cover the full traverse. It is not a challenging hike, however, the trail can be longer as compared to the others.
The Flume Side Trail is the third one. However, it is not recommended because of its steep ascent up wet rocks. Additionally, it is very time consuming, which means less hours to view the surrounding and savor the scenery.
During early spring and wintertime, full winter gear, such as hiking sticks and crampons are required. This is necessitated by several sections of slippery areas on either side of the loop hike. Without crampons the Falling Waters Trail can be very challenging during winter. You will also need to carry an Ice Axe during winter. Come along with snowshoes and remain observant of the avalanche forecast in case of recent snow.
In fall and summer, hiking this trail does not call for any specialized equipment apart from conventional hiking gear and boots. However, during fall, weather can change rapidly. Therefore, be on the lookout for weather and dress appropriately. Stay away from high peaks during April and May since this is a mud season and the trail is easily eroded. June is a nice time to climb, however, carry the strongest bug repellant available. It is the season of black flies.