The Lafayette Campground serves as a very popular base of operation for a grueling nine-mile long day hike to 4,840 feet Little Haystack Mountain, 5,089 feet Lincoln Mountain, and 5,260 feet Lafayette Mountain, all of which sit atop of the Franconia Ridge.
The trip starts on the eastern side of the Franconia Notch Parkway at the banks of the ever-present Pemigewasset River. Heading east the trail will fork and you will head south on the Falling Water Trail. The trail turns east and climbs sharply up Little Haystack Mountain and into the White Mountain National Forest. The section that rises from 2,200 feet to 3,600 feet is aptly called the forty-five, due to the steep angle on the trail - take heart in knowing it gets easier past this point. As you rise above 4,000 feet the trees start to give way to struggling scraggly pine, grasses, lichens and wildflowers of a montane environment before giving way to the wind scoured barren top of the ridge.
At the bare summit of Little Haystack Mountain the Falling Water Trail ends at the Appalachian Trail. Take the trail heading north to even higher Mount Lincoln about a mile away. Travel another mile and you will reach the summit of Mount Lafayette. From the barren windswept peak you can see Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec Province, Massachusetts and the Atlantic Ocean on a clear day. Hiking down the Old Bridle Trail from the summit of Lafayette you can stop and rest at the Greenleaf Hut, or stay for the night if you wish to pay the steep $50 per person fee. Greenleaf Hut sits at Eagle Lake, which rests about 1,000 feet below the summit of Lafayette and just above the timberline. The trail winds down Mount Lafayette back to the waters of the Pemigewasset, and back to Lafayette Campground.
Continuing northward through this rewarding park you come to popular Profile Lake and there 1,200 feet above the Old Man of the Mountain. Profile Lake is famous for world-class brook trout fishing. From Profile Lake you can take a hike up the side of Cannon Mountain to an observatory that sits atop this popular wintertime ski resort.
If all this hiking is making you tired don't despair. Cannon Mountain is also the site of the first aerial tramway in the United States. Originally built in 1938 and updated in 1980, two 80-passenger gondola cars take you on a five-minute ride to the top of 4,180 feet Cannon Mountain for breathtaking views of the valley below. In the wintertime skiers and snowboarders alike are taken to the top of Cannon to explore over 26 miles of trails. At the base of Cannon Mountain you can visit the New England Ski Museum or park your recreational vehicle at the Cannon Mountain RV Park.
Your exploration of Franconia Notch State Park is almost complete. At the northern end of the park is Park Headquarters and Echo Lake. The calm cold waters are popular among paddlers, swimmers and anglers. From Echo Lake you can take a short 1-1/2 mile loop trail up to Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff for an excellent view of Franconia Notch looking back southward along the route you just drove up.
At the Peabody Base Lodge it is just a short quarter mile steep climb and then a little side trail to the west to the top of aptly named Bald Mountain. You can then take the unmarked trail east to 2,368 feet Artists Bluff, to soak in the Franconia Notch. From there you can take the trail back down to the lodge.
Whether your plans include driving through to see the world famous fall foliage, skiing in the winter, enjoying world class fishing, or some of the best hiking and climbing in all of New England, Franconia Notch State Park is the one of the best places to have your next outdoor adventure.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Franconia Notch State Park
Location: Central New Hampshire, White Mountains National Forest
Nearest Major Air Service: Manchester, New Hampshire, Boston, Massachusetts
Fees & Permits: Flume Gorge Visitor Center, $7 per adult, $4 per child. Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, $9 adult, $5 child.
Why Visit: Heart of White Mountain National Forest. Outstanding views in deep valley surrounded by mountains covered in old growth forest. World famous New England fall foliage. See the Old Man of the Mountain over Profile Lake. Some of the best mountain climbing on the east coast along the Franconia Ridge.
When To Visit: May to October, most park facilities are closed after Columbus Day, skiing from December to early April, depending on weather
Essential Gear: Depends on wide variety of activity, sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellant, wind breaker, camera, binoculars, good hiking shoes or boots, and water (other equipment strongly recommended)
You Should Know: Reservations for camping recommended. Beware of the crowds and tour buses during the fall. Climbing along the Franconia Ridge is very serious business, five people lost their lives on Mount Lafayette in 1999. Do not attempt to climb these mountains during periods of bad weather, without full gear, and if you have never climbed before. Obey all traffic laws and no parking restrictions on the Franconia Notch Highway.
More Information: Franconia Notch State Park, c/o NH Division of Parks & Recreation, PO Box 1856, Concord, New Hampshire 03302, (603) 823-8800