9 Hikes to Take in the Upper Valley, and Beyond, This Spring

  • Phyllis Trevor Higgerson
  • 05/24/21

Located along the border of Vermont and New Hampshire, the picturesque Upper Valley is the perfect place to get outside and hike this spring! If you’re feeling a little cooped up inside, consider hitting the trails at one of the stunning mountains in the area. With plenty of natural beauty and sweeping views of the Connecticut River from atop storied New England peaks, any of the following hikes will make for an outdoor adventure you won’t soon forget.

1. Gile Mountain (Norwich, VT)

Start off with an easier hike through the beautiful scenery of Vermont! Located near Norwich, this 1.4-mile trail leads you up almost 400 feet of the mountain—an excellent hike for beginners or those just getting the lay of the land. Take in the sights, including blooming wildflowers and a fire tower at the top!

The relative easiness of the hike makes it perfect for families with younger children. You’re also welcome to bring your dog to enjoy the outing—just make sure to keep him on a leash! The trailhead is located just off Upper Turnpike Road in Norwich, Vermont, and ample parking is available in a lot nearby.

2. Mount Moosilauke (Benton, NH)

Located along the Appalachian Trail, this stunning mountain is considered one of New England’s finest. Mount Moosilauke, which takes its name from the Algonquin word for “bald place,” is ranked at number 9 on the New England Fifty Finest list, which ranks summits with the highest topographic prominence.

The mountain stretches 4,802 feet high, is located at the southwestern end of the White Mountains and is known for its bare summit, free of trees. Make sure to check the weather before heading out—since the summit is so clear, you could easily be taken by surprise if the weather conditions turn bad and there is no available shelter nearby. After your hike to the top, you’ll be rewarded with fabulous views of Lake Winnipesaukee, the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, and many more.

Trying to decide how best to hike Mount Moosilauke? Depending on your skill level or preference, there are two different routes suggested by the Appalachian Mountain Club. These include the Gorge Brook Trail, which is long but more moderate, and the Beaver Brook Trail, a quite strenuous hike to the summit. Beaver Brook is known to be more difficult due to the extremely steep incline and rough trail conditions as you navigate the Beaver Brook Cascades.

3. Velvet Rocks (Hanover, NH)

This popular New Hampshire trail is beloved by locals and visitors alike! Beginning at the Hanover Green, the Velvet Rocks trail is considered an easy day hike, comprising a total of 5.2 miles. It also holds some historical significance that makes it an important part of the town of Hanover; Velvet Rocks was the first protected area of land in the Appalachian Trail!

Velvet Rocks Trail takes its name from the smooth, moss-covered rocks and thick vegetation that lines your path. This trail is remarkable for its close proximity to downtown Hanover—you can get started on the hike just outside the Hanover Inn on the corner of Main Street and East Wheelock Street. Soon, you’ll be led out of town and into the lush green natural beauty of the trail!

4. Franconia Ridge Loop (Lincoln, NH)

If you’re looking to step up your hiking experience and add some challenges, Franconia Ridge might be the hike for you. One of New England’s most dramatic hikes, the Franconia Ridge Loop will take you through 8.9 miles of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, traversing Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln, and Little Haystack.

Make sure to prepare with some weather-friendly gear because things can change rapidly on this trail. A section of the trail follows a steep ridge known as the Knife Edge, which is prone to thunderstorms, lightning strikes, and strong chilly winds. Even with the weather factor, the Franconia Ridge Loop remains one of New England’s most popular hikes; according to the Appalachian Mountain Club, the trail attracts up to 700 hikers per day!

5. Smarts Mountain (Lyme, NH)

Want to conquer part of the Appalachian Trail? Check out Smarts Mountain, a 7.6-mile hike that will take you 3,240 feet up to the summit. The hike takes about five hours and can be joined from the town of Lyme, New Hampshire.

While the hike up Smarts Mountain is fairly challenging, you’ll be rewarded at the peak with sweeping views of the countryside, as well as an old fire tower and ranger cabin to explore. The trail itself is quite wild, so enjoy the beautiful greenery, plants, and trees on your hike up!

6. Mount Cardigan (Orange, NH)

Located in Orange, New Hampshire’s beautiful Cardigan Mountain State Park, this 3.3-mile trail makes for a solid day hike. The mountain’s unique rocky look was caused by a fire in 1855 that burned the summit and destroyed much of the vegetation; today, the granite summit still remains quite bare but provides stunning views of the New Hampshire scenery and the nearby White Mountains.

On your way up the trail, you’ll climb log staircases, cross wooden bridges, and take in the beautiful forest sights from American beech trees, to sugar maples, to yellow birches. In the springtime, there are also plenty of wildflowers blooming along the trail. This hike makes for the perfect day out in the spring!

7. French’s Ledges (Plainfield, NH)

If you’re looking for a hiking area that offers a variety of trails for hikers of all experience levels, French’s Ledges may be a great fit. For a serious hike with an incredible view, head up French’s Ledges Trail, which will take you up 1,310 feet; the trail is steep and zig-zagging at points. The summit looks out over Croydon and Grantham Mountains, as well as Mount Ascutney and the town of Meridien. The last section of this trail becomes quite steep and narrow, but it is definitely worth it for the view!

Not looking for something that strenuous? The yellow and blue marked trails are shorter alternate routes that are family-friendly and great for exercising. Overall, French’s Ledges is rich in natural beauty, with a strong conservation effort that has preserved several hundred acres of lush forest. Parking is available at Plainfield Elementary School, where a trail map is located at the edge of the woods. 

8. Mount Ascutney (Windsor, VT)

Home to Vermont’s first mountain-hiking trail (created in 1825!), Mount Ascutney is one of the most unique hiking experiences in the Upper Valley. The mountain was once a 20,000-foot volcano, and igneous and metamorphic rock still lies beneath the surface. Today, of course, it’s known as a popular Vermont outdoor recreation spot.

Choose from four trails that will take you up to the summit, which is 3,130 feet high. These trails include Weathersfield, Windsor, Brownsville, and Futures, each of them offering stunning views. The longest is Futures, stretching for 4.6 miles beginning at the Mount Ascutney State Park’s campground; this trail will take you right up to the summit along interesting sights like Bare Rock Vista and the Steam Donkey, a steam-powered cable logging machine from the early 1900s. The shortest trail is Windsor, which spans 2.7 miles from the trailhead to the mountain’s summit; along the way, you can view Gerry’s Falls, Castle Rock, and Brownsville Rock.

If you’re not sure that you want to head up to the summit, try the half-mile hike that takes you up to the picnic table, where you can enjoy beautiful countryside views. Some visitors love coming to Mount Ascutney to partake in other outdoor activities like camping or even hang gliding! While dogs are permitted in the park, they must be on a leash at all times. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve prepared with sturdy shoes and water bottles, even on the more moderate trails, as the elevation becomes steep.

9. Mount Cube (Orford, NH)

Another Appalachian Trail highlight in the Upper Valley is Mount Cube, located near Orford, New Hampshire, at the northern edge of the South Moose Mountains; it forms the eastern edge of the Connecticut River Valley. Mount Cube offers a popular day hike that’s rated at moderate difficulty and consists of a 6.6-mile trail.

Mount Cube is known for its quartzite summit, giving the mountain a pink-gray color. If you visit on a warm spring day, make sure to bring a picnic, as the summit ledges offer the perfect spot to sit down and enjoy a meal! From up at the summit, you’ll be able to take in sweeping views of Hanover, Mount Moosilauke, and the White Mountains off in the distance.

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