New Hampshire's Kinsman Ridge Trail

Thrills and views by the minute on the Kinsman Ridge Trail.
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Thrills and views by the minute on the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

The up-and-down 16.9-mile-long Kinsman Ridge Trail is one of the longest, toughest, but most rewarding hikes in the White Mountains, taking you up to open ridgeline ledges, through thick forests, along streams, and past waterfalls and cascades. It also passes by three very pretty mountain ponds, including Kinsman Pond, with its icy waters and fine views of Mts. Flume and Liberty and 5,000-footers Lincoln and Lafayette.

But what makes Kinsman Ridge especially appealing for weekend hikers is the number of interconnections available. You can bite off as much of the trail as you choose.

We opted to forgo the steep climb out of Franconia Notch to Cannon Mountain and the rough-and-tumble Cannon Balls on the north end of the trail. Instead, we linked with Kinsman Ridge Trail via the kinder Cascade Brook Trail and the short but strenuous Fishin' Jimmy Trail-1,300 vertical feet of granite slabs, boulders, and tree roots in 2 miles.

On its way south, the trail aggressively climbs and descends North Kinsman Peak (4,293 feet), South Kinsman Peak (4,358 feet), and Mt. Wolf (3,478 feet), with several outlooks on open ledges. The Kinsman Ridge Trail and the Appalachian Trail are one and the same from Kinsman Pond to Kinsman Notch. At the Eliza Brook Shelter, we were entertained by stories from AT thru-hikers.

If you follow the Kinsman Ridge Trail to its conclusion, you'll descend rapidly to Kinsman Notch and the Lost River Reservation. We took the longer but gentler Gordon Pond Trail, walking the easy grade along Gordon Pond Brook and past Gordon Falls. We met our ride with wet feet and sore thighs, but not at all eager to leave.

QUICK TAKE: Kinsman Ridge Trail, New Hampshire

DRIVE TIME: The trail is located just west of Franconia Notch State Park in northern New Hampshire, about 2 hours north of Boston.

THE WAY: From Boston take I-93 north to the North Woodstock exit. Follow NH 112 west out of town. The south end of the trail leaves NH 112 about a half mile north of the Lost River Reservation entrance. The north end of the trail begins at the Cannon Mountain Ski Area tramway parking lot, just off Franconia Notch Parkway.

TRAILS: End-to-end, Kinsman Ridge Trail is 16.9 miles long. A car shuttle is necessary if you don't want to backtrack. Inclines are steep, the footing is rough and wet.

ELEVATION: The highest point is South Kinsman Peak at 4,358 feet; the lowest is 1,900 feet at Lost River Reservation.

CAN'T MISS: Boggy areas around Gordon, Harrington, and Kinsman ponds attract moose.

CROWD CONTROL: Kinsman Ridge remains relatively uncrowded, especially during the shoulder seasons.

MAPS: The Appalachian Mountain Club's topographical map Franconia/Pilot is an excellent resource. The map is sold separately for $5.95 on Tyvek or for $2.95 on plain paper, or you can buy The White Mountain Guide ($16.95, plus $3 for shipping and handling, from AMC, 800-262-4455), which includes the map.

PIT STOP: If you follow the Gordon Pond Trail out to NH 112, you'll end up across the street from Govoni's Restaurant, a fine place for a heaping plate of pasta.

WALK SOFTLY: There is no camping allowed in Franconia Notch State Park, which includes Cascade Brook Trail and Lonesome Lake, except in designated campsites.

MORE INFORMATION: White Mountain National Forest, 80 Glen Rd., Gorham, NH 03581; (603) 466-2713.