These notes are written to help you compare the various routes that are commonly used to hike to the peaks. They are written on the assumption that you have a guidebook and a set of maps, so no directions are given to trailheads, and the trails are not described in any detail. I have omitted hikes that are substantially longer or more difficult than the standard ones, or that are simply less often used. The fact that a trail is not mentioned here does not imply that it is unsuitable.
The Recreation Report for New Hampshire and Western Maine gives a two day forecast for higher elevations (separate forecasts for elevations of 2,500 to 4,000 feet and for above 4,000 feet). There is also a point forecast for Mount Isolation.
If you do not have a printed map handy you may want to look at a TopoZone map of this section of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Shelters and Established Trailside Campsites
The WMNF has three sites in this region that may be used on trips to Isolation. None charge fees, no reservations are allowed.
- Rocky Branch Shelter #2 is located on the Rocky Branch trail immediately after it has crossed the Rocky Branch [ow: 3.7 miles, 1,900 feet, 2:50].
- Just before the Rocky Branch trail crosses the stream there is a primitive (no platforms, no outhouse) campsite.
- A similar campsite is found at the first junction of the Isolation trail and the Davis Path [ow: 6.4 miles, 2,950, 4:40]. Water can be difficult to find here without a long trip down the Isolation trail towards the Dry River.
Routes to Mount Isolation
There are several ways of getting to Mt. Isolation, none of them short. The longest (but with the least elevation gain) is a round trip from the Rocky Branch Trail (starting from Rt. 16) to the Isolation Trail to the Davis Path [rt: 14.6 miles, 3,400 feet, 9:00]. The stream crossings may be difficult at high water, and there is a short (250 feet) climb on the way back which, at the end of the day, is most unwelcome.
Many hikers are tempted to do a shorter trip by the Glen Boulder Trail and Davis Path [rt: 12.0 miles, 5,050 feet, 8:30]. While it is 2.6 miles shorter I believe that the 1,650 extra feet of elevation gain (including 1,500 feet on the way back) make it far more strenuous. The views along the Glen Boulder Trail are great, there are no views along the Rocky Branch Trail (except at the summit, which has great views).
With two cars, or the willingness to thumb a ride, an excellent traverse may be made, going up the Glen Boulder Trail and exiting with the Rocky Branch Trail [lp: 13.3 miles, 3,800 feet, 8:35]. That is my favorite route on Isolation, as you get the views on the Glen Boulder Trail, but do not have the big climb on the way back.
To summarize, here are the distances, elevation gains and book times of the three routes to Mt. Isolation:
|Round trip by Rocky Branch
|Round trip by Glen Boulder
|Traverse, Glen Boulder to Rocky Branch
For backpackers the best way is by the Rocky Branch both ways. There is a shelter after the first crossing of the river at 3.7 miles, and there are primitive campsites just before the crossing. There are also primitive campsites at the junction of the Isolation trail with the Davis path at 6.4 miles, water may be difficult to find nearby.
In winter, when the deep snow covers the low scrub, some people do Isolation as a bushwhack, I have not yet tried it, may do so one winter.