Table of Contents

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.

Mountain Weather Forecast

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 Carrigain.

Online Maps

If you do not have a printed map handy you may want to look at a TopoZone map of:

Huts and Established Trailside Campsites

The AMC operates one hut and one backcountry campsite in this area of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Fees are charged at all of them, reservations are advised at the huts, but there are no reservations at the campsites.


Owl's Head

This is a long trip, but the elevation gain is moderate, so it is commonly done in one day. The standard way to do it is by the Wilderness, Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook trails to the foot of the Owlshead slide, and follow an unofficially maintained trail to the summit (rt: 18 miles, 2,850 feet, 10:25). This involves crossing Franconia and Lincoln Brooks, both crossings can be difficult. For those comfortable navigating with map and compass the White Mountain Guide suggests a couple of bushwhacks, which save about one mile each way in addition to avoiding the crossings.

Those desiring to do that route in two days can camp in the valley of the Lincoln Brook. This is a Federally designated Wilderness Area, please be sure to follow the Forest Service camping rules. An alternate, longer, way to do it as an overnight is to camp at 13 Falls campsite (ow: 8.1 miles, 1,050 feet, 4:35) on the first day. On the second day take the Lincoln Brook trail around the North end of Owl's Head to the slide, go to the summit and back, and continue out by the Lincoln Brook, Franconia Brook and Wilderness trails (ow: 12.5 miles, 2,500 feet, 7:30).

Another (long!) way of doing Owlshead as an overnight trip is to take the Gale River trail to Galehead hut on the first day (ow: 4.6 miles, 2,200 feet, 3:25). Next day go down the Twin Brook Trail to 13 Falls campsite and take the Lincoln Brook trail as described above (ow: 16.2 miles; 2,500 feet; 9:20).

Mount Carrigain

The standard route is by the Signal Ridge trail (rt: 10 miles, 3,250 feet, 6:40). In addition to the views from the observation tower at the summit (amongst the finest in the Whites) there are excellent views along the ridge. A loop can be made by ascending by the Signal Ridge trail and descending by the Desolation, Carrigain Notch and Signal Ridge trails (lp: 13.5 miles, 3,650 feet, 8:35), this is not only longer, but the Desolation Trail is steep and rough. NOTE: The Sawyer River Road, which provides access to the trailhead, has been reopened.

The Hancocks

North and South Hancock are climbed by the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook and Hancock Loop trails (lp: 9.8 miles, 2,650 feet, 6:15). There are several stream crossings which may be difficult, and the Hancock Loop trail is very steep and eroded.

Mount Hale

The standard route is by the Hale Brook Trail (rt: 4.4 miles, 2,300 feet, 3:20). Many lengthen the trip by making a loop using the Hale Brook, Lend a Hand and Zealand trails (lp: 7.7 miles, 2,300 feet, 5:00). With only one car add a mile of road walk.

Mount Hale can also be done from Zealand Falls Hut. It can be done as a round trip, returning to the hut, using the Lend a Hand Trail (rt: 5.6 miles; 1,350 feet; 3:30). It can also be used to leave the hut, going up the Lend a Hand Trail and down the Hale Brook Trail (ow: 5.0 miles; 1,350 feet; 3:10). Going to the hut over Mt. Hale will add 950 feet (0:30) to the trip.

To summarize, here are the distances, elevation gains and book times of the various possible routes to the peaks discussed on this page.

Routes to Owlshead, Carrigain, Hancocks and Hale
Route Distance Elevation Gain Book Time
Owlshead in one day 18.0 2,850 10:25
Owlshead by 13 falls, Day 1 8.1 1,050 4:35
Owlshead by 13 falls, Day 2 12.5 2,500 7:30
Owlshead by Galehead Hut, Day 1 4.6 2,200 3:25
Owlshead by Galehead Hut, Day 2 16.2 2,500 9:20
Mt. Carrigain by Signal Ridge 10.0 3,250 6:40
Mt. Carrigain by Signal Ridge and Desolation 13.5 3,650 8:35
Hancock Loop 9.8 2,650 6:15
Mt. Hale by Hale Brook 4.4 2,300 3:20
Mt. Hale by Hale Brook and Lend a Hand 7.7 2,300 5:00