Fresh fall air. Panoramic views. Peaks that stretch to the sky all streaked in a brilliant masterpiece of oranges, reds and golds. This isn’t your average autumn experience. It’s what makes New Hampshire America’s premier fall destination. From the farms and rolling hills of our southern tier, to our colorfully mirrored lakes, to the White Mountains and beyond, the vibrancy of fall in New Hampshire is a sight to behold. Don’t take our word for it though. Lace up your hiking boots, hop in the car and head to New Hampshire for one epic, unforgettable fall. But first, let’s explore some of your options.
Although New Hampshire’s 48, 4,000-foot peaks draw in leaf-peepers and accomplished hikers from around the globe, Philip Bryce, Director of NH Division of Parks and Recreation, emphasizes that anyone can navigate and enjoy the state’s beauty by foot. “With over 4,000 miles of hiking trails, the opportunities to see some really stunning fall foliage are endless,” he says. “For those seasoned hikers, Monadnock or Franconia Notch State Parks offer challenging, yet phenomenal experiences. But there are dozens and dozens of trails across the state fit for all abilities, including families with young children. And they all offer breathtaking fall views.”
Rob Burbank, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Director of Media and Public Affairs agrees. “We’ve got such a wide range of places to hike, so you can really pick one that’s suited to your ability and the type of environment you want to be a part of,” he says. One of his personal favorite fall hikes is White Mountains’ Zealand Valley, once part of an old logging community and where you can enjoy scenic overnight accommodations. “You’re surrounded by reds and oranges of the mixed hardwoods and feel like you’re really immersed in the beauty of the foliage season. The terrain is relatively gentle and you’re hiking alongside a river for a good bit of the way.” As you explore, he suggests keeping your eyes peeled for signs of beavers, moose and other wildlife frequently spotted in the area.
Without further ado, here some of the other foliage-friendly hikes Burbank and Bryce recommend throughout New Hampshire.
Great North Woods: North Percy Peak
If you’ve got some time to take in fall’s eye-catching colors and are up for a bit of a challenge (three and a half hours, give or take!), hit the The Percy Peaks Trail from Nash Stream Road. The 4.4-mile round trip offers rugged terrain with lots of lookout ledges as you ascend 2,200-foot elevation, which makes for striking views over the Nash Stream Forest. For lighter hiking with beautiful sights, head to nearby Dixville Notch State Park .
White Mountains: Arethusa Falls
You really can’t go wrong with this moderate 2.6-mile round trip hike along The Bemis Brook Trail to the majestic 140-foot Arethusa Falls strewn with fall colors in Crawford Notch State Park. And just a half hour away, Franconia Notch State Park also offers a great fall family-friendly hike, like the Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff loop.
Lakes Region: Gunstock, Belknap and Piper Mountains
If you’re looking to “bag” several peaks without spending days on the trail, we recommend the Belknap Range. Home to a wonderful three-peak, 4.7-mile loop trail that climbs 1,850 feet, this hike delivers with magnificent mountain, lake and foliage views. The hike starts at the bottom of the Belknap Carriage Road and you’ll want to follow the Gunstock Mountain, Brook, Saddle, Blue, White, Old Piper, and Piper Mountain trails (bring a map!) Book time, approximately 3 hours.
Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee Region: Mount Cube
Tower over the painted landscape of the Connecticut River Valley, and soak up sensational views of the Southern White Mountains from open ledges on this 5-mile round trip hike. It should take the average backwoods leaf peeper around three and half hours to complete. Begin your hike on Baker Road off NH Rt. 25 A and take the Mount Cube section of the Cross-Rivendell Trail. You’ll also take the Mount Cube Trail and North Cube Side Trail for a bit too.
Merrimack Valley: South Pawtuckaway Mountain
This short-loop hike in Pawtuckaway State Park serves up a gradual 450-foot elevation gain over 2.3 miles and runs from Tower Road, via the Tower Trail Connector, Mountain Trail, South Ridge Trail, South Ridge Connector and Tower Road. During your trek, you’ll encounter picturesque foliage along many ledges, rock formations and boulders, so be sure to take along your camera/phone and snap some pics!
Monadnock Region: Pack Monadnock
Whether you’re a bird watcher or just enjoy their dulcet chirps, this 3.7-mile loop is well worth the trip. With a respectable 1,150-foot elevation gain to get you to the top, there are several fantastic viewpoints along the way, including the raptor observatory, where you can watch hawks, eagles, falcons and other birds soaring above as they migrate. The hike takes about two and a half hours, and runs along the Wapack Trail and Marion Davis Trail over a partly open summit in New Hampshire’s oldest state park, Miller State Park (don’t forget to climb the fire tower for more foliage awesomeness). Pack Monadnock also includes a circuit of the Summit Loop Trail and a side trip out and back to a viewpoint on the Spruce Knoll Trail.
Seacoast Region: Odiorne State Park
Odiorne State Park’s unique 135 acres offer up something for everyone—from light hiking and picturesque picnic spots, to rich autumn hues, fresh salty air, and sweeping ocean views. You can hunt for sea glass on sandy beaches and pretty pebbles along the rocky shoreline, where Pennacook and Abenaki tribes spent summers centuries ago. A network of trails lets you explore forested trails, ponds, salt marshes, and even the bunker remnants of old Fort Dearborn. When you’ve had your fill of history, you can stop by the Seacoast Science Center to enjoy educational exhibits and programming, too.
Whew! Seven epic fall hikes and we’re really just getting started. Visit NH State Parks and AMC for more inspiration as you plan your fall hikes and camping trips in New Hampshire. And be sure to pack your trail map, consult the foliage tracker and brush up on the Hike Safe guidelines, as weather conditions can change rapidly this time of year.