Hiking to the top of Mount Lafayette via Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire

Hiking to the summit of Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains is one of the most popular hikes in New Hampshire. It is a hike known to be difficult but magnificent, and as my sister-in-law Mireille and I really like mountains (especially those that challenge us) we decided to embark on this adventure.

I was a little anxious, because aside from my hike to the top of Loon Lake Mountain in the Adirondacks, I haven’t really done any difficult mountain hiking in the last few months. So I was a little worried of not being in good enough shape. After all, Mount Lafayette and the White Mountains are not to be taken lightly (two hikers died on that trail last year). But Mireille and I prepared well and we arrived at Franconia Notch State Park very early, in order to have a parking spot and the whole day ahead of us to do the hike.

We decided to follow the most popular route to the summit: a climb via the Falling Waters Trail to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain, then a hike along the famous Franconia Ridge to the summit of Mount Lafayette, and finally a descent via Old Bridle Path. It is a route of just over 13 kilometres (8.5 miles), with an elevation gain of more than 1,100 meters (3,800 feet), which takes on average 8 hours to complete.

After making sure we had enough food and water for the day, and gathering our courage, we set out on what we expected would be one of the most difficult hikes we had done to date. Aaaaah!

Sign on Falling Waters Trail in Franconia Notch State Park
On our way to Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafayette!

Falling Waters Trail

Falling Waters Trail begins from the Lafayette Campground parking lot along I-93. As this trail is steep and rocky, it is often the recommended path for the climb, especially after heavy rains.

The trail’s name comes from the fact that it follows Dry Brook and passes many waterfalls along the way. We actually arrived at the brook shortly after starting our hike and it accompanied us almost the entire way up. The trail also took us across it a few times (luckily the water wasn’t too deep and it was possible to jump from rock to rock).

Waterfalls along Falling Waters Trail
One of the many waterfalls we saw during our hike up the mountain

The trail continually climbs, but I didn’t find this climb too difficult at first. We decided to take our time, in order to keep our energy for the more difficult parts. It must also be said that I was constantly stopping to take photos because I found the forest and all the waterfalls so pretty!

Cloudland Falls on Falling Waters Trail
The stunning Cloudland Falls

After passing the pretty Cloudland Falls (at 17 metres high, it is the most impressive of them all), the trail began switchbacking along the side of the mountain. The climb was gentle at first, then the trail got rockier and steeper and the climb started to be quite relentless.

But we maintained our pace (slowly, but steady!) and I must admit that I did not find the climb as difficult as I imagined. I’m still a little traumatized from my hike last year to McKenzie Mountain, a hike that seemed endless and a little painful, and I was surprised (and reassured) to realize that my legs still had a lot of energy for the climb via Falling Waters Trail.

Rocky Falling Waters Trail, on the way to Mount Lafayette
Roots and rocks

After about 4 kilometres of climbing, we arrived at a sign indicating that we were entering the alpine zone. At this point, the trail offers the possibility of taking a detour to go to Shining Rock, a rocky ledge which apparently offers a beautiful view. Mireille and I had started to descend towards Shining Rock, but halfway there we decided to backtrack. As it was our first big hike of this kind, we figured it was wiser to stick to the main route rather than adding more kilometres to our route.

Especially since the climb was far from over, and in some places it became a little more technical.

Rocks on Falling Waters Trail
This trail is no joke

So we continued our climb, this time in the alpine zone, where the trees started to become smaller and the vegetation more sparse. At this point we started to feel fatigue in our legs. But the summit seemed so close, so we kept up the pace. And finally, all our efforts paid off because we reached the summit of Little Haystack Mountain (elevation: 1,451 metres or 4,760 feet) and were rewarded with a magnificent view.

View on the White Mountains, from Little Haystack Mountain
Hello beautiful White Mountains

In fact, there are few words to describe how beautiful it was. All around us lay the mountainous landscape of the White Mountains. To the west, it was possible to see Cannon Mountain and I-93 down in the valley (it seemed so small viewed from so high up). To the south, the distinctive silhouette of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume can be recognized. To the north, our next objective was clearly visible: Mount Lincoln.


Franconia Ridge

The Franconia Ridge Trail follows the rocky ridge of the Franconia Range and connects several of the peaks in that range. It is part of the Appalachian Trail (I was so excited to take my first steps on this famous trail!), and since it is above the treeline, the view is completely clear on both sides of the trail (when the weather conditions are good, which was our case on that day).

Mont Lincoln and Franconia Ridge
On our way to Mount Lincoln

This also means that the trail is exposed to the elements, and we had to put on our windbreaker jacket because it was windy and much colder than at the trailhead!

From the summit of Little Haystack Mountain, we began following Franconia Ridge, towards Mount Lincoln. I don’t know how many times I had to stop to look at the landscape because it was so stunning. I completely understand those who say that this hike is one of the most beautiful they have ever done.

Franconia Ridge, viewed from Mount Lafayette
There is no word to describe how beautiful this hike is

It took us just under 30 minutes to reach the summit of Mount Lincoln. At 1,551 metres (5,089 ft) in elevation, this peak is part of the New Hampshire 4000 Footers Challenge. And from the summit, we were able to see for the first time the ultimate objective of our hike: Mount Lafayette.

Franconia Ridge toward Mount Lafayette
Mireille on the way towards our last summit of the day: Mount Lafayette

As we were starting to get rather tired, we took our time on the way to this last summit. The trail goes up and down, sometimes passing by somewhat loose rocks, then begins to climb rather steeply just before the summit of Mount Lafayette. But little by little we continued our climb and we finally reached the summit!

At 1,600 metres (5,260 ft) above sea level, Mount Lafayette is the highest peak in New Hampshire outside of the Presidential Range. It also offers a superb view of this famous mountain range, as well as the highest mountain in the Northeast of the United States: Mount Washington. I definitely felt very small in front of this imposing landscape!

On the summit of Mount Lafayette
Proud moment… I’ve reached the summit of Mount Lafayette!

Mireille and I took a few minutes to take a break at the summit and appreciate the feat we had just accomplished. Now all we had to do was to hike back down.


Greenleaf Trail and Old Bridle Path

As I explained at the beginning of my text, we hiked up the Falling Waters Trail because it is known to be more difficult than Old Bridle Path, so it was better to start with the more difficult part for a less hazardous descent! So let’s say I expected the descent wouldn’t be too difficult… Yeah, ultimately, it ended up being a bit tougher than I expected it to be.

In fact, maybe it’s mostly because at this point, we were really starting to feel the fatigue and our aching muscles. We already knew we were going to take a break at the Greenleaf Hut, where there are toilets, water and the possibility of buying snacks. But Greenleaf Hut is almost 2 kilometres (1 mile) from the summit and from where we were, it still seemed a long way to go.

Greenleaf Hut viewed from Mount Lafayette
Far ahead, Greenleaf Hut

The descent of Mont Lafayette is first done on the exposed mountainside (the wind was still intense there). The descent is steep and rocky, and we preferred to take our time rather than make a misstep.

We eventually reached the treeline and slowly continued our descent, as the trail continued to be steep. I almost squealed with joy when we finally reached Greenleaf Hut.

Greenleaf Hut and mighty Mount Lafayette
Greenleaf Hut is definitely a beautiful place to take a break

After a short break at the mountain hut, we continued our descent, this time via Old Bridle Path. I once again thought that Old Bridle would offer some respite to our tired legs, but the trail continued to be very rocky and with us still having over 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) to go, I was really starting to look forward to finishing this hike.

As it passes by a rocky ledge, Old Bridle Path also offers some last beautiful views of the landscape, views which we probably did not appreciate enough as we were tired.

Views along Old Bridle Path
One last view on this beautiful scenery

Little by little, however, we went back down into the forest. I think we were looking every five minutes how many metres we still had to go, but eventually the surroundings became familiar, and we joined Falling Waters Trail, which brought us back to where we started.

We were completely exhausted, but we were also extremely proud of this hike which took us 8 hours to do. It is undoubtedly among the most difficult I have done to date, but also among the most magnificent. The kind of hike that reminds me why I love mountains so much and that makes me want even more to continue exploring our beautiful planet.


  1. Even though the trail was challenging, at least it was scenic. The views from the summit of Little Haystack Mountain and along the Franconia Ridge to Mount Lafayette are stunning. Glad you had such clear skies to admire the views.

    1. We were really lucky weather-wise, it was sunny, but not too warm, and not buggy at all. Perfect conditions for a perfect hike! 🙂

    1. It was among the most difficult I’ve ever done, but I’m so proud to have been able to do it, and it was 100% worth it! 🙂

  2. Wow! The views are stunning, Vanessa! I can only imagine how tired and sore you both must have been after this adventure! I’ve never been to that state. Thanks for sharing the views!

    1. I haven’t spend a lot of time in New Hampshire, but the nature there is definitely amazing! I can’t wait to go back. Thanks for reading John!

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