Two classic trails are always a good bet for exploration: the 273-mile Long Trail, a mountainous corridor running the length of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada, and the 2179-mile Appalachian Trail (AT), which blazes though Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Seasonal black flies can make hiking in the region a miserable experience; they’re typically at peak annoyance between mid-May and mid-June. Also note that some recreation areas charge an entrance fee; check the links below for details.
Mount Monadnock, NH
Author and nature lover Henry David Thoreau climbed Mount Monadnock for the first time in 1858. He enjoyed is so much he returned two years later to tackle it again. Thoreau’s not the only person to enjoy the hike to the top of the 3165ft peak, which is climbed by more than 100,000 people every year. Monadnock derives from an Abenaki tribal word meaning 'special' or 'unique.' The word is now used geologically to describe a residual hill that rises alone on a plain. The most direct path to the summit is the steep and rocky White Dot Trail. And oh, that summit. It’s a breezy rock pile ready-made for picnicking, view-appreciating and, well, selfie-taking. For variety, return on the less steep White Cross Trail.
Location: Mt Monadnock State Park
Duration: 4-5 hours
Length: 4.2 miles round-trip
Ladder Trails, Acadia National Park, ME
Hmm. Why are there iron rungs on this trail? And what’s up with that thin iron grate? Is it a bridge or a trap door to oblivion? Oh yes, the joys of the short but treacherous Beehive Trail, one of several 'ladder' trails in Acadia National Park. And by ladder we mean just that: iron rungs that climb up boulders and steep cliffs. The Beehive ends at the 520ft summit of a granite dome, offering a superb view of Sand Beach far below. More challenging is the Precipice Trail, where ladders climb the steep Champlain Mountain. Bridges, railings and more ladders help hikers ascend a sheer cliff on the Jordan Cliffs Trail, which summits the 1194ft Penobscot Mountain near Jordan Pond. To escape the crowds, try the short Beech Cliff Trail, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s located near Echo Lake west of Cadillac Mountain.
Length: From 1 to 4.3-miles round-trip
Note: The Precipice, Jordan Cliffs and Beech Cliff Trails may close from mid-March to mid-August during peregrine falcon nesting season.
Mount Washington, NH
The hike to the summit of the highest mountain in New England is one for the bucket list. But you don’t want to kick the bucket while climbing it, so come prepared. The 6288ft summit, dubbed The Rock Pile, sees some of the most extreme weather in the US, experiencing hurricane force winds every three days or so. The summit clocked the second highest wind speed ever recorded when gusts reached 231mph in 1934. The trails to the top also experience extreme – and fickle – weather conditions. Dozens have died while attempting the hike.
The popular Tuckerman Trail is a thigh-burning, knee-scrambling ascent. The final push stretches across a rocky headwall and barren cone exposed to the weather. But these elements are what make bagging this peak such a feat. You won’t find many day hikes like it and the experience of reaching the top is exhilarating – even if you do discover a parking lot filled with cars that drove to the top. Prior to your hike, check the weather at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. If you proceed, make sure you have warm, windproof clothes and shoes. Turn back if the weather starts to look bad.
Duration: 6-8 hours
Length: 8.4 miles roundtrip
Difficult: Extremely Strenuous
Appalachian Mountain Club – outdoors.org/recreation/tripplanner/plan/hiking-mt-washington
Mt Washington Observatory Weather Report – mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/mount-washington-weather
Mount Mansfield, VT
Several trails lead to the top of Vermont’s highest peak, located in the Green Mountains. From the summit, the panoramic view stretches from Lake Champlain and New York’s Adirondacks in the west to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in the east. To some observers, the summit ridgeline looks like the profile of a human face. The Long Trail passes several features on the profile, climbing north from the forehead to the nose to the chin, which is also the 4343ft summit. Short cross-trails link these summit trails, making it easy to set up a loop hike with varied scenery, from treeline tundra to leafy corridors of green. The rocky Sunset Ridge Trail offers a prime view of the nose and chin as you climb. Above the treeline, stay on the trail and avoid walking across the delicate alpine tundra. Several summit trails start in Underhill State Park.
Duration: Half day
Length: From 3 miles to more than 6 miles roundtrip
Sabbaday Falls, NH
The problem with driving the Kancamagus Highway? It’s lined with trailheads and pull-offs – all beckoning with promises of adventure and beautiful scenery. One sure-thing is the hike to Sabbaday Falls on the Sabbaday Brook Trail. It’s not an undiscovered gem. It’s not off-the-beaten path. And it’s certainly not a secret. It is, however, awesome. What awaits at the end of this short stroll through the hardwoods? A gorge waterfall, powering through narrow granite walls into lovely pools. Stairs lead to overlooks with mesmerizing views of the flume. Sabbaday is an old term for the Sunday Sabbath, a day of rest. According to legend, road workers hid their tools near the falls on a Sunday before heading home for the season. Never, apparently, to return for them. The trail is handicapped-accessible.
Duration: 20 min to 1 hr
Length: 0.4 miles roundtrip
Mt Greylock, MA
An inspiration to several of America’s most admired nature writers – Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Herman Melville – this lovely and leafy peak in northwestern Massachusetts is also the state’s highest, topping out at 3491ft. The Appalachian Trail and several others lead to the summit, which sits on a long ridge. For waterfalls and an old-growth spruce forest, try the popular Hopper Trail which follows a carriage road and climbs a ravine before joining the white-blazed AT just below the summit. If it’s open, climb the 92ft War Memorial Tower and take in the 360-degree view of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Duration: 6 hours
Length: 8.2 miles roundtrip
Maine’s Coastal Trails
The Maine shoreline stretches nearly 3500 rugged and rocky miles. Dotted with lighthouses, lobster shacks and tidal pools, it can be a scenic yet strangely moody place to explore by foot. One perennially popular trail is the paved Marginal Way, a one-mile footpath in Ogunquit winding high above the crashing waves. It traces a ‘margin’ of the sea. Dotted with inviting benches, the path links Beach St with shops and restaurants beside Perkins Cove. The Ocean Path, which stretches 2.2 miles along the coast in Acadia National Park is a bit more wild. Running south from Sand Beach to Otter Point, it swings past rocky outcrops, booming Thunder Hole and the towering Otter Cliffs. Level but occasionally rocky, the trail is easily reached from Park Loop Road.
Duration: 30min – 1.5 hours
Length: Marginal Way – 1 mile; Ocean Path – 2.2 miles, both one-way
Marginal Way – marginalwayfund
Ocean Path – npw.gov/acad
Hut-to-Hut Hiking in the White Mountains, NH
Home-cooked meals. Evening entertainment. And convivial strangers who share your love for the outdoors. And we haven’t even mentioned the gorgeous mountain views. Sold? Yep, day-hiking between the eight huts maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in the White Mountains is one of the most enjoyable outdoor adventures in New England. The first hut opened more than 125 years ago and today they are going strong. The huts dot a 56-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, which is reached by a network of trails unfurling from the Highland Center at Crawford Notch, the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and various roadside pull-offs. These trails all swoop along the Presidential Range, with streams, waterfalls, wildlife sightings, alpine views and plenty of trees along the way. A small but dedicated 'croo' maintains each hut.
Duration: From 1¼ hr to 3 ½ hr
Length: From 1.6 to 4.6 miles one-way
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
West Rattlesnake Trail, Holderness, NH
Sometimes you just want to pull over, hike a short distance, look at a stunning view and say 'Duuuude…' The trail up West Rattlesnake Mountain near the town of Holderness offers just this experience. From the parking area, pick up the Old Bridal Trail. It climbs .8 miles through oak and pine trees to a collection of pink granite outcrops. Your view? Gorgeous Squam Lake and a cluster of forest-covered islands, all shimmering before you like a fairy-tale realm. Although on a summer weekend you’ll likely be sharing your kingdom with the masses. This hike is nice for families. From the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center follow Rt 113 for five miles. The trailhead is a short distance beyond Pinehurst Road. Park on the west side of the road then walk across Rt 113 to access the trail.
Duration: 1-2 hours
Length: 1.8 miles round-trip
Appalachian Trail Conservancy: appalachiantrail.org – Provides trail alerts, hiking tips and state-by-state details about various hikes.
Green Mountain Club: greenmountainclub.org – The Green Mountain Club maintains the Long Trail. Its website shares trail news, information about camping and shelters along the trail, and brief details about a few selected hikes.