September 2011: Franconia Notch State Park

Franconia, New Hampshire

The Wisconsin Glacier scoured and gouged the granite mountains of New Hampshire about 15,000 years ago. The retreating ice mass left behind an embarrassment of natural wonders that began attracting tourists in 1808 with the discovery of the Flume, a natural 800-foot gorge with perpendicular granite walls less than 20 feet apart. Stagecoach roads to the area began opening in the middle of the 19th century when Nathaniel Hawthorne immortalized the Old Man of the Mountain, five layers of rock sticking out of Profile Mountain. The 40-foot ancient rock formation emerged from Hawthorne’s writings to become the state symbol of New Hampshire. The greatest of the tourist camps was Profile Inn but after the hotel burned to the ground in 1923 its owners put their entire holdings of 6,000 acres up for sale to be cut as timber. A campaign began immediately to save the notch and the state of New Hampshire matched the $100,000 raised to create Franconia Notch State Park in 1928. Canine hikers are not allowed down the Flume Trail, the most popular walk in Franconia, but with the abundance of other great hikes it won’t even be missed.

Entering the notch from the north, the first doggie delight is Artist’s Bluff Trail, where one short, rocky climb bags the 2,368-foot summit and superb views of beautiful Echo Lake. An easy walk along a lightly wooded ridge with plenty of filtering light tags Blue Mountain (2,320 feet) to close the loop. In the heart of Franconia Notch is dog-friendly Lafayette Campground, a jumping off point for the best walks in the park. From the campground, the Pemi Trail traces the Pemigewasset River to the Basin, a smoothed-out pothole that has
absorbed 25,000 years of pounding from the stream. For an engaging loop, abandon the level Pemi Trail and climb along the boulder-strewn Cascade Brook Trail to Lonesome Lake for views of the Kinsman Range. The mountains plunge to the alpine waters at 2,743 feet. Close the six-mile loop with a steep, rocky descent to the campground on Lonesome Lake Trail.

Across the parkway from the campground awaits a classic White Mountains hike for the hardiest of canine hikers - the loop to the Franconia Ridge Trail. Begin on Falling Waters Trail, boulder-hopping along and across several waterfalls. The ascent to the ridge is accomplished on the grueling “45,” so named for the severity of the climb. Once on the ridge you join the Appalachian Trail and walk two shelterless miles above the treeline, crossing Haystack Mountain (4,840 feet), Lincoln Mountain (5,089 feet) and Lafayette Mountain (5,260 feet). Some of the rock formations can be challenging for a dog but there is nothing insurmountable on this spectacular hike. Return from the ridge down Old Bridle Path that features a long, rocky descent across open slopes before dipping into stunted pines. The full loop will cover 9 rewarding miles. 

Unfortunately, one of America’s most famous rocks is no longer there. The Old Man of the Mountain, or Great Stone Face, was a geological oddity some 200 million years in the making. It hovered regally 1,200 feet above the floor of the valley until crumbling in 2003. You can view the Old Man’s ghost position from turnouts in the highway or while hiking leisurely with your dog on the 9-mile paved recreational trail that runs the length of the notch. Another natural formation nearby may not be so obvious. Just to the north, a rock formation can be seen suggesting a cannon profile poking from a fortress parapet, hence the name Cannon Mountain. 

Take I-93 North to Exit 38.