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Hike of the Week: Pemi Loop Trail

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Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week we bring you some of the best hikes from around North America. For us, reading about a great hike is enough to inspire us to get out there on the trail. We hope our series inspires you to do the same!

This week's hike brings us to one of the most iconic sections of the Appalachian Trail, the White Mountains, on the Pemi Loop Trail.

Featured Photo: Semi Pemi Loop (photo by Kerns and Cairns)

Why this Hike?

Located in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in north-central New Hampshire, the Pemi Loop takes you on a 31-mile trek through some of the most challenging, but rewarding terrain of the White Mountains. Along the way, you will be able to summit eight of the 48 “4,000 footer” peaks of New Hampshire with plenty of opportunities to reach several more via short spur trails.

  • 31-mile loop trail 
  • 3-day, 2-nights recommended
  • The trail consists of a series of smaller connected trails
  • Best time to go is May through October
  • Rated as difficult
  • 9,160 feet of total elevation gain
  • One of the best trails in the area to see the White Mountains
  • Several huts and shelters along the way
  • Many connecting trails, so shortening your trip is an option if you need to
  • Mt. Liberty summit offers some of the best views in the White Mountains
  • Views of the Presidential Range
  • Many areas where you can see the trail laid out ahead of you

Before you pack your bags, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Much of the trail is very rocky, with some scrambling involved. Some sections are tangled with roots as well. 
  • Many steep ascents, so it could be difficult on the knees.
  • There are stipulations on dispersed camping and campfires within the area, which you can find more information here
  • Some sections, especially those near summits, can become very busy on weekends.
  • Although bears are not seen much in the area, it would still be wise to bring a bear canister or bag to keep mice and other critters out of your food at night.

How do I get there?

If you will be flying in, Northeast Kingdom International is the closest large airport. From there, take Airport Road to US-5 S. After 2.8 miles, turn left to merge onto I-91 S. Continue for 33 miles before taking exit 19 onto I-93 S. Continue for 42 miles. Take exit 32 onto NH-112. Turn left onto NH-112 E and continue for 5.5 miles. Turn left to reach the Lincoln Woods Trailhead parking area.

If the flights to Northeast Kingdom International are too difficult or expensive, Boston is the nearest major airport in the area. It's about a two-hour drive from the Boston Logan International Airport to the trailhead.

Map

The following map outlines our recommended route along the Pemi Loop. For more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, we recommend opening the map in CalTopo.

  • Day 1: Greenleaf Hut (10.5 miles)
  • Day 2: Guyot Campsite (10 miles)
  • Day 3: Lincoln Woods Trailhead (10.5 miles)

Trail Description

It is recommended to travel in a clockwise direction to tackle the hardest parts of the loop first. Starting from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, cross over the suspension bridge and follow the old railroad bed for about 1.5 miles. Take the Osseo Trail to the left and begin your trek towards the first summit, Mt.Flume. The climb to the summit will gain you about a third of the entire trail's elevation gain.

After taking in the views from Mt.Flume, continue on the Franconia Ridge Trail 1.5 miles to Mt.Liberty. This ascent will require some scrambling, but the views here are some of the best in the White Mountains. Another short 1.8 miles will land you on Little Haystack Mountain. Reach your fourth 4,000-footer of the day in another 1.7 miles on Mt.Lafayette. After reaching the summit, make a left down the Greenleaf Trail and head to the Greenleaf Hut (1 mile) to bed down for the night.

The beginning of your second day will be an arduous one with steep drops and ascents to Mt.Garfield. Be sure to stock up on water at Garfield Pond on your way up. Pause to enjoy the view from where you've come and where you're headed from the summit. 

Travel several more rugged miles before reaching the trail's halfway point near the Galehead Hut. You'll now be on the Twinway Trail and the climb to South Twin's summit is said to be the most difficult along the entire route. You can take a side trail here to reach North Twin. Continue on the Twinway Trail for a couple of miles before reaching Mount Guyot and eventually the short spur leading to Guyot Campsite, where you will be spending your second night. For $10, you can take advantage of the shelter or tent platforms and composting toilet. There is also a spring nearby that is relatively reliable to fill up on water the next morning.

Start your last day on the Bondcliff Trail, heading up for half a mile to the summit of Mount Bond. The next 1.2 miles to your last summit, Bondcliff, is picturesque but can get chilly on the exposed trail. The views from the top of Bondcliff are quite breathtaking too as you can see your entire journey from Mt.Flume from here. The last 9 miles of the trail alternate between downhill hiking and flat ground on the way back to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead.

What will I need?

With chilly low averages of 35 to 55°F between May and October, a quality sleeping bag with a low comfort rating is a necessity. Also adding to your night-time comfort will be an ultralight sleeping pad with an appropriate R-value.

 

A warm sleeping bag and thick, insulated sleeping pad should be first on your packing list for the Pemi Loop Trail. Overnight lows can be fairly cold, even in the summer.

With the steep climbs and overall strenuousness of this hike, you will probably want to invest in a lightweight, but durable tent to reduce your overall pack weight.

Speaking of difficult terrain, you may want to bring some ultralight, folding trekking poles as well to help you up ascents and navigate tricky sections of trail. These are especially handy because you can simply fold them up and attach them to your pack when you don't need them. 

Warm-up with a nice hot beverage on those chilly mornings with a lightweight, long-lasting titanium mug.

For a comprehensive list of what to pack for your trip, be sure to check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!

Do I need a permit?

You will need to self-register for parking day passes that cost $5 per day. You can find more information on fees on the Forest Service webpageIt is also worth noting that some of the huts and shelters along the trail require fees for use as well.

Resources

Information on water sources, camping spots, etc.

Have you taken on the challenging Pemi Loop? What other difficult, but rewarding hikes have you done that you would like us to write about? Share your suggestions in the comments below!

loop new hampshire nh pemi trail

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