Trail Running the White Mountains

Have you ever wondered what it is like running in the White Mountains of New Hampshire?

I might be biased but living in the White Mountains is nothing short of incredible!  I have been to many places and the only place even remotely close to the trails and mountains in the Whites is Alaska.  If you want to experience the hardest terrain in the country then you need to visit New Hampshire and check out our mountains!

Fun photo shoot with Philbrick photography in the presidential range
Fun photo shoot with Philbrick photography in the presidential range
What are the trails like?  What kind of scary animals do you need to watch out for?  Can you camp?  Are there any races in the White Mountains?

The trails are loaded with rocks.  Honestly, you will be speed hiking most of it and as a result you really should not attempt to actually run the White Mountains until you are comfortable running on technical trails.  I started out by hiking the Whites and eventually transitioned to running them.  The weather is unpredictable and the trails are very rugged and remote.  Plan on the miles ticking by much slower than you are used to.

New Hampshire has bear, rare mountain lion sightings, moose (which are more dangerous than bear), black flies, mosquitos, deer flies and porcupine (more of a hazard for your curious pup)

Camping in the White Mountains is plentiful and most campgrounds are run by the Forest Service.  There are pay huts, shelters and platforms in the mountains but be sure to research them as some will require you to make a reservation or pay to stay.  There are camping rules that can be found at the White Mountain National Forest website.

The terrain in the White Mountains is very rugged

There are some great races in the White Mountains and if the runners can help to keep the trails clean during the race and be respectful to hikers there will be more!  Right now these are a few of the trail races in the White Mountains.  They are all wicked fun and well organized!

Mount Chocorua Race-   14 mile course with a mix of smooth single track, steep slabs, slippery rocks, significant elevation gain,  and killer views from the summit!

Kilkenny Ridge Race-a 26 mile traverse across the Kilkenny ridge which brings you to the top of two New Hampshire 4000 foot mountains.  There is a 50 mile distance that will be an out and back on the ridge.  A great mix of technical trails, great single track, summit views and beautiful forest!

Some of the trails have ladders and bridges

Randolph Ramble-a 10 kilometer-long, rugged, self-supported trail race through the Great North Woods in the mountain town of Randolph, New Hampshire, at the base of the Northern Presidentials.

Kismet Cliff Run- a five-mile race that navigates the rollercoaster trails of Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges. A great mix of single track and double track with great views of Cathedral ledge and Echo Lake.  There is also a half marathon that takes you over North Moat Mountain which offers incredible views and strenuous climbing!

White Lake Ultras – A 6, 12, and 24 hour loop course around White Lake.  Not very techical but the 2.4 mile loop is very scenic and fun!  Camping right at the start/finish.

Cranmore Mountain Race-This race offers great single track, ski trails and a very well organized event!  It is about 6.2 miles long.

Loon Mountain race-Although this is not a technical course it is extremely steep and challenging with the Upper Walking Boss being the crux of the race.  The course is 6.6 miles long.  The views are incredible and it also serves as the mountain running championship race.

Some of the great views the White Mountains have to offer!
The snowfield on Jefferson
Is it expensive?  Do you need special gear?  What are the rules regarding dogs, trash, navigation in the White Mountains?  Do you need permits?

New Hampshire is not very expensive to visit and there are many great places to get food and drinks.  Our economy thrives on tourism so please visit the small local businesses!   One of our favorites is Delaneys in North Conway because they serve food until 11pm, have awesome American style food and drinks and have incredible sushi! You can’t go wrong with so many places to pick from!  Check out Peaches for breakfast, it is small but has wonderful breakfast food in a quaint setting!

The pups on the summit of Mount Chocorua
Pups love the mountains!

You do not need special gear to run the mountains but you will want to carry more than you think you need.  Plan to move around 2-3 miles an hour.  3-4mph is considered fast.  Be respectful of hikers and always be a good ambassador!  Most people will cheer you on and let you by if you are polite and give them plenty of notice that you are coming up on them.

Some of the more runnable terrain on Franconia Ridge
Clouds over the mountains

I think the La Sportiva Akyra is the best shoe for the White Mountains.  They offer killer traction and cushion.  You want to have good traction.  The rocks can be very slippery!  I always carry a windbreaker with me and a light pair of gloves and a light hat.  I have been in a snowstorm in the summer!  It can be 80 degrees down low and 30 up high, if a thunderstorm creeps up on you there may even be hail.

You may want to cary a space blanket.  Two liters of water is wise and a filter or life straw. I love the MSR Trail Shot! There are some great lightweight filters out there!  Most water crossings are on maps but some routes can be very dry in the summer with very little to filter.  I carry a mid size running pack in the summer and a bigger one in the winter.

Winter can be a challenge with water.  Most water sources are frozen and bottles or packs can freeze.  We use a Platypus to hold water inside our packs and place it against our back to keep it from freezing.

Huntingtons Ravine

In the winter you will want a puffy jacket, hand warmers, warm mittens and hat and possibly an extra layer.  Carry more food than you think you need.  The huts have water and you can buy treats which can make you happy on a hot day or if you run out of food!  Bring cash.  The huts operate on a seasonal schedule so be sure to check to see if they are open.

There are no leash laws in the White Mountains–IF–your dog is friendly and under voice command.  Please leave your aggressive dogs at home or on a leash.  This has been an issue in recent years.  Most of the locals have very well behaved trail dogs and we don’t want to lose the privilege of them being able to enjoy mountain adventures with us.  Be sure to visit the dog bakery at Four Your Paws only which is by far the best pet store ever, plus it is locally owned and operated!  Celebrate your pups birthday there too, they will spoil your dog!

Dog Friendly Hiking Trails in New Hampshire. Unlike most states, New Hampshire allows dogs in its major national forest, the White Mountain National Forest. However, they must be under verbal command or restrained at all times. … Dogs are also allowed in most state parks, though not at picnic areas or beaches.

Going up Mount Chocorua
Are maps important?

You should always carry a map.   If you plan on going above treeline it helps with finding bail out routes during bad storms or white out conditions.

The White Mountains live by a Leave No Trace Ethic.  Please pack out everything including food scraps.  There has been an issue over the last few years with trash and feces with toilet paper/baby wipes on the trail.  Nobody needs to see that and the forest service is overwhelmed with trying to clean up the mess.  If you have to relieve yourself and need to know the rules follow this link.

You do not need permits but most trail heads require a parking pass which can be paid at the lot by cash or check.   You can buy a season pass or you can get a week pass.  

Above treeline in the clouds
This is a pretty standard trail in the White Mountains
What is the Hike Safe Card?  Are the mountains dangerous?  Where can I find out about trail conditions and weather?

The Hike Safe Card is an affordable rescue insurance plan that you can buy.  This is not going to cover being wreckless or negligence.  You still need to carry the appropriate gear, adequate food and water, a map, etc.  Cell phones do not work in most of the Whites so do not depend on that either.

You should never plan on a rescue and your goal should always be to get yourself out of a situation on your own.  There are many organizations in New Hampshire that teach mountain skills and if you are not comfortable venturing into the mountains yet take a course!  Remember each rescuer is a volunteer.  The Forest Service is under funded and can’t afford to keep up with the number of rescues they have had to deal with over the last few years.  Just be safe and take care of yourself and you will be fine!

The Mountains are beautiful!

There are some wonderful places to check the trail conditions and the weather.  Here are my favorite websites:

New England Trail Conditions: hikers and runners post trail conditions here all the time!

NOAA Recreational Forecast:Short term detailed forecast for various elevations.  Great for deciding which mountains to do based on winds, clouds and overall weather.

Higher Summits Forecast: This is perfect for the short term weather forecast on the higher summits.  Best for summits over 5000 feet!

See the Northern Lights: Yes, you can see the northern lights in New Hampshire!  The best times to see them are from late March-April and August-September

Philbrick Photography captured a 26 year long dream of mine on film! Northern lights in Jackson, NH
Best time to visit New Hampshire

The best time to visit New Hampshire is during the winter or summer.  The shoulder seasons can be very icy and the mountains can hold onto the snow even into June and the snow and ice can start in September.  There are only a couple of campgrounds open in the winter and many to choose from in the summer.

Mount Chocorua

You should put a trip to the White Mountains on your bucket list!  The trail races are a great way to follow a marked trail with aid stations so we hope you can come experience what the White Mountains have to offer!

It is so beautiful above treeline

 

2 thoughts on “Trail Running the White Mountains”

  1. This post was a trip down memory lane. I was stationed at Pease AFB in Portsmouth in 1983 – 84. I visited North Conway and stayed at the Scottish Lion B&B. The scenery is amazing.

    1. The winters are long here but still so much fun! Trail running here in the summer is so much fun! It sure is pretty here!

Feel free to leave a comment!