From Maine, our next goal was Stowe, Vermont. It was about a four hour drive and entailed crossing New Hampshire. I have to be honest, I knew nothing about New Hampshire and when I got a map before me, I realised it was BIG, empty, beautiful and mountainous. New Hampshire is home to the White Mountains – perfect, I thought, let’s go there. There’s a BIG mountain, Mt Washington. We could do that.
And then I started reading and it turns out that the White Mountains are surprisingly lethal and Mt Washington, whilst not a particularly hard hike, isn’t the safest of places. Weather turns on a dime. Lightening strikes. People fall. In fact when we chatted with a ranger, later, he said that his main role is to make sure that day-hikers realise the gravity of the weather and topography in New Hampshire, and take the hikes seriously enough. So nope…not with our little people. I opted for the other beautiful way across New Hampshire, through Franconia Notch State Park.
We stayed one night in a sweet, old motel in Franconia on a quiet little river, with picnic tables outside our room. On the first afternoon, the boys and I quickly visited Echo Lake (too chilly to swim) and popped to the visitor centre at Flume Gorge where a super-helpful ranger proposed the next day’s hike for us and I bought a map. The ‘notch’ in Franconia basically means a mountain pass, and the whole of this beautiful state park is a big pass between mountains. Big granite cliffs reminded us a little of Yosemite – we could have spent much longer in this gorgeous part of the world.
The next morning, I snuck out for a couple of miles’ run. I’d mapped out a three mile route, as we’d be doing a family 2-miler later in the day. However as I turned onto my path, I saw a fresh, juicy pile of berry-filled bear poo…so I immediately changed direction and ran round the little village. Franconia is tiny and pretty, with an old iron forge which has been lovingly restored.
Our hike that day was beautiful. It was a 6.5 mile round trip. We started at Basin trailhead and set off up Basin Cascades trail with the goal of Lonesome Lake and the hikers’ hut. The next 2.5 miles were solidly uphill. It was never steep but it was steady, and nearly always impossible to get into a hiking rhythm. There were boulders to clamber over, endless gnarled roots to work through, several river crossings (on boulders, and water levels were low and safe). It was however really beautiful and peaceful – we saw only 2 or 3 other hiking parties, enough to make me feel reassured but not enough to be busy. We hiked up and up through the trees, till we thought we’d never get to the top but suddenly though the trees we saw the glimmer of water and we’d arrived at Lonesome Lake.
Lonesome Lake was not lonesome. There were lots of people up there and we couldn’t figure out how they’d all made it. Lonesome Lake is on the Appalachian Trail and there’s a hiker’s hut there, so we bought some lemonade and sat by the lake drinking and resting for a while.
We hiked on – there’s a half-mile flat trail around the lake where you walk on planks over marshland, and then we took Lonesome Lake Trail down to the campground at the bottom…and we realised where everyone else had come from. This was a busy, busy trail…and ridiculously steep. It gained the same elevation we’d gained over 2.5 miles but in about 1.5 miles. We were all glad we’d done this loop in a clockwise direction.
At the campground at the bottom, we got ice-creams and debated what to do next. We could either hike the 2 miles back to the car along the Pemi trail or we could kill two birds with one stone and RUN the 2 miles back along the paved bike-trail, so we wouldn’t need to run later for Operation Garmin. Everyone thought that running would be a sensible decision. Alas, it was our least successful family run. But we live and learn.
And then we drove on through New Hampshire to the Vermont border. We’d had just a short time in this lovely state, and it is REALLY beautiful. I’d love to have explored more. But Vermont was calling, and we had to go.