Daughter: Daddy, why did nature put so many rocks on this path to the lake?
Ranger: Sweetie, Mother Nature is pretty clever. She makes everything really worth seeing hard to get to.
As I mentioned in my very first post, one of the many things I want to do with this blog is to document my various adventures. The Lonesome Lake Trail is the first worth noting. For me at 41, adventure almost exclusively means hiking and backpacking. There’s just something inherently exciting about strapping a heavy(ish) pack on your back, and going where only your feet can take you. It is also exceptionally helpful that I live in an area of the world that is known for its world class hiking, backpacking, cycling, and outdoor activities in general. Northern New England is home to the White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range, a large number of state parks, and a not insignificant amount of unroaded, lightly trod ground. This being my first adventure post, I am certain I’ll play with the format a bit so bear with me.
The Lonesome Lake Trail
Alltrails.com describes the trail as a 3.1 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Lincoln, NH that features a lake and is rated as moderate. Lonesome Lake is located in the Franconia Notch State Park, which is in the very heart of the White Mountains National Forest. The trail head is located in the Lafayette Place Campground, and parking is limited so getting there either early in the day, late in the afternoon, or on a weekday is most advisable.
At the top of the trail you’ll find the Lonesome Lake Hut, operated by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). Reservations for overnight stays range from $74 per night for a member child aged 3-12 to $167 per night for a non member adult. Your stay includes a fantastic home cooked breakfast and dinner. The trail is fairly well marked with yellow blazes, and includes both a white, and blue blaze section of the Appalachian Trail.
I made this hike with my 7 year old daughter, and we were only planning on being out for an afternoon. We were also taking an incredibly well marked, well trafficked trail, not terribly far from civilization. Additionally, I knew that there was virtually a zero chance that we would go “off trail”. This was also on a gorgeous day with a zero chance of rain in the forecast. Never the less, there are a few things that I always bring along whenever I’m out of doors anywhere other than my literal back yard. As such, I packed super light for this one. In fact, I probably should have brought more along. Here’s what I had with me.
- Merrell Moab Hiking Shoes
- Nothing Special White Ankle Socks
- 5.11 Tactical Shorts
- Nothing Special Cotton Tee Shirt
- Stetson Half Dome Olive Mix Hat
- Maxpedition Backpack With Reservoir (I use this because I’ve had it for years. They don’t make it anymore. If you are buying a day pack, I suggest this one)
In The Pack
- Hydration Pack
- Ranger Sized Klean Kanteen
- Daughter Sized Klean Kanteen
- Fleece for Ranger and Daughter
That’s it. A simple, no frills pack for an afternoon on the Lonesome Lake Trail. Could I have added more? Sure, there are several things I didn’t bring that might have been useful if something went wrong. On the other hand, I would argue that lugging half the house around for what was really a 3 hour hike would dramatically reduce the fun. On well marked, well traveled, short trails, I didn’t anticipate I’d need anything else. I didn’t weigh the pack, but water isn’t lite, and I did bring a bunch of it. I think we can very quickly over plan, and over pack ourselves into a stressful mess.
Even more important than the fun in my opinion, is that we can often make excuses about adventures. Just like Bilbo, most of us would be more comfortable in the nice, controlled environment of our homes. So, we rationalize not going out for a strenuous hike with an excited and talkative 7 year old by saying we don’t have the right gear. Will I add stuff to my no frills pack eventually? YOU BET! Some things I fully intend to add ASAP: compass, first aid kit, towel, water shoes/crocs, bug spray, and sunscreen. Super cool bonus is that all I need to buy is a first aid kit.
On The Trail
The Lonesome Lake Trail is incredibly easy to find, deceptively so considering its difficulty. You simply hop on to interstate 93 in NH, and get off at the Lafayette Place Campground Exit. You follow signs to the trail head which basically means you bear left. Parking can be tricky to find, but if you follow my advice above you should be fine. Stop by the visitor center to say hello, and then go to the camp store to get a map, and a snack. This isn’t required, but I like to shop at these sorts of places so they stay open. From the camp store, you can head for the bathroom, and follow signs to get back to the trail. I have broken this hike into 4 legs, for ease of narrative and because the hiking itself changes a bit over the course of your trip.
The First Leg
The first leg of this trip, or rather what I am considering the first leg will give the inexperienced hiker an inaccurate impression of the hike ahead. I did this hike on the first day of summer in 2018. My little girl (that’s her in the picture), and I got onto the trail at around 1:00PM EST, and the weather was positively gorgeous. The Lonesome Lake Trail had some gentle climbs through old hardwood forest, and treated us to a riot of sensations. Though I-93 was just a few hundred feet away, traffic noise was drowned out by babbling brooks, and gentle wind in the trees.
The air had the dry, not unpleasant smell of last fall’s decomposing leaves, and the light from the afternoon sun bounced playfully around as the gentle wind blew the leaves that kept us in subtle shade. We crossed over several streams that wound their way down from the heights, and saw some of the largest trees I’ve seen in years.
Chipmunks, and songbirds scurried around going about their frantic business, and we had this section of trail all to ourselves. There were a combination of short, gentle inclines followed by flat sections, and despite the mid 70’s temp and the pack on my back, I wasn’t even sweating. Some of the inclines had large, shallow, hand made steps, and we saw some fun rock formations deposited by the glacial movement that carved out all of NH millennia ago.
The Second Leg
Here’s where I began to get an inkling that when the guides say that the Lonesome Lake Trail is of “moderate difficulty” they are referring to people who are young, and/or fit. For an overweight (but working on it) fella just creeping into his middle years it started to get hard. Not terrible, just on the upper end of moderate to the lower end of what I consider hard. Here’s where I began to sweat in earnest, and need to pause to take off the hat & drink a bit of water from time to time. The ground trends steadily upwards here, the hard granite bones of NH often become your stepping stones. There aren’t any brooks to cross, and at points the trail narrows. There aren’t any views per-sea, but the birch trees, stones, and general feeling of being far away from it all begins to set in.
As with any rigorous physical activity I find my mind beginning to empty of anything except the task at hand. My trail partner doesn’t seem to be suffering any of these effects though, as she keeps showering me with a constant stream of questions, comments, observations and discoveries as only an active, happy 7 year old can. Despite this upward trend in difficulty, and my level of exertion I am still optimistic about how tough it will be. I am beginning to feel like this will be a fun, but mildly challenging adventure.
The Third Leg
The grade becomes steeper, the path narrower, and the walking is almost exclusively on large chunks of granite. Most of this leg is a scramble over head to torso size boulders. It is also an incredibly steep grade. Even my little trail partner’s enthusiasm began to wain through here. This leg is where the intro quote came from. We met several hikers coming back down in this section, and took the excuse of “being courteous” to step off the side of the trail, and take a few breaths. As most of them passed they let us know that it levels off up top (though there are still plenty of boulders), and that we were almost there. At no point did I find the hike undoable, but this section certainly challenged my resolve.
Though it was fairly steep, and we were on boulders it was rare that I needed to use my hands. My trail partner had stopped running ahead of me at this point, and had resigned herself to just “keep moving foreword”. Occasional views through the trees are mini rewards as you begin to really feel like you are up high, and really feel like you are doing some hard hiking. Just when it feels like this bedeviled walk up a mountain on boulders begins to be unbearable you break into the flat, and at points downward sloping section that leads to the lake itself. The boulders on the end slope to the lake are interspersed throughout the path in such a way that I had a bit of fun hopping from rock to rock.
The Fourth Leg
After you take a short stroll down a slight decline you come to a sign that points you either to follow the trail (to the right), or go to the hut (to the left). Figuring (correctly) that either direction would lead around the lake we decided to head towards the hut (more on the hut later), and see if we could find a comfy spot to have a bit of a snack & rest. We did hike the whole perimeter of the lake, and so that’s what I’m considering the Fourth leg of the hike. This leg of the hike is almost exclusively over flat board paths. You weave through high country wetlands in an easy meandering way.
Depending on the time of year you’ll see different wetland creatures, but we saw some baby wood ducks, plenty of tadpoles, and some high country song birds that flitted away when they saw us coming. Though the area is wetlands it certainly doesn’t smell swampy. The constant breezes found at higher elevations coupled with the general hot sweaty sensation of the Third Leg makes it smell refreshing. The wind gently blowing over tired, sweaty skin rejuvenates, and the level terrain works great as a cool down. This section is where I took my favorite picture of the whole hike.
Whether you decided to hike the .4 miles directly to the hut and picnic area or finish the Lake Loop before resting you’ll be greatly rewarded for your efforts. Below the hut there is a set of platforms that provide glorious views of the surrounding mountains. It’s a great place to takeoff your pack, drink a bit of water, and have a snack. We didn’t see any AT through hikers when we were there, but Lonesome Lake is certainly on the AT, and I’d expect to see a few in July or August.
The Lonesome Lake Hut is operated by the AMC, and is a wonderful place. They have staff in the summer who cook amazing home made food, and you can get a few souvenirs as well as some incredible baked goods when you stop by. You can also top off any water containers you have with you (for free), and can have a seat and a chat. They do have bunks you can rent, but they are not inexpensive.
The Hike Down
The hike down is less challenging than the hike up, but its difficult in it’s own way. For those of you with joint difficulties, or who’ve neglected your leg workouts, you’ll certainly know your doing something. The good news is that it is a fairly short decent, and because you won’t be struggling against gravity you may enjoy the wilderness around you a bit more than on the way up. The trail certainly is steep in spots, and you really need to watch your footing as Daughter found herself sliding down on her bottom more than once. Take it slow and steady, and you should be fine.
Though this hike (for me) was certainly on the upper side of moderate, it was just difficult enough to enjoy without feeling overwhelmed. I really had a blast, and the payoff was well worth the effort. I can also say that spending a few hours rambling around the woods with Daughter is worth just about any amount of discomfort. It was also SUPER cool to actually step foot on the AT. I’ve wanted to do a through hike since I was about 16, and one day I will. It all started here.
The Lonesome Lake Trail will forever be ingrained in my memory as the first time I went on a real hike with my little girl. This was also my first real hike since High School. I’m now once again bit by the bug that bit me so long ago, and am excited to get out there more. Thanks for stopping by! Live a Life Worth Living!