Memorial Day on Franconia Ridge
Just the basic loop.
I left my hike planning until the last minute. After a busy week moving, traveling, then hosting company less than a week after moving into our new house, and with an inkling of a chest cold, I wasn’t sure a Memorial Day hike was in the cards for me. But I woke up, ate a leisurely breakfast, and as my husband Cody left for work, I quickly got my things together and followed my heart towards Franconia. I thought that choosing one of the most popular hikes on a holiday weekend might be ill advised. Surely now that the culturally-official start of summer was upon us the parking lot would be full and the trail would be a traffic jam of kids and glamp-ers in cotton hoodies. I made a backup plan for the less-popular Skookumchuck Trail if the loop seemed too crowded, but when we pulled in I was surprised to see ample open parking spots. Off to a good start.
We hiked up my “usual” direction – Old Bridal Path up, then Falling Waters down. The trail was crowded with French Canadian teens traveling in packs of three to six. I was a bit annoyed at how some of the teen boys would speed up, I would let them pass, then they’d shout back to their friends who weren’t quite so quick, eventually stop and wait while I passed again. At least I didn’t have to know what they were saying…
I lost the kiddos at Greenleaf Hut as I was hoping to do, and headed up in peace and quit through the warm clouds toward Mount Lafayette. I thought back to the last time I hiked up this way a few months ago, and how a little mist and wind was nothing compared to freezing rain hurdling at my face (more about that here).
The summit was surprisingly quiet. I shared the wind-barrier bunker with some folks on their last leg of the Pemi Loop. I was jealous of their three day adventure, but also feel lucky I live close enough to make a casual day of things.
I always love hiking Franconia Ridge, even when there’s no view, as was the case today. Hiking through clouds makes everything look more epic, and makes the colors of the blooming alpine plants a little more intense. This section is relatively easy to hike, and I always try to hold myself back from frolicking onto Lincoln and Little Haystack since the Ridge ought to be savored. It’s the reward of the incessant up, sandwiched between French-speaking pre-teens.
We made it across the ridge to Little Haystack in around 45 minutes, then made a hard right down Falling Waters trail. I had only hiked this trail once before, in the winter. I didn’t realize quite how slippery those boulders can be. I cursed my worn-in trail runners and swore they were being relegated to dirt road training runs from now on.
I accidentally made a 0.1 mile side-trip over to “Shining Rock” – a huge slab of exposed granite. This was a cool surprise. Sometimes my choosing to turn onto what is clearly the lesser trail leads to good things.
I turned around and continued down Falling Waters where I should have been less surprised to find… falling waters! There are some gorgeous waterfalls that the trail crisscrosses over. By now the sun was shining and things took a turn towards full-on summer vibes. I only wished it was hot enough for a walk under the falls. I thought everyone did this hike for the ridge, but I can see now that the combo AMC Hut (Greenleaf), plus ridge line, plus epic waterfalls make this one of the most popular spots around.
We made it down in just over 5 hours and managed to carefully avoid all the State Troopers, Police, and even Boarded Patrol that were out in full force to ruin folks’ remnants of the Holiday weekend.