Lonesome Lake | Fall Hike in the White Mountains
In my family, hiking is the choice group activity. This past weekend, hiking up to Lonesome Lake in the White Mountains with my father and my dog, Bodhi, we were one of many families along the trail.
We left early in the morning for the two-hour drive, and were slightly disheartened by the heavy clouds and spitting rain. However, by the time we got to the Franconia Highway, it was open sky and sunny—attesting to the fact that mountains make their own weather.
As soon as we drove into Franconia State Park, we hit the traffic, and I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Mind you, not just vehicle traffic, but hiker traffic. It was a beautiful Saturday on Columbus Day weekend. The date and the weather matched up with tourists’ calendars, which I didn’t even think of until we’d parked our car behind a line of vehicles along the highway.
I’m more accustomed to empty trailheads and silent trails, and the last time I’d hiked to Lonesome Lake it was an entirely different experience. Two years ago in early March, the only company we met was an AMC employee carrying supplies to the hut and the beavers that were busy building their dams on the lake. My father, Bodhi, and I glissaded down the mountain through the quiet woods.
In October, families, dogs, babies in packs, student groups, and friends led a line up and down the trail. To get to the trailhead, we walked through a full campground. The busyness of the Lonesome Lake trail confirms its accessibility and low degree of difficulty. It’s only 1.6 miles up to the AMC hut, and although it’s a little steep in parts, the trail levels for the last .4 mile.
Once you reach that last .4, enjoy the easy stroll through the woods around the lake—and the lake is beautiful. Fathers and sons were fishing; families were picnicking; dogs were cooling off with a brief swim. Lonesome Lake is as flat as the sky and dappled with sunlight. Lafayette, Lincoln, and Little Haystack rise up in a line above the water and woods. The AMC hut is clean, the staffers are friendly, and you can buy coffee, homemade gingerbread, pea soup, and cookies, all for a dollar a treat. In fact, you can rent a room here with bunk beds if you plan ahead. (Note that although dogs are allowed on the trail, they’re not allowed in AMC huts.) Trails from Kinsman and Cascade, along the Appalachian Trail, all come together here. It’s a hiker’s oasis, and pretty plush for an afternoon in the mountains.
You can opt to add a .5-mile loop around the lake, and it’s certainly worth it. We walked along wooden planks through a golden-grass bog and across bright-green moss floors in the woods. Although I’d argue that the elusive “peak foliage” had passed this far north, the early-setting sun added a nice glow to the views. The birch trees still held their light leaves, and the trail’s path was lush with color. Whether it’s prime peak, past, or snowy March, any season is a fine time to hike Lonesome Lake, especially when the company’s good.
As is customary in my family, we stop for burgers after every hike. A short drive down I-93 South, to Route 3 into Plymouth, is The Lucky Dog. The folks there serve great burgers and brews in a relaxed atmosphere—for the hungry post-hike crew, a nice place to rest.
Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.