I’m still on a bit of a high from my recent trip to New Hampshire. The highlight of the trip for me was hiking to the summit of Mt. Willard. It’s not the tallest mountain in the Whites, and it’s not even one of the coveted 4,000 footers, but Willard is by far the best bang for your buck hike I’ve done in years.
We actually struck out when we first attempted the hike – not because we couldn’t make it past the rocks, or up the steep grade, but because we couldn’t find the trailhead. After consulting with the proprietor of the lodge we were staying at, and being the butt of his joke due to how easy the trailhead is to find; we made our second attempt.
The trailhead is accessed right behind the Crawford’s train station. You literally cross the tracks (carefully of course) and start walking into the woods. We felt a little dumb seeing as we had pulled into the parking lot the day prior to check the map for where we thought the trailhead was.
The route enters the forest on the Avalon trail and turns left onto the Willard trail about a tenth of a mile in. The entire trail is very easy to follow and mixes dirt path, with boulder climbs and stream crossings. About a half mile in we came upon a sign for Centennial Pool which was only a few steps off the trail. We hung out here for a few minutes and took some pictures, then continued on our way.
Overall the difficulty of the trail is moderate, but there are distinct sections that are easier than others. The steep sections of rocks can be draining, but are far from a scramble. We passed a few hikers coming down who gave us words of encouragement that the last third of the hike was actually fairly easy. Thankfully they were correct.
The last 100 yards or so is a straight shot towards the end. The shadows of the trees and the bright daylight at the end made us think we were “walking into the light.” This wasn’t the case, despite the heavenly views from the ledge.
Once cleared of the trees we came upon one of the best views I’ve ever had on a hike. The view is like having a front row seat to Crawford Notch – with nothing but the railroad tracks and Rt. 302 to remind you that you are in fact still close to civilization.
The trip back down was easier than going up, but still required attention and proper footing on the rocks. The whole trip was just over three miles, gained about 900 ft., and took us about 2 hours (including our stop at the top). The views that you’re rewarded with for such a short hike make this a must do while exploring the Whites!