When it comes to the best long hikes in the Granite State, many folks head for the famous cluster of traverses in the rugged White Mountains that includes the Franconia Ridge Loop, the Presidential Traverse, and the Pemigewasset Loop. But for those willing to trade big-mountain views for the beautiful scenery of the Lakes Region, there’s a 13-mile traverse waiting to be tackled that also happens to be one of the best hikes in NH.
The Squam Range Traverse runs from just outside Holderness to Sandwich, and overlooks picturesque Squam Lake in the southern stretch of the White Mountain National Forest. This hike follows the Crawford-Ridgepole Trail, which covers seven summits: Cotton Mountain, Mount Livermore, Mount Webster, Mount Morgan, Mount Percival, Mount Squam, and Doublehead Mountain. Although the route is lengthy, at 13 miles, the summits are all below 2,500 feet, and the climbing eases up along the ridge of the trail. The hike is reasonably doable in a full day — and great training for some of the more intense hikes in New Hampshire’s northern region.
Sold? Here’s what to expect from the Squam Range Traverse.
HIKING THE SQUAM RANGE TRAVERSE | BEST HIKES IN NH
Given that the 13-mile traverse does not loop back, hikers will need to plan accordingly and park a car at both the starting trailhead and the ending one, or coordinate to meet a willing friend at the end.
In Sandwich, there’s a parking area at Mead Base Camp, which is about 1½ miles from the Doublehead Mountain trailhead via the Crawford-Ridgepole Trail (off Sandwich Notch Road). Alternatively, you can follow the Bearcamp River Trail from Mead Base Camp past Cow Cave and Beede Falls before turning right onto Sandwich Notch Road and following that for half a mile to the trailhead on the left. If you’re hiking from the Holderness end, the Cotton Mountain trailhead kiosk and parking area is about one mile north of the Route 3 and Route 113 intersection.
Hikers can travel from either direction; both routes have advantages. Want to finish up directly at your car? Start from Doublehead and end at Cotton. Want to dip your feet in Beede Falls after your hike? Start from Cotton and end at Doublehead. Or, hey, try it both ways and see which one you like best.
The Crawford-Ridgepole Trail is generally well marked, but be sure to follow the yellow marks and track your summits. While there are some sections of smooth trail, the terrain tends to be challenging and rugged (think rocks, boulders, tree roots, and other natural obstacles). Regardless of which direction you hike, expect the steepest ascent and descent at the start and end. In between, there are fun, rolling hills and many lofty ledges that overlook the Lakes Region.
There are other elements to this hike, including three steep ladders and one very narrow boulder cave just below the summit of Mount Morgan. If the latter makes you feel claustrophobic, know that there is an alternative route to the summit.
It’s worth the scramble, though. The hike has plenty of picturesque natural scenes and those sought-after mountain views.
Additionally, the fun of a traverse hike is the opportunity to see the same view from all angles. Every summit provides a new perspective.
Plus there’s the satisfaction of having been in the White Mountain wilderness for a day without having made quite as much of a trek north.
IF YOU GO:
This is a full day of strenuous hiking on challenging terrain. Prepare and pack appropriately, and plot out an alternative route in the event you find you can’t complete the full traverse.
Leave a car at each end of the hike, or arrange for a pick-up.
Bring a map! Although the trail is marked, this is a long hike, which leaves plenty of room for error.
If you do follow the trail from Cotton to Doublehead (and don’t mind a bit more walking), stop by Beede Falls on your way back for a snack break or a dip in the water.
Don’t have time for a full day of hiking but still yearning for Lakes Region views? The Mount Percival/Morgan Loop Trail is a very popular five-mile loop hike.
Have you ever done the Squam Range Traverse? Let us know!