Greenleaf Hut, Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop at Franconia Notch State Park – White Mountains, New Hampshire
The #1 rated trail on AllTrails for the entire state of New Hampshire – the difficult 8.1 mile loop to Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge in Franconia Notch State Park. This trail offers so many features – waterfalls, sweeping views, ascend three mountain peaks, walk along a mountain ridge, and even an active hut. It is a challenging trail but rewards hikers with an epic experience. Completing the entire loop can take at least 7 hours on average while gaining and descending 3800 ft of elevation.
Know Before You Go
- This is an intense trail so proper preparations are essential for success. I thought we had prepared and it still was not enough (more on that later).
- The conditions at the trailhead can be far different than the conditions on the ridge. There is 3800 ft in between the trailhead and the ridge. Make sure you are fully aware of the weather conditions at the top of the mountain. A beautiful spring, summer, or fall day can quickly turn to winter conditions and can be dangerous if you are not ready for them.
- Do not be afraid to mix and match portions of the trail to meet you needs. Do not have enough time to complete the entire trail? No prepared for the ridge but still want to get some views? Want to see the amazing Greenleaf Hut? There are ways of doing portions of the trail without the entire loop.
- Parking is more generous than other lots in the are but it does fill up quickly. The lot is located at Lafayette Place East parking lot at Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. It is well marked and easy to find. There is also overflow parking available nearby. We also saw signs for AMC Shuttle – Appalachian Mountain Club Shuttle – which is an intense network of stops that offer access without a car or the ability to park at a lot and returned on the shuttle.
Trails and Points of Interest
Trailhead –> Falling Water Trail –> Stair Falls –> Cloudland Falls –> Little Haystack Mountain –> Mount Lincoln –> Ridge –> My Lafayette –> Greenleaf Trail –> Greenleaf Hut / Eagle Lake –> Old Bridal Path –> Trailhead
|Trail||One Way Distance||Elevation Gain||Difficulty|
|Trail head up Old Bridal Path to Greenleaf Hut||3 miles||2500 ft||moderate|
|Trail head up Falling Waters Trail to Ridge||2.8 miles||3000 ft||hard|
|Greenleaf Trail (Greenleaf Hut to Mt Lafayette)||1 mile||850 ft||hard|
|Ridge to Mt Lafayette||1.5 miles||480 ft||moderate|
When completing the loop, the counter clockwise as AllTrails outlines. Start with Falling Waters Trail past the two waterfalls and go up Little Haystack and access the ridge. Then head across the ridge to Mt Lafayette, then to the Greenleaf Hut and descend down the Old Bridal Path. Over 80% of injuries on this trail is people attempting to descend Falling Waters Trail. It is not recommend to go down Falling Waters Trail due to the scramble of rocks mixed with the waterfall activity – the rocks are wet and it is much steeper making if very difficult to climb down.
If Falling Waters Trail does not sound appetizing, there is the option of going up Old Bridal Path which is less steep by 500 ft, a little longer of a trail and does contain a considerable about of rock navigation. You can still access the Greenleaf Hut and My Lafayette this way but you will not want to make this a loop – you will go back down the Old Bridal Path.
I was very excited to tackle this trail. While it was difficult and people reviewing highlighted that, it was also so well rated and the challenge gives rewards. After everything we saw driving the Kancamangus Highway, the fall foliage views were going to be spectacular.
We arrived at the parking lot just around 615AM and there were still plenty of spots. Before heading out, we ate some pastries from yesterday and bundled up to start the morning. There was a park ranger already posted by the trailhead and he stopped us before we proceeded.
- Ranger: “Do you know the weather today?”
- Me: “Umm, yes?”
- Ranger: “What is it?”
- Me: “…cold?”
- Ranger: “At the ridge it is going to be winds up to 30mph with a wind chill in the teens. There is snow and ice and predicted to snow an additional half an inch. Need to have extra layers for the top, maybe crampons, and those shoes are not recommended (pointing to Kevin’s sneakers since his new hiking boots did not arrive in time for this trip).”
- Me: “Ok, thank you!”
And we returned to the car. Wow, I did not expect that. We went back and forth for a few minutes. Do we change plans? I really wanted to do this hike but I also did not want to be stupid. We did not have any more layers than what we were currently wearing. We did not have hiking sticks. We did not have crampons. With windchills that low I may freeze at the top. But I still wanted to try! How could we try do see how high we could go without risking being stuck completing the loop? My nightmare was going up the Falling Waters Trail and finding out it is a blizzard at the ridge that we could not handle and then we are stuck since we should not attempt to go back down the Falling Waters Trail.
And that is when it hit me. What if we went up the Old Bridal Path, see what it was like at the top. If conditions were ok, we could do a portion of the ridge if we wanted to before heading back down Old Bridal Path. And if the conditions were terrible, we tried and we would just head back down the Old Bridal Path. I was pretty pleased with this strategy.
Since the ranger had been so helpful in giving us the information and a solid reality check on the situation, I asked him to evaluate our new plan. He agreed that it was definitely a better option. He has we should have no issues taking the Old Bridal Path and then evaluating the final ascent to Mt Lafayette once we reached the Greenleaf Hut.
With the ranger’s blessing, we started the trail at 640AM. After a few minutes of walking, the crossroads of the Old Bridal Path and Falling Waters Trail meet. Going right and crossing over the bridge sends you on the Falling Waters Trail and going left sends you up on the Old Bridal Path. We followed the Old Bridal Trail and up we went.
We did not pass or see anyone for a long time since the favored way to do this trail is the reverse. It was beautiful and peaceful in the forrest with a well maintained and clear trail. It did not take long for the trail to turn to rocks.
The rocks started as nicely organized stairs and with more elevation gain turned to scrambles and slabs. Since the rocks were dry, they were easy to navigate and a bit fun at times. We were finally getting high enough were we were above the trees and we were getting sneak peaks of the views.
We were finally high enough that a clearing displayed the entire ridge right before our eyes. Stunned at this view, we spent quite a bit of time taking photos and gazing around us. The view here was incredible and this point alone made the decisions worth it, even if we didn’t make it to the top. We could see. the snow covered tops at the ridge and at least knew that the ranger was not exaggerating. We could also see the clouds rolling in that could definitely ruin visibility from the top of Mt Lafayette.
This is where the trail starts to get tricky. The rocks turned into slabs that were pretty intense. Thankfully the rocks were still dry and it was necessary to successfully traverse. We still had a bit of climbing to do so each rock formation was its own mini-challenge to conquer.
With each rock formation challenge cleared, the views continued to get easier. The temperature definitely started to drop as we lost the protection of the trees but luckily the wind was not too bad. It was amazing to keep turning around and seeing the views as we got higher and higher.
We finally reached flat area so we knew we had to be close to the Greenleaf hut. We started to notice frost on plants and trees, and ice in the mud. More rock acrobatics were required to avoid muddy feet!
And what felt like out of nowhere and unexpected, the Greenleaf Hut appeared! We hurried down to it and spotted Eagle Lake and Mt Lafayette behind it. We arrived here at 850AM, not too bad for 2500 ft elevation gain.
The inside of the hut was a fairytale. Bustling with people, the warmth was like a big hug and the place was stocked with amenities. There are bathrooms, food, filtered water, and even overnight accommodations that can be arranged ahead of time.
Food and beverages can be paid with cash or by Venmo which is amazing. The folks that work here are true angels cause this is just the best – they were even finishing up a big pot of chili! We sat by the window and enjoyed all the food we brought as well as our purchased hut items of brownies and Kevin grabbed coffee. As we sat and enjoyed our view, snow began to fall. It would have felt like a storybook except for the fact that we had to hike in this.
Visibility because poor so going up to Mt Lafayette was off the table, we would just hike back down the Old Bridal Path. It really was so cozy up here – they even had giant maps and even a bookcase full of books. Kevin was all over the books and how lovely living in this are would be – pick a nice day to hike up here, stay for awhile reading books, then hike back down.
I was getting nervous about the snow so after we finished eating, we packed everything up, filled our water bottles, used the bathroom, signed the guest book, and bundled up to go out into the snow.
Thought we only stayed a half hour, the conditions changed drastically. The rocks were were so grateful for being dry were now wet so going down these was going to be a different story. The wind kicked up a bit and the snow continued to fall. Luckily, we knew what to expect and just took our time navigating each rock formation one at a time. The gloves we had were soaked quickly since we often used our hands to navigate down the rocks.
It did not take as long as I thought to reach the clearing where the photos looked very different this time around. I was so glad we took the time to take the photos earlier in the journey when visible was clear. I was also grateful we ended up doing the trail this way cause it looked like a blizzard at the ridge.
Once we made it back under the tree line, the way down was not as bad. The snow stopped and while it was still wet, the steep rocks were behind us as we made our way back through the forrest. We experienced many seasons today as the sun began to appear making the trees illuminate with color.
Before long, we were back at the crossing where Old Bridal Path and Falling Waters Trail connect which meant the parking lot was nearby!
At 1140AM, we emerged from the trail and a bright sunny day. The ranger welcomed us back and we thanked him for the assistance in turning what could have been a disastrous hike into a wonderful experience. When we visit this area in the future, we will 100% try the entire loop again. But I have to say, the views on the way up to the Greenleaf Hut via the Old Bridal Path were stunning. So if you are nervous about doing the entire thing, even just going to the Greenleaf Hut is worth the journey. I can see why this trail is #1 rated on AllTrails for the entire state. ofNew Hampshire!