When visiting New Hampshire, you must embrace the state’s motto, ‘Live Free or Die’ and there is no better way to do this than by visiting New Hampshire’s national parks. There are 63 congressionally designated and protected National Parks in the USA such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. But New Hampshire doesn’t have any!
So why write an article about national parks in New Hampshire if there aren’t any? New Hampshire may not have any ‘capital letter’ National Parks, but it has two incredible national park (lower case) sites. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail extends from west to east from Vermont, through the White Mountain National Forest, and across to Maine. This is by far the most impressive and extensive of New Hampshire’s parks. The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is the state’s other national park located in Cornish in west New Hampshire.
Whereas the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a nature lover’s dream, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is more suited to those looking to discover culture, history and art. Our guide to national parks in New Hampshire covers everything you need to know about visiting these two national park sites.
- New Hampshire National Parks
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park
New Hampshire National Parks
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is not just in New Hampshire, it’s a 2,200-mile (3540 km) long trail that stretches through 14 states.
This trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.
Starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the trail then heads through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and then finishes at Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Forester Benton MacKaye first conceived the idea of the Appalachian Trail to give those living hectic city lives a peaceful natural escape.
The trail was completed in 1937 and the first person believed to have completed the entire Appalachian trail was Earl Shaffer, in 1948.
The trail is run and managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
The ATC has been keeping track of those hiking the trail since 1937, with more than 20,000 people having reported their completion of the trail.
Some visiting the trail decide to simply hike bits of it and I don’t blame them; 2,200 miles (3540 km) is unfathomably long.
However, thru-hikers will attempt the entire trail continuously from end to end.
According to ATC, thousands of hikers attempt to thru-hike the trail each year, but only around a quarter of them succeed.
The Appalachian Trail – New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s section of the Appalachian Trail starts at the border with Vermont, passing over the Connecticut River into Hanover.
After passing through the city of Hanover, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail properly starts with dense forest and luscious greenery.
In New Hampshire, the Appalachian Trail is 160.9 miles (259 km) and nearly all within White Mountain National Forest.
New Hampshire’s trail has elevation levels of 400ft (121 m) to 6,243ft (1902 m).
Hiking this section should not be underestimated and good fitness levels are required.
People who attempt to thru-hike the trail find that their daily mileage is almost cut in a lot of New Hampshire.
Upon entering the White Mountains National Forest, the trail becomes steeper, and the terrain becomes rugged but entirely breathtaking.
The trail takes you up and down a vast array of mountains, mainly in the White Mountains National Forest, before heading across the border to Maine (the final state).
List of Appalachian Trail Mountains
Mount Moosilauke – Kinsman Mountain – Little Haystack Mountain – Mount Lincoln – Mount Lafayette – Mount Garfield – South Twin Mountain – Mount Guyot – Mount Webster – Mount Pierce – Mount Franklin – Mount Monroe – Mount Washington – Mount Clay – Mount Jefferson – Mount Adamas – Mount Madison – Carter Dome – Mount High – South Carter Mountain – Middle Carter Mountain – North Carter Mountain – Imp Mountain – Mount Moriah – Middle Moriah Mountain – Mount Evans (the last peak in the White Mountains) – Mount Hayes – Cascade Mountain – Bald Cap – Mount Success.
Now that’s a lot of mountains but doesn’t it feel rewarding to end the New Hampshire section of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Success?
New Hampshire’s Appalachian trail has more miles of path above the line of the trees than in any other state.
There’s no denying that there will be breathtaking scenery with 2,200 miles of trail, but if you are embarking on long sections of the track or the whole thing, then the views are bound to get monotonous at times.
In award-winning author Bill Bryson’s book, ‘A Walk in the Woods’, he famously describes the mundanity of the Appalachian trail in the following words: “However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow.”
I guess he’s kind of right, when you hike the whole trail, you can’t help but view all the landscape as the same. But that’s why New Hampshire’s above treeline views offer something so diverse and awe-inspiring.
Mount Washington in particular, offers visitors to New Hampshire incredible and expansive views of the wild state, fully embracing their ‘Live Free or Die’ motto.
Mount Washington stands at 6289 ft (1,917 m) tall and is the highest peak in the White Mountain National Forest.
Those attempting the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire can boast that they’ve climbed the second tallest peak on the entire trail.
If you don’t fancy walking up Mount Washington, you can go up on the cog railway.
For those not satisfied with the second tallest, head down to North Carolina and climb Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest.
Best Time to Visit
Hiking along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire is best started from July onwards, when better hiking conditions begin.
Hiking in August is often recommended because of the better weather and fewer bugs.
August is a prime time for hiking and the trails, though long in New Hampshire, will be more crowded.
Average temperatures for July are 19°C and 17°C in August.
Alternatively, you can opt to hike the Appalachian trail in September when the temperatures are cooler (on average 13°C) and the impressive autumnal colours begin to flourish.
Although the Appalachian Trail is open during winter, you should only attempt it with caution and a lot of preparation in the northern states like New Hampshire.
Temperatures in the White Mountains can reach 7F (-14C). I personally have been in the New Hampshire White Mountains in -15C (-26C) degrees (including windchill), which is not a pleasant climate for skiing, let alone hiking.
Views from the top of Mount Washington, the trail’s second-largest peak.
Smarts Mountain is a popular spot for overnight hikers, with great scenery
Visit Ivy League Dartmouth University in Hanover, where the New Hampshire trail begins.
Best New Hampshire Day Hike Locations
- Smarts Mountain, Lyme
- Mount Success, Success
- Lonesome Lake Trail
- Mount Moosilauke via Glencliff trail
- Crawford Path, Twin Mountain
Where to Stay
When visiting New Hampshire’s Appalachian Trail, deciding where to stay depends on what you intend to do. Do you want to attempt the whole New Hampshire trail or just sections? Do you care about comfort? Do you want to be in a lodge or a hostel?
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) offers several lodging facilities in New Hampshire along the trail at most major attractions.
These lodges are relatively basic but comfortable with hostel-style facilities, private bedrooms, shared bathroom facilities and community dining.
Popular lodges include Lonesome Lake Hut, Highland Center and the Shapleigh Bunkhouse.
Whether you are looking to visit New Hampshire as part of the entire Appalachian hike or just for a couple of days hiking, these lodges are the perfect choice near the trail.
It should be noted though that these New Hampshire huts are booked up alarmingly quickly, particularly in the busy walking season.
If you are going on a whim one weekend, you will almost certainly not find a room available.
You can also stay at the AMC-run campsites if you want to opt for the whole in-the-woods experience.
These campsites are first-come, first-served and do not allow for reservations.
Each campsite is a little different in terms of amenities and fees, so check before you go.
For example, the AMC run Gentian Pond Campsite doesn’t charge any fees and has room for about seven tents (depending on size).
The 13 Falls Tent site, on the other hand, charges $15 a person and offers dishwashing facilities, nine tent spots and metal food boxes for bear protection.
Most of New Hampshire’s Appalachian trail is within the White Mountain National Forest, and this area is free of charge to use and enjoy.
Some recreation sites require a paid pass to enter, including the Great Gulf Wilderness Trailhead, Glen Ellis Falls and Crawford Path Trailhead, all of which charge a $5 fee.
One of the youngest to hike the entire Appalachian trail was five-year-old Harvey Sutton, who completed the trail in 209 days!
Accompanied by his parents, Harvey was technically just four years old when he started. Apparently, a combination of good distractions and Skittles helped him through.
More about New England
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park
The smallest of New Hampshire’s national park sites is Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park.
This 370-acre (149 ha) property is in the small town of Cornish on the border with Vermont.
This historic site includes sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ home, gardens and studio.
Born in Ireland in 1848 to an Irish mother and French father, Augustus Saint-Gaudens moved to New York City at six months old.
At a young age, Saint-Gaudens became involved in sculpting and studied sculpting at France’s École des Beaux-Arts.
He began sculpting busts and cameos and, by 1880, began sculpting public monuments.
Many attest that Saint-Gaudens changed the course of American sculpture from a Neoclassical style to something more naturalistic.
Some of Augustus’ most notable works include The Puritan, Diana of the Tower and Amor Caritas.
He was also well known for sculpting “Abraham Lincoln: The Man” in a larger than life representation in 1887.
Saint-Gaudens lived in his Cornish, New Hampshire home seasonally between 1885 and 1900.
When visiting the park, you can see inside Augustus Saint-Gauden’s home and join a guided tour to learn about Augustus’ lifestyle and family.
Saint-Gaudens named his house Aspet after his father’s hometown in the Pyrenees.
One of the main reasons for visiting Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is to see the magnificent grounds and sculptures.
The Robert Gould Shaw & Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, The Standing Lincoln and the Admiral Farragut Monument are some sculptures on display in the gardens.
The Little Studio sits on the property’s grounds and was where Saint-Gaudens mainly worked alone.
Previously an old barn, Saint-Gaudens converted it into a studio so that he could work on The Standing Lincoln sculpture.
Wander around the formal gardens, designed by Saint-Gaudens himself, and discover fantastic views of Mount Ascutney.
You can also visit the temple carved from marble in 1914 by William Kendal, which is now the location of the Saint-Gaudens family ashes.
This national historic park has over 100 acres (40 ha) covered in forest and winding nature trails.
There are five trails around the property, the longest being the Blow-Me-Down Trail.
This trail is a two-mile (3.2 km) round trip that starts at the temple and explores the park’s woodlands.
A visit to Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is ideal for those interested in history, art, sculpting and beautiful landscapes.
How To Visit Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park
- Great views of Mount Ascutney from the formal gardens
- The Standing Lincoln statue
- A tour of the Aspet house
- Walking around the ground’s trails
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Saint-Gaudens Park is during the peak season, between late May and the end of October.
During this time, the Visitor Centre, Little Studio and New Gallery-Atrium Complex are open, guided tours of the grounds are offered and the exhibits are all open.
Although the park is open during the winter months, these additional attractions are closed, making for a less exciting trip.
Where to Stay
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is in the small town of Cornish.
As Cornish is so small, many visitors choose to stay in some of the neighbouring towns and even across the border in Vermont.
- The Woodstock Inn & Resort is a 4-star hotel in Woodstock, Vermont, around 30 minutes drive from Saint-Gaudens.
- The Windsor Mansion Inn is also an excellent choice of accommodation located just across the border in Vermont but just 4.3 miles from Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park.
- Alternatively, if you are wanting to stay in New Hampshire, stay at the Fireside Inn in West Lebanon, just over 12 miles from the park.
$10 adults (16+), 15 and under are free
New Hampshire may not have a world-renowned capital letter National Park, but its national park sites still offer visitors incredible landscapes and rich culture and history.
The state of New Hampshire oozes outdoor adventure and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail offers that outdoor lifestyle in abundance.
Although small compared to the Appalachian Trail, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park, provides those looking for historical and artistic enlightenment a place to explore while surrounded by beautiful New Hampshire landscapes.
If you love exploring national parks, you might like to read:
- Wyoming National Parks Guide
- Nevada National Parks Guide
- Michigan National Parks Guide
- 5 Maine National Parks
- New Hampshire National Parks Guide
- 25 National Parks In Canada
- 17 National Parks In Argentina
- Tasmania National Parks
- 20 National Parks In Mexico
- 18 New Mexico National Parks
- 18 National Parks In Massachusetts
- 17 Colorado National Parks
- 11 National Parks In Florida
- 8 Hawaii National Parks
- 6 National Parks In Idaho
- Texas National Parks Guide
- 9 California National Parks