Jill and I had a morning free this past week on our vacation so we decided to find a hike that was closer to the seacoast region and somewhat short to fill our time. We decided on Mount Belknap in Gilford, NH which is in the Lake Winnipesaukee Region. The drive up seemed to take longer than we had figured as it is a good 30 minutes past Mount Major over back roads. At the foot of the mountain, there is a Carriage Road that is open to vehicles during the non-winter months. Note that there is also a gate for this road which is open from the hours of 9am to 6pm daily. Be sure to get your car out of there by 6pm, or it will be locked in for the night!
The Carriage Road is about 1.5 miles long and climbs a good portion of the mountain. It does have some steeper parts and a couple hairpin turns, but is not as scary as some of the other mountain roads I have been on like Hurricane Mountain Road which leads to the Black Cap Mountain parking area.
Parking area at the top of the Carriage Road...We were the only ones there!
Shed near parking area, trails begin behind shed
Once in the parking area at the top of the Carriage Road, if you walk past the shed (in view), you’ll come to the main trailhead. There are three trails that lead to the summit of Mount Belknap from this point. The first is the Green Trail, which is the most direct and shortest route, but also the steepest. The second is the Red Trail, which is also pretty short, and moderately steep. Finally, the third is the Blue Trail, which is the longest, but has the best footing and is the most popular. We decided to make a loop and take the Red Trail up, but the Blue Trail down.
Sign on shed...Mileage is a bit off from other signs and AMC Guide.
The Red Trail started off with gentle grades but seemed to be very wet. Add in some exposed roots and rocks, and the trail was very slippery. As we continued on, the trail did get steeper and erosion over the years has exposed a lot of slippery granite slabs making footing tough. One thing that drove us nuts was the amount of spiders on this trail! Every 50 feet or so, there were huge spider webs across the trail. It slowed us down a bit as we were preoccupied with trying to find them in order to pull them down with a stick before blazing through. Most of the time, we didn’t see them until we had already walked through them, which caused us to spend time picking spiders off from us!
One restricted view halfway up the Red Trail
The Red Trail went by pretty fast. Near the top, you pass a small house to the left with a communications antenna near it. Soon after this point, the fire tower comes into view on your right before entering the summit. I was really surprised however; there were no views from the summit top itself. You did need to climb the tower to get any view over the trees. From the fire tower’s platform, there were 360 degree views all around. It was a very hazy day, so we couldn’t see too far. I have read that you can see Mount Washington from the top on a clear day.
Fire Tower at Mount Belknap's Summit
Views from the tower!
More views from the summit...Winnipesaukee!
View toward a cell tower and electrical lines, also following the White/Yellow Merge Trail off the summit!
After having an apple, Jill and I headed off the fire tower and took some snapshots of the summit including the Benchmark at the foot of the tower. We found the Blue Trail and headed down. Very soon after starting our descent, we located a spur trail on the right that was marked by surveyor tape. This is an unpublished trail that leads down to a piper plane crash site from 1972. I’ve read in hiking forums that this is a steep trail with rough footing and that the trail can be difficult to follow. Since I had Jill with me, I didn’t think it was a good time to explore this trail, so I will do so on a return visit in the near future. Franklin Sites has a good trip report showing the location of the trail on a map as well as a photo of the crashed plane.
A pretty beat up NH DPW&H Benchmark at the summit. The only other one of these I have seen is on South Moat Mountain.
Another Benchmark on the summit. This one was a carved triangle with a copper cap in the middle.
On the way down the Blue Trail, there were two good view outlooks. One was to the northeast, where Mount Washington could be seen if the weather was clear and the second was to the north where you could see the peak of Gunstock Mountain as well as the ski area equipment. Soon after the outlooks, we came to a junction with the Saddle Trail and the Overlook Trail. We turned left and stayed on the Blue Trail. The trail was in great shape the rest of the way down. It flattened out near the end, crossed a brook that was currently dry and we made our way back to the parking area.
View to the northeast from first outlook point on the Blue Trail descending from the summit.
Somewhat restricted view of Gunstock Mountain at second outlook point on the Blue Trail descending from the summit.
This was a quick loop hike and had some pretty good views from the fire tower. Unfortunately, the haze on the horizon was not cooperating with us that day and we couldn’t see that far. It was nice to explore a new peak that was not hours away from home (well, only one hour anyway). However, I’m very partial to the White Mountains. Whenever I climb a mountain in the Lakes Region, it just never seems to compare to the Whites!