The Dreaded Hike: Owl’s Head

Owl’s Head. The one NH48 hike that almost no one wants to do. Why? It’s the longest hike for a summit that has no view – just woods, no sky. It’s also one of the only ones without a maintained trail to the summit.

Located in Franconia, NH at an elevation of 4,025 feet, Owl’s Head is an easy to moderate 18.2-mile hike in and out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Chris, Milo and I are no strangers to this hike as we did a majority of it for the Bonds (Bondcliff, Mount Bond, and West Bond). Being as it was a holiday weekend, we decided to hike the least exciting of our last NH48 hikes as an overnight. This hike (like the Bonds) starts off at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center. It wasn’t even 8:30 a.m. when we arrived and found that the parking lot was already full with cars spilling onto the sides of the road. We snagged a spot on the road and made our way to the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center where we were stopped by a park ranger and his pop up tent. He gave us the basic rules of camping – no camping within 200 yards of water or trail, no fire rings, hang your food up at night because of bear country. We haven’t been stopped by a park ranger ever. We think it’s because we had our brand new (matching might I add) Osprey packs on and it made us look like newbies. Don’t be fooled though, we have plenty of overnight hikes under our belt!

Once our impromptu park ranger lesson was over, we headed out on Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.9 miles of flat, old railroad beds. There are still old railroad planks from the old East Branch and Lincoln Railroad that are still there. Along the way we passed by Black Pond Trail and took a detour on Franconia Falls Trail for a short break. Retracing our steps, we veered left at the junction of Franconia Brook Trail and Wilderness Trail to stay on Franconia Brook Trail for 1.7 miles and veered left again to take the Lincoln Brook Trail. Once on Lincoln Brook Trail, we decided to start looking out for camping spots so that we could unload some of our weight before hitting Owl’s Head summit. We found a great one off the trail and down a hill but still near Lincoln Brook. It was flat and used plenty of times before us. It was illegal-ish but we did make an effort to find a legal camping spot. (The spot was well over 200 feet from the trail, but we couldn’t find one 200 feet from the water.) It’s a lot better than the ten campers we passed on our way back to camp who were parked right next to the trail (and water). Once settled, we enjoyed a short break. Sitting on the rocks in the middle of the brook, we couldn’t help but people watch. We were astounded as to how many hikers were passing through as we didn’t see many on the trail towards Owl’s Head. Guess they might’ve gone a different route or were a bit speedier than us. [Some of the hikers we encountered included the Good To-Go founders who wore matching company shirts – good marketing!]


The family who matches together, stays together.

After the break, we continued 3.4 miles on Lincoln Brook Trail towards Owl’s Head Path. As the trail isn’t maintained, hence not marked, we went past the junction for Owl’s Head Path for about 5 – 10 minutes. After realizing we were continuing on the loop that goes to the Bonds, we turned around and asked a fellow hiker where the path was. We knew we may have missed it as it is only marked with a large cairn and some hikers left their packs before embarking to the summit.

Once on the correct route, it’s 1.1 miles to the summit. The trail is very steep with very loose rocks so I recommend not hiking behind one another in case rocks get kicked your way. I almost had that happen where a female hiker was in front of me and knocked a loose rock my way. Good thing I chose to veer right on a different path. It took us some time to get up the rock slide. After what seems forever, you eventually get to flat terrain where it’s another 0.2 – 0.4 miles to the summit cairn. Like I said earlier, a long hike for a summit that has no view. We took a quick nap on top and made our way down. To our surprise, we encountered a hiker ascending – we thought we were the last ones. He told us he got a late start – 2:00 p.m. to be exact. We told him what to expect at the summit and made our way down, albeit slowly, on the rock slide. Not going to lie, we were slow back to camp – so slow that dusk crept up on us. (The fast hiker also crept up on us and scared the crap out of me.) We were a little lost back to camp as we couldn’t recall how many water crossings there were before camp. Chris had made a big cairn in the middle of the brook as well as a small one on the side of the trail and we were on the lookout for those but our headlamps could only shine so far down the brook. It got to a point where we had to stop and turn around to see if we missed our spot. Turns out we didn’t. We just camped a bit farther than we thought. Thank goodness we both remembered a few details other than where the cairns were (Someone had decided to knock down the small cairn on the trail). Tired and hungry, we immediately made water for dinner and rolled out our sleeping bags. We didn’t even attempt to pump drinking water. That would have to wait until morning. Milo immediately snuggled in for the night while Chris and I waited for our dehydrated meals to cook. It wasn’t long before we scarfed our food down and settled in for the night.


Poising with the cairn in Owl’s Head summit.


The next morning wasn’t all too exciting. Chris was the most exhausted and sore of us all so he ended up sleeping in – he usually does. I woke up early, pumped water into our Nalgene’s and slowly broke down our tent, waking Chris up in the process. Once back on the trail, it was an easy hike back – about 2 – 3 hours to get back to the car. We encountered so many people on the Lincoln Woods Trail – many who were going to the Franconia Falls for the day and some who were hiking/camping overnight for Owl’s Head, the Bonds, or both. Milo caused quite the spectacle with his pack. Apparently, not many people have seen a Shiba Inu with a hiking pack on. Overall, it was a good hike. 10/10 would not recommend hiking it just for Owl’s Head. I’d spice it up a little bit by making the excursion longer with the Bonds. However, with Owl’s Head knocked off, we only have three 4,000-footers left!

32px-Black_Paw.svgA Dog’s Walk:
Owl’s Head is a moderate 18.2-mile hike. Lincoln Woods Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, and Lincoln Brook Trail are relatively flat with rocks, tree roots, and old railroad planks here and there. The only difficult part is Owl’s Head Path which is very steep with very loose rocks – this will be difficult for smaller dogs. We saw quite a number of furry companions on the trail including a lab mix and poodle. Milo did a good job overall though he kind of slowed down towards the end – a mixture of long hike and being slightly out of shape. He toughed it out and we didn’t have to carry him once (Chris had to a water crossing here or there but I don’t think that counts for a dog that hates water). The hike is certainly do-able for dogs of all sizes, but smaller or older pooches you will need to watch or help up and down the rock slide portion of Owl’s Head. Just be wary of how long of a hike your dog can endure because it is a long one but does have plenty of water that runs along the majority of the trail for frequent breaks.


Milo enjoying a cold one at Pub 32 in Lincoln, NH.


And then he was pooped.



A Tough Hike: Mount Garfield and Galehead Mountain

Three words come to mind when I think about this past weekend’s hike: Oh. My. Goodness.

What I thought would be a somewhat easy to moderate hike turned out to be a tough hike both physically and mentally. This hike led us to bagging two peaks: Mount Garfield (4,500 feet) and Galehead Mountain (4,024 feet). Along for the ride, besides Chris and Milo, was Molly who would be hiking again with us as well as camping for the first time. The plan was to do an A-to-A hike instead of a loop which includes a 2-mile portion on the road. We would hike with our gear to Garfield and then head to the Garfield Ridge Campsite to set up camp, head off to Galehead with lighter loads and come back for the night.

We took Route 3 to the Gale River Loop Road and arrived at Mount Garfield’s trailhead around 8 a.m. with the parking lot already full. With packs on and ready to go, we started our ~5 mile journey to Mount Garfield (in the Franconia Range) on the Garfield Trail. The Garfield Trail is relatively easy with a steady elevation gain. There are plenty of tree roots, rocks and mud to navigate around due to recent rain. We were a bit slow on this part as the packs were weighing us down but eventually arrived at the Garfield Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail junction at 4.8 miles. The real climbing starts when you continue straight to Garfield’s summit for 0.2 miles. You definitely have to use your hands to boost yourself up. Milo had a few boosts for this one as well because even his spider dog skills couldn’t handle this one alone.

Once at the summit, we immediately dug into our lunch enjoying the relatively large and flat summit with a 360-degree view (Twins, Galehead, Lafayette and Lincoln are all within view). There are also remnants of an old fire tower where we climbed up to get photos of our first summit success of the day. For this hike, I was tired going into it. Lack of sleep or just hiking one weekend after another with no breaks probably just got to me. I would’ve been content to bagging this peak and hanging around camp all day but Chris and Molly wanted to keep going as that was the original plan.

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Our lunch spot on Garfield.


By the fire tower remnants.

We descended the 0.2 miles back to the junction and continued on the Garfield Ridge Trail for 0.2 miles towards the Garfield Ridge Campsite. It was rocky, wet and steep – the theme of the whole trail and weekend. We encountered quite a few hikers going the opposite direction (many of whom camped at the Galehead Hut or elsewhere). When we hit the sign for the Garfield Ridge Campsite, it was another 0.2 miles to the actual site. Once there, we met the caretaker Nate and he showed us the group platform we could pitch our tent on. He, along with 2 caretakers from other campsites, were in the midst of fixing the integrity of the outhouse (as well as installing a high quality WiFi system). We set up shop and chit-chatted with the caretakers for a bit before we took off. Had we stayed any longer, I probably wouldn’t have continued onward. With lighter packs, we descended 0.5 miles (yes, you read that right – descended) on even wetter (due to a small stream – the campsite’s water source – continuing downhill) and steeper rocks. We were slow as we were careful as to where to step and not slip. On the way, Hamish, one of the caretakers helping Nate, flew right on by. He made us look like snails. He was on his way back to his campsite, 13 Falls Tentsite.

2015-07-25 18.54.14At 0.5 miles, we hit the Garfield Ridge Trail and Franconia Brook Trail junction where we stayed straight on the trail to Galehead. This part of the trail or should I say ridgeline, is pretty reasonable with some ups and downs but staying generally at the same elevation. There are plenty of planks to walk on along the way. I won’t lie when I thought about quitting a number of times but Molly kept encouraging me to keep going. From the junction, it’s another 1.6 miles to the next junction (Gale River Trail) and then another 0.6 miles to Galehead Hut. It felt like it was taking forever, and far more elevation change up and down than you would think from the topo, but we eventually made it the hut which seemed to be the happening place to be with day hikers, overnighters and thru-hikers milling about. Plus it definitely has some beautiful views including the Pemigewasset wilderness. From our handy dandy map, it says 0.4 miles to the Galehead summit but maps lie sometimes and instead, it’s 0.5 miles on the Frost Trail to Galehead Mountain. I looked at the summit from the hut, made a sigh and said that’s the summit? Chris said I looked like someone who never climbed a mountain before when I did that. Well, with no time wasted, we got our butts into gear and made our way to the top. About 0.3 miles in, there is an outlook but I didn’t opt for it, instead continuing towards to the summit which isn’t too exciting to talk about. Just a cairn and woods – no views without taking little side paths to openings in the foliage. Photos taken and exhaustion progressing, we descended back down to the hut. Chris had the right mentality when he said each step we take is a step closer to home!

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One of the many planks you encounter on the Garfield Ridge Trail.


I think I summed this hike up pretty well on Galehead.

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The view from Galehead Hut.

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Chris and Milo waiting.

Slow and steady wins the race right? We broke up the trail by the junction signs so we could keep our sanity. As it was getting late (4 p.m. by the time we summited Galehead and back to the hut), we wanted to make it to the campsite before dark. However, if that wasn’t the case, we were prepared to hike in the dark with our headlamps. The majority of the hike back wasn’t too thrilling, same views and a few late hikers encountered. The portion of the hike we weren’t looking forward to was the 0.5 miles back to the campsite – especially since we had to scale the massive wet steep rocks to get to it. Slow and steady. Slow and steady. It helped a little that the mountain water was refreshing.

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On the 0.5 mile steep wet rocky portion of the Garfield Ridge Trail back to the campsite.

We finally made it to the campsite, refilling our water bottles and making our way to the tent platform. Chris was already cooking dinner (which Molly and I were secretly hoping he would do as he was ahead of us) and I set up the sleeping bags and pads with Milo opting for Chris’ spot (as he always does). It was a full house at the campsite with all platforms and shelter occupied. Four of the tents were already asleep by the time we arrived and a group of latecomers were setting up their hammocks and tents.

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It’s tent city!

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Tent is all set for sleeping.

With bellies full, we immediately went to sleep to neighbors snoring and bickering at one another. I probably woke up around 3 a.m. or so to the rain hitting our tent, and again at 5:30 a.m. with the early risers getting ready for the day’s adventure. We didn’t actually get up and pack up all our gear until 7:30 a.m. when the rain stopped. We had the dreadful 0.2 steep climb back to Garfield Trail but then it was 4.8 miles of easy sailing back to the car. I was pretty much done at this point, physically and mentally hurting, just wanting to get home. It didn’t help that Milo kept pulling on the leash just to get to the front of the pack. I eventually handed him off to Molly at the 1 mile point. We were relieved once off the trail and even happier when we topped it off with pizza for lunch!

All in all, it was a total of 19 miles. A hiking and camping trip full of mud, sweat and no tears – just whining. What I thought to be an easy hike turned out to be a difficult one but hey, at least we checked off two more peaks on the NH48 list!

[Fun Fact: The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs along the ridge across the summit of Mount Garfield and crosses the northern face of Galehead Mountain.


32px-Black_Paw.svg  A Dog’s Walk:

The Garfield and Galehead loop hike is considered a moderately difficult hike for dogs. Though it is gradual elevation gain for the 4.8 miles on the way to Garfield, there are LOTS of rocks (of all sizes) and tree roots to navigate and scramble on. The 0.2 miles to Garfield is especially difficult as Milo needed a few boosts to get him up and down the summit. From the Garfield Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail junction down to the next junction of Garfield Trail and Franconia Brook Trail, it’s pretty steep with more scrambles where you would need to give your pooch extra help. The ridgeline walk is relatively easy on the paws as is the Frost Trail to the Galehead summit which has easy scrambles. Be sure to give your dog breaks, keep them hydrated (plenty of fresh water along the hike) and pack plenty of snacks for them. I encountered a fellow hiker who said her trio including boyfriend and Doberman had included Galehead last minute for their day hike and ran out of food for their dog so I gave them one of Milo’s TurboPUP bars to help sustain her on the way home. And last but not least, keep in mind your dog’s ability as you don’t want to wear them out!


Milo is always excited for a TurboPUP!



© Elizabeth Tran 2011-2017