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.



The Start of Fall Hiking Season: Mount Hancock and South Hancock

As the days get shorter and nights get cooler, the foliage is beginning to show its brilliant colors. As a result, many make the annual trek to the Kancamagus Highway to leaf peep. Not us. We’re there for the abundant hiking. Mother Nature’s beauty is just a perk.

We started off the cold and windy weekend brought to us by Hurricane Joaquin by heading to Lincoln, NH where we hiked South Hancock (4,319 feet) and Mount Hancock (4,420 feet). Both are located in the Pemigewasset Wilderness between Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch. Our journey started at the infamous hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway with a gorgeous view of the surrounding area at the Hancock Overlook parking area with only two cars already there and their owners getting a slight head start to us.

The Mount Hancock and South Hancock hike is an easy to moderate hike. We started off at the far end of the parking lot and crossed the highway to begin on the Hancock Notch Trail. The first 3.6 miles are relatively flat and wide with multiple stream crossings. There was one stream crossing where Milo and I weren’t in sync and he took a little unwanted dip in the water. We eventually caught up with the first set of hikers and passed them. With the multiple stream crossings and Milo’s eagerness to cross them before me (with leash in hand), I handed him off to Chris and they went on their speedy way. I eventually caught up with the last set of hikers (a couple with a poodle that had an annoying, yet important as he was off leash, cowbell on) and we were right on pace when we came to the junction for Hancock Loop Trail and Cedar Brook Trail. Chris and Milo were waiting just off to the side and we continued on after a short break. It was a bit of leap frog between the couple and Chris and Milo (I was slightly behind) so eventually when I caught up to them at the Hancock Loop Trail, Chris opted to ascend South Hancock Mountain first so we wouldn’t continue the frogging.


First up…South Hancock

It was a slow and cold 0.5 mile hike to South Hancock. Once at the summit, we took some obligatory photos, bundled up and ate a quick lunch. Not wanting to linger any longer, we hoofed it the 1.4 miles on the Hancock Loop Trail to Mount Hancock. Once at Mount Hancock, we booked it out of there as soon as we took photos and descended. The 0.7 miles descending Mount Hancock are more difficult than the path to South Hancock (I would certainly recommend taking it first, which is what most of the later hikers chose to do). It is a steeper slide with plenty of loose rocks to navigate. I took my time on this as by the time I caught up to Chris and Milo at the start of the loop they were too cold to wait for me at any more junctions and continued on to the parking area without me.


Bundled up on Mount Hancock

It was a quiet and serene walk back to the Hancock Overlook Parking area with a few more hiker encounters. By the time I made it back (only 10 – 15 minutes behind Chris, might I add), the parking area was overcrowded with leaf peepers. Chris mentioned seeing a pair of leaf peepers where the woman went to pose outside with the wonderful backdrop while her husband stayed in the car and snapped a photo from his seat. Lazy much? Any who, it was a relatively short hike – 9.8 miles in 6 hours. Hiking in the cold certainly makes you speedier! It also helps that a majority of the hike is on fairly flat terrain.

[Fun Facts: The mountains are named after John Hancock, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. They also used to be the most remote and inaccessible peaks in the White Mountains, before the Kancamagus Highway was finished.]

32px-Black_Paw.svgA Dog’s Walk:

Mount Hancock and South Hancock is an easy to moderate hike. The 1.8 miles on the Hancock Notch Trail and the first 1.8 miles on the Hancock Loop Trail are relatively flat with multiple water crossings that your pooch should have no problem with. If s/he hates water like Milo, there are plenty of rocks to hop on. If not, the water isn’t too deep to wade in and enjoy. The only portions of the hike that are a bit difficult are the 0.5 miles to South Hancock and the 0.7 miles descending Mount Hancock. The 0.5 miles to/from South Hancock is easier compared to the trail to/from Mount Hancock as the rocks and tree roots are bigger and easily navigable. For Mount Hancock, there are lots of small, loose rocks and dirt sprinkling the trail. This is much harder for humans than dogs! As always, be sure to give your dog breaks and water (plenty of it with the multiple water crossings).

BONUS – I’ve decided to break out my GoPro and use it on our hikes. I’m brushing up on my video editing skills so no music for the first video. One step at a time…Enjoy!



© Elizabeth Tran 2011-2017