The Classic Franconia Ridge Trail

David's Ridge Loop

The Classic Franconia Ridge Trail

At long last, I finally made the commitment to do the Ridge.  And in summary, I totally recommend anyone to get up on the Ridge and enjoy it for yourself. Little else can be said but “Just Do It”!

The Sunday before me and my children had returned from a week in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Badlands and I had a weekend free. The weather was looking good and at long last, things aligned in my life to get out and hike the ridge.  So off to REI to upgrade my 25 year old backpack to something a bit more refined (I ended up happily with an Osprey Atmos 50), grabbed some dinner packets, and began to pack.

So instead of a long “I was there” trip report, I’ll summarize to a number of key points that may help you when you want to take the Ridge on. First, is the route you should take, which is trickier than I thought. This also includes the style decision, of how you will do it (day hike or overnight).  The second does depend on the first, but is the necessary knowledge of where you can find water.

Route and Style

So naturally, this is the biggest decision a Ridge-goer needs to address. I knew I wanted to do an overnight or two and not the day hike. Okay, that limits the choice a bit.  Most day hikes originate and come up the Liberty Spring trail to Mount Liberty, the Falling Waters trail up to Little Haystack, or the Greenleaf trail up to Mount Lafayette.  After doing the long trip, I totally recommend any reasonable day hiker to do the same.  Still, doing the Liberty Spring up and going down the Greenleaf still makes for a long day.  Trust me. Looking at the map you can just kind of say “oh, we can just do this …”, but it takes longer than one thinks, even if you are in shape. Also note that the camping is really hard to find on the ridge itself. There is a reason for the huts and campsites.  There just is not much there.  Add to the lack of water, and camping on the Ridge is, well, formidable. So I pondered and pondered and choose my route up the Osseo trail and along the Ridge and down the Franconia Brook trail that I did last fall.  If I was in truly great shape, I’d extend the loop and crank of Galehead and the Twins. Right.


Well, there basically is no water from the switchback up the Osseo trail all the way to Garfield Pond. I know since that’s the route I took.  If it’s really wet out there, you might be able to find little teeny tinkles running near the trail or standing mosquito puddles, but really nothing you should plan on.  If you don’t water up at the Osseo switchback (see the purple X in the scanned map below), you will then have to contemplate slogging down to the Galehead hut or the Liberty Springs campsite for water. These are about two to three miles round-trip out of the way, so either haul litres of water or plan to down one of these trails anyway. The AMC guidebook is a bit vague about water, so just plan on it only being off the Ridge and you’ll be fine. I had about 3 litres from the Osseo switchback to Garfield Ponds in the middle of a hot August day. Having a hydration pack makes the water go further, but I know I would have liked another litre or two. And that’s not for cooking and all that.


As mentioned earlier under Route and Style, I picked the Osseo trail since I could hike up late on Friday and knock off three or four miles on the Ridge Loop.  The Osseo trail does wind up pretty straight from the Lincoln Woods slog path.  Then all of a sudden it veers right in a switchback and abandons the river.  I took a thrash through the soft woods and realized I would have been much better off looking for a campspot as I reached a huge boulder in the trail.  If you find it, head to the water and wander around and you’ll find some nice spots for the night to load up on your water.

As I tromped on the trail, you could find a few tight spots to camp up on the Ridge, but there is no water.  Personally, I need the water nearby for morning coffee and other camping rituals. The best next bet is around Garfield Pond or at the Garfield tent campsite.  As the map shows, I wanted to camp down in the meadow above 13 Falls campsite, but never got that far.  Note that the descent off Garfield is STEEP and not a great end to a super long day.  So Garfield Pond is way better.

Anyway, I hope this helps you plan your own trip up the Ridge.  It is certainly a classic and you need to go!

David's Ridge Loop
David’s Ridge Loop