A few days ago, Jill and I had a little time to ourselves so we decided to go hiking, which is a pastime that seems rarer and rarer for us these days. Due to some time constraints, we decided to head up to a nearby mountain and one that is a staple for the people of the Seacoast/Southern region in New Hampshire, Mount Major.
Mount Major is a smaller mountain in the Belknap Range sitting about 1,786’ in elevation, but has probably the best views out of the 12 peaks in the range. It has a completely bald, granite summit which rewards hikers with 360 degree views. The best views being to the east where there’s an unmatched view of Lake Winnipesaukee on the Alton Bay side. The features of this mount include some great, but fairly easy, ledge scrambles, the remnants of a stone structure or hut on the summit that was constructed by George Phippen in 1925 and my all-time favorite on any hike…a USGS Benchmark!
Kiosk at trailhead
First 0.3 miles of the trail was moderate
First 0.3 miles, very eroded portion!
There are three main trails that summit Mount Major from the east, which is the most popular side to ascend from. The most traveled of these trails is the Mount Major Trail blazed in blue, which traverses and scrambles up the ledges and gives you the best views while hiking. To the north of the Mount Major Trail is the Brook Trail blazed in yellow and to the south of the Mount Major Trail is the Boulder Loop Trail blazed in orange. We had been on the Mount Major Trail many times and had descended the Boulder Loop Trail once in the past, so this time we wanted to make sure we incorporated the Brook Trail into our loop. So, traveling in a clockwise fashion, we decided to hike up the Mount Major Trail for the views and down the Brook Trail for our “red-lining” satisfaction!
Snapshot from map that is available online
The trailhead parking area is pretty large and is located on the left side (when northbound) of NH Route 11, about 4.2 miles north of Alton Bay. There’s a nice, large kiosk in the center of the parking area with a map and some information. One thing I could definitely say would be beneficial is some mileage on the maps for the kiosk and the main Belknap Range Map in general.
The Mount Major Trail, which is also part of the Belknap Range Trail, starts off on the right side of the parking lot. It begins ascending moderately and quickly splits. All the publications I read stated that the “main” trail was to the right, so we stayed on that leg. The trail was severely eroded and felt like you were hiking through a dried up, deep, narrow brook. At 0.3 miles, the leg from the left diverged back into the main trail and the trail leveled off. It remained flat and level for the next 0.4 miles.
Ledges with some glacial foot prints!
Upper portion of the trail
View from the viewpoint on the trail
At 0.7 miles down, the trail split again, but this time, the Mount Major Trail took a hard left and the Brook Trail continued straight. So, we took a left and started gaining some elevation. The trail at this point is pretty similar to what you’d see in the Whites…lots of rocks and boulders, roots, etc. I can say the erosion is getting pretty bad on this trail and I’m not sure if it can really be fixed at this point. It’s still easily passable, but looks like it was not well maintained years back. Whoever is doing it now is doing a great job with what they have to work with.
At 1.3 miles, Jill and I came to another split. There was a sign pointing to the left that said “Ledge Detour” on it. If you go to the left, it climbs through a wooded, rooty section. If you go to the right, you scramble over some open ledges, and get some better views. Soon after this, there’s a view point on an open ledge to the right of the trail. We checked it out, took a quick break and snapped a few shots.
After the viewpoint, we got off the trail a bit. Instead of backtracking back to the trail from the viewpoint, it looked like another trail would lead you back onto it so you didn’t have to back track. I think we messed up here, but were in good company as many people were doing the same thing. We ended up on the ledges at the top, just north of the Mount Major Trail and ascended to the summit. Again, a lot of people were doing this so I’m guessing it’s a common mistake.
Our summit shot!
Views from the summit
Views from the summit
Views from the summit
Rod on the summit...wonder what it was for
At the top, the views were great! The sky was blue and Winnipesaukee waters looked calm. We found the USGS Benchmark (which I had missed the last two times I was up there), took our summit photo and then plopped down on the granite to relax! We were able to catch the Mount Washington Cruise ship on the waters too which was pretty cool.
After about 30 minutes of relaxing in the peace and quiet, we packed up to head down. Just then, we ran into our good friends, Pat and Kristen at the top…it’s amazing what a small world it is sometimes. If you may recall, Pat just climbed the Caps Ridge Trail with me back in July!
Mount Washington Cruise ship!
On the summit
On the summit
After socializing a bit with our friends, we checked out the stone shack (there’s a great history on this here) and found the yellow and blue blazes (yes, they’re marked together) and descended off the summit in a western direction on the Straightback Major Link. We passed a junction for the Beaver Pond Trail on the left, and finally arrived at a junction with the Brook Trail at 0.5 miles. We took a right onto the Brook Trail where the trail was now just blazed in yellow. The funny thing here is there’s a trail sign that states it’s 2.7 miles back to the parking lot from this junction, which by everything I’ve read and what the guide publishes, makes no sense. By my calculation, it should only be 1.5-1.7 miles…so I think the trail sign is wrong here…just saying!
Hut on the top
Inside the hut
Inside the hut
We continued down the trail which is a pretty gentle grade. Soon, at 0.8 miles, we passed the green blazed North Straightback Link Trail on the left, which I’ve heard is a rough, sometimes difficult trail to follow. The Brook Trail then turned right and descended at an even gentler grade. It crossed the brook a couple times as well, but there was no water for it to be tricky in anyway. I’m not sure what the name of the brook is as I couldn’t find it when I researched the route. Finally, at 1.7 miles, we came to the junction where the original Mount Major Trail splits and retraced our steps the last 0.7 miles, totaling a 2.4 mile hike out. Our total mileage for the day was 3.9 miles or so.
Trail sign that I think was wrong. Should be 1.7 or 1.5 to the parking area!!!
The brook on the Brook Trail...not sure of the name
As I mentioned before, Mount Major is a staple for families, hikers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors from the flatland area. The drive seems short from all points and the hike is pretty easy for the reward you receive at the top! Also, there’s different trails to choose from which isn't always the case on the smaller mountains. If you find yourself wanting to push yourself further, the trail network from the summit to the west is pretty large as well, so you can put together many different loop variations. If you haven’t hiked Mount Major, you should definitely get it on your short list quickly!
Trail signs on this loop...this idea of a sign collage came from Chris Dailey so wanted to give him credit as he does it on his posts! Go visit his page, he does some sick hikes! Chris Dailey Hiking the White Mountains and Adirondacks