Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mount Willard in the Crawford Notch

One of my favorite locations in the White Mountains is the Crawford Notch. Whenever we make our way down US-RT 302, we’re usually headed westbound from Jackson, NH to our hiking destination for the day. This notch seems surreal to me at times, surrounded by mountains, both big and small, rivers, waterfalls, railway trestles, etc. It seems to have a little bit of everything that makes the White Mountains so special.

Mount Willard, as seen looking north while on NH-Route 302, westbound

One memorable sight that I recall from my very first drive through the Crawford Notch is a wall of ledge that comes into view around the Historical Willey House Site heading west. This cliff wasn’t the tallest peak around us by any means, but certainly dictated prominence over many of the 4,000-footers that surrounded it. Of course, the rock face I’m talking about is Mount Willard.

We’ve hiked Mount Willard in the past. It’s an easy hike up a gentle carriage road and gives you a spectacular view down the notch to the south. It also has a lot of history. Like many mountains in the Whites, at one time there was a lot of activity to its summit by means of both a carriage road and an auto road. There was also a small trail network on the mountain, which brought hikers to surrounding destinations such as the Hitchcock Flume, Devil’s Den and Rotten Gully.

Old map showing an auto road, carriage road and multiple (now abandoned trails) to features around Mount Willard - Photo courtesy of username NHAndy posted on a Facebook hiking forum

We started our hike at the Crawford Depot on the Avalon Trail, although we weren’t on it for long. Just 0.1 miles in, the Mount Willard Trail breaks left and heads south, but soon turns west again. The terrain is a bit rocky but the grades are gentle enough that my 3 and 6 year old children had no problem with the trail at all. At 0.5 miles we were able to take a break at Centennial Pool.

After our break, the trail turned south again and climbed a bit more steeply for about another half mile before it joined up with the remnants of the old carriage road. The old carriage road was very smooth and nearly flat. Every 100 feet or so, you came to old, concrete drainage pipes that were becoming unearthed beneath the carriage road due to erosion. The kids had a fun time looking for them and always trying to find “the next one”!

 View of the Mount Willard Trail (old carriage road)

One of many old drainage pipes coming to the surface of the trail

Near the top, about 0.1 miles from the summit on the east side of the trail, there’s an unmarked and hard to spot spur trail. This trail leads down to the Hitchcock Flume. Unfortunately, either due to safety or due to resources, this spur trail is no longer maintained. One day, when I’m not with the kids, I plan on exploring the Hitchcock Flume via this trail.

When we finally reached the summit at approximately 1.8 miles, the view was superb. As previously mentioned, to the south you can see down the Crawford Notch, both the highway and train tracks look like small squiggly lines. You can see the train trestles below Mount Field (I think), Willey Pond and the Saco. On the east side of the ledges, the Presidentials can be viewed from Jackson to Washington and to the west, Willey and Field. I think one of the most impressive views Willard offers are the closeups of the Webster Cliffs.

View of Mount Willey 

View down the Crawford Notch, NH Rt-302 in the center, train tracks to the right 

 Mount Webster

Whether you’re up for a relaxing hike or something that’s kid friendly, you can’t lose when choosing Mount Willard. For a small effort, the rewards are huge. We’ve been lucky as we’ve always hit the summit early and have never run into any large crowds. But I have heard it does get pretty busy. If you hike New Hampshire mountains, Mount Willard is a “must hike” mountain. And the cherry on top is, if you are a peak-bagger, you can check this one off your 52 With A View list!

Below are some links that may be of helpful if you’re doing research on Mount Willard and planning a hike:

http://hikenewengland.com/WillardHitchcockFlumeNH090905.php - An old hiking report I wrote years ago after my first trip up Willard