If last summer is any indicator of what this summer might look like, the odds of having to wait for a parking spot to open at New England’s most popular trailheads are high. As social distancing and remote work took hold as the new normal last spring, people throughout the Northeast and nationwide began to spend more time in rural destinations, paddling, hiking, climbing and enjoying our outdoor spaces.
While the heightened interest in outdoor recreation was largely welcomed, it did add a lot of stress to mountain towns and trail networks. Stories began to circulate about travelers waiting multiple hours for a parking spot to open up at the trailhead for North Conway’s Diana’s Baths, and “no parking” signs began to appear around other overcrowded spots in the Mount Washington Valley and beyond. Luckily, there are endless options for those looking to spend more time hiking and less time navigating crowds this summer. And just because there isn’t a line of cars waiting to get into the parking area doesn’t mean they are any less spectacular.
Mount Tremont, New Hampshire
Located just south of Crawford Notch, Mount Tremont often is overlooked for more popular destinations such as Arethusa Falls and Mount Willard. Reaching the 3,371-foot summit requires an elevation gain of 2,550 feet, making it a relatively strenuous hike. But the summit views of Sawyer Pond, Green’s Cliff and Sandwich Range make the effort well worth it.
The trailhead for the 5.6-mile out-and-back trail is located on the south side of Route 302 and is a small, easily missed pull-off just before Sawyer River Road. The initial stretch of trail follows a small brook filled with boulders and cascades before climbing to a magnificent coniferous forest. Another steep section of trail awaits prior to reaching the summit, which yields a view not seen from many other spots in the area.
Bernard Mountain, Maine
As New England’s only national park, Acadia tends to get crowded during the summer. But if you avoid the main loop road and popular destinations such as the Precipice Trail, the Beehive Trail and Cadillac Mountain, there are a number of hidden gems that often go unnoticed. Bernard Mountain is one of these gems.
The mountain, which is located near Seal Cove on Mount Desert Island, is densely forested and has limited views, resulting in it being less traveled than the aforementioned summits. But if solitude is what you’re after, it’s a great option.
The hike starts at the Mill Field Trailhead and can be completed in a 2.8-mile loop via the Sluiceway and Bernard Mountain trails. It can be extended to a 4.4-mile loop by starting at the West Ledge trailhead and incorporating the West Ledge Trail, which, unlike much of the Bernard Mountain Trail, does have some open sections with scenic vistas.
Mount Ethan Allen, Vermont
The seldom-visited Mount Ethan Allen, located in Camel’s Hump State Park, can be reached via the Forest City Trail and Long Trail, starting at the end of Camel’s Hump Road. Most hikers opt for the prominent summit of Camel’s Hump, leaving Mount Ethan Allen for Long Trail through-hikers or those looking to avoid the crowds.
Along the way, the trail follows Brush Brook, which has cascading waterfalls and plunge pools, perfect for cooling off during the summer months. Crowds will thin once you hit the junction with the Long Trail and begin heading south, away from Camel’s Hump.
Goose Ridge, Maine
The 3.7-mile Goose Ridge Trail traverses Goosepecker Ridge and can be done as an out and back (making it 7.4 miles) or point to point if you have an extra car to shuttle. The trail is part of the Sheepscot Headwaters Trail Network near Freedom, Maine.
There isn’t much going on in this part of Maine, which means you likely won’t see many other people during your hike. But you will see a number of views from fields as you make your way across the ridge, entering and exiting swaths of forest along the way.
On the southern end of the ridge, the hike can be extended by exploring the trails of the Northern Headwater Preserve, which features historic dams and the headwaters of the Sheepscot River.
The Horn, New Hampshire
Located in the northern section of the White Mountain National Forest, over an hour from North Conway, the Horn and surrounding summits see little use compared to the trails south of Pinkham and Crawford notches.
The Horn often is hiked as a loop along with Mount Cabot and the Bulge from the end of York Pond Road, incorporating a 4,000-footer along the way. The steep, craggy summit ahead can be seen from Unknown Pond, hinting at what lies ahead for those completing the loop counter-clockwise. While Cabot’s wooded summit has no views, the summit of the Horn yields spectacular views of the Pilot Range.
For those looking to split the 11.1-mile loop into two days, there is a tent site at Unknown Pond. The Horn also can be hiked as an 8.4-mile out-and-back hike from Mill Brook Road.