The Worst Hike in New Hampshire

The Worst Hike in New Hampshire

Generally, in hiking blogs you see beautiful pictures of majestic scenery.  All the hikers in the photos have smiling faces and recount the glorious time they had reaching the summit of their favorite mountain.  What you don’t normally hear about is the other side of hiking.  The hikes that are more like death-marches than hikes hardly ever get mentioned.  If you hike regularly, then you are bound to have your stories of the not-so-perfect hikes.  So instead of highlighting the best hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I thought I’d review a not so good hike.  In fact, it is the worst mountain of the list of 48 four thousand foot mountains in New Hampshire…Owl’s Head.

Drawing a Line in the Sand

If you have climbed all 48 four thousand foot mountains in New Hampshire, I’m sure you have an opinion about Owl’s Head.  I know not everyone hates Owl’s Head.  In fact there even some lunatics (kidding …mostly) that would list Owl’s Head as their favorite mountain.  As much as you Owl’s Head lovers may want to defend it, I have to draw a line in the sand.  Here is your challenge.  Open a web browser and type “Best 4000 foot mountain to hike in New Hampshire”.  Guarantee you will not be finding Owl’s Head in the search results, unless you created a website called Owl’s Head is the Best Mountain.  If that is the case, then I stand by my earlier lunatic comment.

The Worst Hike in New Hampshire
Views from the slide

Making My Case

There are a lot of factors that puts Owl’s Head on the bottom of my list.  The first and most important, no view from the summit.  Yes, I know you Owl’s Head lovers, there are other mountains on the list of 48 in New Hampshire that don’t provide a view.  With Owl’s Head, you get the least bang for your buck.  It is a long hike ending with a lack luster summit in the middle of the woods.  I have never been on a summit and heard so many fellow hikers exclaim, “Is that really it?”.  The top of Owl’s Head is a jumble of confusing little herd paths and bushwhacks.  All of these I am sure were made by irritated hikers convinced that there has to be more of a summit somewhere.

Can’t Get There From Here

Let’s face it, Owl’s Head is not hiker friendly.  There are no easy approaches to Owl’s Head.  It is either a long day or part of an overnight backpack.  The approach is tedious from any way you come.  Unlike a lot of other peaks in the White Mountains, Owl’s Head isn’t one that can be easily combined with another peak.  Owl’s Head also boasts more tricky water crossings than most of the White Mountains.  Having a trail crisscross repeatedly over the same stream gets old quick.  Adding to that, Owl’s Head water crossings have been known to be dangerous (especially after heavy rains).  Even the rock slide approaching the summit is a nuisance, with sliding back 2 feet for every 1 step forward.  It is almost as if the mountain is trying to push you away.

The Worst Hike in New Hampshire
The numerous water crossings are not the easiest to cross.


The Worst Hike in New Hampshire
The slide is literally a rock slide- this is the trail!

Tip: How to stay safe on any hike

Lincoln Woods Is An Evil Place

Anyone who has climbed Owl’s Head from the trail head beginning in Lincoln Woods knows it is an evil, evil place.  It is evil because it hides its true essence behind green landscapes along a sparkling river.  Once a former railroad track, Lincoln Woods seems easy.  It is flat, pretty, and not challenging.  This all changes on the way back.  After a challenging hike with no views, you just want it to end.  You come to Lincoln Woods section of the hike and you think, “I’m in the home stretch”.  Soon you begin to realize that this trail seems really long.  Next, you realize that whatever sadist that build this railroad must have searched long and hard for the perfect rocks that would cause the most pain to your feet no matter what footwear you have on.  Like the famed Chinese water torture, the rocks discomfort increases with every step.  Shortly after that, you begin thinking you are in that scene from the Blair Witch Project where the kids have been walking for hours and they seem to be going nowhere. By the time you finally reach the parking lot, you have called that easy, flat trail everything in the book and even have made up a few new curses to fully describe the amount of suckage that Lincoln Woods provided.

The Worst Hike in New Hampshire
The bridge that is the beginning and end of the hike.

So Why Hike Owl’s Head

  1. Well if you are like me, then you hiked Owl’s Head because it was on the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) 48 4000 ft. mountain list.  This hike is generally one of the last mountains people do on the list…nuff said.
  2. Minus the typical amazing views of other mountains in the Whites, Owl’s Head does offer features that are nice like the rock slide.  But…if you like rock slides like I do, then do the Tripyramids in the White Mountains.  See even when trying to give reasons to hike it, I can’t.
  3. New Hampshire offers so many challenging and diverse mountains to climb, that you’ll want to climb it because it is there.
The Worst Hike in New Hampshire
We met Rachel (in pink) celebrating the finish of her NH 48 on Owl’s Head. Congratulations and happy anniversary of your finish!

Not All Bad

All kidding aside, I love the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I feel very fortunate to live so close to its natural beauty.  Owl’s Head will never be on the same popularity level as other hiker favorites like Lincoln or Lafayette or the Bonds, but any place in the Whites is a guaranteed adventure.  Speaking from personal experience, I would never have been able to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of the 7 Summits of the World, without the training I did there.  My second to last hike before Mt. Kilimanjaro was…you guessed it Owl’s Head.  I guess it isn’t all bad 😉

Have you hiked Owl’s Head?  Do you agree that it is the worst hike in New Hampshire?

The Worst Hike in New Hampshire
We did have fun on this hike despite how challenging it was.

Want to check out some other hikes?

Need a gift for a hiker in your life?

Mt. Garfield- amazing views for a shorter hike!

Secret caves on Mt. Monadnock

Inspiration on why we hike on vacation

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The Worst Hike in New Hampshire


The Worst Hike in New Hampshire

About Frank

Frank is the creator of the RoarLoud website, go to guy for gear reviews and Cathy's IT guy. I know that stands for information technology but Cathy calls him her "IT" guy because he is everything! A lover of nature and a curious soul he tries new adventures eagerly. Fortunately he is also the voice of reason to level out Cathy's wildcat side.
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46 Comment

  1. Otto says: Reply

    Everyone is so focused on views. Views, views, views. There are so many more aspects to a hike than just views, and Owl’s Head offers many of them: deep wilderness, beautiful forests, wild waterways, steep and challenging terrain on the slides, bushwhacking opportunities, and a storied logging railroad history. Yes, Lincoln Woods Trail is unwelcome at the end of the day, but I’ve never understood why this trek is so reviled. It’s more about the journey than the destination.

    1. Otto I agree- it is about the journey. I don’t need views all the time and do love the woods too. I am not a fan of Lincoln Woods though- maybe it would be better if it wasn’t the end of a long hike. I actually love the slide on Owl’s Head- it is a fun challenge. Overall I’d still rank it as the worst hike in the Whites. Will I do it again- probably:) The mountains and woods are my favorite and I do love them all, some more than others:)

  2. Tracy pierce says: Reply

    I 100% agree. Only beat out for worst Nh hike by Mt Carr. Hated that one way more. 🙂

    1. I like Mt. Carr:) I think it depends on the day and the mood of the group. I remember very pretty waterfalls there:)

  3. Jamie says: Reply

    I happen to really like OH. With that being said my approach to OH might be a little different than most. I’m totally into endurance type sports and look at OH as a great training ground. I also like the bushwhacks as they add a great dimension to the journey. Matter of fact I just did it the other day and beat my last time by 5 minutes. So I’m here as one of the lunatics that love and defend this lack luster mountain that I consider the heart of the Pemi Wilderness..

    1. Jamie I think being in great shape helps make this hike more enjoyable. I need to learn better orientation skills to not get lost on bushwhacks! The Pemi is definitely beautiful but I much prefer the other peaks. That said I’ll probably still try Owls Head a few times to see if I can find a way to make it more enjoyable. Happy hiking;) – Cathy

  4. Julie says: Reply

    I agree it was horrible! My boyfriend and I figure everything will be better now that it’s off the list! It was long and tedious and sure, the journey is great and all, but I can think of other ways to spend 10.5 hours on my journey. 🙂 but, IT’S DONE!

    1. Julie the Owl’s Head lovers are not happy with the post but I know most people are not a fan of this hike:) I wouldn’t be upset about never doing Lincoln Woods trail again! Thanks for your comment and congrats on getting it done!

  5. This is hilarious! Spot on in oh so many ways! But, I am not an Owlie hater! Although I agree with the long ugly slug out Lincoln Woods, I liked the rest! It was 46 of 48, as I was scared to do because of all I’d heard. But now I can’t wait to go up there in the winter! It won’t be one of the last on round two!

    1. I’m glad you liked it, it was meant to be funny. I’d like to find a way to like this hike- maybe a backpack:) -Cathy

  6. Jill says: Reply

    Well, now you need to try it in the winter 😀 I’ve found every mountain resonates differently for each person. I never enjoyed Carrigain, until I hiked it from the northern end of Lost Pond Trail, past Lost Pond, the Horn, and over the Bulge. Owls Head always enchants me with its peaceful deep woods. Enjoy your journey!

    1. Thanks Jill. I liked Carrigain but that way sounds really nice! I do love deep woods but I think ending on Lincoln Woods ruins it for me- I’ll have to try some different ways of doing OH. Happy hiking! -Cathy

    2. Vicki says: Reply

      I think you meant Mt Cabot on that one — Unknown Pond, the Bulge and the Horn are the northern side of Mt Cabot…

    3. Lots of nice campsites just below the slide. Breaking it up into an overnight adventure worked for us!

      1. It did look like great camping there! Might have to try the hike that way:)

  7. Eric Carlson says: Reply

    Ha ha! This is great! I did Owl’s Head in the winter. I really enjoyed the hike in. The scenery was beautiful and since there was plenty of ice the water crossings were no problem. The “summit” was uneventful. But the hike out on Lincoln Woods? LONGEST HIKE OF MY LIFE! Brutal! And this comes from someone who enjoys 5O and 60 mile day hikes. It was dark and it seemed like it would literally go on forever. Not doing that again any time soon!

    1. I hear you Eric! After a Bonds hike I wanted to die on Lincoln Woods trail! Something about that long flat trail kills me every time! Thanks for stopping by! Happy hiking:)

  8. This post pretty much sums up why I will in all likelihood never set foot on Owl’s Head. As a landscape photographer the views matter to me. Of course I probably won’t be hiking any of the other 48 4Ks that don’t have views either.

    As for Lincoln Woods, I grew to hate that trail after doing the Pemi Loop last year. Catching sunrise on Garfied and then heading up and along Franconia Ridge I couldn’t wait for the never ending trail to end!

    1. I’ll take any other trail than that Lincoln Woods! Sunrise on Garfield must have been incredible!

      1. It most certainly was! If only there was another way to start/finish a Pemi Loop. Heading in wasn’t too bad, a good warmup for the legs. Heading out on the other hand… I had already decided I wasn’t going to spend an additional night at Liberty Springs, so I knew I had a pretty good day ahead of me. But that “nice warmup” is simply a death march after a 15 give or take mile day.

        1. For a flat easy trail it is definitely a death march! I know part of it is that you have always put in lots of mileage by the time you are on the trail but I do think it is an evil place:)

  9. Albert says: Reply

    I hiked this with my kids 10 and 12 years old respectively.
    They are bored by flat hikes and seem to move slower on them because of boredom. It was a long day and the hike out was in a torrential downpour. You think Lincoln Woods trail is long hike it in the rain. The logs that flank the trail make for a great bathtub. The standing water was 4-6 inches high the whole way. All I could tell my kids is we need to keep going so we can get out of this mess as fast as possible.

    1. Wow, what a story! I love your bathtub description! Sorry you had such a horrible hike though, I bet they remember that hike! I guess the bad hikes make the good days so much better:)

  10. Brian says: Reply

    This was a nightmare hike for me and my group. I was not prepared for that hike. I had extra shoes (That I needed 45 minutes into the hike because we were bushwacking and I stepped into 2 ft of mud. I was stuck up to my knees.) We set off and there was a snow covered forest and we couldn’t see any tracks. My second set of shoes were too small. I lost a few toe nails that day. We got lost and could not find the turn up to the summit. Hint(right At the cairn).
    It was very cold at the top.. On the way down I slipped (caught myself) but tore a rotator. Had to eat a cupcake from a friend that was trying to put it off as a Hostess!! Wrong!
    This was an endless day. Never thought we’d get back. Bad BAD experience.
    Lesson!! Always prepare for the worst and make sure you have good footware.

    1. Wow, that is quite a story! We were hoping people would share their hiking horror stories from any mountain:) Happy hiking!

  11. Ha ha, a hike with no view, immediately that rules me out! Love that you chose to write about the worst, I found this so funny 🙂 #WeekendWanderlust

    1. Thanks, we have written about the best and the most popular so we thought it would be funny to post about the worst:)

  12. Lauren says: Reply

    Ha! I like this post. A little dark comedy is definitely needed when tackling a steep and not-always-enjoyable climb. I love that the first comment is someone defending Owl’s Head just like you predicted! I think there will be moments in most (all??) climbs where you feel that it is the WORST climb ever, but then eventually you summit, or reach a beautiful landscape, or go for a swim in a crystal clear river, and everything seems worth it!
    Lauren recently posted…Five Virtual Market Tours To Whet Your Travel AppetiteMy Profile

    1. Yes there are so that love this hike and defend it passionately:) We are all different and I love to hear why people love it or hate it. There are moments on every hike that are challenging most definitely, all of the hikes even this one are better than a day at work:)

  13. My worst hike was beautiful, but I was solo hiking in Zion and a rattlesnake was settled in path where I could get around him, so I had to wait for an hour in the heat for him to decide to leave.

    1. Wow, that is intense! Glad you had some beauty there but that is scary! Thanks for sharing a great story!

  14. If the worst hike in New Hampshire helped you climb Mt. Kiliminjaro then it’s worth it! Congratulations.

    1. Thank you Elaine:) Yes, even the worst hike is worth it! I may not want to repeat that hike but it was great training!

  15. I’ve hiked quite a bit in New Hampshire, but never Owl’s Head. Doesn’t sound like I will be adding it to my list, haha! Great post!

    1. Some love it, maybe you would:) I’ve heard as a backpack it is more enjoyable. I’m sure I’ll still try it again one day…

  16. Ami says: Reply

    Well, everything has a purpose. Even though this may be one of your worse hikes, it did help you eventually. You did conquer one of the largest peaks ( or is it the largest) in Africa.
    Ami recently posted…Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, GoaMy Profile

    1. Thanks Ami, yes Kilimanjaro is the highest in Africa:) Everything does have a purpose I agree. It might be to make other hikes all the more enjoyable:)

  17. Hi Cathy,
    Sounds hardcore!
    We’ve done a bit of hiking in our day but are used to the downright dangerous, reckless, hikes thru parks in places like Thailand, where there is pretty much a zero premium on safety LOL!
    Of course, I was the idiot to go ahead and take these hikes, so that’s on me 😉
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…10 Tips to Cure Insidious Writer’s BlockMy Profile

    1. I like a little danger:) I’ve heard the hikes there are beautiful!!

  18. I hike with my kids as often as I can, but they find long flat stretches so boring that I can barely encourage them to move. Getting to the top without a view after all that is sure a tease!

    1. I fortunately knew there would be no view but I swear that long flat trail gets more painful each year I do it!:)

  19. Well… I’m now wonder which hike here is the worst… I hate hiking in the Basque country as it’s full of mountains and we always have to go up and down, up and down, up and down. We never have time to prepare the muscles that we already have to climb. But I assume I’m luckier as it’s almost always between ocean and mountains 😉
    Stephanie Langlet recently posted…What to do and see in Biarritz episode 1: La Grande PlageMy Profile

    1. I’ll have to come and visit to see how the hikes are- they sound lovely:)

  20. Rob says: Reply

    OMG, that was delightful to read. So yeah, now that you mention it I can think of several hikes that were totes lame. Your account of the painful rock path brings a hike to mind… along the beautiful Cedar Creek in Hood River, Oregon… death by nature walk.
    Rob recently posted…A friendly reminder about hiking safety and family travel tipsMy Profile

    1. Rob I’m glad you liked our poking fun at a hike many hate in NH. When you visit, I won’t take you on this one:) Yet some still love this hike and defend it to the end!

  21. […] walking around your neighborhood parks is not hiking.  To prepare for Kili, we found the most difficult trails near us. Fortunately, we have the White Mountains in New Hampshire, which are no joke and some are […]

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