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Thursday, March 21, 2024

Winter Hike up Mount Willard, New Hampshire - 52 With A View

Winter Hike Mount Willard

It was day two of our Girl's Hiking Trip and our first full day in the Whites. The day before, Kristen and I had gotten up to the lodge before 3:00 pm and donned our snow gear to head into the woods for a short hike up to the waterfalls. We did a bit more post holing than we anticipated the following morning and decided to talk to the staff for future trail selection. After some deliberation headed up to hike Mount Pierce a beautiful hike with absolutely zero views as a summit was sucked in my gray clouds Doom and Gloom.After we got down from the mountain, we stopped for a warm lunch at the Copper Pot about 10 minutes down the road. We all struggled with the "Do I stay or do I go" dilemma of a second hike later in the day, a harder decision once you sit down with a warm meal. We talked about hiking in the morning in our rain gear but as we drove back toward the lodge after lunch, the clouds cleared at the lower elevations. I walked into the lodge with a blue sky above and made eye contact with one of the girls where she said she would love to go hike Willard if I was up for it. And so, four of us put back on our soggy hiking boots and headed up the trail which conveniently left right from the train station next to the hotel.

The hike covers about 3 miles round trip and climbs under 900 feet of elevation. The summit sits around 3,000 ft meaning it's a thousand feet lower than the hike we just finished and also about half the distance. It's an out and back hike and you truly go straight up and straight down making it very easy to follow. The snow pack again made following the trail easy and inviting, no boulder hopping here, just following the white compacted carpet up the mountain. I spent the morning with the first group of girls and was excited to spend the afternoon with two of the girls I hadn't spoken much to yet. We blissfully chatted on the way up, stories about our work, kids, our dogs, and hiking adventures. 

Mount Willard View

I polled a few of the hikers we passed coming back down the trail, who gladly handed over the good news that the skies were clear and there was a beautiful view from the summit. We approached the peak of Mount Willard and were greeted with the most beautiful open view of the notch below. Not only do you have the road below and one hell of a view, but you have Mount Field 1500 feet above you to the east while Mount Webster looms 1,100 feet to the west. 

There was no one at the summit, just us giddy girls with the clear skies and solitude after a stormy socked in day on Mount Pierce. We took turns with our photo ops and enjoyed our solo summit experience before quietly heading down the mountain. We had the trail down entirely to ourselves, following the path as the sun was starting to set. I packed a head lamp just in case but we beat the sun, our tired legs following the trail after what was a truly perfect way to end the day with new friends.

Mount Willard Summit

Mount Willard is a popular hike and it's on the 52WAV list (52 With A View). You won't find solitude in the nicer months and  it's popular for a reason but let me tell you, on a winter afternoon we had the summit to ourselves. The distance and elevation makes it a fairly easy hike for your average hiker with a big reward at the top. I think with the right kind of kid, it's a family-friendly hike. I truly hope you have clear skies to take in the beautiful view and a few good friends to join you on the way.

Trail Stats

Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 2,865'
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trailhead/Parking: Crawford Depot on Rt. 302, in Carroll, NH, immediately south of the Highland center 
Trail: Cross the railroad tracks behind the building and look for the wooden sign. Head out on the Avalon Trail and in a tenth of a mile, turn left onto the Mount Willard Trail. Follow the trail to the summit and enjoy the view.

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