Posted: April 19, 2016
10 brag-worthy bucket list adventures in New England
Written by: Collin Blunk
Up Next: Pizzaiolo on Cumberland Avenue in Portland serves up quick slices with pizazz
How this list was developed
I was introduced to New England for the first time during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. It was an intimate introduction that lead me through the heart of the region and left me yearning for more. I decided to stay, post thru-hike, for a couple of years to tackle every other notable adventure this region has to offer before heading West to do the same. During my brief residency I have discovered a plethora of exciting endeavors that have not only pushed my limits, but have rewarded me with outstanding views, tales, and experiences. Although sometimes overlooked in the continental scheme, New England is home to countless adventures worthy of recognition. Sorting through my own accomplishments and desires I have compiled what I feel are the 10 most recognized and brag-worthy outings that any avid adventure-seeker, visiting or residing in this region, should add to their bucket list and strive to accomplish.
10. Winter Ascent of Mt. Washington: Face the World's Worst Weather
Pinkham Notch State Park, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Anyone familiar with New England knows Mt. Washington reins supreme. Not only is it the tallest mountain in the Northeast but it also claims the title of the world's 8th deadliest mountain. A winter ascent is a rite of passage for any adventuresome New Englander. By shear distance, the ascent poses little challenge, only 8 miles round trip via the popular Lion Head route. This adventure earns its notability due to the gamble hikers take once breaking tree line. The mountain resides at the epicenter of three storm systems, making it home to some of the most aggressive, and quick changing weather around. A winter ascent requires hikers wear and bring proper mountaineering gear and have a prowess to match. If you don't want to become another statistic on the mountain's high mortality count, you must keep a strong head and know when to turn back.
MY ADVICE: Don't trust the weatherman, keep your eye out for changing conditions and always know your quickest way back to safety.
UP THE ANTE: Solo ascent, or choose a more vertical route via Huntington's Ravine. You could also choose to ski down the mountain by way of Tuckerman's Ravine.
VISIT: mountwashington.org for more information.
Photos by Collin Blunk
9. Hike the 100-Mile Wilderness: New England's best backcountry experience
Monson to Abol Bridge, Maine
Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness is the premier backcountry experience in New England. Upon entering the wilderness you will be promptly warned; "There are no places to
obtain supplies or get help until Abol Bridge 100 miles north. Do not attempt this section unless you have a minimum of 10 days supplies and are fully equipped." These days,
it isn't uncommon to spot a car or two along the back roads of the wilderness, yet it is still considered the most remote section of trail in all of the Appalachian Trail. The 100 miles
can generally be accomplished in less than ten days, but the trek still calls for demanding management of weight. Hikers need to balance necessities in a pack filled to the
brim with food and supplies. The route bypasses some of the states most beautiful mountains, lakes and ponds. This beauty is only slighted by the constant knee-mangling ups
and downs and the multiple stream and river fords required throughout the excursion. Choose your hiking season carefully and bring the insect repellant.
MY ADVICE: Take it slow and enjoy every minute.
UP THE ANTE: Finish the trek by climbing Mt. Katahdin.
VISIT: 100milewilderness.info/f-a-q for more information.
8. Summit Baxter Peak and cross the infamous Knife Edge: New England's most exhilarating mile
Mt. Katahdin, Baxter State Park, Maine
Nestled in the heart of Baxter State Park (Maine's largest and most remote wilderness), Baxter Peak of Mt. Katahdin marks the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the highest point in Maine. Every year this hallowed ground draws thousands of hikers north with its undeniable magnetism. Some routes to the top, like the Saddle Trail, will demand less of you but there are many alternative options to the roof of Maine. Consider climbing the Hunt or Cathedral trails, which will have you pulling yourself up massive boulders and navigating precariously steep ledges. Once at the top, snap a photo at the famous summit marker and head for the main attraction – the Knife Edge. This narrow 1.1 mile trail haphazardly connects Baxter peak to its neighboring summit, Pamola Peak. A mere 3 feet wide at its narrowest, the trail leaves no room for mistakes as it drops off for thousands of feet at each side. This trail is certainly not for the faint of heart and should only be pursued in decent weather. If you make it across the hand-mangling granite ledges you will be rewarded with unbelievable views and an amazing experience found nowhere else.
MY ADVICE: Don't look down.
UP THE ANTE: Cross the Knife Edge in the winter, but be sure to have proper equipment. Climb Mt. Katahdin via one of the many technical climbing routes available like the intrepid "Armadillo."
VISIT: baxterstateparkauthority.com/hiking/hikeKathadin.htm#knife for more information.
7. Sea Kayak Casco Bay: New England's best coastline adventure
Casco Bay, Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small, Maine
The state of Maine is arguably home to the best sea kayaking around. With 3,478 miles of tidal coastline, there is an infinite amount of exploration to be had via
kayak. Casco Bay is a 200 square mile region of said ocean and coastline. Stretching over 20 miles from Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small, the bay is home to a cluster of over 365
islands, many of which are part of the Maine Island Trail Associations' protection efforts. You don't have to travel far to find and explore this never-ending aquatic
landscape, as access to the water can be found throughout the region with ease. Once on the water, paddlers can expect to interact with a wide variety of sea birds and ocean
critters. Besides the spectacular beauty of the island landscape, many islands offer overnight camping. Some notable destinations include Jewell Island, the Goslings,
Whaleboat Island and Cow Island. Camping at sea offers an unbeatable outdoor experience that is protected from the masses.
MY ADVICE: Watch the tides and respect the sea, a smart paddler is a safe paddler. Yield to, and steer clear of larger vessels.
UP THE ANTE: Visit all 365 "Calendar" Islands.
VISIT: thewildoutsiders.com/casco-bay-sea-paddling for more information.
6. Long Trail: Hike the original long distance hiking path
Green Mountain National Forest, Massachusetts-Vermont Border to Canada, Vermont
Vermont's Long Trail is America's original long distance hiking path. Running 272 miles from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to Canada, the trail follows the main
ridge of the Green Mountains over the state's highest summits. The path, maintained by the Green Mountain Club of Vermont, offers endless opportunities for weekend and day
hikers but the real adventure lies in an extended thru-hike. Tackling the entire expanse means trekking through varying and rugged terrain. Within its densely forested
expanse, one can find true solitude among the trees. High points include: Stratton Mountain, Mt. Killington, Camels Hump and Jay Peak.
MY ADVICE: Vermont can be a muddy place - hike later in the season when the trail has dried up – slightly.
UP THE ANTE: Winter through hike.
VISIT: greenmountainclub.org for more information.
5. Traverse the Bigelows: Beauty abounds in the Bigelow Preserve
Bigelow Preserve, Stratton, Maine
I discovered the Bigelow Range while hiking the AT and instantly fell in love. Hiding in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin, the Bigelow Range resides quietly - providing what
I believe to be some of the most beautiful scenery in all of New England. Flanked to the north by Flagstaff Lake, Maine's 4th largest body of water, the Bigelow Preserve
houses the best of both recreational worlds. Even with its multitude of trails and free camping opportunities, the area sees surprisingly little traffic and will afford any
visitor with a serene getaway. This modest mountain range of six, is home to two, 4,000 foot peaks and a range trail boasting over 10,000 feet of elevation change. Tackling
the whole range in a day seems mind bending to those who have hiked along this rocky and perpetually up-and-down route, which gave Backpacker Magazine reason to list it as the
10th hardest day hike in America.
MY ADVICE: Pack plenty of water, and make a stop at the Horns Pond Overlook.
UP THE ANTE: By adding a paddle into the mix one can perform a full circumnavigation of the Bigelow Range. Hike the range trail one way, and then paddle the length
of Flagstaff Lake back to the beginning.
VISIT: 1.usa.gov/1SRfvlO for more information.
4. Northern Forest Canoe Trail: Paddle through the heart of New England
New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, Maine
Established in 2006, the NFCT is a 740-mile paddle route that runs from the Adirondacks of New York through Vermont, Quebec, and New Hampshire, ending in Fort Kent, Maine. The route crosses 58 major lakes and ponds, 22 rivers and streams and requires 53 miles of portages. On average, the entire trip can last anywhere from 30-40 days, requiring the paddler to camp and live out of his or her chosen vessel. Traditionally tackled by canoe, paddlers can expect to paddle through class III rapids, cross massive open water expanses on some of New England's largest bodies of water, all the while paddling over 20-plus miles a day.
MY ADVICE: Avoid the summer months when black flies and mosquitoes are at their worst.
UP THE ANTE: Solo paddling the trail will offer a once in a lifetime, remote, backcountry experience.
VISIT: northernforestcanoetrail.org for more information.
3. Winter Presidential Traverse Day Hike: The East's ultimate mountaineering challenge
Presidential Range, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Completing a day hike of the Presidential Range in any season is reason to celebrate. Tackling the 21-mile traverse in the winter is another story entirely. The
Presidential Range sees wind speeds of 100 miles per hour, one out of every four winter days, making it a brutally unforgiving environment. The route crosses eights peaks in
total, five of which are listed as the highest peaks in all of New England. After ascending out of tree line, brave hikers look to cross over 11 miles of exposed ridgeline
expanse in the heart of the world's worst weather – the reason it earned the nickname "The Death March." Many hikers have perished along this route after being overtaken by
ravenous storms. It is important to know your quickest way off the range at all times. Attempting a winter traverse also calls for good time management and pace, as days are
short. Hikers should plan to tackle a good chunk of this feat in the darkness of night.
MY ADVICE: Start as early as possible and head south; the five highest and hardest summits lie in the Northern half of the range.
UP THE ANTE: An extended Presidential Traverse exist adding two additional peaks; Mt. Jackson and Mt. Webster, neither of which are named after U.S. Presidents.
VISIT: thewildoutsiders.com/journal/2016/2/4/death-march-presidential-traverse-day-hike for more information.
2. Pemigewasset Loop Day Hike: Tackle the 2nd Hardest Day Hike in America
Pemigewasset Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
The Pemigewasset is a 45,000-acre wilderness region of the White Mountains. Considered the "wild heart" of the Whites due to its poorly marked, and poorly maintained trails, hikers venturing into this wilderness are promptly warned, "Expect primitive conditions in this area with few signs and rough trails that may be difficult to follow." The Pemi Loop is a 32-mile assembly of trails running through the western side of the wilderness. As if the shear mileage of this day hike wasn't staggering enough, this loop also crosses 10 mountain summits. From the Lincoln Woods parking area, hikers looking to tackle the monstrous feat head in a clockwise direction over Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, Mt. Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Garfield, South Twin, Mt. Guyot, Mt. Bond, and finally Bondcliff. To top the whole thing off, the route offers very little opportunity for water resupply and features one particular climb that gains over 1,150 feet in less than a mile. When all of this adds up, it is easy to understand why Backpacker Magazine ranked the Pemi Loop as the 2nd hardest day hike in America.
MY ADVICE:Throw out all sensibility.
UP THE ANTE: It is hard to out do this already daunting task but pursuing this hike in the winter time with shorter daylight hours demand that you hike through snow and traverse precarious ice slides, and also make running water nearly non-existent.
VISIT: northeasthikes.com/the-pemi-loop-hike for more information.
1. Summit all 48 AMC 4,000 footers: Become a White Mountain Peak-Bagger
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are the undisputed champs of adventure. Easily the most varied and defined landscape in all of New England, the multitude of mountains alone will provide any adventure seeker a lifetime of exploration. For those who seek more goal-oriented adventures there is one task that will keep them chasing the heights. The Appalachian Mountain Club's 48 is a list of high summits rising over 4,000 feet to the highest reaches of the region. To achieve this coveted endeavor, one must hike to the summit of all 48-mountain peaks. Many do this over a lifetime, bagging peaks here and there, while some push the envelope by doing it within a year or sometimes quicker. Nonetheless, it is understood that anyone who achieves the honor of joining the AMC 48 Club has put in a serious amount of time, energy and effort, and should be recognized as a seasoned pro of the mountains.
MY ADVICE: Try hiking during the winter - it is less crowded, and in many instances (with the right traction) the snowpack can make your climb easier.
UP THE ANTE: Many additional challenges exist on top of the 48, the most outstanding being the "Grid" - where you must summit all 48 peaks once in every month of the year, totally 576 summits in all.
VISIT: amc4000footer.org for more information.
It is important to know your ability level and limits. Do not attempt any of these feats without proper knowledge of tools and techniques. You should always seek instruction before tackling strange or new environments.