Far From the Madding Crowd – North Moat Mtn Loop

On a hot Sunday in July, venturing anywhere near the Kancamagus Highway or North Conway NH is sure to bring you in contact with hoards of vacationers, over-filled parking lots, hot tempers, and traffic jams.  I risked all that by visiting that very area yesterday, and instead found beauty and solitude on a wonderful 9-mile loop hike up and over North Moat Mountain.

Vista from the Red Ridge on the way to North Moat Mountain

Vista from Red Ridge on the way up North Moat Mountain

The hike has several high points, two of which are that it starts and ends at Diana’s Baths, a wonderful (and popular) series of pools and waterfalls located in the White Mountain National Forest just to the west of North Conway, a town known mostly for its shops, outlet stores, and terrible summertime traffic.  But by following the West Side Road past Echo Lake State Park, you avoid nearly all of that and discover just how beautiful this part of the state really is.

Because I got to the the Diana’s Baths parking lot early in the day (8am) mine was just the second car there.  I paid the $3 National Forest daily fee (although I’ll probably just spend the full $20 for a yearly pass soon) and got going.  I had Diana’s Baths to myself but, having visited before, was eager to get hiking.

Diana's Baths at 8 am

Diana’s Baths at 8 am

After a mile or so of nearly flat hiking you face the choice to take the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise.  I chose the former, as both of my favorite guidebooks suggested the same.  (In retrospect I would probably advise the latter, which gets you to the mountain top the fastest.)  But I chose to turn left, following the Red Ridge Trail as it passes behind the peaks of Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge, both of which are contained in Echo Lake State Park (one of my top picks).  The trail is nearly flat for almost 3 miles, then starts the steep ascent up the Red Ridge.  This ridge is another highlight of this trail, as it is open and exposed for nearly a mile with wonderful views towards the east throughout.  The blueberries were extensive and just beginning to ripen, too.DSC07615

Middle and South Moat Mountains from Red Ridge

Middle and South Moat Mountains from Red Ridge

From Red Ridge, the trail is a bit of a slog to get to summit of North Moat Mountain.  At only about 3200′ this mountain doesn’t draw the crowds doing the 4000 footers.  But in spite of the lesser height, you are still rewarded with some of the best 360-degree views of the Whites, especially Mount Washington, as well as of the Swift River and crowded Kancamagus Highway far below.

A view from the summit of North Moat Mountain

A view from the summit of North Moat Mountain

The trip down wasn’t as much fun as Red Ridge and I was quite grateful to reach Lucy Brook at the bottom of the mountain where I could douse myself with clear, cold water at this lovely waterfall.DSC07631From there it’s another two miles or so of easy hiking back down to Diana’s Baths where on another day I might have been tempted to stay and cool down.  But at 2 pm the crowds were extensive, which, to my mind, would just spoil the experience.  Besides, I needed to hurry home.  Yes, they could be the highlight of this loop hike, but for me (and with apologies to New Hampshire’s greatest poet Robert Frost)

D’s Baths are lively, cool and deep,
But I have promises to keep
and miles to drive before I steep
and miles to drive before I steep.

Diana's Baths at 2 pm

Diana’s Baths at 2 pm

I could end the blog right there but just a mile or so down the road from the parking lot was a pick-your-own strawberry farm.DSC07638What a way to end the day!  Yum!

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One response to “Far From the Madding Crowd – North Moat Mtn Loop

  1. Pingback: More Moat Mountain Magic | The Park Explorer·

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