Monday, August 14, 2023

Finishing the New Hampshire 48 on Cannon Mountain

48 mountains rise above 4,000 feet in elevation in New Hampshire with another 19 in the rest of New England. For New England hikers, hiking the New Hampshire 48 (NH48) and New England 67 are popular peakbagging objectives. While I never originally had any intentions of completing the list of peaks for New Hampshire or New England, 24 years after I climbed my first peaks on the lists, I found myself with only five peaks in New Hampshire left to finish both lists. Before climbing Cannon Mountain for New Hampshire #48 and New England #67, I climbed Owl's Head earlier in the morning and the three 4,000 footers of the Willey Range the day before.

I finally set out to climb Cannon Mountain on August, 2nd. Unlike most of my hikes, I started in the afternoon around 145PM. In the morning I hiked about 16 miles while climbing Owl's Head. Immediately after wrapping up the trip to Owl's Head, I headed straight for Cannon Mountain to begin my ascent. I went from hiking one of the longest hikes for a single summit on the NH48 in the morning directly to hike one of shorter hikes on the NH48 in the afternoon. While I never hiked to the summit of Cannon, I have been to the top of the mountain. Cannon Mountain Ski Area occupies the mountain and I have skied there a couple times. The ski area tram rises to just below the summit.

Cannon view of Mt. Lafayette

Cannon Mountain can be climbed by several trails and they are all relatively short compared to most of the New Hampshire 48 routes. I chose to hit Cannon via the Kinsman Ridge Trail, starting near the base of the tram in Franconia Notch. While only a four-mile round trip hike, it still requires climbing 2,150 vertical feet. Given the short distance, the trail climbs right out of the gate.


The Kinsman Ridge Trail travels over rough and rocky terrain pretty quickly from the start. The trail rarely levels out or provides even footing. Generally in the woods, the trail offers a few views across the notch toward Eagle Cliffs and below to Echo Lake. You can even see paddleboats dotting the lake.

Rough terrain early on

Smoother section of rock

Echo Lake

After a mile and a half of relentless rocks and climbing, the trail finally eases a little. The trail runs relatively smooth and level before reaching a junction to an unmarked side path. The path leads to a wide-open rocky ledge with awesome views over the notch towards the Franconia Ridge. If you didn't care about reaching the summit and just wanted a good view, this ledge makes a worthy destination in its own right. However, only about a half-mile from the summit, more good views are just ahead.

More uneven and rocky trail

Some trail work with a little easier rocky section

Franconia Ridge from the ledge

Leaving the ledge, I headed back to the trail, making my way toward the summit. The trail passes over the East Peak of Cannon and looses a little elevation before making the final short push towards the summit. The trail crosses a mix of flat sections and slabby climbing with a lot of mud and open ledges. At places the vegetation is rather scrubby with open views ahead to the summit and throughout Franconia Notch. The views become pretty consistent as you gain elevation. 

Slabby rock 

Summit observation deck

Open rock with great views

As I reached the height of the land, the Kinsman Ridge Trail joined the Rim Trail. The Rim Trail provides a small loop around the summit and near the top of the tram. Along the Rim Trail, numerous short spurs lead to excellent vistas across the notch. Now close to the tram, you pass a pay per view binocular station, not something typical on a hiking trail. At this point I started to cross paths with lots of "tourists" that rode the tram to the summit.

Crossing slabs

Crossing rock through scrubby vegetation

The final stretch to the summit follows a wide, well-maintained path. I passed hordes of tram riders as I walked the final part of the trail. At the summit, I picked my way through dozens of people to climb the summit observation deck. In the winter, Cannon serves as a ski area. In the summer months, the tram offers riders a chance to visit the summit of Cannon without the sweat from hiking while making the trip in just 15 minutes.

View to the north

Looking over the East Peak of Cannon toward Lafayette

While the 360-degree views from the summit observation deck are quite impressive, the summit can be a little overwhelming. Unlike my morning hike to Owl's Head, which sits isolated in the middle of the Wilderness, Cannon's developed summit definitely lacks a wild feel. Communication towers, the observation deck, the tram, and other ski area infrastructure just off the summit all are visible nearby. There is even a restaurant a short walk from the summit. You can hike to the summit, buy lunch, and hike down- or take the tram I suppose. I took a few photos before leaving the crowds. 

South of Franconia Notch
I believe this is to the west

Franconia Ridge

Back on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, I passed a few people on the Ledge Trail, but soon lost the crowds. I enjoyed the views as I descended without the noisiness of the summit. Much of the descent to the first open ledges provides the same view towards Franconia Ridge. Franconia Ridge stands out as one of the most impressive mountain ridges in the Northeast. The descent on the Kinsman Ridge Trail offers some of the best views toward Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln and the rest of Franconia Ridge. The views looking both directions down the notch are quite pretty as well.

Looking over Eagle Cliff

Near constant views descending
the upper mountain

After I passed the first ledge, I began my steep descent back to the trailhead. The descent went by much quicker than the climb. I enjoyed the occasional views through the trees of Eagle Cliff and Echo Lake. I made good time, reaching the trailhead around 345PM

Eagle Cliff on the descent

Despite the summit hubbub, Cannon Mountain offers a lot of great scenery for such a short hike. The Kinsman Ridge Trail offers a lot of bang for buck in just 4 miles. Don't let the short distance fool you though, you earn every foot of elevation that you climb. If you are looking for a wilderness experience, Cannon's summit isn't the place to find it. Just like other developed summits such as Mt. Washington or Whiteface in the Adirondacks, the summit experience wasn't the best part of Cannon, but the overall great scenery makes up for the lack of solitude.

Closeup of Mt. Lafayette

As for finishing the NH 48 and New England 67, I am glad that I finally hiked all the peaks to finish the lists. Finishing the lists was never a huge priory, or I would have not taken 24 years to climb all the peaks on the lists. The lists themselves aren't that important to me. I'm more grateful that I had the chance to experience so many new areas and mountains over the years and the fact that I'm still exploring and able to hike as strongly as I did in 1999.

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