I enjoyed my snow hike on Friday so much, I went for another one today. It’s been a while since I’ve hiked Mt. Major – I think the last time may have been fall of 2013, or possibly the year before.
There’s a saying, “Everybody hikes Mt. Major”. And that’s precisely the reason I rarely hike it, especially during peak hiking season. The view from the top is spectacular, but the few trails to the top are so heavily traveled that they’re in really poor condition in some spots (and I’m sure the volunteers who maintain the trails – BRATTS – are keeping up with it the best they can – there’s only so much they can do on such heavily used trails). There’s quite a bit of erosion, and the water tends to follow the trails down the mountain, eroding them further.
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The Mt. Major trail is easy to get to, right along Route 11 in Alton. Excellent information, including a trail map, can be found on the Belknap Range Trails website. The parking lot is pretty large in comparison to many other trailhead parking lots; however, throughout summer and fall the parking area fills up fast and you’ll see cars parked along both sides of Route 11.
There are three trails from the Route 11 parking area to the summit. The Mt. Major trail (blazed in blue) is a pretty direct route to the top, and you may have to do a little rock scrambling as you approach the summit. The Boulder Loop trail (blazed in orange) is about as long as the blue trail and starts off pretty mild, but quickly becomes a steep, rocky, and somewhat challenging trail. Again, some rock scrambling required. (And it helps if you’re part mountain goat.) The Brook trail (blazed in yellow) is by far the easiest, but longer. In order to get to the Brook trail, you need to start off on the blue trail until you reach the junction at about .7 mile.
Don’t let “Everybody hikes Mt. Major” fool you into thinking it’s an easy walk in the woods. You certainly won’t need rock-climbing equipment, but you need some good hiking boots. And if you’re hiking in winter, some sort of spikes are a must – there’s a lot of water on Mt. Major, which means icy patches.
On previous hikes, I’ve always taken the blue trail up and the orange trail down. Today I decided to take the Brook (yellow) trail up since I’ve never been on it, and it’s easier (though longer). But I still took the Boulder Loop (orange) trail down.
There were a decent number of hikers out on the trail when I arrived; the parking lot was maybe half full. I saw several groups of hikers coming down the yellow trail when I was on my way up, including a couple of golden retrievers (one of which was enthusiastically carrying a big stick in his mouth). However, I had the summit all to myself. Looking toward Moultonborough, I could see some dark clouds enveloping Red Hill. It was probably snowing there. I even saw a flurry or two on Mt. Major, but not enough to actually say it was snowing. Coming down, I took the Boulder Loop trail. It was easy to find by following the cairns (and I remembered it was across from where the yellow trail emerges). I always forget how steep the Boulder Loop trail is. I’m short, and even though I was wearing my microspikes, there were a couple spots where I sort of crab-walked down the rocks on all fours, and even sat down on one rock to get to the next lower one. At some spots, it really looked like someone slid down the trail on their butt for several feet (whether intentional or not, I have no clue). I’ve never tried going up the mountain that way, and I don’t think I ever want to!
While I love the view from the summit, this is still not a hike I plan to do very much – maybe once or twice a year at the most – due to the heavy use of the trail.