Mountain cranberry growing in a rock crevice along Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Mountain cranberry (photo by Webmaster)

Mt. Garfield, Garfield Pond, and Mt. Lafayette

Destinations:  Mt. Garfield (4500'), Garfield Pond (3860'), Mt. Lafayette (5260')
Trails:  Skookumchuck Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Garfield Trail, Appalachian Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Franconia Region
Location:  Franconia, NH
Rating:  Moderate  
Features:  Summit, views, pond, brooks, alpine zone, rock scrambles
Distance:  12.0 miles  
Elevation Gain:  4000 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 8:37   Typical: 8:10  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 10:30   Typical: 10:30  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  07/11/2009 (Saturday)  
Last Updated:  09/15/2009  
Weather:  60-70 degrees, sunny
Author:  Webmaster
Companions:  SDHers: Diane, Brian, Jack

View from Garfield Ridge at the junction with Skookumchuck Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
View from Garfield Ridge at the junction with Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Route Summary   

This is a point-to-point hike visiting Garfield Pond and summiting Mount Garfield. There is an option to also summit Mount Lafayette. The hike includes three miles of hiking on Garfield Ridge. There are spectacular 360-degree views from portions of the ridge and on Mount Lafayette, and Mount Garfield offers fantastic 180-degree vistas. This hike gives views into the Pemigewasset Wilderness from several places.

The statistics above are for doing the main hike without Lafayette. If you decide to summit Mount Lafayette, that adds a total of 1.6 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain.

Ascent:
  • Start on the Skookumchuck Trail which takes off from the front left-hand corner of the parking area (as you're driving in). The trail immediately branches to the right. Then after just a few minutes, it crosses the Heritage Trail (go straight through this junction).
  • Stone staircase, with moss on the risers and bordered by ferns, on Skookumchuck Trail
    (photo by Webmaster)
    Stone staircase, with moss on the risers and bordered by ferns, on Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
  • Follow Skookumchuck Trail, climbing moderately, for 4.3 miles all the way until it ends at the junction with Garfield Ridge Trail which is also part of the Appalachian Trail (AT). En route, at 1.8 miles, you will cross a small brook on a rock bridge.
  • Upon reaching Garfield Ridge, you will be greeted with 360-degree views with Mount Lafayette looming up to the right. Here you have two options: hike an extra up-and-back route to the summit of Lafayette or simply proceed towards Garfield.
  • If you choose to hike to Lafayette's summit, turn right and hike for 0.8 mile up the steep, rocky trail, through two false summits, to reach the top. After enjoying the views, retrace your steps to return to the junction of Skookumchuck Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail. Coming off the summit, make sure you're heading north in order to avoid the other trails that leave from the same area. This portion of the route is marked with cairns and white blazes.
  • From the junction of Skookumchuck Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail, head north. Coming up from Skookumchuck Trail, this would be a left-hand turn. Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail is marked with cairns and white blazes.
  • Follow Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail, through ups and downs and rock scrambles, for 2.2 miles which will bring you to Garfield Pond at the base of a hill (the pond is visible from the trail).
  • Turn left, following a short, faint spur path, that may be wet in places, to reach the shore of Garfield Pond.
  • After enjoying the pond, return to the main trail and turn left.
  • Climb steeply uphill on Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail for 0.5 mile. At the height-of-land, take a short spur path on the right to the summit of Mount Garfield where there are fantastic views and a foundation from an old fire tower.

View from the summit of Mount Garfield (photo by Diane King)
View from the summit of Mount Garfield (photo by Diane King)

Descent:
  • After enjoying the summit, return to the main trail, and turn right.
  • Continue on Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail for 0.2 mile until reaching a junction with Garfield Trail.
  • Turn left onto Garfield Trail, and follow it for 4.8 miles, all the way to the parking lot where you should have earlier spotted a car (or otherwise arranged for transportation). The descent starts out steeply but the grade eases and the footing improves progressively as you make your way down. Garfield Trail is blazed sporadically with faded blue paint. At one point, before some brook crossings, you will intersect with a snowmobile trail – go straight through the junction to stay on Garfield Trail which is narrower at this spot.

Franconia Ridge, taken from Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Franconia Ridge, taken from Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Place         Split
Miles
     Total
Miles
     Split
Time
     Total
Time
    
Skookumchuck Trailhead (1700') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Jct. Skookumchuck Trail / Garfield Ridge Trail (AT) (4680') 4.3 4.3 3:00 3:00
Garfield Pond (3860') 2.2 6.5 2:00 5:00
Mt. Garfield summit (4500') 0.5 7.0 0:36 5:36
Jct. Garfield Ridge Trail (AT) / Garfield Trail (4180') 0.2 7.2 0:11 5:47
Garfield Trailhead (1500') 4.8 12.0 2:50 8:37

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Common wood sorrel
(photo by Webmaster)
Common wood sorrel (photo by Webmaster)


White Mountains elegant vacation rental
 

Mountain sandwort growing along Garfield Ridge Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
Mountain sandwort growing along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)



Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Yellow flower growing along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Yellow flower growing along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Brian on the summit of Mount Lafayette
(photo by Diane King)
Brian on the summit of Mount Lafayette (photo by Diane King)



Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
 

Trail map of hike route to Mt. Lafayette, Garfield Pond, and Mt. Garfield (map by Webmaster)


Trail Guide   

Garfield Ridge provided many delights for the four hikers that decided to tackle this trek in spite of the questionable forecast. We split into two groups with Diane and Brian hiking ahead and doing the Lafayette option, while Jack and I moved more slowly and only did the main hike. The weather was pretty clear with comfortable temperatures between 60–70 degrees.

We climbed up to Garfield Ridge via the 4.3-mile Skookumchuck Trail. The trail started out easy then became progressively steeper, although gentler sections were mixed in here and there. There were a few sets of rock staircases to assist with the climb. With the recent rains, Skookumchuck Brook was flowing strongly, offering many pretty little cascades. Along the trail bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), common wood-sorrel (Oxalis montana), yellow clintonia (Clintonia borealis), and some other flowers were in bloom. Some of the yellow clintonia plants were in fruit, at which point they are usually referred to as bluebead lilies.

Skookumchuck Brook along Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Skookumchuck Brook along Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Eventually, we left the brook and entered conifer woods on a minor ridge that would connect us to Garfield Ridge. Through the scrubby trees we could catch glimpses of Mount Lafayette towering over us and were also able to look behind us for views of Franconia Notch. A little bit of mountain cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) – a ground-hugging plant with tiny shiny leaves and tiny pink bell-shaped flowers – and Labrador tea – a shrub with white flowers and curled-under leaves – were in bloom. A few rock scrambles were required as we gained elevation.

We broke out of the cover of trees as we reached Garfield Ridge where the Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail heads north to Mount Garfield and south to Mount Lafayette. A steep knob, which is the first false summit of Lafayette, loomed over the open area. To the north we could see the three knobs that we would have to traverse on our way to Mount Garfield. There were views in all directions including the striking vista into the green-cloaked mountains of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Although it was hazy, the visibility was still quite good.

Mt. Garfield and its South Cliffs taken from Garfield Ridge at the junction with Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Mt. Garfield and its South Cliffs taken from Garfield Ridge at the junction with Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Diane and Brian chose to take a detour to Lafayette before tackling Garfield. So they climbed another 600-feet over 0.8 mile to enjoy that summit before retracing their steps and meeting Jack and I on Garfield Ridge. Their timing was great and we could see them descending the steep knob while we were sitting and enjoying our lunch break.

The four of us started out together north across Garfield Ridge through many ups and downs and rock scrambles. We first descended over the still-open ridge with wonderful views as we wound our way in and out of boulders and cairns. Mountain sandwort (Arenaria groenlandica), growing in low clumps, brightened the trail with its small white flowers. We then entered a forest of short conifers. There was a refreshing breeze making lots of noise as it blew through the branches.

For part of the way, we hiked with "Madeleine of Maine" who was thru-hiking the AT. She had started at Springer, Georgia on March 26th and was looking forward to being back home. Diane and Brian quickly hiked ahead us.

View from the summit of Mount Lafayette (photo by Diane King)
View from the summit of Mount Lafayette (photo by Diane King)

The trail was really pretty with lots of lush green moss and interesting boulders. There were some gentle sections with good footing, a few bog bridges, and lots of rock scrambles. There were some views through the trees off to the right, and looking behind us we could often see the ridge that we had just traversed. At one point we were able to get a really good look at the sheer cliffs forming an end-point of a southern arm of Mount Garfield. We could see this interesting formation from where we had lunch too but it was neat to see it from a much closer perspective.

At the base of the third knob, Garfield Pond came into view on the left. Diane and Brian had just left as we were arriving. They had enjoyed a long break there while Jack and I just took a quick look since it was getting to be fairly late in the day and we still had a lot of miles to cover. The 1.5-acre, oblong-shaped pond was peaceful looking and seemed to be surrounded by thick woods.

Garfield Pond (photo by Webmaster)
Garfield Pond (photo by Webmaster)

From the pond was the final half-mile climb to Mount Garfield's summit. We got to the ledgy top where there is an old cement foundation. The views were fantastic and the wind was ferocious whipping pack straps across our faces and knocking us off balance as we scrambled up the boulders to the very top of the peak. There were a couple people hunkered down in the foundation to avoid the winds (although they were also missing the views). We ended up sitting on a lower ledge which avoided the strongest gusts. After a short break, we continued the trek.

The first 0.2 mile was still on Garfield Ridge Trail / Appalachian Trail and was down rocky, rough footing. Then we turned left onto Garfield Ridge Trail and the walking was much easier with good footing and no more rock scrambles. As we headed down the 4.8-mile trail, the grade became progressively gentler.

View from the summit of Mount Garfield (photo by Webmaster)
View from the summit of Mount Garfield (photo by Webmaster)

With about a mile left, we had several stream crossings in quick succession. By this time it was dark enough that Jack was inspired to take out his headlamp which he used intermittently for the rest of the hike. Most of the crossings were pretty easy but the last one looked a bit hairy. Jack was ahead of me and seeing my hesitation, he crossed partway back in order to offer me a steadying hand. Then I guess he figured that the rocks he was standing on were ones I would need to step on so he plunged directly into the water and stood in the middle of the brook. Well, with Jack serving as a human railing, the crossing was nice and easy. It seems that Jack is the hero in some way on every hike – thanks Jack!

Below that last stream crossing it started to rain. The rain was refreshing and the trail traveled through beautiful hemlock woods over terrain that was practically level. We reached the parking lot just after 8 p.m. and Diane and Brian had finished at 7 p.m. They went for pizza and beer nearby and then drove back to the trailhead to make sure we had made it out okay... a 13.6-mile day for them (12.0 for us) and they still had the energy to make sure we made it out okay!

Thanks to all for a great hike that covered new terrain for all of us!
 
The upper portion of Skookumchuck Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
The upper portion of Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Labrador tea growing along the upper part of Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Labrador tea growing along the upper part of Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Bunchberry growing along Garfield Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
Bunchberry growing on Garfield Trail (photo by Webmaster)



Garfield Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
Garfield Trail (photo by Webmaster)

White Mountains elegant vacation rental
 
Garfield Ridge and Mount Garfield taken from Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Garfield Ridge and Mount Garfield taken from Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
 


NH - Central East



  Driving Directions   

This is a point-to-point hike starting at Skookumchuck Trail in Franconia, New Hampshire, and ending at Garfield Trail in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. You should spot a car
Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Skookumchuck Trail (photo by Webmaster)
(or otherwise arrange for transportation) at the Garfield trailhead, then drive to the Skookumchuck parking area where the hike will begin.

To the Garfield Trailhead:
  • From I-93, take Exit 35 (when heading north) or 36 (when heading south) and follow signs to get onto Rt. 3 North.
  • Travel approximately 5 miles, then opposite Trudeau Road (which is on the left), turn right at a small brown sign for Gale River Trail, onto the gravel FR 25.
  • After 1.3 miles, at a brown hiker sign, turn right.
  • Continue on the gravel road for another 1.8 miles, then turn left to park at the Garfield trailhead.
  • It's about 20 minutes from I-93 to the Garfield trailhead.

To the Skookumchuck Trailhead from the Garfield Trailhead:
  • The Skookumchuck trailhead is located on Rt. 3 just south of where Exit 36 comes in from I-93.
  • From the Garfield Trailhead, go back the way you came from, traveling for 1.8 miles.
  • At the T-junction, turn left and travel for 1.3 miles.
  • The next T-junction is the intersection with Rt. 3. Turn left and travel for approximately 5 miles, driving past an access road for I-93.
  • About 0.2 mile south of the first I-93 access road, turn left into a fairly large parking area for Skookumchuck Trail.

Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Other Notes   

Spaghum moss growing on Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Spaghum moss growing along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
A parking permit is required to park at White Mountain National Forest trailheads and parking areas. You can purchase a WMNF permit from the forest service and other vendors and can also pay-by-the-day using self-service kiosks located in many parking areas.

For more information on parking passes please refer to the White Mountain National Forest website.

Rates:
  • $3 per day
  • $5 for a week-long pass
  • $20 for a year-long pass
  • $25 for two year-long passes (one household/two cars)

More Garfield and Lafayette Trail Reports   

 
Moss growing on a log along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Moss growing on a log along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)

 
Moss-covered log along Garfield Ridge Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
Moss-covered log along Garfield Ridge Trail (photo by Webmaster)
 

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