Mount Osceola, East Peak, Greeley Ponds

Destinations:  Mt. Osceola (4340'), East Osceola (4156'), Greeley Ponds (2245')
Trails:  Greeley Ponds Trail, Livermore Trail, Tripoli Road, Mount Osceola Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Waterville Valley
Location:  Lincoln, NH
Rating:  Moderate/Difficult  
Features:  Summits, views, ponds, brooks, river, rock scrambles, 4000-footers, loop hike
Distance:  15.2 miles  
Elevation Gain:  3500 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 9:30  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 8:15   Typical: 13:30  
Season:  Spring
Hike Date:  05/09/2009 (Saturday)  
Last Updated:  06/27/2012  
Weather:  Sunny, 50's60's, breezy at the summit
Author:  Bill Mahony

View (photo by Bill Mahony)


NOTE: As of 6/27/2012, this trail is still CLOSED from Waterville Valley to Greeley Ponds due to damage from tropical storm Irene. The trail from Kancamagus Highway to Greely Ponds is open. See the White Mountain National Forest's alert page for the latest updates.

Route Summary   

This long loop hike brings you to the two pretty Greeley Ponds which are ringed by mountains, and over the 4000-footer summits of Mount Osceola and East Osceola which offer great views.

It covers 12.4 miles on trails, and 2.8 miles on a seasonal road. This route starts from Kancamagus Highway and follows Greeley Ponds Trail south to the ponds and beyond to Tripoli Road in Waterville Valley. Then a hike up the road brings you to Mount Osceola Trail which takes you back towards Kancamagus Highway, where it meets Greeley Ponds Trail for the final return leg.

To Greeley Ponds:
  • Start at the Greeley Ponds Trailhead on Kancamagus Highway.
  • Greeley Pond (photo by Bill Mahony)
  • Follow Greeley Ponds Trail for 1.3 miles which will bring you to a junction with Mount Osceola Trail.
  • For now, turn left to stay on Greeley Ponds Trail while Mount Osceola Trail climbs to the right; the return trip will be via Mount Osceola Trail.
  • If you're hiking this route in the winter, starting just beyond the junction with Mount Osceola Trail you will notice cross-country ski trails joining and leaving the hiking trail at several points. Keep in mind that the ski trails are marked by blue diamonds while the hiking trail is blazed in yellow paint; sometimes both routes share the same path for a short ways.
  • From the Mount Osceola Trail junction, continue on Greeley Ponds Trail for about 0.3 mile at which point you will be able to see the north end of upper Greeley Pond through the trees. Bear left off of the main trail to take a detour down to the shoreline.
  • Rejoin the main trail and continue for about 0.1 mile to arrive at the southern shoreline of upper Greeley Pond. From here there is a spur path that crosses the outlet brook of the pond and leads to a small beach.
  • When you're done enjoying upper Greeley Pond, continue along Greeley Ponds Trail (with your back to the pond, turn left) for another 0.5 mile to reach lower Greeley Pond. Look for outlook points at both ends of this pond. In winter, the hiking trail that skirts the right-hand side of the lower pond is pretty much abandoned in favor of simply walking across the ice.

To Waterville Valley and Tripoli Road:
  • Continue on Greeley Ponds Trail in a southerly direction (with your back to the pond, turn left) which will descend gently until its end.
  • Follow Greeley Ponds Trail for 1.7 miles which will bring you to a junction with Flume Trail on the left; keep going straight to stay on Greeley Ponds Trail.
  • After 0.1 mile there will be a junction with Timber Camp Trail on the right; keep going straight to stay on Greeley Ponds Trail.
  • Another 0.2 mile will bring you to a junction with Goodrich Rock Trail on the right; keep going straight to stay on Greeley Ponds Trail.
  • After 0.2 mile you will reach a junction on the left with Scaur Trail; keep going straight to stay on Greeley Ponds Trail.
  • Bog bridges (photo by Bill Mahony)
  • Continue for another 0.7 mile which will bring you to the end of Greeley Ponds Trail at a junction with Livermore Trail, also called Livermore Road in this section.
  • Turn right onto Livermore Trail and follow it for 0.3 mile where it ends at a parking area.
  • Exit the parking lot and turn right onto West Branch Road which quickly intersects with Tripoli Road.
  • Turn right onto Tripoli Road which is closed to vehicles in the winter but always open to hikers.
  • Hike up gentle inclines on Tripoli Road for 2.8 miles. You will reach the top of Thornton Gap (not far after the road's 5-mile marker) and then go down the other side about 100 yards or so to reach Mount Osceola Trail and the parking lot at another gate on Tripoli Road.
  • Turn right to pick up Mount Osceola Trail at the parking area (both are on the right).

Osceolas and Return:
  • You will be following Mount Osceola Trail across both Mount Osceola and East Peak, and then beyond until it ends at Greeley Ponds Trail.
  • After hiking up Mount Osceola Trail for 2.1 miles, look for a ledge on the left that offers views of Sandwich Mountain.
  • Continue up Mount Osceola Trail for another 1.1 miles to reach the summit which offers excellent easterly views from open ledges.
  • For a view to the north, backtrack just a bit to the old fire tower footings (not to be confused with the newer set of footings located near the eastern view ledge), then turn west (right when backtracking from the summit). Follow the short spur to an open ledge offering northerly views.
  • Leave the summit in a northeasterly direction to continue the trek on Mount Osceola Trail.
  • After about 0.6 mile you will encounter a steep chimney just before reaching the col between Mount Osceola and East Peak. You can descend on the main trail, or take a detour to the left which will be a bit gentler.
  • Climb for 0.4 mile (look for a good viewpoint on the left along the way) to reach the summit of East Peak which is marked by a cairn. The main summit is wooded but if you poke around you should be able to find some good outlook points.
  • Leaving the peak, head northeasterly to continue the hike on Mount Osceola Trail.
  • Descend very steeply for 1.5 miles until meeting Greeley Ponds Trail, being on the lookout for viewpoints (and a left-hand spur to another outlook) along the way.
  • Upon reaching Greeley Ponds Trail, turn left (north).
  • Follow Greeley Ponds Trail for 1.3 miles which will return you to the parking lot on Kancamagus Highway.

Place         Split
Miles
     Total
Miles
Greeley Ponds Trailhead on Kancamagus Highway (1940') 0.0 0.0
Jct. Greeley Ponds Trail/Mount Osceola Trail (2300') 1.3 1.3
Upper Greeley Pond (2245') 0.4 1.7
Lower Greeley Pond (2180') 0.5 2.2
Jct. Livermore Trail/Greeley Ponds Trail (1580') 2.9 5.1
Livermore Trailhead at Livermore Road (1580') 0.3 5.4
Mount Osceola Trailhead on Tripoli Road (2280') 2.8 8.2
Mt. Osceola summit (4340') 3.2 11.4
East Osceola summit (4156') 1.0 12.4
Jct. Greeley Ponds Trail/Mount Osceola Trail (2300') 1.5 13.9
Greeley Ponds Trailhead on Kancamagus Highway (1940') 1.3 15.2

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Red trillium (photo by Bill Mahony)


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Trail map of hike route to Greeley Ponds, Mt. Osceola, and Osceola East Peak (map by Webmaster)


Trail Guide   

After my experience in the snow on the Tripyramids a couple weeks ago, I was looking for something a bit less snowy. Two weeks of warm weather and rain seemed to be what I needed. I checked the trail reports from the previous weekend and figured that a northeasterly route over the Osceolas would be relatively light on snow, yet a long and pretty hike. I brought some snowshoes just in case. The only drawback to my route that I could see was that I would summit Osceola relatively late and would not have the summit to myself. I was willing to take that risk if snow was going to be an issue. Since I'm a big fan of loop trails (i.e. new terrain for most or all of the hike is always a goal), I thought that I had chosen well. As a bonus, I would get to visit Greeley Ponds during the first part of the circuit.

I had planned to get to the trailhead by 6:00 a.m. so I could catch some moose or bears, but I woke up "late" at 4 a.m. and didn't get on the trail until 7:15 a.m. Oh well, it was still a beautiful morning and I figured I would be well over the summits before any potential afternoon thunderstorms. The trail was very green and spring was well in evidence (even at 2,000 feet), with many new buds and the sound of the birds alive in the trees. This was very different from the pure silence I heard on Mount Chocorua at the beginning of April.

Since this is a long trip report, I've divided it into sections:

To Greeley Ponds
From Greeley Ponds to Mount Osceola Trailhead
To Mount Osceola and East Osceola
Return
Gear Notes


To Greeley Ponds   

The trail was wet in some places but no more so than "normal" despite the frequent rain over the last week. There was a tiny patch of ice not far in from the parking area, and I dismissed it as an anomaly that would not be repeated. The streams were running well, but not extremely high and there was no mud that my new hiking boots couldn't handle. The walking bridges on the trail were in decent shape and easy to cross, but not always necessary. The trail ascended gently toward the ponds and I was enjoying the fresh start to a new hike. I was also looking forward to getting to the ponds. I reached the junction of Mount Osceola Trail on the right, which was where I would eventually loop back into this trail on my way home.

Greeley Pond (photo by Bill Mahony) From here the trail stops climbing gently and drops down slightly to get to upper Greeley Pond. Apparently I was the first person there for the day. The pond was ripple free and it was warm and quiet. The pond required some exploration and I took the blue blazes to the southern edge of the pond and then back up along the stream to a point about 100 yards back on the Greeley Ponds Trail. I got some pictures of the pond from here and I used my camera (4 megapixels instead of my phone's 2-megapixels built-in camera) so that I could capture a little more of the detail.

No moose or bear, but I still had one more pond (the bigger one) to go. I noticed that many of the streambeds feeding the pond were dry (or more precisely: not running), indicating that there was not much snowmelt going on above me (I took this to mean that the snow was all gone from above). The walk along the pond was surprisingly bug free, although I am not particularly annoyed by them anyway. The black flies tend to bother me when they swarm my face (and I then inhale them... bleh) so I was prepared with a handy-dandy head net, which was not needed.

As I made my way to lower Greeley Pond I could hear the sound of running water. Aside from making me want to pee, it made me think there was a great waterfall at the end of the pond... why else was it so loud? I spent some time at the pond to take pictures, especially with the backdrop of Mount Kancamagus in the background. Unfortunately, all of the moose and bear heard that I was coming and went on vacation to a less beautiful spot.

The water in these ponds is crystal clear. The lower pond has an average depth of only 3 feet and the upper pond's depth is 19 feet. I got to the end of the big pond, which seems to be made by a beaver dam (nice place to have a home). The sound of rushing water was coming from still lower than the north end of the pond, but the trail moved away from the stream so I could not see it. What I did see was snow... not on the trail, but certainly some good mounds to the side in the woods. I continued to rationalize that this was a shady area so the snow persisted only as a fluke.

From Greeley Ponds to Mount Osceola Trailhead   

The trail descending away from the second pond gets much wider (like an old road) and crosses a bridge over Mad River. The water was plentiful and moving pretty fast, so it was noisy and I think what sounded like a waterfall back at the pond was merely a lot of water tumbling over rocks in what was otherwise a very quiet area. The trail was very easy here and started to get quiet as the stream widened.

This part of the hike was a nice flat trail between the walls of two very tall mountains. I was keeping my eyes peeled for moose who did not get the memo that I was coming. A few trails came in from the right and the left with short (0.5 to 0.9 miles) paths to some cool sounding places, but I had provided a route to my wife and I wanted to have my heart attack on the trail I mapped out, not 200 yards up some bear infested trail (this is when I'd get to see the bears). Some of these trails provide access to other mountains so I'll incorporate them in later hikes. All of the trails seem to be well marked, so I was able to follow the signs instead of checking the map at each intersection.

About three-quarters of a mile from the end of the trail I sat down next to the stream to have a snack. I had eaten some food before starting, but was pretty hungry now. I took the time to take off my pant legs and to move some food from my pack into my pockets so I could eat on the go. I enjoyed the water for 15 minutes (no moose sightings) and ate some trail mix (2-pound bag at Wal-Mart is only $5 and it's kosher too).

Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)


The end of Greeley Ponds Trail is like Grand Central Station for hiking. The confluence of a bunch of trails is here and there seemed to be hikers going this way and that. Once on Livermore Road (dirt) I got down to the parking area and hoped that these people hadn't headed up to the Osceolas.

I turned and headed up Tripoli Road, which was listed as closed by the Forest Service on Friday night. Fortunately it was still closed and the 2.8 mile hike up the paved road was peaceful and beautiful. The road climbs fairly steadily and the flowers – such as trout lily and red trillium – were blooming nicely along the road. I also saw very pretty little waterfalls. The Mount Osceola Trailhead is a parking lot on the right just after the height-of-land on Tripoli Road. Someone had left a walking stick leaning on the sign so I took it for assistance up the peak.

To Mount Osceola and East Osceola   

Mount Osceola Trail is very rocky, but no snow yet. I saw more dry streambeds that indicated that the top is completely snow free today. Spring was is evidence here and the trail was beautiful with some glimpses of Mount Tecumseh and Waterville Valley ski area. I caught sight of a hummingbird with some red and green coloring, but couldn't get a picture with it zipping around.

Brook (photo by Bill Mahony) The trail climbs a bit more steeply than the road, but I noticed that I was passing through 3,000 and 3,500 feet without any difficult steep sections and more importantly... no snow. The trail was quite wet in many places and often went along rock faces that were slippery in the water. Trying to stay at the bottom of the faces made for tricky foot placement and a walking stick was helpful. I kept checking my watch and noticed that I was making excellent time despite my late start and many picture stops and my snack break. At about 3,000 feet I stopped and reminded myself that I was not here to win a marathon and that my trip was already two-thirds complete! From here on I was checking my watch much less and trying to focus more on what I could see.

The final stretch to the top of Osceola was quiet and pretty and best of all... no real snow! I think I had to walk on a monorail for about 200 yards at the summit and the summit point itself had snow around it, but nothing that required snowshoes. The remaining snow would be gone this week for sure. The main lookout on the east side of Osceola was a nice view, but it was "crowded" with about 10–15 people. I looked quickly, took some pictures and moved on.

As promised I was not checking my watch, but the time was around 1:00 p.m. and the weather had become cloudier, but still clear enough to have good views. The trip down into the saddle between Mount Osceola and East Osceola had more snow than anywhere else on the hike. I started down, postholed only 6–12 inches a few times and went right back up. I pulled out my gaiters (I was still wearing shorts) and put them on over my boots up to my calf. That did the trick!

The mild postholing in the snow that existed was no problem and mostly there was bare ground. The biggest problem was that my gaiters don't breathe and my legs got very sweaty. I made it to the chimney between the peaks and decided to head down it instead of taking the "easy way". Halfway down, with my snowshoes on the back of my pack trying to shove me off balance, I decided that "easy" was good and that I didn't need to pitch down the chimney head first. Fortunately the chimney has a bailout halfway down so I took the easy detour, which was still pretty hairy with a full pack on. I carried a pack that weighed about 50 pounds at the start of the hike and I think the chimney would have been okay with 1) a lighter pack, 2) no snowshoes hanging near my bottom, 3) going up instead of down, and 4) drier conditions (the rocks were wet and slippery in places).

Chimney on Mount Osceola Trail (photo by Bill Mahony)


The remaining trail to East Osceola was a mix of shallow, but somewhat rotten monorail. The climbing was less snowy and on the trip up there was a small overlook to the west where I decided to have some lunch. Since I had been snacking, I wasn't tremendously hungry, but I wanted to change socks and get some rest. My socks were fairly wet from sweat. I was going to spend some more time at lunch, but the clouds were getting dark and I didn't want to be descending steep terrain in the rain, so I moved on after 15–20 minutes.

East Osceola's peak was not far from my lunch spot. The guidebooks give the east peak short shrift for not having dramatic views, but I found a nice rocky lookout to the east and a decent vantage point to the west right around the summit. I got some nice photos of the Northern Spur and cliff faces of East Osceola from here.

East Peak seen from Mt. Osceola (photo by Bill Mahony)


Return   

The journey down East Osceola was very steep and I quickly donned microspikes to find sure footing on the mix of snow and ice that defined the monorail. Snowshoes were not an option and barebooting was treacherous and slow. With spikes I was moving downhill fairly quickly and was glad to have traction on the slippery surfaces. The snow patches came and went and I wanted to get the spikes off as soon as possible because they seem to really trash the trail when you are not on snow or ice. The trail starts to flatten out around 2,500 feet, and winds under the cliffs along the North Spur of the mountain.

I saw several groups heading up the mountain (into the weather) including a group that I passed at the bottom of Greeley Ponds Trail (in Livermore); I was moving much faster than they were. I was not surprised to see people who were ill prepared for even the most basic hike (e.g. one group in sneakers with no water, another with low shoes and no gaiters tromping into the monorail). I appreciate that these people probably made the trip up and back without any major drama, but it sure is nice to have the right equipment to be comfortable.

The bottom of Mount Osceola Trail is very cool (and was free of snow). The cliffs above had shed giant boulders that make you feel like an ant as you wind your way around them. The views above of the cliffs are dramatic. The trail gently drops at the end to meet Greeley Ponds Trail. I made a good pace for the last 1.3 miles back to the car.

Cliffs on East Osceola's north spur (photo by Bill Mahony)


Gear Notes   

Overall the new boots were comfortable with only slight rubbing on my heels (not bad for boots that had only been worn to work – around an office – for break in). No blisters and the pack was not an excessive burden for the hike. I never wore the snowshoes and I will not be carrying them again until the late fall (I hope). Microspikes while not mandatory were a blessing.

I carried two 100-ounce bladders of water and drained one and used one third of the other. I was well hydrated for the trip (peeing frequently), which made the trip pleasant. If I had done the trip in reverse I probably would have needed the excess water (since the climb up East Osceola is much more strenuous than the climb up Osceola from the south). No hiking poles and I broke the walking stick between the peaks, so it was not needed but helpful for the long gradual climb up rocks.
 
View above Greeley Pond (photo by Bill Mahony)

Cascades (photo by Bill Mahony)

Rocky trail (photo by Bill Mahony)


Trail sign (photo by Bill Mahony)

Cascades along Tripoli Road (photo by Bill Mahony)

View (photo by Bill Mahony)

Trail (photo by Bill Mahony)

Slide (photo by Bill Mahony)

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NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

The northern Greeley Ponds Trailhead, from which this hike starts, is located on Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112) in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

From I-93:
  • Take Exit 32 off I-93 and follow Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112) East for 9.7 miles.
  • Turn into a small parking area on the right-hand side of the road. This turn is after Big Rock Campground (which is on the left) but before the hairpin turn at Hancock Overlook. If hiking in the winter, be careful to avoid the cross-country ski parking area for Greeley Ponds which is 0.2 mile before the hiking lot.
  • Greeley Ponds Trail leaves from the southeast corner of the parking area.

From Rt. 16:
  • From Rt. 16 in Conway, follow Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112) West for about 26 miles.
  • Turn into a small parking area on the left-hand side of the road. This turn is after the hairpin turn at Hancock Overlook. If hiking in the winter, be careful to avoid the cross-country ski parking area for Greeley Ponds which is 0.2 mile beyond the hiking lot.
  • Greeley Ponds Trail leaves from the southeast corner of the parking area.

Other Notes   

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 Osceola and Greeley Ponds Trail Reports   


View of Tecumseh and Waterville Valley ski area (photo by Bill Mahony)

 

Trail signs at the junction of Greeley Ponds Trail and Mount Osceola Trail (photo by Bill Mahony)
 

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