Middle Mountain Trail, North Conway
Here it is, a perfect winter hike that you can squeeze into the school day.
This quick day hike is filled with mountain streams, woods protected from wind, and an impressive view at the summit. The best part - my friend and I made it back from this hike just before our kids got out of school. With a 90 minute drive from Portland and a two hour hike, it's easily doable. Of course, that doesn't leave time for shopping in North Conway, but who needs retail therapy when you've been filled up by mountain views? I'll choose the latter every time.
If you are unable to take time for hiking during the work week, this would also be a great hike to do with kids on the weekend.
This trail is part of the Green Hills Preserve, which protects more than 5,500 acres of ridgeline and three mountain peaks. Located just east of North Conway village, this preserve offers outstanding views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. We saw plenty of signs for mountain biking here, including a sign for a pump track. We will certainly be back with bikes this summer to check it out. The preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy in NH.
The Middle Mountain Trail climbs 1,200 feet to the summit. It's 3.7 miles out and back with a steady, moderate incline the entire way. The summit includes a beautiful stand of red pine and views of Washington Valley and Conway Lake. The trail was fully protected from wind until just before we reached the summit. Once the trees opened up, it was time for the winter coat again. And our stay at the top was short and sweet.
This brings me to the topic of clothing for winter hiking.
First of all, it's all about the layers...which will come off and on throughout the hike. It's easy to work up a sweat on your way up a mountain, then be greeted by open, windy, bone chilling sections. A wind resistant outer layer is crucial. So are waterproof boots.
I did this hike with my friends Jaime and Meg. They both wore regular hiking boots and I wore waterproof winter boots. Not because I'm more prepared, but because I wanted the extra insulation for my chronically cold feet. The idea of hidden streams covered in snow never crossed any of our minds. But we found ourselves in several of them...little booby traps of icy water seeping through the boots. Jaime and Meg had wet socks by the end, which is not an ideal scenario.
Moral of the story, it may not be time for hiking boots yet. Waterproof winter boots with micro spikes is where it's at in February.
Back to the layers. Here is what I wear on a winter hike:
Darn Tough socks. These socks had the best reviews for hiking and they have been incredible for warmth. My only mistake was buying just one pair. I spend hours outside every day running an outdoor program for kids, so these socks have become my best friends for not only winter hiking, but for daily life. I wore them 4 days in a row recently because I didn't have time for laundry and during a cold week, no other socks would do. Sad but true. But that's how good they are. Here's the link: https://darntough.com/collections/hiking-socks/products/womens-merino-wool-hiker-boot-midweight-hiking-socks?variant=37874282037434
Thermal top and bottom. I spent too many winters not wearing thermals. Once I made the switch, I'll never go back. It is a serious game changer. Carhartt makes a warm thermal, but there are tons of brands to choose from.
Sweatshirt or other warm layer over thermal top.
Waterproof rain pants over thermal bottoms.
Vest. I always pack a puffy vest for winter hiking. On really cold days, I'll wear it under my coat. On milder days, I'll wear it over my sweatshirt, without a coat, for the hike up.
Winter coat. I wear a winter coat with an inner layer of insulation, plus an outer rainproof shell with hood. This helps protect from wind and rain. Again, it comes off and on during a hike, but I always wear it at the summit.
Neck Gaiter, hat, warm gloves.
It sounds like a lot of stuff and a lot of work. Once you get the routine down, it's easy...and worth the effort.
Parking for this hike is on the shoulder of Thompson Road. Here is the All Trails link:
When you first set out, you will come to a kiosk for the Green Hills Preserve with a map. There is a smaller sign for the pump track just to the left of it.
Head left and once you've reached the fork in the path, stay left to follow the trail. If you head to the right, you will be on your way to the pump track.
The trail is wide and gradual to start. You will be following red blazes the entire way up and back. There are a couple of places where you could take a different route to another summit, but the trail signs are clear. Just follow the Middle Mountain Trail and you will have no problem finding your way.
The summit was windy as all get-out, but we managed to snap some quick pictures and take in the views.
Enjoy this hike on a sunny winter day, or visit in the summer with a mountain bike. I suggest doing both. Let's make the most of this mountain.