I previously shared a list of go-to hikes that are great for pups new to the trail, where I introduced Tango as my porch dog and mellow man. He enjoys hiking but not in the same ambitious “let’s do this” way as my other dog. This list is for all the Tangos out there that don’t want to be left at home when we go hiking, but also aren’t dedicated enough for day-long traverses.
Franconia Falls and Black Pond
Location: Lincoln, NH
Route: Lincoln Woods Trail, Franconia Falls Trail and/or Black Pond Trail
Total Miles: 8.4 miles for all points
Elevation Gain: 200-500 ft, depending on side trips
For when your pup’s feeling lazy! However, I wouldn’t recommend this hike during the summer due to the popularity of the falls. Simply put, this is more of a walk in the woods than a hike, but you still have that White Mountain “feel.” The path is wide and flat, and it parallels the river, offering the comforting sound of running water. Although, the river is usually at too much of a distance for the dogs to hop off-trail for a drink. With this hike, I like that I can accomplish enough miles to justify the drive without it being taxing on him.
At 2.6 miles you’ll reach the spur for Black Pond Trail. That’ll take you on a 1.6-mile detour from Lincoln Woods (roundtrip). A little more narrow and White Mountain-like with rolling ups and downs, roots, mud, slick leaves, and a much more remote feel. The pond is another nice place to enjoy the view and for Tango to wade in if he’s so inclined.
The Franconia Falls Trail branches off from Lincoln Woods at 2.9 miles, just before the trail goes over a long bridge and enters the Pemigewassett Wilderness. Unlike Lincoln Woods, it is single file and often quite muddy. Still, another easy walk. The falls themselves are gorgeous, and there are plenty of places for an adventurous pup to wander out onto the rocks with relative safety if they have good instincts. Eventually, there is a “trail end” marker.
Zealand Trail – Ethan Pond Traverse with Thoreau Falls
Location: Jefferson, NH
Route: Zealand Trail, Ethan Pond Trail, Thoreau Falls Trail (to falls and back)
Total Miles: 9.5 mi
Elevation Gain: appx. 700 ft
To summarize quickly, this hike is for the pups who like the abovementioned idea but with more seclusion (once on the Ethan Pond Trail). It’s a somewhat open-ended suggestion, but we have done it as a traverse from Zealand Trail to Ethan Pond Trail, ending at Ripley Falls. Zealand Trail is extraordinarily enjoyable and easy with plenty of running water (beware the beavers). It’s also really popular. At 2.4 miles (.3 miles shy of the Zealand Falls Hut, a worthy side attraction), turn left onto the much-less-traveled Ethan Pond Trail. It offers a narrow and mellow, mostly packed dirt adventure through Zealand Notch and a gorgeous and unique view at the junction with Zeacliff Trail.
Thoreau Falls is a must-see side trip and a favorite place for Tango to take a nap while the humans marvel at the falls. Traditionally, we have always continued to Ethan Pond where the trail morphs into a rougher, mucky, wet, bog-bridge march. While still a fun, flat walk (until the somewhat steep descent), my plan for next time will be to head to Thoreau Falls and back from Zealand Road. It will add mileage, but Tango will be happy to avoid getting stuck in the mud (yes, it’s happened!). That’s part of the beauty of this hike for Tango and me; there are options and alternatives based on how things are going.
Location: Thornton, NH
Route: Welch-Dickey Loop Trail (counterclockwise)
Total Miles: 4.4 mi
Elevation Gain: 1800 ft
Probably Tango’s favorite pair of summits. I watched him quite literally trot on this hike—something that would be a lot more significant if you knew him! We began before the morning’s light touched the ground, but my lack of stumbles implies the footing is good all the way to the first ledges below Welch’s summit. Between the summits, there are a couple of hops up steep rocks and lots of large, smooth rock slabs that are worth cautioning folks about but didn’t present a problem or danger for Tango or the other pups in our group.
There are some stellar views and photo ops along this route, which doesn’t matter much to Tango, except for the extra treats for posing! For him, the beauty of a loop is that I’m not throwing all the elevation gain at him at once. That said, the initial incline, as well as the hike overall, was on the easy side of moderate. While there aren’t many water sources, there wasn’t much need for it the day we were there.
Descending is as lovely as going up: open woods and sunshine beaming on us in the early light. Tango was just plain happy on this one! Easy footing and grade, cool morning rocks slabs beneath his toes and the tiniest of challenges scattered between the two summits had him feeling like he was conquering a Pemi Loop!
Mount Kearsarge North
Location: Chatham, NH (just outside North Conway)
Route: Mt. Kearsarge North Trail
Total Miles: 6.2 mi
Elevation Gain: 2600 ft
An all-season favorite, Kearsarge North is perfect in distance and elevation for Tango. The hike begins with a slow ascent, adding small rocks that litter the trail, but overall, still good footing for the Whites. What I love about this trail was its rolling nature.
Because the steeper portions are not strenuous, this trek works really well for Tango. He loves to relax in the summit fire tower for as long as my other dog will allow—she’s not a fan of being in a state of rest. When Tango jogs down the mountain, it’s another indication of his approval for the Mt. Kearsarge North Trail.
Location: Jefferson, NH
Route: Starr King Trail
Total Miles: 7.2 mi
Elevation Gain: 2600 ft
Going at a comfortable walking rate (just over one mph), surrounded by some of his favorite people and dogs, Tango loved this winter trek. While I can’t comment on the terrain since we’ve only done this one with snow on the ground, it’s a winter wonderland. There’s a good reason this one comes highly recommended for folks new to the 48’s, especially in winter, and Tango agrees. The trail begins wide enough for some frolicking and remains moderate, even offering some small ups and downs between Starr King and Waumbek.
Tango loves the gentleness of the climb, and it fits perfectly into his preferred 6-8 mile range. Regarded as a quieter trek than many other four thousand footers, it’s still popular enough that we found the trail broken out right after a snowstorm. The woods seem a little more wild up there than the bulk of the White Mountains trails we’ve hiked—a handful of distant gunshots, deer tracks, and a plethora of birds, but none of that gets to Tango. He’s there for the walk and trail snacks!
Location: Franconia, NH
Route: Gale River Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail(add Frost Trail to tag the summit, additional mileage, and elevation apply)
Total Miles: 9.4 mi
Elevation Gain: 2250 ft
The longest of the Tango hikes, we take our time, making Galehead Hut a favorite for him. After an easy start with good footing, the hike becomes increasingly rocky. That said, aside from one steep section below the hut, the Gale River Trail maintains one of the most even and moderate inclines of the NH4K’s, which earns points in Tango’s book. Along the way, there is plenty of water access if you’re so inclined to allow your pup to drink freely—Tango certainly loves to cool his paws in the small streams (and mud!).
I saved the best tidbit for last: the hut. Galehead Hut has a wonderfully relaxed vibe whenever we visit. The dogs’ rule is they cannot approach fellow hikers until given an invitation but the folks at this hut seem to be extra friendly and Tango loves it. He’s a social hiker, for sure! Bonus: if we’re hiking with a human partner, I run inside and grab them a little bakery snack to enjoy while I sit back and take in the fantastic view.