Difficulty: Moderate. The hike, out and back, is just over 3 miles. The climb is gradual but constant. While the trail starts out as an easy, packed trail, it becomes increasingly rocky and crosses a brook where rock-hopping is required. Watch your step. Most of the trail is wide enough for two people to walk side by side.
How to get there: The trailhead is located behind the Crawford Notch Depot Macomber Family Information Center, which is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. This visitor center is located off Route 302 in Bretton Woods, N.H, just north of the boundary of Crawford Notch State Park. This depot is 8.4 miles south of where Route 302 intersects with Route 3 in Twin Mountain; and it’s 20.6 miles north of where Route 302 intersects with Route 16 in Glen. The GPS coordinates of the visitor center parking lot are 44.218592, -71.410871. At the visitor center, signs will direct you to cross the railroad tracks to reach the trailhead.
Information: Rising 2,865 feet above sea level, Mount Willard is a popular and easily-accessible place to hike in the heart of the White Mountains. Traveling up the mountain’s gradual north slope, the 1.6-mile Mount Willard Trail leads to an overlook near the mountain’s summit that offers stunning views of Crawford Notch.
Starting at the Crawford Notch Depot and visitor center, the hike begins on Avalon Trail, a wide packed trail that eventually leads to Mount Avalon, Mount Tom and beyond. About 0.1 mile down Avalon Trail, you’ll turn left onto Mount Willard Trail. The intersection is marked with a sign.
Mount Willard Trail starts out fairly smooth. Early on, it crosses a brook. There isn’t a bridge, but you can usually rock hop without getting your feet wet.
As you climb the mountain, you’ll come to some especially rocky sections of trail, as well as some large rock steps. About 0.5 mile into the hike, you’ll come to a short side trail leading to Centennial Pool. A sign marks this clear pool, which is located at the base of a small waterfall.
The next section of trail is a bit steeper then levels off a bit before ending at the overlook, a long stretch of exposed bedrock atop the cliffs on Mount Willard’s south side. From the overlook, Webster Cliffs rises up on your left. Straight ahead, Route 302 threads through Crawford Notch. And to the right of the road, close at hand, is the steep slope of Mount Wiley.
If hiking with children or dogs, be sure to keep them away from the edge of the cliffs.
The trail dead-ends, therefore, Mount Willard is an out-and-back hike measuring about 3.2 miles.
At the trailhead, the Crawford Notch Depot and visitor center features a gift shop (where you can pick up useful trail maps), nice restrooms and vending machines.
Technically, the Mount Willard hike begins in White Mountains National Forest, and just beyond Centennial Pool, the trail crosses the border into Crawford Notch State Park.
Crawford Notch State Park covers 5,775 acres in the White Mountains, providing access to numerous hiking trails, waterfalls and fishing spots. Dogs are permitted on hiking trails and designated dog walk areas only, and they must be on leashes no longer than 6 feet.
Crawford Notch was named after the Crawford family, which were early innkeepers in the notch and helped open up the region to recreators by cutting trails. According to the Bartlett Historical Society, Tom Crawford, operator of the Notch House, named Mount Willard after the climbing companion Joseph Willard.
For more information about Crawford Notch State Park, visit nhstateparks.org or call 603-374-2272.
Personal note: Before attending a wedding in New Hampshire, my husband Derek and I decided to squeeze in a short hike in the White Mountains. We selected Mount Willard because the trail was relatively short (compared to many other trails in the area) and online sources stated that the top of the mountain would offer panoramic views of the region. Having never been to the White Mountains before, I was excited to see as much as possible.
Dozens of vehicles were parked at the Crawford Notch Depot when we arrived in the late afternoon, yet we only passed a few hikers on Mount Willard Trail. I’m guessing this is because several other trails are accessible from that particular visitor center, dispersing outdoor enthusiasts in all directions.
Prior to our hike, we used the visitor center’s composting toilets, which were clean and not noticeably smelly. Quite a treat. Then we purchased a trail map of Crawford Notch State Park ($4.50) from the gift shop. The map would serve as a reference and souvenir, but it wasn’t really necessary for navigation. Hiking Mount Willard is fairly straightforward with only one intersection, which is marked with a sign.
Several online sources had described Mount Willard Trail as steep, so I was prepared for some scrambling. But the grade wasn’t nearly as steep as I thought it would be. The climb was constant, which certainly got our blood pumping, but it was nothing too crazy.
For most of the hike, Derek and I walked side by side, a luxury we don’t get on narrower hiking trails. Along the way, we stopped to inspect what we believe to be old culverts, exposed from years of water draining down the trail.
At the overlook at the end of the trail, we met a couple with their young son. He looked about 6 or 7 years old. They were holding his hand as they walked along the trail, which is set back just a short distance from the cliffs.
After our hike, we drive south through Crawford Notch, passing by the impressive escarpments of Frankenstein Cliffs. I marked it down on my list of future hikes in the White Mountains.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl; and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.