Your Guide to Recreating Responsibly and Safely on Mount Major
Whether you are looking to visit Mount Major for the first time or the hundredth time, it is important to plan ahead and come to the reservation prepared knowing the best ways to recreate responsibly and safely.
Known for its stunning views as well as its reputation for being a very popular destination, Mount Major rises 1,786 feet above sea level on the easternmost edge of the venerable Belknap Mountain Range. The open summit offers stunning views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains to the north. Three moderately difficult trails originate from the main parking area on Route 11 in Alton:
Mount Major Trail (Blue Trail): 1.5 miles | 1,150 foot elevation gain
Brook Trail (Yellow Trail): 1.7 miles | 925 foot elevation gain
Boulder Loop Trail (Orange Trail): 1.6 miles | 1,150 foot elevation gain
It is estimated that more than 80,000 hikers visit Mount Major every year, making it one of the most climbed mountains in New England. On sunny holiday weekends between May and October, upwards of 400 vehicles have been counted at the trailhead. To avoid the crowds, try to visit the reservation during the early morning, on weekdays, or during the shoulder seasons. For a gentler ascent and descent, the Brook Trail is a suitable option. Mount Major is open year-round with portable toilets located at the trailhead and a plowed parking lot throughout the winter. Visitor information, guidelines, and a trail map are displayed at the trailhead kiosk and staff are often at the trailhead on fair weather summer days, weekends, and holidays to answer questions and share more about the Forest Society.
With all that Mount Major has to offer, it is no wonder that the mountain shows many noticeable effects from the amount of use it receives, including litter and erosion. To aid visitors in reducing their impact and maintaining a high-quality experience for everyone, the Forest Society collaborated with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to develop specific tips for visiting Mount Major.
These key concepts include:
1) Stay on the trails and follow trail markers. Hiking on designated routes protects surrounding plants from being trampled and prevents visitor-created side trails from being made.
2) Hike in the middle of the trail. Bonus points if it is on rocks and through mud. Wear appropriate footwear and hike in the center of the path, even through mud and water—and not around it—to avoid widening the trail. Hike on rocks and boulders where possible to help reduce soil erosion and crushing vegetation.
3) Keeping pets on leash is strongly recommended. This helps keep them safe and prevents them from straying too far off trail and disturbing wildlife and other visitors. Not all people (or other dogs, for that matter) are dog lovers, so it is best to keep pets under leash control at this busy mountain.
4) Pack out all pet waste. By packing out your pet’s droppings, you will help to protect water quality and the health and enjoyment of other visitors. Consider bringing a waste bag holder with you to hold pet waste.
5) Pack out all trash. This includes water bottles, wrappers, food items and your bagged dog waste. There are no trash receptacles at Mount Major, and trash left on the trail can be harmful to wildlife and unpleasant for other visitors. Even biodegradable food items like orange and banana peels can take years to break down. While visiting, please consider picking up trash that others might have left behind and disposing of it properly. The portable toilets are not trash receptacles—they are for human waste only.
6) Be courteous. You won’t be the only one hiking Mount Major, so be considerate of others and their hiking experience. If you stop for a snack or a rest on the way up, move to the side of the trail so others can pass. Consider listening to the sounds of nature, or using headphones, instead of playing your favorite tunes on a speaker.
Watching out for you and your group’s safety is also important and helps prevent the need for search and rescue efforts. Although Mount Major is a relatively attainable summit and often bustling with visitors, its level of difficulty should not be underestimated. The hikeSafe Hiker Responsibility Code, initially developed by New Hampshire Fish & Game and the U.S. Forest Service, recommends that hikers maintain personal responsibility and be prepared:
- With knowledge and gear. Become self-reliant by learning about the terrain, conditions, local weather, and your equipment before you start. Dress appropriately with sturdy hiking boots or sneakers. Always carry the hiking 10 essentials: extra water and food, warm clothing, rain jacket and pants, a first aid kit, a headlamp or flashlight, a pocketknife, a fire starter, a whistle, a compass, and a map.
- To leave your plans. Tell someone where you are going, the trails you are hiking, when you will return, and your emergency plans.
- To stay together. When you start as a group, hike as a group and end as a group. Pace your hike to the slowest person.
- To turn back. Weather changes quickly in the mountains. Fatigue and unexpected conditions can also affect your hike. Know your limitations and when to postpone your hike or turnaround. The mountain will be there another day.
- For emergencies. Even if you are headed out for just an hour, an injury, severe weather, or a wrong turn could become life threatening. Do not assume you will be rescued; know how to rescue yourself.
- To share the hiker code with others.
By following Leave No Trace principles and the HikeSafe code, you can help us keep Mount Major a beautiful and safe place to visit. Mount Major is certainly well travelled, but it is still waiting to be discovered by many in the future. Help us continue to maintain, protect, and restore this iconic New Hampshire mountain for the enjoyment of all.
Matt Scaccia is the recreation and community relations manager for the Forest Society.