Mt. Chocorua, First Sister,
Pitcher Falls, and Champney Falls

Mountains:  Mt. Chocorua (3500'), First Sister (3354'), Champney Falls, Pitcher Falls
Trails:  Champney Falls Trail, Champney Falls Loop, Piper Trail, Middle Sister Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Chocorua Region
Location:  Albany, NH
Rating:  Moderate  
Features:  Summits, views, brooks, waterfalls, ledges, rock scrambles
Distance:  8.4 miles  
Elevation Gain:  2400 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 5:25  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 6:00   Typical: 7:30  
Season:  Spring
Hike Date:  04/05/2009 (Sunday)  
Last Updated:  12/25/2013  
Weather:  Sunny, 30's to 50's, windy summits
Author:  Bill Mahony

View north from the summit of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Bill Mahony)


Route Summary   

This hike brings you to the summits of Mount Chocorua and First Sister where there are excellent views from the bare summits. On the way up, visit the pretty Pitcher Falls and Champney Falls. Champney Brook runs near the trail for over a mile.

  • From the parking lot, follow Champney Falls Trail which ascends the northern flank of Mount Chocorua.
  • You will almost immediately pass over Twin Brook on a footbridge. Note: As of 3/14/2013, this footbridge has been washed out so this brook crossing is without the aid of a bridge. Check this White Mountain trail status page to see if the bridge has been replaced.
  • At 0.1 mile you will meet a trail junction with Bolles Trail. Go straight to stay on Champney Falls Trail while Bolles Trail veers off to the right.
  • You will reach another trail junction after 1.3 miles. The path forks and then rejoins 0.3 mile later (following the right fork which is Champney Falls Trail) or 0.4 mile later (following the left fork which is Champney Falls Loop).
  • Follow the left fork which will take you past Pitcher Falls and Champney Falls. Pitcher Falls is a narrow stream of water spilling over the side of a narrow gorge. Champney Falls is a series of cascades tumbling down 200 feet. This section of trail tends to be slippery in all seasons – please use extra caution.
  • Falls (photo by Bill Mahony)
  • The paths will rejoin and 0.7 mile beyond the upper junction there is a good outlook to the north, just before the switchbacks and steeper climbing begin.
  • Continue for another 0.6 mile where you will reach a junction with Champney Falls Cutoff on the left. Stay straight to keep following Champney Falls Trail.
  • After 0.2 mile, you will pass by a junction with Middle Sister Trail on the left. For now, stay straight on Champney Falls Trail; we will explore Middle Sister Trail on the way back.
  • Champney Falls Trail ends 80 yards later where it meets Piper Trail. Veer right on Piper Trail to ascend Mount Chocorua (Piper trail also goes to the left as it descends the mountain to the east).
  • Follow Piper Trail for 0.2 mile where it will meet West Side Trail on the right; keep straight on Piper Trail.
  • Hike on Piper Trail for an additional 0.5 mile all the way to its end on the summit of Mount Chocorua. Near the summit you will pass a junction with Brook Trail which runs concurrently with Piper Trail up the final pitch to the top (but be sure not to descend on Brook Trail which comes up from the southwest).
  • After enjoying the summit views, descend on Piper Trail the same way you came up, following it for 0.7 mile until you reach the junction with Champney Falls Trail.
  • Veer left to get on Champney Falls Trail while Piper Trail continues to the right.
  • Hike only 80 yards and then turn right onto Middle Sister Trail.
  • Follow Middle Sister Trail for 0.2 mile which will deliver you up to the open summit of First Sister.
  • After enjoying the views, retrace your steps for 0.2 mile back down to the junction with Champney Falls Trail.
  • Turn right and retrace your steps for 3.3 miles back to your vehicle. Stay straight/left upon meeting the junction with Champney Falls Cuttoff. Where the trail splits, bear right onto Champney Falls Loop if you want to revisit the waterfalls; or bear left there to stay on Champney Falls Trail and shave 0.1 mile off your return trip.

Place         Split
Miles
     Total
Miles
Champney Falls Trailhead on Rt. 112 (1260') 0.0 0.0
Lower jct. with Champney Falls Loop (1780') 1.4 1.4
Upper jct. with Champney Falls Loop (2000') 0.4 1.8
Jct. Champney Falls Trail/Piper Trail (3200') 1.5 3.3
Mt. Chocorua summit (3500') 0.7 4.0
Jct. Champney Falls Trail/Piper Trail (3200') 0.7 4.7
First Sister summit (3354') 0.2 4.9
Jct. Champney Falls Trail/Middle Sister Trail (3200') 0.2 5.1
Upper jct. with Champney Falls Loop (2000') 1.5 6.6
Lower jct. with Champney Falls Loop (1780') 0.4 7.0
Champney Falls Trailhead on Rt. 112 (1260') 1.4 8.4

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Trail map of hike route to Mt. Chocorua, First Sister, Pitcher Falls, and Champney Falls (map by Webmaster)


Trail Guide   

This popular route to Mount Chocorua, including Champney Brook, Pitcher Falls, and Champney Falls, is well marked with signs and the path is well worn by hikers.

Champney Falls (photo by Bill Mahony) This was my first serious hike since I was a kid. I'm no stranger to the outdoors and I had spent dedicated time outdoors this winter getting myself in shape for this type of hike. I passed a few hours at Pawtuckaway State Park just the day before to get tuned up. Practice was helpful since it reminded me how to be prepared for cold weather.

I started early with the dual purpose of wanting to see some wildlife and getting a footway that was firm enough that I wouldn't posthole all the way up (or down) the mountain. The trail was thick with snow from the very beginning, but well packed and the temperature at the base was in the 40's (warming up to the 50's by the time I finished).

The scenery right from the trailhead was beautiful and the route crosses Twin Brook over a bridge near the beginning (only one railing on the bridge though). This was a nice start to the day.

My original plan was to hike up on Champney Falls and Piper Trails and descend via Bee Line Trail and then Bolles Trail. The Bolles Trail meets the Champney Falls Trail just 0.1 mile from the parking lot and when I saw how untraveled and soft it was, I scrapped those plans and decided that I would return the same way I ascended.

Champney Falls Trail joins Champney Brook, which was running well from some of the recent warmer weather . The trail rises above the brook and makes for some beautiful overlooks. I was also hoping to see some wildlife here at a safe distance, but no such luck.

The trail wandered through a cedar woods and became a little icy. I did not have any traction devices, and found that footing was tricky, but manageable. The whole hike is on a north facing slope so the snow was very deep to the sides of the trail (five feet in some places) and what had started as a cold morning had me stripping off my upper layers down to just a sweater as I warmed up. I was carrying a light pack (15 pounds), so I was not tired or winded, but I do manage to sweat quite a bit, requiring some adjustments to my gear. I also started to get some ideas of what (and what not) to wear and bring for future hikes.

Pitcher Falls (photo by Bill Mahony) I like to plod along on my hikes and I made it to Champney Falls Loop fairly quickly and without much drama, just enjoying the great scenery. I was happy at this point and very much enjoying my hike... then I saw the waterfalls. Now I'm a water guy, I love the sound of a stream, love to swim and dive, soak in the tub for long periods of time, sit at the ocean and listen to the surf. I still like to play in streams and make the water flow different ways, make waterfalls, dam up little sections and look for cool rocks in the stream.

The falls along the trail were just too cool to pass up. My only limitation was that I didn't want to soak myself and not be able to summit Chocorua. I wasted no time climbing into the riverbed and playing with the falls and getting some pictures. My waterproof boots did not disappoint (I was worried because they were getting worn after using them all winter for deep snow hiking). I probably spent 15–20 minutes playing before I decided to move on. I like the quiet in the early morning and I was trying to keep from hiking into a crowd at the summit. I'm not sure why they have a separate loop for the falls; I can't imagine why anyone would bypass them unless they were being rescued. The waterfalls are an excellent destination hike for kids if you just want to hike a few miles.

I continued up the trail and this is where it gets steep. The workout is good, and I climbed up to where I could start to see some views. At the saddle between Mount Chocorua and Three Sisters, the Champney Falls Trail ends and meets Piper Trail. Here the hike looks much more alpine and less like woods. The vertical also becomes much less and the views start to peek through here and there.

Within a quarter-mile of starting Piper Trail, the trail becomes open and rocky. The snow was mostly gone, but ice remained in spots and despite the sun the wind was cooooold. There is a false rocky summit just before Chocorua, just to give you a taste of the open vista and how windy it will be. This is a rock hop and sometimes scramble from here on. Check out the photo below that shows the exposure and the double peak.

The exposed, double peaks of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Bill Mahony)


I made my way to the top of the "hill" and despite sun and warm temperatures down below, I was wearing full windproof gear, with hood and gloves. My hands were freezing trying to take pictures and video for my kids. The joy of Chocorua is the great panoramic view to the east, south, and north. Despite temps in the 30's and high winds, I tried to spend some time on the summit to soak in the ambience and found that if I went down on the south side of the peak a few feet I could get out of the wind (mostly). Thinking that I was "safe", I began to adjust my gear for the hike back down. That's when I dropped the glove… and the Keystone Cops chase after it. Fortunately neither the glove nor I went off the edge of a cliff and I made my way back to the treeline with everything intact.

As I was getting back down to the Piper Trail/Champney Falls Trail junction that I passed through earlier, I decided that it would be fun to extend my trip somewhat (since I had been stifled in my plans for the return trip due to soft snow on Bolles Trail). I was now eyeing First Sister which would only add 0.4 mile to my trip. I was feeling good and not tired so I decided to follow Middle Sister Trail that way for a while.

I made my way up First Sister, which was much easier than Chocorua and much less windy and exposed. The top was mostly snow free and had some interesting snow features. I started towards Middle Sister, but the snow in the saddle was very soft now (being around 11:30 a.m.) and I didn't feel like postholing all the way to the exposed rock. I did notice some evidence that a bear was foraging in the bushes here, reminding me that bears are active now (and in the area waiting to steal my lunch). I returned to the summit of First Sister and found a sunny alcove to sit and have lunch out of the wind.

Middle Sister Trail and Middle Sister peak (photo by Bill Mahony)


After lunch I started down and met another hiker at the junction of Middle Sister Trail and Champney Falls Trail. He was just sitting down for some lunch and was setting up his portable stove. He had all the gear anyone could want, including a menacing pair of crampons that he had been wearing up the trail. I like to travel light, but prepared, so I don't carry a stove and was sort of scoffing at the idea of crampons… until I started down the trail in now-soft snow. The slipping wasn't too bad except for, when at the end of the slip, I would sink up to my waist in snow. Knowing that this was a good way to break a leg or tear a much-needed ligament, I had to proceed very carefully down the trail. Boy, crampons seemed like a good idea now!

View east from the summit of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Bill Mahony) I was feeling sort of sad that as of noontime my day was coming to an end so I took Champney Falls Cutoff that goes over to Middle Sister. Unfortunately the trail was very soft in places and after a bit, I decided that it was too late and too hard to finish so I returned to Champney Falls Trail to continue my descent. At least I got some nice ridge views along the way and some hiking experience along narrow icy trails.

Of course I went back by the waterfalls on the way down and took more pictures and was less concerned about getting wet. I even climbed into the water at the base of this falls. The trail was now almost crowded with people ascending and since my privacy was gone I didn't feel much desire to linger.

I made my way down and met a couple with their teenage son who were sitting on the trailside and they asked, "How much farther to the top?" It was nearly 1:00 p.m. and they were probably only one mile up the trail. I hemmed and hawed a bit and they asked "are we halfway"? Still fumbling for words they asked "a third of the way?" I finally got my voice and said "maybe a quarter of the way". I'm not sure they liked my answer, but I didn't see them making the summit on this day. Anyway, I postholed my way down the rest of the trail and was happy to find firm ground at the parking lot. My feet were soaked from sweat (next time wear wool instead of cotton… duh), but I had a change of socks and shirt with me for a comfortable drive home.

At this time of year with this much snow I recommend hiking spikes or crampons. I would wait until later in the season if you want snow-free trails. The summit of Chocorua makes you appreciate just how cold it can be when the weather seems nice at the base. This was a great first trail for me because of the experience, the views, the well marked and traveled trails and the relatively short distance.
 


View from Champney Falls Trail (photo by Bill Mahony)


 


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

Champney Brook (photo by Bill Mahony) The Champney Falls Trailhead parking area is located in Albany, New Hampshire, on the south side of Rt. 112 (Kancamagus Highway).

Traveling from the west, the parking area is about 1.5 miles beyond the junction of Rt. 112 and Bear Notch Road. Bear Notch Road will be on the left but the trailhead parking lot is on the right.

Traveling from the east, the parking area is about 11 miles west of the junction of Rt. 112 and Rt. 16 in Conway. Parking and the trailhead will be on the left side of the roadway.

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 Mt. Chocorua, First Sister, Pitcher Falls, and Champney Falls Trail Reports   


Looking south from the summit of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Bill Mahony)

 

 

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