Mud Season Hiking Dos and Don’ts

Article by REBECCA M. FULLERTON

Mud season hiking etiquette calls for staying in the middle of the trail and stepping on rocks, when possible.

Mud season can be a challenge for hikers and trail maintainers alike. So if you want to hike in the spring, knowing how to safely enjoy soggy trails without destroying them is an essential outdoor skill.

Wet Trails are Fragile

“More and more people are hiking year-round, and while it is wonderful to have people enjoying the trails, [hikers] are also having an impact,” says Alex DeLucia, the manager of AMC’s trails volunteers and Leave No Trace programs.

According to DeLucia, the saturated surfaces following spring snowmelt are a trail maintainer’s nightmare. Each hiker’s step churns up mud and sets the stage for serious erosion. “Some maintainers would like to see most trails closed in mud season, but we prefer to ask people to hike responsibly in all seasons,” he says.

Early spring hiking etiquette requires always walking in the center of the treadway. Sticking to rocks wherever possible will preserve both the trail and your footwear, and stepping into water and mud when necessary will minimize trail damage. Although you may be tempted to walk along the sides of the trail to keep your feet dry, doing so loosens soil and makes the trail more susceptible to erosion.

Mud and Ice are Slippery

A muddy trail forces you to slow down and pay attention to each step. Lug-soled hiking boots caked with mud don’t provide much traction, and a slip could be embarrassing or, worse, lead to injury. Expect to hike slower than normal and plan a shorter hike than you would when trails are dry. Once you do hit the trail, proceed with caution.

Trekking poles are helpful on wet trails, both to keep you upright and to probe the depths of what you’re stepping into. But, DeLucia cautions, poles loosen soil and accelerate erosion, so minimize your impact by fitting them with rubber tips.

Trails at high altitudes or in shaded areas can pose an additional challenge, with rails of winter ice lingering down the center of the trail. Traction aids, such as MICROspikes, are essential in these conditions.

Choose your Hike Wisely

A trail you can hike in soggy spring conditions without causing irreparable damag is a rare and precious find. This is not the season for exploring lowlands or wetlands, nor is it the time to hike steep basins, such as the Great Gulf or Wild River wilderness areas in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), where crossing runoff-swollen streams is dangerous.

In the mountains, the best spring trails are well-constructed, well-traveled routes that have been hardened for heavy use; the lower half of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail in the WMNF is a perfect example. Or follow a south-facing, rocky ridgeline trail; Old Toll Road to White Cross on Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire is a personal favorite. You’ll still encounter mud and ice, just not as much.

If you want an absolutely clear conscience, hike a sandy coastal route, such as the Great Island Trail in Wellfleet, Mass., or a road that’s closed in the spring, such as those on Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts, or Pack Monadnock or Cathedral Ledge in New Hampshire. Mud season is also an opportune time to explore old railbeds, like the Presidential Rail Trail between Gorham and Whitefield, N.H., which were built with heavier traffic in mind.

Keep Feet Dry and Comfy

Choosing springtime footwear is a conundrum: 6-inch-high water-proof boots don’t suffice when you step in an 8-inch-deep puddle, but knee-high rubber boots don’t offer adequate cushion or support.

Wearing gaiters will help keep your feet dry in the cold spring mud. You also could invest in a pair of knee-high waterproof socks and rubber-soled wading or portage boots—popular with anglers and paddlers. Your feet stay warm, you get the traction you need for safety, and you can comfortably walk in the center of the trail to reduce your impact.


LEARN MORE

Mud season also means high water levels. Learn how to cross moving water safely here.

Waterfall Watching Is A True Spring Pleasure!

When the temperatures warm up under the gorgeous blue skies of spring, the sun goes to work on the snowpack at the higher elevations sending torrents of icy water cascading down from the mountains, into waiting rivers that carry it to the sea. These are the days that are perfect to go Waterfall Watching in New Hampshire’s North Country.

There are literally hundreds of waterfalls scattered throughout the region. Some are hidden, only to be seen by backcountry hikers and sportsmen, while others were conveniently crafted in the last Ice Age next to, or a few steps from, the road.

Waterfalls are beautiful any time of the year, but in the spring, they cascade at their mightiest, so it’s a good time to watch the power of nature and be mesmerized by the sight and the sound of the rushing water.

A few of our favorite falls follow:

SILVER CASCADE AND FLUME CASCADE: These twin falls are located side by side a few miles east of the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, at the top of Crawford Notch. They are located right alongside Route 302, with a parking lot across the road from both of them. (Be sure to watch for traffic as you cross, as this is a busy road!)

Both have been delighting visitors for more than a century, inspiring Thomas Starr King to write in his 1887 book, The White Hills:  “The Flume and Silver Cascade pouring down from Mount Webster have gladdened the eyes of almost all visitors, for they are visible from the road.”

GLEN ELLIS FALLS AND CRYSTAL CASCADE: These falls are located relatively close to one another in Pinkham Notch, a few miles south of the Mount Washington Auto Road on Route 16. Both are well marked and accessible by an easy walk along trails.

Children will love the quarter-mile trek to Glen Ellis Falls because the trail goes through a tunnel under the roadway. The two-tiered falls are one of the loveliest, dropping about 65 feet.

Park at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch base camp and take the three-tenths of a mile walk up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to see Crystal Cascade. It is especially impressive as Mount Washington shrugs off winter and the water drops down 60 feet to another 20-foot plunge.

BEAVER BROOK FALLS: These falls are a great treat any time of the year. Located about 2.5 miles north from downtown Colebrook on Route 145, there is a pretty little wayside with tables, so go on a nice day, and be sure to grab some picnic fixings.

The falls drop broadly over the rocks for about 100 feet.

BABY FLUME: On the downside of Route 26, a stone’s throw east from The Balsams in Dixville Notch, Flume Brook pours through Baby Flume, creating its own gorge. There is a parking area for visitors, as well as picnic tables and the gorge itself is just a few steps from your car.

HUNTINGTON CASCADES: Right across the road from Baby Flume is another Dixville Notch waterfall, Huntington Cascades. For just a few minutes of walking on level ground you’ll be rewarded by the sight of the pretty, two-tiered fan of water close to 100 feet high.

GARFIELD FALLS: This is a waterfall for the true adventurer, for it requires setting out along one of the well-maintained logging roads in Pittsburg.

For this trip, you will want to be sure the gas tank is full. Take Route 3 to Magalloway Road. Turn onto Magalloway Road, and follow it for 12.2 miles until you get to a fork in the road. Stay straight — you don’t want to go over the bridge — and continue for another mile.

There is a parking area at the head of the trail leading down to the falls, an easy hike that includes some stairs. Follow the sound of the surging water and there are the falls, a pretty 40-foot drop in the East Branch of the Dead Diamond River.

History says that Garfield Falls was such an obstacle during log drives that men would be lowered by ropes to open jams and that if the logs had wedged up too tight, they’d be blown apart by dynamite.

There is no such drama today and it is a quiet and relaxing place. Below the falls, the water continues on placidly and once summer arrives there are places where you can dip your toes if you dare.

Waterfall Watching Tips:

Be sure to wear good sturdy footwear, especially in the melting season, because the ground will be wet and the rocks will be slippery.

The warmer the day, the nicer it is for a picnic lunch! A number of waterfalls have places where you can picnic and enjoy your lunch along with the ambiance, and many local restaurants will pack you a lunch to go.

Bring along a camera and play with your aperture settings to capture the mood and flow of the waterfalls.

Use caution if tempted to climb up the rocks beside the falls — you don’t want to slip and injure yourself.