Hiking the Welch-Dickey Loop Trail in New Hampshire
It’s been a while, mountains. They’re always calling, but I’ve been sending them to voicemail for a little while. It’s time to remove my temporary away message. It’s time to come back. The thing is, my energy has been lower and the mountains seemed so out of reach. I’ve been caught in city living and experiencing high levels of stress (mentally, physically, emotionally) in the last few months. It has certainly taken a toll on my mental health (add to it the physical challenge of my back injury), and I have been climbing slowly (but surely!) out of my difficulty into the light. I believe all these obstacles are making me stronger and I’m so grateful to have so much support as I move through this time in my life.
Lo and behold, I was ready to get back into the mountains again. I’ve felt my energy levels rising and I knew it was time to opt outside. My friend, Nichole, is essentially the guru for all things hiking in New Hampshire, so she had three amazing suggestions for hikes to do in the White Mountains. We opted for the Welch-Dickey Loop Trail because (1) It’s VERY popular, so hiking it on a Monday could mean less crowds, (2) I’m a total sucker for loop hikes vs. out-and-backers, and (3) It’s on the “52 with a view” list – automatically meaning it’d be beautiful. Plus, Nichole has already done this hike and wanted to do it AGAIN. Count me in!
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Date Hiked: Monday, April 4, 2022
Distance: 4.4 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 1,778 feet
Highest Elevation: Mount Dickey summit (2,734 feet)
Route: Counterclockwise* via Welch-Dickey Loop (*most popular direction)
Parking/TH: Welch-Dickey Trailhead off Orris Road. There is a $5 parking fee at the trailhead, unless you have a parking pass (I have an “America the Beautiful” annual pass). Trailhead has a bathroom (win!).
Drive from Boston: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Weather/Conditions: Sunny and barely cloudy, even though it wasn’t supposed to be THIS clear THIS early. Definite patches of ice in a few sections, two of which required using microspikes. A little muddy, but not too bad! LOTS of wind at the summits!
Highlights: We didn’t see a SINGLE other human on the trail, which is WILD considering this is one of the more popular hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire… AND on the “52 With a View” (52WAV) list.
On a typical Monday morning in Brookline, MA, Justin and I began our morning routine. Wim Hof breathing, tapping, and meditation. We were amidst our silent, sitting meditation when not ONE, but TWO jackhammers started going off in the apartment below us. The reconstruction of various apartments in our building does not always produce such noticeable sound, but on this particular Monday morning, the sound reverberated through the floors, walls, and our minds. I could not help but laugh, first with a little chuckle, then hysterically at the juxtaposition — finding center while in the midst of chaos.
Justin and I turned to each other and exclaimed I couldn’t have picked a better day to be escaping the city bustle to hike! You see, the mountains are a form of meditation. They are humbling, grounding, and offer physical/mental challenges with various weather conditions and terrain. I was ready to opt outside and explore nature and the depths of my mind.
The last time Nichole and I saw each other was during our Mt Moosilauke hike in June 2021, but gratefully social media has allowed us to stay in touch. We arrived at the Welch-Dickey Loop trailhead parking lot to one of my favorite views in the mountains: an EMPTY lot!
Yes, Nichole and I were the ONLY vehicles parked at the trailhead. This had us a little confused. I left Boston around 8:30am, which got me to to the trailhead around 10:30am. This is not considered an “alpine start” by any means, so were we in the wrong place? Once we saw the trailhead sign, we knew we had not mistakenly parked in the wrong lot, so we accepted the blessing of starting the day without other humans in sight.
[SPOILER ALERT: We never saw ANYONE else the ENTIRE time we hiked the loop! Praise the Mountain Gods!]
We opted to hike the Welch-Dickey Loop in the counterclockwise direction, which is most commonly chosen by hikers as it allows you to ascend the steep ledges to Welch Mountain first, then descend more gradually from Dickey Mountain. While both mountains can be hiked separately, it’s easy enough to make them a loop and knock off two peaks from the 52WAV!
Hiking counterclockwise, we reached Welch Mountain (2,605 feet) first, then Dickey Mountain (2,743 feet). The complete loop is 4.4 miles roundtrip with a total of 1,800 feet of elevation gain. The hike is considered moderately challenging because of the slab of rocks you must hike and the amount of elevation gain. Per AMC’s White Mountain Guide, it’s estimated to take 3:05 hours (3h,5m) to complete the loop.
Trip Report April 2022
At the Orris Road parking area, we started heading right (counterclockwise) towards Welch Mountain. The section of trail heading towards Welch Mountain is one of the first areas to clear of snow in the spring, though some of the rock ledges can have slippery, wet conditions when icy. Follow the yellow blazes to stay on the trail. When the trail veers to the right (southeast), there are flat, open ledges on the south ridge of Welch Mountain. This area contains much fragile vegetation, which was fenced off on our hike, and we avoided walking on the revegetation areas. (INSERT REMINDER TO LEAVE NO TRACE!) From the ledges, we had views east across to Mount Tripyramid and Sandwich Mountain.
The trail then turns sharply left (north) on the ledges, climbing steeply at times across side-sloping and exposed slab. Prepare for the ultimate calf/glute workout in this section. At 1.9 miles, our efforts were rewarded at the summit of Welch Mountain (2,605 feet) with views in all directions. We reached the summit around 12PM where it was quite windy (but had CLEAR SKIES and SUNSHINE!), so we didn’t stick around long before heading towards Dickey Mountain.
The loop drops steeply to a wooded notch, which was the first area we had to donn our microspikes due to slippery, icy conditions (at 2.1 miles into the trail). Trusting our feet, we continued through the wooded area until it was time to begin an ascent. The trees were magical with sunlight peering through as we climbed our way to summit numero dos at 12:30pm, 2.4 miles into our hike. Dickey Mountain (2,734 feet) has a wide summit view northward.
The trail then descends a ridge to the southwest into an open slab. Above treeline, take caution to follow the cairns carefully, mostly veering to the left. We veered right at one point and mistakenly ended up bushwhacking off trail (oops). Once off the slab, continue through oak woods, turning left onto a logging road at 4.3 miles (where it forks to the right for the Brown Ash Swamp mountain bike trail).
We reached the trail junction and parking lot at 2PM to finish our day hike with our hearts and spirits fulfilled. Another great day in the mountains with wonderful company (of ONE other person… not a single other human in sight).
- Read Nichole’s blog post on the Welch-Dickey loop here for another perspective
- AMC’s White Mountain Guide (30th Edition), Waterville Valley Section (pages 331-332)
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