Via: Kinsman Ridge Trail 4 miles round-trip
Cannon Mountain (4,100 feet) is located in the Franconia Notch State Park. It features a state owned ski area, arial tramway, and is the former site of New Hampshire’s Old Man in the Mountain. This remains the iconic symbol of the state, and was visible for 200 years, until it collapsed in May of 2003. There is an observation tower on the summit that you can climb, and in winter a lounge where you can get a snack or a beer. Views from the top of the observation tower are expansive and stunning. Across the notch is the Franconia Ridge and the peaks of Lincoln, Lafayette, Little Haystack and Flume. On clear days you can see for miles, and it is well worth the rugged climb to get to the summit.
To reach the trailhead, follow I-93 to exit 34B, this is the exit for the Tramway on Cannon Mountain Ski Area. The exit is right after Profile Lakes if you are heading North, and right after Echo Lake if you are heading South. There is hiking parking that is signed and specified during winter months when the resort is open. No parking pass is needed or fee collected. Signs lead to the Kinsman Ridge Trail located to the left of the skiing buildings.
Right away the trail begins to gain elevation. It is a shorter hike, 2 miles one way, but very steep 2,100 feet are gained over that distance. We did this hike on a warm day in late February. There was a significant snowpack on the ground, but the trail had been hiked and was well packed down. Traction was needed almost immediately, I wore micro spikes and my friend wore snowshoes. Moxie used her claws and was fine. As you switchback your way up, the trail crosses a ski trail four times. We ran into quite a few people snowboarding and skiing on our way up. Most were surprised to see my dog in her ugly sweater. About 3/4 of the way up the forest opens up and there are views across to the Franconia Ridge. Most of the trail is sheltered by forest, until you begin to gain the summit. Kinsman Ridge Trail comes out of the spruce trees right near the drop off point for the Tram, this is open area for skiers, so beware and try not to damage any of the groomed trails with your traction. You can hike up and ski down the mountain, but if you want to use any of the groomed areas there is a nominal fee. Hiking up ski trails in winter is expressly prohibited.
There is a lounge located inside the tram stop that serves food and beverages, we did not go inside because of the dog. If you are in need of a warm up or some food, stop in. Finding a place to eat and drink just below a summit, especially in winter is a rare novelty in the Whites. From the tramway you can see the observation tower, it is a few hundred feet further on the summit of Cannon. There are stairs that are open for access and from the top the views are unparalleled. Once we were done having a snack, we retraced our route down the Kinsman Ridge Trail back to the parking area. Snowshoes made the descent fun and much faster than the hike up.
Since this hike was done in winter there was no water access on the trail, I cannot speak to other seasonal availability. There were no obstacles or difficult spots for the dog, she was perfectly content running laps around us while we labored our way up. She was a bit scared of the skiers and snowboarders we came across, but otherwise had no issues. Due to the short distance but significant elevation gain, I would say that the Kinsman Ridge Trail is a moderate/difficult hike. Anyone attempting it should be aware of the steep conditions and prepare accordingly. Especially when hiking in winter.