Via The Piper Trail 9 mile round trip
Mt. Chocoura is one of the more recognizable peaks of the Sandwich Range, featuring a distinguished pyramid shaped rocky cone summit. It can be easily picked out in the distance from the ground as well as from other nearby mountains because of this unique geologic feature. It has been reported as one of the most photographed mountains in the area, and is one of the most regularly ascended peaks in the entire White Mountains. There are a number of trails that converge below the summit cone from all directions at the bases of the mountain. It should be noted that the open ledges that make the views so incredible are also very exposed and dangerous in adverse conditions. Regardless of its relatively low elevation Chocoura is one of the most dangerous mountains in the region during electrical storms, especially the summit and upper ledges. All of the trailheads for the summit start at relatively low elevations making the ascent of Chocoura just as strenuous as higher peaks. Due to the frequency of visitors, the water sources on the trails should never be consumed untreated, as its safety is doubtful. These things should all be kept in mind when planning a hike up this heavily visited mountain.
I have hiked it several times starting from different places, including the Champney Falls trail and Liberty Trail. This trip we approached from the south via the Piper Trail off NH 16. Every time I have been on this mountain there have always been other people and dogs. One ascent in August of last year we were joined on the summit by approximately 70-80 other people and numerous dogs. The parking areas are usually full in peak hiking season for the most popular routes so do not attempt this with a dog that is not good with other people or animals.
The Piper trail is located on the Piper Trail Road, a small dirt road off of NH 16. There is a modest sized parking area, with restroom facilities that requires a White Mountain National Forest pass or a day use fee for parking. The trail begins at a kiosk in the woods at a very easy grade and continues for 1.2 miles to the intersection with the Nickerson Ledge Trail. At 1.8 miles the trail crosses the Chocoura River, and begins to climb more moderately. It then climbs a series of switchbacks with stone steps and paving, reaching open ledges with spectacular views to the south, north and east. After ascending several more outlooks it re-enters the woods and climbs to the ridge crest. Here the Champney Falls trail enters at 3.6 and in another .2 miles the West Side Trail merges in on the right. From here the trail once again emerges from the woods and follows the ridgeline up the ledges, the path is marked with occasional yellow blazes and cairns. In a small gully around to the back of the summit the Piper trail joins with the Brook Trail and climbs east to the true summit up a scramble gully.
The summit is labeled with a USGS marker. From here the views are endless in all directions. Due to its southern orientation the entire presidential range, sandwich range, Crawford notch and much of the Franconia ridge are visible on clear days. Chocoura has one of the finest views in the entire White Mountains and should be savored and enjoyed.
We descended the way we summited down the Piper Trail. Once you have cleared the summit cone and the upper ledges the way down is quite easy. The footing is improved by trail crew work and the installation of stone steps. Care should be taken in wet or icy conditions because these stones can be slippery but we made it down safely in fewer than one and a half hours.
We made this hike in mid October during the week under the premise that we would be sharing the trail with fewer people than on a weekend. We were correct but we were certainly not the only ones out that day. My dogs and I are experienced hikers; they have been on the trail since they were about 6 months old, and are most of the time very well behaved. I let them off leash most of the day, as I normally do but kept them on leash on the summit out of respect for other people. If you have a reactive dog this is not a good mountain to hike during peak season May-September. Overall Chocoura is fantastic and a hike I highly recommend for most any level of hiker, as there are various routes you can choose based on your ability. Bring lots of water for you and your dogs and be aware of changes in the forecast.
Distance from Parking at Piper Trail:
Chocoura River Crossing 1.8 miles
Champney Falls Trail Junction (3,200 feet) 3.6 miles
Mt. Chocoura Summit (3,500 feet) 4.3 miles (signed at trailhead as 4.5 not sure which is correct)