Ascending Via: The Avalon Trail (1.3 miles), A-Z Trail (1 Mile), Tom Spur Trail (1.2 miles), Willey Range Trail (.9 miles) Descending Via: The Avalon Trail (2.8 miles) Round Trip 7.2 miles
Located in the Willey Range, these are some of the mountains that make up the high ridge that rises out of Crawford Notch. Included in the range from south to north are Mt. Willey (4,285), Mt. Field (4,340) and Mt. Tom (4,051). It is a narrow, rugged looking ridge line that offers many different view points to both the east and west. Its main peak and the range were named for the Willey family who were killed by a landslide that came down its east face in 1826. Their home remains and is open to visitors during the summer. All of the peaks are wooded on the top, however a recent blow down near the summit of Mt. Tom offers some views, and Field offers a viewpoint to the northeast. Mt. Avalon has a rocky summit, and although lower has some good views across Crawford Notch.
There is a vast network of trails in this area, branching out from the AMC highland center at the top of Crawford Notch. Any variety of them can offer both long and strenuous hikes or relatively easy ones, depending on what sort of adventure you are after. This combination is a moderate hike of 7.2 miles, that crosses 2 of the 48, 4,000 footers off the list as well as Mt. Avalon, listed on the N.H. 52 with a view http://www.nhmountainhiking.com/hike/lists/52view.html. It is a semi-loop trail that could be extended to include Mt. Willey as well but that would increase the mileage substantially.
Starting on the Avalon Trail, located just south of the Highland Center and behind the Crawford Depot on the west side of NH 302. Parking is available here on the side of the road and facilities, snacks and most anything you may want are available in the Highland Center. Use caution as this is a very busy highway and cars may be approaching from a bid curve. The trail leaves the information center and ascends gradually, crossing over Crawford Brook. Beyond this is a side trail for the Beecher and Pearl Cascades, a small loop that affords some views of small but pretty waterfalls. At .8 miles it re-crosses the brook and begins to ascend at a moderate grade. At 1.3 miles the junction with the A-Z trail is reached. We took the A-Z trail to gain the Field-Tom col. However you can ascend Avalon by continuing straight up another .5 rough, steep miles.
The A-Z trail goes right from the junction with the Avalon Trail and descends to a steep gully where it crosses, and angles up the side of the brook valley. At first the ascent is gradual but at .6 miles it becomes rougher and more steep. At 1 mile it reaches the hight of land between Mt. Tom and Mt. Field. This is where the Mount Tom Spur trail .6 miles will take you to the summit and about 80 yards from where the Willey Range Trail junction is located.
The Tom Spur is a short trail that climbs easily the last 350 feet from the junction to the summit. There is one steep pitch but it is easily negotiated, that leads to a false summit. Continuing on, the summit is marked by a rock cairn. Views can be obtained by going past the summit about 70 yards to an area of a recent blow down. From here you can see to the east and south most of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Named for Thomas Crawford, the younger brother of Ethan Allan Crawford, who was also a White Mountain inn-keeper. Mt. Tom is a pleasant hike by itself too, especially given the recent addition of the viewpoint. Alone the total mileage would be 5.8 miles and it is a very moderate hike, I would recommend for just about any skill level of hiker. Water is reliable until the last crossing of Crawford Brook, about 1 mile below the summit. There are no obstacles or challenges that would deter even a novice.
We enjoyed a beer one summit one for the day and descending the way we came. Along the top of Mt. Tom there are various side paths leading to different views and partial views so take care when re-tracing your steps that you remain on the Spur trail. Take care on the way down as the rocks can be slippery. Returning to the junction with the A-Z trail, continue north for about 80 yards to reach the Willey Range Trail.
Mt. Field’s summit is .9 miles south on the Willey Range Trail that descends the col between Mt. Tom and Field before climbing to the summit. All of the trail is under the trees and is very easy to moderate. The footing is solid and there are no sections of steep incline that need to be cautioned. At the summit of Field there is a view point down a side path to the northeast, offering views across the notch to the Presidential Range and of the Mt. Washington Inn below. Another stone cairn marks the summit of Mt. Field, named for Darby Field, the man who lead the first recorded party up Mt. Washington. If a longer hike is what you seek Mt. Willey can be reached by continuing south 1.4 miles on the Willey Range Trail. We chose to make a loop including Mt. Avalon to descend back to the Crawford Depot.
Leaving the summit we reached the junction with the Avalon Trail and descended first moderately but then more steeply through spruce and moss filled forest. This section of trail is very steep and rocky losing nearly 1,000 feet in a mile, so use precaution and take your time. At mile 1 you reach a col where a side path leads about 100 yards to the viewpoint on the summit of Mt. Avalon. There is a sign for the path and it is very steep, climbing over large rocks to reach the views. Mt. Avalon is listed as one the New Hampshire 52 with a view, this is a compilation of mountain shorter than the 4,000 footers that in some cases offer better scenery than their larger neighbors. For a full list of these check out .
From the summit we ventured back down the side path to the Avalon Trail and continued down steeply the last .5 miles before getting back to the junction with the A-Z Trail. This was where we diverged to the right earlier in the day. Completing the loop of the three summits the last 1.3 miles down and back to the Crawford Depot is easy and gradual.
As mentioned previously, there are a great number of ways these mountains can be accessed depending on skill level and agenda. This is a moderate half day loop hike that would be enjoyed by most peak baggers looking to capture all the 48, or if broken up into smaller mountains a fine hike for families with children. Mt. Avalon by itself is a short but steep hike that would offer rewards with shorter distance but effort and caution in its upper trail. The ample streams below provided adequate water for the dogs to both drink and play in and we enjoyed the views of the cascades. An easy hike could be to check out the cascades alone. I suggest you look into the area for yourself and utilize the resources available at the Highland Center. They have maps and information to help you decide what hike is best for your situation. Always enjoy being outside.