Via: Zealand Trail, Twinway Trail, Lend-A-Hand Trail and Hale Brook Trail (13.3 miles total)
This route can be broken up into two hikes as well. Both are great on their own. We were looking for a long day hike where two four thousand footers could be climbed in a single venture. After looking at the map this route was decided. We took two cars and left one at the Hale Brook Trail and one at the Zealand Parking area. This route is not a true loop hike although it is close, by using two cars you can cut out a road walk at the end of about .75 miles. We completed the trek by going up the Zealand Trail and down the Hale Brook trail but in reverse order it would be fine as well. We thought the flatness of the Zealand trail was a better opener for the day than an end.
Zealand Mountain elevation 4,260 feet is the 31st highest of the New Hampshire four thousand footers. Located in the north of Crawford Notch, its ridge is part of the Northeastern boundary of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It is also situated on the Appalachian Trail between the AMC Galehead Hut and the AMC Zealand Falls huts, bringing lots of traffic to this mountain. From the summit of Zealand there are no views, it is completely tree covered. However, from Zeacliff there are some of the best views in the White Mountains overlooking Zealand Notch, and the eastern part of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Much of this area was burned completely by fires in the early 1900s and left seared and barren. Now, the forest has regenerated completely a testament to the healing power of nature.
Mt. Hale elevation 4,054 feet is the 37th of the New Hampshire four thousand footers. It was the site of an old fire tower that was completely removed except for the base concrete blocks. There are some restricted views if you climb up the summit cairn, a large pile of rocks where you can lookout over the trees that are slowly reclaiming the former cleared tower site. It is a bit remarkable to emerge from the very wooded trail and come upon a cleared field at the top of the mountain; although it will not remain this was forever.
Parking for the Zealand Trail can be reached by following NH 302 north past Bretton Woods. Keep an eye out for Zealand Campground and Zealand Road (FR16) as this is where the route to where the trailhead is located. There are several hiking trails located on the Zealand Road so be aware of other cars and hikers. Follow the road to the end for the Zealand Trail 3.5 miles from the beginning of the road. This is a parking lot with a restroom; an AMC shuttle and picnic table there is a fee of $ 3.00 collected for parking here.
The Zealand Trail is a very easily graded and well-maintained trail leading from the parking area up to the Zealand Falls hut at 2.5 miles. All of the major water crossings have bridges and swampy areas have boardwalks. There are some signs of beaver activity along the trail in parts of Zealand Pond but all of the flooded areas are covered with boardwalks. Reaching a junction with the Twinway Trail and the Ethan Pond Trail at mile 2.5, turn right on the Twinway Trail for a rough .2 miles up to the hut. Water for the dogs was not an issue on the Zealand Trail as it follows various streams, ponds and rivers. You can get potable water from the hut if needed, and remember dogs are not allowed in the AMC huts.
From the hut continue to follow Twinway Trail up at a steady grade, passing the junction with the Lend-A-Hand trail on the right. This section of trail is more rugged and steep as it ascends over ledges and crossings of the Whitewall Brook. It gains the Zeacliff Ridge at mile 1.2 and becomes more moderately graded. At mile 1.4 the trail goes right to a side path loop that goes over Zeacliff outlook. This is a fantastic view that should not be missed, as it is one of the best views in this part of the White Mountains. In 50 yards the overlook loop re-connects with the Twinway trail, which continues to ascend moderately. There is a ladder on a rather steep section overlooking Zeacliff Pond but it was spaced widely enough for the dogs to both ascend and descend it without issue. At mile 3.1 (from the hut) there is a rock cairn marking a side path to the summit of Zealand Mountain .1 miles of flat trail leading to the tree covered summit.
From here we returned back down the Twinway Trail toward the Zealand Falls Hut and the junction with the Lend-A-Hand Trail for Mt. Hale. Descending was fairly easy even through the rougher and steeper sections of trail. It was slippery in some places due to wet rocks and debris but as in any descent with caution you can avoid injury.
The junction with the Twinway Trail and the Lend-A-Hand Trail is located .1 miles before you return to the hut. It goes left to the summit of Mt. Hale and is named for a journal of charitable organizations that was edited by the Boston pastor Edward Everett Hale, for whom the mountain was named after. This trail is well graded, climbing moderately at times and very wet. There are many small brook crossings as well as many boardwalks over muddy sections. This made it very easy to obtain water for the dogs on the ascent but it made for some seriously muddy boots as well. The footing for the majority of this trail is difficult and I imagine after a good rain this would be even more challenging. The summit of Mt. Hale is reached at 2.7 miles from the junction. It is an open summit, and the site of an old fire tower. The trail is in dense woods, so it is unique to have everything open up when you reach the top. There are some views from the summit if you climb the cairn at the top, but the trees have grown taller since the removal of the tower so they are moderate at best.
The Hale Brook Trail leaves the summit on the northeastern side and descends to the parking area sharing its name on the Zealand Road. This trail is fairly steep in some sections but moderated by several switchbacks and good footing. Near the top there are some decent views through the trees that are a rewarding sight as you descend. There are several crossings of Hale Brook that are fairly easy rock jumps across and good watering areas if needed. The parking area is reached at 2.2 miles from the summit. From the parking area it is about .75 miles to the Zealand Trail Parking area on the road. Very level and easy walking or you can park a car at both trailheads to skip out on the road walk.
This was a longer day hike but rewarding in views, both from Zeacliff as well as on the trail itself. There are several ponds and cascades in the area that can be seen from the trail as well as the regrowth on the former fire tower site. There were no issues on any of these sections of trail for the dogs. Plenty of water was available for most of the sections of trail and there are no ledges that required human assistance. The only notable feature is the ladder on the Twinway trail but as mentioned it is wide enough to be used by dogs as well as humans. If this is too much hiking Mt. Hale can be done alone via the Hale Brook Trail at only 4.4 miles round trip. Zealand Mountain can also be done alone using this trail network for a total of 10.2 miles.