Hiking: Middle and North Sugarloaf Mountains via the Sugarloaf Trail | White Mountains, New Hampshire | 10/13/2011
The hike up the two Sugarloaves is not difficult and it makes an excellent half day trip. Access is via the Zealand Notch Road, so during winter months when the road is closed, the trip would be extended significantly as you would have to ski or hike Zealand Notch Road one mile from Route 302.
When the Zealand Notch Road is open, there is a small parking area for the Sugarloaf Trail approximatley 1 mile in from Route 302 and right before a bridge over the Zealand River. There's space for several cars. This is one of the fee areas in the White Mountain National Forest, so you'll either have to have a parking pass or pay on the spot for one. There's a self-service pay station.
The trail begins on the north side of the bridge over the Zealand River and follows the banks of the river for about 0.2 miles. At that point the Trestle Trail continues along the river and the Sugarloaf Trail turns left and climbs the bank of the river, crossing a fire road. After crossing the road, the trail climbs gently and passes through a few swampy and muddy areas. As the trail begins to climb more quickly, you come upon a few large boulders, one of which is split and you can walk in the crack between them.
At about 0.7 miles in, the trail begins climbing to the notch between the Sugarloaves in earnest. In about two tenths of a mile you reach the notch between the two mountains. At the trail junction the trail to the left climbs Middle Sugarloaf and the trail to the right climbs North Sugarloaf.
North Sugarloaf at 2,310 feet is just a tad shorter than Middle Sugarloaf, so we decided to tackle that summit first. From the trail intersection in the notch, the trail to North Sugarloaf descends slightly to avoid the cliffs at the southern end of the summit. The trail then wraps around the mountain and then climbs fairly steeply and quickly to the flat summit. The summit has several different open areas and there are views down to Twin River, across the Ammonoosuc Valley and up into the Zealand River Valley. There are also views at the southern end of the summit looking across to Middle Sugarloaf and then up to South Sugarloaf and Mount Hale. The total distance from the intersection in the notch to the summit of North Sugarloaf is 0.3 miles.
We were there on a fairly clear day and the view was well worth the trip. We could take in the nearby mountains, but also see the Presidential Range in the distance and the peaks to the north. When we were there it was quite windy on the open summit, but it was well worth it.
Once again back at the trail junction, we headed south to Middle Sugarloaf. This trail is slightly longer and a bit steeper than the climb up North Sugarloaf. After a gentle climb after the trail junction for about two tenths of a mile, the trail turns to the right and starts going more steeply up to the summit. It's approximately 0.5 miles from the trail junction to the summit of Middle Sugarloaf (2,359 feet).
Middle Sugarloaf definitely has a more open summit and offers more expansive views of the surrounding area. We found ourselves spending probably twice the time on Middle Sugarloaf enjoying the view than we did on North Sugarloaf. The entire southern side of Middle Sugarloaf's summit is open slabs, giving you great views of the mountains and the notches to the south. The view up the Zealand River Valley into Zealand Notch is great.
Mileage: Parking area to trail intersection at Notch - 0.9 miles
Trail intersection to North Sugarloaf Summit - 0.3 miles
Trail intersection to Middle Sugarloaf - 0.5 miles
Total round trip mileage - 3.4 miles
Map: AMC's Franconia - Pemigewasset: White Mountains Trail Map
For more information
The Appalachian Mountain Club publishes maps and trail information for this area along with the entire White Mountain region in the White Mountain Trail Guide. This area is covered by the AMC's Franconia - Pemigewasset: White Mountains Trail Map.