The Hardest Dayhike in the East: The 32-Mile Pemi Loop

By Michael Lanza

Our long day of hiking began at 6 a.m., shortly after first light, under a gray overcast that would rain intermittent light showers on us over the next several hours and, at times, envelop us in pea-soup fog. When our day ended 15 hours and 59 minutes later (we could officially call it “sub-16 hours”), two friends and I had proven to ourselves (and no one else would care) that, in our 50s, we could still tick off the 32-mile, 10,000-vertical-foot, nine-summit Pemi Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in one long, grueling day.

Pointless feats of endurance aside, though, we also enjoyed one of the prettiest hikes east of the Rockies—and by that afternoon, the clouds lifted to grant us breathtaking views as we traversed one of the most remote and spectacular ridges in the Northeast, Bondcliff (lead photo, above).

A hiker on the Appalachian Trail on Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.
Mark Fenton hiking Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.

Among the hardest (and most glorious) one-day hikes I’ve ever done, few compare with the Pemi Loop in New Hampshire’s rugged Whites.

Starting from Lincoln Woods Trailhead on the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112), the 32-mile loop follows a series of ridgelines around the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the very heart of the Whites, tagging nine summits en route (with the possibility of more via side trips). The route traverses the popular Franconia Ridge, its highest point, 5,260-foot Mount Lafayette, and more remote peaks like Garfield, South Twin, Bond, and Bondcliff.

It’s as beautiful as it is punishing to complete in a day. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once opined: “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

The photo gallery below offers a window into the scenery along the Pemi Loop. Scroll below it for a link to my full feature story about that hike (which requires a paid subscription to read).

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I’d dayhiked it once before and backpacked it—and you can, of course, take a more moderate (and sane) approach and backpack the Pemi Loop over two to four days, spending nights in designated backcountry campsites or Appalachian Mountain Club huts along the route.

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See my feature story about dayhiking the Pemi Loop, “Being Stupid With Friends: A 32-Mile Dayhike in the White Mountains,” which has more photos and my detailed tips on how to knock off this hike in a day or backpack it over as many days as you like.

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And see all of my stories about the White Mountains, including my stories about 20-mile dayhikes of the Presidential Range and Wildcat Mountain and Carter-Moriah Rangea 17-mile dayhike in the Presidential Range with three teenage boys (my son among them); “Still Crazy After All These Years: Hiking in the White Mountains;” “The Best Kind of Insanity: Long Dayhikes in the White Mountains;” and “Ask Me: What Are Your Favorite New England Hikes?”

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