View Full Version : Franconia Ridge Loop Parking Shuttle

05-15-2022, 06:44
Arguably the most spectacular day hike in the whites is the Franconia Ridge Loop that consists of two side trails, Falling Waters and Old Bridal Path connecting with the AT on the Franconia Ridge that goes over Lafayette, Lincoln and Haystack. Its a long stretch along treeline right at the top of exposed ridge. Old Bridal path goes up a side ridge which is wooded but a very decidedly steep ridge with views up to the main ridgeline. AMCs Greenleaf hut is also on this trail. Falling Water trail run along a drainage past several large waterfalls. The side trails both start at the same trailhead at Lafayette Place. There are parking lots on either side of the parkway connected by a tunnel under the parkway. There is also a very popular busy state park campground adjacent to the south bound lot(reservation strongly recommended). These lots also have side trails to access the AMC Lonesome Lake Hut and a couple of popular day hikes. For years and pre covid, the lots filled up rapidly but the state looked the other way and grudgingly looked the other way and allowed cars to park along the narrow parkway. The state finally cracked down for a couple of summers on parking along the parkway and set up a paid shuttle from a Cannon Mtn ski area lot. It was last minute affair with the state making up the rules as they went. Covid shut it down for two summers but this year the state is making it permanent and no doubt will be enforcing the no parking along the parkway rule aggressively.

Franconia State Park has posted the rules for the shuttle this year. https://www.cannonmt.com/the-notch/hiker-parking. Note they do not indicate when it will start and there is zero notice at the Lafyette Place lots.
Although there was discussion about putting in a parking fee at the Lafayette lots to subsidize the shuttle that is not indicated in the rules they posted. Folks wanting to park at the lots on weekend need to be there very early before 7 AM. There are a lot of parking slots tied up by AMC hut guests. Folks staying at the AMC huts should take advantage of the AMC hut shuttles so they do not have to park there.

BTW there is debate on whether to go up Old Bridal Path and down Falling Waters or in reverse. My preference is up Old Bridal path as I get earlier views and do not need to carry much water as I can fill up at the Greenleaf Hut. Heading down on hot day I appreciate the waterfaills and water crossings much better. Most people are in rush past the waterfalls if they go up Falling Waters. Others prefer going up Falling Waters as its quite steep and the sun is on their back along the ridge. I also like going up the Old Bridal Path as it gets me up to the highest point on the hike earlier in the day. The summits tend to cloud up early in the afternoon so getting view is more likely this way. If weather is coming in folks can see it coming and worse case head back down the way they came.

Yes parking is PITA but definitely worth the hike.

05-15-2022, 16:05
Thanks for the info, Peakbagger! I will be up that way in a few weeks and already have this loop mapped out in Caltopo. I routed it ascending Falling Waters and descending Old Bridal Path, but I think I will take your suggestion and go the other way. I want to save this hike for a Monday (less crowded hopefully), but I will try to pick the day with the best weather for this hike. Whichever day I go, I plan to get on the trail by 6-6:30 so I hope that parking won't be too bad. I will be taking my sweet time coming down and Falling Waters sounds like it might give me some opportunites to stop and take breaks, I mean pictures... :D

How is the trail between Lafayette and Garfield? I had also mapped out a one-way hike from Lafayette Park and down the Mount Garfield trail?

05-15-2022, 17:12
The key things to remember is avoid weekends and holidays to do the loop. Its light out enough to hike around 5:30 AM this time of year. The summits tend to cloud up in the afternoon so the earlier you get going in the morning the better. Another good reason to grab the tallest one first.

Bring your bug nets just in case the black flies are nasty. Hopefully the ice in the trail will have melted out, my guess is there may be traces on the loop but should be okay without traction. That said the stretch between Lafayette and Garfield tends to hold onto the snow and ice down in the saddle late in the spring. Not that many people day hike it so finding trail reports is tough. You need to play it by ear on that one.

Both OBP and FW trails have steep stretches that are easier to climb than descend but its a matter of patience. The standard caveat is the trails in NH are definitely a lot different than down south. It took me 8 hours to do the loop pre broken ankle and it took me 9 hours yesterday six months since my broken ankle. There is one stretch on OBP that you will need to use your hands to climb up chute that has some form of rock that is has less traction than the local granite.

BTW, Greenleaf Hut is self service until the end of May then full service after June 1st. They have good water supply available either inside or from an outside spigot. They have snacks for sale during the day. Falling Waters has multiple water crossings some may require getting your feet wet but you are not that far away from the trailhead.

05-16-2022, 15:32
Franconia State Park has posted the rules for the shuttle this year. https://www.cannonmt.com/the-notch/hiker-parking. Note they do not indicate when it will start and there is zero notice at the Lafyette Place lots.
Although there was discussion about putting in a parking fee at the Lafayette lots to subsidize the shuttle that is not indicated in the rules they posted.

It says $5 per rider for the round trip, so one would expect that is what is paying for it, vs. a parking fee (which makes sense, since some might park there and not need or want to use a shuttle)?

05-16-2022, 15:53
I think the state parks limited experience for a partial season (Pre covid) was that they did not break even on the shuttle with just rider fees. They have to employ someone 12 hours a day (which effectively means two folks with a CDL, lease a bus/van and run whether full or not. The early birds at the parking lot do not pay anything. The parkway was federally funded and there is distinct possibility that charging for parking at those federally built parking spaces may not be legal. Yet it the state did charge the same fee to park using a fee envelop system, that would raise additional revenue to cover the shuttle. My guess is between the two lots there is 100 plus parking spaces. The Falling Waters series of waterfalls is a tourist attraction very popular with familes so in addition to AMC hut guests, hikers on the main trails there is also a steady flow of people wishing to just take the walk to the falls.

jersey joe
05-16-2022, 22:34
Thanks for this post peakbagger. I didn't know about the shuttle.
I've done this loop twice in the past few years with my young sons. The last time was two years ago in August 2020. The lots were fairly empty as COVID was in play.

Both times I went up the Falling Water trail and down the Old Bridal Path.
I prefer going up steep trails and down the longer less steep trail and am happy with the counter clockwise direction I went.

But either way you go, this is a really wonderful hike. The ridge hiking over the three peaks is just amazing.

We did this loop the first day and then hiked up to and around lonesome lake the second day for a quick trip up to the Whites.

I will try to carve out a long weekend this summer to take my kids up and do this again and would highly recommend this hike.

05-17-2022, 09:24
Great info, thx for posting. Near the top of my "living list".

05-17-2022, 11:32
The problem with the loop is it justifiably should be on every hikers "life list" but with that comes the problem that everyone else wants to do it. Scoring a reservation at Greenleaf Hut and skipping breakfast will get a hiker up there around sunrise with far lower crowds and things also taper off in the evening but a hiker had better have good headlamp. I am an early bird and on occasion make it up from the parkng lot to the hut when the guests are just finishing up breakfast.

Nice weekends (Sat and Sunday) from early May to October is going to be crowded unless the forecast is rotten.