Cathedral & White Horse, Iron Mountain, Thompson Falls | 6/15/23
Updated: Jul 16
During our three-day trip this week, Ryan and I bookended our long day with two odd-and-end days around North Conway. Despite my drive taking an extra 45 minutes because of bike week and Ryan’s been long enough coming from Bar Harbor, we’d still found ourselves at the Met by mid-morning. We had hoped to start hiking Cathedral Ledge earlier but opted to hike in the afternoon drizzle instead of the morning downpour, holding our start time off by two hours.
To start our afternoon, we began from Echo Lake Park, which was unstaffed but made no matter as I have park plates and didn’t need to fiddle with the iron ranger. We made our way looping to the left of the lake until the intersection with Bryce Path, which passed a curious old vehicle and then out-and-backed Bryce Link to Cathedral Ledge Road. Bryce Path from this intersection towards the ledge was steep and at times eroded, but had two ladders installed recently to help out.
Once we got to the top of the ledge, we went out to the typical lookout and then around and out on top of the ledge to get a good look at one of Ryan’s recent victories, the Peanut Gallery Flake, a 5.11c climb that he proudly crawled out of two weeks ago. I watched and listened as he pointed through all the moves and described the climb at length, something I knew he’d enjoy doing by going on this hike with me.
After the Cathedral show and tell, we headed towards White Horse, where I eyed a few climbs I’d be willing to try! We had a snack on the ledges, alongside many healthy and dying pink lady slippers, completed the loop on top of White Horse, then out and backed Red Ridge Link, which was in significantly better shape than I would’ve imagined given its access doesn’t make an abundance of sense.
Coming down from White Horse was much more gradual than its ascent. We progressively wrapped around the White Horse Ledge and the road, followed by the White Mountain Hotel coming into view through the trees. As we reconnected with Bryce and eventually Echo Lake Trail, we circled the other side of the lake, marveling at the hundreds and hundreds of tadpoles hanging out by the shore, looking rather ironic next to the thirty-or-so empty picnic tables on the sand. They rule this lake.
By the loop’s close, we had amassed 6.85 miles and 1,595 feet of elevation gain. Worked up all that appetite only to find the least allergen-friendly kitchen I’d ever encountered in North Conway afterward. Don’t go to Horsefeathers if you have a gluten allergy.
On the other end of the trip, after a full day around Evan’s Notch, we stayed nearby to accomplish some scenic hikes now that there were some sunny views. We grabbed breakfast at the J-Town Deli on 16A before driving another ten minutes to the Iron Mountain trailhead. I got a tasty breakfast bowl, a gluten-free english muffin, and a stellar iced coffee. Funny how I’ll coincidentally fuel better for small days than ones of significant mileage.
Though Iron Mountain Road is signed as a class 6 road, my midsized SUV had no trouble getting up the gravel hill. The drive-in alone was highly scenic, providing ample views of the Carters and Wildcats to the east. The main lot comfortably fits 5 cars and there is an overflow lot 0.25 miles further from the trailhead, which I did not need to explore.
The trail starts up these stellar stairs, moves into an open field with further views, and then eventually into the woods where the switchbacks are placed so well it had us asking, “Are we even in New Hampshire right now?”
1.2 miles into the trail, we came about a terrific east-facing lookout, making up for the viewless summit at 1.4 miles in. Though one drops 612 feet from the summit to the lowest point of the mine, the descent nor ascent felt nearly as significant to us. From the summit, however, we visited the ledges first where we ran into two local couples and got an excellent view of the neighboring Crippies, heard the echoing rage of the Rocky Branch of the Saco River, and overlooked the massive difference in size between Little and Big Attitash, which I had never seen so clearly before. I was more appreciative of this view than I may have been two years ago, as I could pick up on the mountains, the history surrounding the trails that summit them, and the strength of the rivers that flow around them.
After we hit the ledges, our last stop on Iron Mountain was the mines, which felt very different than the rest of our day as we descended steeply on the unmaintained path, which led to a small quarry and piles of rock and ore. A sign pointed towards an Old Mine Trail down towards Jericho Road, but it looked difficult to follow and rugged right from the start… an adventure for another day! After feeling like we’d already descended the peak, we resummited and then began our actual descent back to the car, which went very quickly in part to the lovely trail conditions.
While I wasn’t anxious to rack up more trace miles, I did want to take advantage of the sunny afternoon to explore a new waterfall. We took a ride up Pinkham to Wildcat, where we embarked on the Way of the Wildcat trail toward Thompson Falls. Though the Way of the Wildcat isn't in the WMG, the tiny trail had 13 informative plaques and was super cute. The whole hike was suitable for most ability levels, under a mile one way, and had a high reward. The lower portion of Thompson Falls was easy to access and the most dramatic of the bunch. As one moves higher up the trail, to the unmaintained portions, the blazing gets fainter, but the beauty of the cascades surely doesn’t. What a surprise to find more!
Thursday’s trek made for a combined 6.17 miles with just 1,398 feet of elevation gain. It was a perfect and highly recommendable series of trails for families looking for a half-day hike near town!