Mount Major near West Alton is a rocky summit with extensive views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the Belknap Range, and even the White Mountains in clear weather. It's a favorite hike of childrens' camps, so you can expect heavy traffic even on weekdays in the summer.
Watching boats on the lake is a common pastime, and the biggest boat of all is the MS Mount Washington. Its route to Alton takes it past the mountain on Sundays and Thursdays during the summer at about 11 AM, returning about 11:30 AM. Check cruisenh.com for schedule changes.
Then-landowner George Phippen built a stone hut for hikers on the summit in 1925, but the roof blew off the next winter. A stronger roof lasted two winters before blowing off in the spring of 1928. The stone walls still provide shelter from the wind.
Distance: varies, depending on trail
Elevation gain: About 1100 feet on the ascent, minor on descent
Maps: USGS West Alton
Trail map of Belknap Range, available at Gilford Public Library and elsewhere
Location: Lakes Region
NH 2003-2004 map L-8
DeLorme NHA&G 36-E6/7 - Alton
The trail is located SW of NH Route 11 between Laconia and Rochester
Trailhead: Large parking lot S side of NH Route 11 about 2.2 miles E of Route 11-A, elevation about 650 feet
43.5193?N, 71.2738?W (WGS84)
From I-95 in Portsmouth, follow the Spaulding Turnpike/ NH Route 16 N about 21 miles to exit 15, then follow NH Route 11 about 20.6 miles W to parking lot on L.
Far End: Summit of Mount Major, elevation 1786 feet
Owner: state and private
Special regulations: No fires or camping
There is an extensive trail network in the Belknap Range; this article will describe the three most popular routes up Mount Major:
Main Trail: Take the obvious woods road which leaves the R side of the parking lot as you face the mountain. There are blue blazes but you won't need them to follow the road. Almost within sight of the parking lot, the road forks; either fork is OK but make sure everyone in your party goes the same way if you don't want to waste much of the day looking for them. After the two rejoin, the blue blazes and the Main Trail turn left at another junction about .8 miles from the parking lot. The road becomes a footpath, often with several branches which usually rejoin. There are a number of rock slabs to ascend, and because this trail is on the N side and gets a lot of foot traffic, it may be the iciest route up in cold weather. The trail climbs over a small knoll then steeply up the rocks to the summit. Distance from parking lot: 1.8 miles.
On the return, look for blue blazes dropping off to the NE.
- Brook Trail: Follow the Main Trail for .8 miles, then go straight following yellow blazes where the Main Trail turns L. After a dip, the trail follows an old road up along the brook - in wet weather some of the trail seems like a brook, and crossings may be difficult at times of high water. At the col between Straightback and Mt. Major, turn L on the blue-blazed trail to reach the summit. A route up from the S joins from the R shortly beyond. Distance from parking lot: 2.4 miles.
On the return, take the trail heading W toward Mt. Belknap, then go R at the col. Do not take the trail to Straightback Mtn., which does not lead "straight back" to the parking lot.
- Boulder Loop: Take the faint snowmobile trail which leaves the L side of the parking lot as you face the mountain. Cross two small bridges within sight of the parking lot, then turn R up the bank next to a boulder and continue up an old woods road which is growing in. At .4 miles from the parking lot, turn R at a fork and switchback uphill. Then the road circles downhill to the L and finally becomes a trail. The trail ascends through a boulder field and comes out on ledges which it follows NW to the summit. Distance from parking lot: 1.8 miles.
On the return, follow the orange blazes along the ledges to the SE.
A phantom trailbuilder is at work in the Belknap Range. One day a friend of mine thought he saw a guy come out of the woods with brush clippers and just as quickly go back; an investigation showed a freshly-cut trail heading down. Go someplace where you were just last month and you may find a map taped to a tree showing a new trail to a point of interest you didn't know about. In fact, there are at least four more trails from this parking lot to the summit of Mt. Major that I'll leave you to discover for yourself - by the time you get there, there may be more!
Parking lot plowed in winter but may not be well sanded. Crampons or creepers desirable in icy conditions, particularly on the ledges. Snowshoes may be necessary particularly on lesser-traveled routes.
Map Notes: The USGS map does not show all these trails, and has no hope of keeping up with the phantom trailbuilder.
Terraserver live map
View from summit
Split rock on Boulder Loop