Mount Hancock, Lincoln NH

• 3-star hike
• 9.0 mile out-and-back
• Medium/Hard difficulty | Gain 2,600 feet
• Lincoln, NH | White Mountains
• Driving Directions: Trailhead

Pemigewasset Wilderness vistas from atop Mount Hancock.

Trailspotting's NH Summits
Are you a peak bagger or looking for the best views? Trailspotting has a growing list of summit hikes.

Famed for its scenic drive through New Hampshire's White Mountain panoramas, the Kancamagus Highway is also key to reaching the otherwise remote peaks of the 4,400 foot Mount Hancock. Located inside the first hairpin bend heading East out of Lincoln, the trailhead for this hike leads the explorer on a four-and-a-half mile woodland trek to the summit.

Thanks to being a repurposed century-old railroad logging route, the Hancock Notch Trail begins as gentle affair, gaining less than 400 feet per mile for the first three and a half miles. Passing through a shady forest of mostly eastern hemlock and a scattering of yellow birch trees, the trail follows the Hancock North Branch tributary of the Pemigewasset River up to its source.

You'll spend the first mile-and-a-half wondering why we've rated this trail somewhere between medium and hard in difficulty, but that's the point at which the rocks and roots begin to litter your path. Still a typical New Hampshire trail, you'll traverse a few easy creek crossings and feel little uptick in elevation gain. It's after you reach the junction between the peaks that the trail suddenly decides to introduce the concept of 'vertical'.

Mt Hancock Trail Expand Map

Mt Hancock Trail 3★
9.0 mi, Out & Back, Medium/Hard, Gain 2600ft
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

Both ways up the mountain are steep, but the left trail to Mount Hancock's Northern peak is brutal. So we recommend tackling this one first, on a clockwise tour of the peaks. Counterintuitively the left trail drops down before it starts gaining height, managing 1,100 feet in the next half a mile which tops out at the summit. Moderately fit hikers should find themselves up to this challenge, though some (like me) might need to catch their breath from time to time. Rocks and roots on the trail provide for mostly sturdy steps and although there are some large steps there is no scrambling required. Occasionally there's a loose rock - just be careful and be ready to warn those below you if you dislodge anything.

Surprisingly, and despite all this elevation gain, you remain surrounded by trees all the way to the summit. Thankfully there's an excellent viewpoint just to the West of the summit looking out over the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

The trees continue to surround you on the trail between the peaks, but occasionally you'll get some fleeting and partial White Mountain views. The trail here gets muddy from time-to-time, but thankfully well-placed boardwalks come in very handy.

On our journey from North to South Hancock peaks we passed directly over Middle Hancock without any trail sign, fanfare or even a sense of being on top of another peak. Then South Hancock's peak is one hundred foot below its Northern counterpart and also doesn't feel much like a peak, though a mountainside clearing thankfully provides some more views - this time in the other direction, toward Eastern mountain terrain. The trip down the South peak back to the junction is slightly shorter and marginally less steep than your earlier climb.

Big steps to the summit | Boardwalks on the saddle.

We rank this hike with three stars, but we'd probably add an extra half if our scoring system worked that way. Views are few and far between on this wooded trail, but some may relish the challenge of the last half-mile assault on the summit. Both North Peak (4,420 ft) and South Peak (4,319ft) feature on the Appalachian Mountain Club's Four Thousand Footer Club list.

Parking at the trailhead fills up quickly, though there appear to be many informal spots in and around the immediate area. As the parking lot is also host to the Hancock Overlook where many motorists stop to admire the views, there's a good chance that a space will open up if you arrive later in the day and all of the spots are taken. Be mindful that the Kancamagus Highway is insanely popular on weekends and holidays during fall foliage, so during those periods you may want to arrive very early or avoid the whole area.

Enjoying the Hancock Overlook views back at the trailhead.

• Trail Links: Public Map at AllTrails
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Nearby Trails:
• 6 miles: Mt Osceola & East Peak (4★, 6-8mi)
• 15 miles: Flume Gorge (5★, 2mi)
• 15 miles: Mt Pemigewasset Loop (4★, 4-5mi)
• Show on map: All nearby trails

White Mountain National Forest
This trail is part of the 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest managed by the National Forest Service.
Bluesky Icon   Facebook Icon    Flipboard Icon   Instagram Icon   Mastadon Icon   Reddit Icon   RSS Feed Icon   Threads Icon
Subscribe for new trail reviews weekly

Presented free of advertising. Please share trails safely and respect posted signs. Information on this site is provided without warranty regarding accuracy. Copyright © 2005-2024 Stuart Green all rights reserved. Republishing of content is not permitted without explicit consent. About Trailspotting.