Hiking to Cathedral Ledge in Winter

Just outside downtown North Conway this short, scenic hike provides a towering heads-on view of Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges from Echo Lake and then views across Saco River Valley from the top of Cathedral Ledge. The loop described below makes for an excellent half-day winter adventure and could be tailored to suit hikers of any ability level.

Cathedral Ledge Hike Info:
Cathedral Ledge – 1.7 mile (to scenic vista at the top)
Full Loop – 5.2 Miles (Bryce Path, Cathedral Ledge Auto Road, Bryce Link)
Elevation Gain – 722 ft
Difficulty – Moderate (micro spikes are recommended for the climb up Bryce Path)
(For less difficult hike: use Bryce Link and Cathedral Ledge Auto Road)
See Echo Lake State Park Trail Map

hiking loop to Cathedral Ledge and around Echo Lake
Hiking loop to Cathedral Ledge and around Echo Lake

Trailhead parking can be found by the Echo Lake State Park beach area. While the gate to the beach lot is closed during the winter there is parking space just outside the gate at the corner of Echo Lake Road and Old West Side Road. From here it’s a quick walk to the beach where you can appreciate the sheer magnitude of the cliff faces over-shadowing the lake.

View of White Horse Ledge from Echo Lake beach area
View of White Horse Ledge from Echo Lake beach area

Starting from the beach area we followed Echo Lake Trail to get to Bryce Path. The trail around the lake and up to the Bryce Link/Bryce Path trail junction is relatively flat and easy. Shortly after we turned off the trail around the lake we came across an incredible old relic lying next to a small stream in the woods. We stopped to inspect the ruins of an old 1950s era automobile rusting away next to a small stream before moving along.

old automobile relic just off the trail
Old automobile relic just off the trail

Next we came to the junction of Bryce Path and Bryce Link. From this point on the trail becomes steeper and more difficult. Micro-spikes came in handy on this section of the climb as we encountered a combination of ice, mud, snow and bare rock. It’s not too far from the top of Cathedral Ledge from here but it did take some time to scramble up some of the steeper sections, making it feel longer.

Bryce Path begins to get steep shortly after the Bryce Link Junction - micro spikes reccomended
Bryce Path begins to get steep shortly after the Bryce Link Junction – micro spikes recommended
beautiful section of shaded conifers on the upper part of Bryce Path
Beautiful section of shaded conifers on the upper part of Bryce Path

After passing the junction of White Horse Ledge Trail we soon emerged from the shaded forest to a bright rock slab in-between Cathedral and White Horse Ledge where there’s a clear view of the White Horse cliff face, Echo Lake and the White Mountain Hotel down below. We took some time to catch our breath and inspect the enormous ledge gleaming in the sun before continuing our hike.

View across to White Horse Ledge after emerging from Bryce Path
View across to White Horse Ledge after emerging from Bryce Path

From there it was a short gradual walk across open rock slab and through stunted pines to reach the top of Cathedral Ledge. The fenced in open area at the top of the ledge provides some incredible views of the White Mountains and Saco River Valley below. On the other side of downtown North Conway the slopes of Cranmore Ski Area shone brightly in the afternoon sun and we could barely make out tiny ant-sized skiers carving down the mountain.

standing at the fenced-in viewing area from the top of Cathedral Ledge
Standing at the fenced-in viewing area at the top of Cathedral Ledge

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Rather than climbing back down Bryce Path we descended on the Cathedral Ledge Auto Road. There was a solid snow-packed surface on the road and the grade was much more gradual. Conditions would have been suitable for cross-country skiing or sledding. The auto road would be a good option for those who want to avoid the steeper, icy Bryce Path to reach Cathedral Ledge’s scenic vista. We did notice a family with small children using this route to ascend.

Descending on the Cathedral Ledge Auto Road
Descending on the Cathedral Ledge Auto Road

At the bottom, the road flattens out and travels along the base of Cathedral Ledge for about a half mile before coming to the turn off for Bryce Link. There are several marked and unmarked trails that lead right up to the foot of the cliffs and provide some interesting perspectives. Climbers are also a common sight along this section of the road and on the day we went we came across a guide with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School instructing an ice climber on a small wall of ice just off the road.

Ice climbers at the base of Cathedral Ledge
Ice climbers at the base of Cathedral Ledge
rappelling down a wall of ice
Rappelling down a wall of ice

Further down the road, look for an Echo Lake State Park hiker information kiosk at the junction for Bryce Link. We turned right here and took this trail back toward the lake. Just off of Bryce Link you’ll notice several single track biking trails marked with small vinyl diamond-shaped blazes reminding us of yet another way in which this park is used (and perhaps inspiring a future post exploring the network of biking trails).

Cathedral Ledge Auto Road
Cathedral Ledge Auto Road
Looking back at Cathedral Ledge from Auto Road near the turn off for Bryce Link
Looking back at Cathedral Ledge from Auto Road near the turn off for Bryce Link

When we arrived back at the lake we decided to follow the Echo Lake Trail along the West side of the lake this time all the way back to the beach. Picnic tables under the tall pitch pines of the beach area offer a place to sit for a minute to scarf down a PB & J sandwich and re-hydrate.

Echo Lake State Park beach with Cathedral Ledge in the distance
Echo Lake State Park beach with Cathedral Ledge in the distance

If you’re a coffee lover like me, you may also want to drop by Frontside Grind Coffee Shop in downtown North Conway before heading on to your next destination.

Since this is only a half-day hike you could add on to your adventure with another stop at Madison Boulder which is just 10 minutes down the road. It’s also just a 15 minute walk up the see the massive glacial erratic from the trail head at Madison Boulder Natural Area.

walking around Madison Boulder
Walking around Madison Boulder
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Grant Klene

Digital Marketing Manager for New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation

One thought on “Hiking to Cathedral Ledge in Winter

  1. Thank you so much for posting this delightful hike. My original hike with friends was cancelled last night and I was unsure what to do on my own and I was bummed about not seeing them. This totally cheered me up because it was a tiny bit of exploration, which I thoroughly enjoy, plus it only took the morning so I could do a series of quick chores in N. Conway. I have lived in the area for over 30 years, but never did quite this hike. I have parked at the kiosk and hiked a loop beneath then up White Horse Ledge a few times (thus coming down the Bryce Trail), but have never bothered with Cathedral. The winter time was perfect…I could bring my dog into Echo Lake S.P. and not worry about hordes of tourists at Cathedral Ledge. Plus, I felt like I had a superpower today…I could walk up steep ice covered trails with ease with my new (sharp!) HIllsound spikes. So, thank you so much for sharing your hike and posting it on Trail Conditions and putting a good map in your blog. Very Sincerely, Johanna

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