Lonesome Lake Trail can be accessed through the south parking lot of Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail is very well marked by trail signs and faithful yellow blazes.
Although this trail does go through the campground – it’s not a leisurely stroll through the park. This moderate, family-friendly hike is definitely worth every bead of sweat and burn of the thigh as you ascend the 1.6 miles partly up Cannon Mountain to Lonesome Lake. You can experience superb views of the Franconia Ridge, an invigorating plunge in the lake, and indulge the senses along this scenic hike.
Check out this excellent video, created by Appalachian Mountain Club, featuring many of the highlights from Lonesome Lake Trail:
The logistics (distances & approximate hiking times):
Lonesome Lake Trail
- Lafayette Place (1,760 ft.) to Hi-Cannon Trail (1,925 ft.) —> 0.4 mile, 20 minutes
- Lafayette Place (1,760 ft.) to AMC Lonesome Lake Hut (2,760 ft.) –> 1.6 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes
- Round trip —> 3.2 miles, 3 hours
- Around-Lonesome-Lake Trail (2740 ft) —> 0.8 mile, 25 minutes
Lonesome Lake Loop
- Cascade Brook Trail (2,740 ft.) to Basin-Cascades Trail (2,084 ft.) —> 1.3 miles, 50 minutes
- Basin-Cascades (1,520 ft.) to Pemi Trail (1,770 ft.) —> 1 mile, 45 minutes
- Pemi Trail (1,770 ft.) to Lafayette Place (1,770 ft..) —> 2 miles, 55 minutes
When you arrive at the Campground, make sure to pop in and say hello to the Interpretive Rangers at the hiker cabin (Summer months only)! We will be glad to share with you trail updates and the current weather status.
As you begin ascending the mountain, you will be welcomed by a beautiful and lush beech, maple, and birch forest. Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can hear their leaves rustle in the wind. To me, it almost sounds as if the trees are whispering to each other. This is a great time to spot some of our special, old growth trees along the path. Only a few hundred years back, the forest you see before you would have been almost clear cut by the lumber industry. The few that were spared by the axe are probably around 200 years old and would have seen Lonesome Lake Trail transform from an old bridle path to today’s popular foot path.
The Hi-Cannon Trail trailhead sign will signify that you have gone 0.4 miles. To reach the lake, continue straight, following the yellow trail blazes.
You will cross several small tributaries of the Pemigewasset River and then start to approach the first of three long switchbacks. Switchbacks are fairly rare in New Hampshire, and if you’re like me, already finding the trail steep, imagine the only way to the lake being straight up the mountain! Keep an eye out for the hidden rock bench along the second switchback.
One Leave No Trace (LNT) principle that can be put to use while traveling on the Lonesome Lake Trail is hiking on durable surfaces.
The picture above shows a section of the trail that appears to be giving the hiker an option of two paths. The one furthest to the left is comprised of stone steps and the one to the right is mainly loose soil. Which is the designated path? The one to the left! The trail crew built a rock staircase because it erodes slower than soil, while the soil path was probably created by stream runoff and has become a social trail. With this knowledge, I hope that you will all be mindful hikers and choose the path that appears more durable, therefore preserving the trail.
Here is the link for LNT hiker principles if you are interested in learning more:
After the last switchback, you’ll start to notice the trail leveling off, the vegetation changing, and an explosion of moss and lichen. During certain times of day, when the lighting is just right, it seems like the perfect place to find fairies!
Once you have arrived at the lake, you have many options. To explore the entire lake you could take a left (.3 mi to AMC Lonesome Lake Hut) or a right (0.5 mi to the hut).
The trail to the left will bring you to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lonesome Lake Hut the fastest and will lead to Fishin’ Jimmy Trail and Cascade Brook Trail. The trail to the right is a tad longer, but provides a more intimate look at the lake and a better view of Mount Lafayette and other mountain peaks of the Franconia Range towering in the distance. This trail will lead you to the Hi-Cannon Trail and the Lonesome Lake Trail to Kinsman Ridge Trail.
No matter the direction, the trails around the lake are subject to flooding. However, there is no need for getting your boots muddy or leaving your mark. When safe and appropriate, try “LNT parkouring” to cross areas without, or in between, the boardwalks. This is the act of trying to only step on durable surfaces, the rocks, in order to protect the vegetation and prevent erosion. It’s very much like the childhood game where the floor is lava. This is expertly demonstrated in the AMC’s “Hike to Lonesome Lake Hut” video.
Once at the lake, admire the breathtaking view of Franconia Ridge. From the base of the hut, you can see Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Lafayette, the Cannonballs, and many other peaks.
Don’t forget to stop by the AMC Lonesome Lake Hut or stay overnight for some great food, friendly faces, and homey amenities. This beautiful hut first opened in 1930 and welcomes hikers and mountain vacationers year round for full-service with meals and naturalist programs in the summer and fall foliage season and self-service throughout the winter and spring. Check out the hut’s webpage for more information: http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/huts/lonesome/
When ready to head back to Lafayette Place Campground, I highly suggest finishing the Around Lonesome Lake Trail or creating a loop by descending Cascade Brook Trail to Basin-Cascades Trail connecting to the Pemi Trail, bringing you back to the Lafayette parking area. This alternative route has a more gradual descent, allows you to cross the Cascade Brook, walk along the granite of majestic waterfalls, and discover the secrets of the Basin. This adventure will be about 4.3 mi (starting at the AMC Hut) and takes 2-3 hours. The Lonesome Lake Loop is truly one of my favorite hikes in the park. (Note: Cascade Brook can be difficult to cross in high water.)
I hope that this blog inspires you to explore one of Franconia Notch State Park’s most cherished hikes: Lonesome Lake Trail.