Lake Sunapee, as seen from an approach to the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway.
Photo by Ryan Linn
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Mud Season Backpacking in New England

Spring in New England means mud and loose snow in the mountains. It’s a great time to hike if you can find the right locations, though. Here are a few of our favorites to get ready for bigger trips in the summer!

Ryan Linn       Inside Atlas Guides       04/12/2019
Ryan Linn
Inside Atlas Guides
04/12/2019

Spring in New England can be frustrating for backpackers like me. At home, the snow is gone, the ground is fairly dry, and the temperatures are climbing. Birds sing in the morning while I’m out running. My body is telling me that it is time to pack my bag and spend a week in the woods. But the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the mountains in western and northern Maine are a completely different story. As I write this in mid-April, there are large parts of Maine and New Hampshire with more than three feet of snow on the ground. And because that snow is beginning to melt away, you may be familiar with what New Englanders call springtime– mud season.

Mud season is a good time to stay off of mountain trails because hiking in mud sucks, but that’s not the only reason. When soil is totally saturated in spring meltwater, it stays soft for weeks. Put a boot on that soft ground, and you can tear the trail to pieces, making it harder for water to later drain off the trail, and compounding the problem in the future. So what to do instead?

Hiker up to his knees in mud
Tom knows all about hiking in mud (photo not taken in spring, but you get the idea).
Photo courtesy of Tom Jamrog

I’ve often found April and May are great times to either get on a bike, or to explore some backpacking options further south. Early spring in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and southern New Hampshire has a specific kind of beauty that makes for fantastic backpacking. Here are a few of my favorites, which I’m already itching to get back to.

The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway

Easily my favorite of this list, the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway is a nearly 50-mile trail in southern New Hampshire. It stretches between Mt Sunapee (elevation 2726 feet) and Mt Monadnock (3165 feet), wandering along rural backroads, past tiny villages, and along several quiet ponds. Most of the trail sticks to the lowlands, between 1000 and 2000 feet elevation, so by early April the trail is usually nice and dry. There are six campsites on the Greenway (camping is only allowed at designated sites on this trail), which gives plenty of opportunities to split things up. Best of all, they tend to be very little-used before Memorial Day.

This time of year is my favorite for hiking the Greenway because the temperatures are just right. During they day, it’s just warm enough that I can hike in a tee-shirt and light pants, while nighttime temps are cool enough for wrapping up in a warm sleeping bag. Pair that with the many views of the rural hill country on low hilltops, and this can make for a wonderfully relaxing long weekend trip.

Dog walking across a hilltop
Lupus (the dog) is a frequent companion on the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway
Photo by Ryan Linn

The Tully Trail

A shorter trip, a little further south into Massachusetts, is the 22-mile loop of the Tully Trail. This one is much flatter, ranging from 500 to 1200 feet elevation, and has fewer viewpoints than the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, but it retains much of the woodsy charm. The abundance of streams, ponds, and bogs makes it a great place to listen for songbirds as they return after a long winter. Several massive waterfalls become extra impressive with the overflowing snowmelt. And, like the Greenway, you can expect lots of time spent on mellow walks in old woods without any people nearby.

I don’t know what the crowds are like in the summer, but the few times I’ve been on it in early spring, it was as quiet as could be. There’s only one backcountry campsite on the trail, conveniently located about halfway along the loop, and another car-accessible campground at Tully Lake. Both times I’ve made the journey to this trail, I’ve had the campsite to myself. There’s not much better than a quiet night on a relatively easy trail to put your mind at ease.

A large waterfall
Waterfalls on the Tully Trail with spring melt.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A view of Tully Lake in Massachusetts
A viewpoint from Tully Mountain.
Photo by Ryan Linn

The Appalachian Trail in Connecticut

The last of my favorite early spring backpacking trips in New England needs no introduction. The Appalachian Trail is the gold standard of backpacking trails in the eastern United States. The section in Connecticut is especially nice for April backpacking, since it’s easily accessible and relatively uncrowded. The last time I hiked this section, I felt like I had the entire thing to myself. And what a place to have– several low mountains and cliffs looking out over valleys, walks along wide rivers, and plenty of campsites to choose from. 

Waterfall on the Housatonic River in Connecticut
The Grand Falls on the Housatonic River.
Photo by Ryan Linn
View across a field to mountains in Connecticut
Pastoral scenery is a major draw in Connecticut’s Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Ryan Linn

There are lots of other great backpacking opportunities in southern New England that I have yet to explore in depth. The Wapack Trail, the Midstate Trail in Massachusetts, and the New England National Scenic Trail are all well-established and can get you out into the woods to ease you into the summer backpacking season. I’m actually making myself pretty antsy to get out there as I write this, looking back on my photos from previous years. I hope all of you can spend some time out there, too.


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Photo by Ryan Linn
Baxter State Park, Maine.
Photo by Ryan Linn
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Walk lush forest paths, rocky coastlines, and towering peaks on New England’s trails.

Ancient mountain ranges, deep forests, and thousands of miles of hiking trails await you when you hike in New England. Our hiking guides include Maine’s Baxter State Park, Public Reserved Lands, and Acadia National Park. Mighty peaks in Maine, such as Katahdin and the Bigelows, offer up dramatic views atop rugged climbs, while the coastal hills can be just as wild and beautiful. In our White Mountain National Forest hiking guides, you will find New Hampshire’s 48 Four-Thousand Footers, over a thousand miles of hiking trails, and endless possibilities for hiking adventures. The variety of New England trails in many more scenic destinations are perfect for thru-hiking, section-hiking, day-hiking, or backpacking.

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About the Author
A man wearing a backpack and carrying trekking poles stands on top of a rock cliff with a view behind him.

Ryan Linn

Ryan is also known as “Guthook”, which is where our apps get their name. Already an avid hiker, he hiked the Appalachian Trail, New England Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail before joining forces with Paul to create the Guthook Guides apps. Ryan handles iOS development for our apps from his office in Maine, and usually runs away to the forests and mountains throughout New England. He also volunteers with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Baxter State Park in Maine is his happy place.