The 12-Peak Belknaps: A Perfect Intro to Completing a Hiking List
The Belknaps consist of 12 official mountains and several locally named “humps,” which make 19. By hiking the 12 specific mountains in the range you can earn a Belknap Range Hiker patch. There is also the option to hike every trail in the range to earn a Belknap Range Red Liner patch, making this range perfect for hikers who want to start hiking the region’s lists but don’t want to jump headfirst into some of the longer endeavors.
The Belknap Range is a series of mountains west of Lake Winnipesaukee found in the towns of Gilford, Gilmanton, and Alton, NH. The peaks range in height from 1,600 feet to 2,400 feet. There are 65.5 sanctioned miles of trails scattered throughout the Belknap Mountain Range, including a 12.5-mile traverse that offers a challenging, full-day hike for those looking for something a little more difficult not located in the White Mountains.
History of the Belknap Range Lists
The Belknap Range list was established by Don Watson, a local hiker, and with support from the Belknap County Sportsmen’s Club, the list was born. The first official hiking map of the region was developed by Dave Roberts, and Hal Graham helped make the map and trail descriptions more comprehensive and accurate. The Belknap Range Red Liner patch was more recently created and was inspired by the White Mountains redlining challenge. The Belknap redlining challenge is run by the local trail maintainers, known as the Belknap Range Trail Tenders (BRATTS).
The rules for earning the Belknap Range Hiker patch are simple: hike to and from the summit, on foot, of each peak on the established list and mail it in to receive your patch. You can hike multiple peaks in a single hike (peakbag), or hike them individually. In order to earn the redlining patch, you must hike every trail on the established Redliner’s Workbook by foot and then mail in your application. There is a $10 fee for the Red Liner patch, and a $5 fee for the Belknap Range Hiker patch.
Difficulty and Time to Complete
The beauty of the Belknap Range lists are that they are quick to complete, but offer a variation in difficulty. Completing the 12 peaks can be done in as little as a week, or over the course of a few months. Completing the redlining list will take longer, but with dedication and focus could be done in under a year. The majority of the trails are not heavily trafficked, making them harder to follow, but there are a few trails that see a significant amount of hikers. Overall, none of the trails is particularly difficult, but following some of the less-traveled ones will require paying closer attention to trail signs.
The most visited peak on the Belknap Range list is Mount Major, and the most-traveled trail (the blue trail) is easy to follow. Views from the summit are outstanding and reaching the top isn’t terribly difficult (1.5 miles and 1,300 feet elevation gain). Another mountain that offers views from a fire tower is Belknap Mountain. This peak is the most prominent in the Belknap Range (2,382 feet) but better views are found on Mount Major. The difficulty of hiking Belknap Mountain is comparable to Mount Major, but you will gain less elevation over the course of the hike (average elevation gain is 700 feet in one mile or less).
Suggested Peak to Start
Mount Major offers the “best bang for your buck” when it comes to the mountains in this range. Major is often touted as one of the peaks that draws people into hiking because it offers such amazing views and just enough of a challenge to get your heart pumping. It’s easy to access, located right off Route 11, and isn’t too far from major cities.
Who Will Want to Hike This List
This list is ideal for anyone looking to get into hiking, or those looking for a quick turnaround time completing a list and earning a hiking patch. The Belknap Range Hiker patch was the first one I earned and it was a great confidence builder knowing that I could complete the list and get a patch sewn to my pack within a few months. The mountains in this range are also my go-to peaks to hit during shoulder season, when the snow is too mushy to hit the higher summits. The larger number of trails in the Belknap Range means I can get creative and complete bigger mileage days to prepare for the summer hiking season, or take a quick drive north after work to hit the summit of Mount Major in under an hour.
The Belknap redlining list is a great way to see the less-traveled trails in a region and get more of an “off the grid” feeling not far from civilization. I’ve hiked several seldom-traveled trails in the region and they definitely made me feel like I was using my navigation skills, like I have to on more substantial mountains. Completing the redlining list is also something that hasn’t been done by many people, just 85 as of 2018.
The wonderful thing about the Belknap Range trail list and region in general is that you can hike it any season. This region is where I spend the majority of March and April because the snow has usually melted and I can create interesting longer hikes while I’m waiting for snow to melt in the Whites. Hiking these peaks in winter is also a great option for both newer winter hikers or people looking to hit the trails throughout the year. The lower elevations of these peaks means that when it’s below zero in the Whites you can still get your outdoors fix by hitting the lower summits. In the summer, the more popular peaks on the range are sometimes crowded (Mount Major in particular), but by hitting them in the evenings or on weekdays you won’t have to contend with quite as many people.
The most difficult part about the Belknap Range is finding a map of the trails that isn’t online. There are some local libraries that (supposedly) carry hard copies of the map for the region, but I chose to print off a copy of the PDF version and squint really hard to read the various trails when I set out on hikes.
There is a lot of information online about the Belknap Range, and to make things easier for anyone reading this post, I have added the links I found most helpful to this post. I also recommend buying the Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide, which includes a pull-out map.
The most comprehensive site for trail information is the Belknap Range trails site found here. Information on the Belknap Range Hiker patch and printable list is here. Information on the Red Liner patch can be found here and more information on the Belknap Range in general can be found here. There is also an established Facebook page for the Belknap Range Trail Tenders, who maintain the trails, and one for the Belknap Range Hikers. Information on trail conditions can be found on New England Trail Conditions.
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