Are you looking for a multi-day hike on beautiful rail-trails through pristine wilderness of the White Mountains? Look no further. At midpoint, the nearest road is 7 miles in either direction. Because of its isolation, this hike offers a quiet, reflective walk along trails that traverse among rivers, over hills and through woods. For most of its length, the trip follows the beds of the Lincoln Railroad's East Branch and the Zealand Valley Railroad. Both lines carried lumber from the White Mountains from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. This 18-mile route links the Lincoln Woods Trail, Wilderness Trail, Thoreau Falls Trail, Ethan Pond Trail and Zealand Trail
All but the Zealand Trail and Lincoln Woods Trail are hiking only.
Begin the hike by descending a few steps next to the Ranger Station near the Lincoln Woods Trail off SR 112 (Kancamagus Hwy.). Follow the Lincoln Woods Trail
2.8 miles to the Wilderness Trail. The Lincoln Woods Trail used to be part of the Wilderness Trail but was renamed to indicate that this portion of the trail is not actually in the Wilderness area. These trails are usually fairly busy because they are a conduit into the Pemigewasset Wilderness (with other trails branching off), but the deeper you travel along the trail, the fewer people you see. Watch for the railroad ties and logging camp clearings that abound. Camping option No. 1 is located at the intersection of these two trails.
Almost the entire rest of the Wilderness Trail follows the old railroad bed. About 4.8 miles into the trip, a stunning trestle railroad bridge of the Lincoln Railroad's East Branch extends over the river. At 5.3 miles, the trail crosses a suspension bridge where remains of another railroad bridge can be seen to the right.
At about 6.2 miles, you'll connect with the Thoreau Falls Trail. Follow the Thoreau Falls Trail, which forks to the left. Deviating from the railroad grade, the Thoreau Falls Trail is a winding hike that climbs and slopes through a thick forest along the unspoiled North Fork River. It is a scenic walk offering several interesting stream crossings on old, uneven footbridges and many places to stop for a swim along the way. If you do, use caution as the river can move swiftly. This is the recommended trail to connect the two separate railroad grades.
Follow the trail to the top of Thoreau Falls. Find a safe crossing and take a rest at the falls to enjoy the beautiful mountain view. From this point, the trail soon meets the bed of the old Zealand Valley Railroad. The corridor now encompasses two trails: Ethan Pond Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) and the Zealand trail.
All of Ethan Pond Trail is a rail-trail. Take a left onto the trail unless you intend to stay at one of two camping options located to the right (No. 2 & 3). The trail is a flat path through a tunnel of trees where the Zealand Valley Railroad unmistakably once ran. This path opens up to an outcrop at Zealand Notch, with breathtaking views of Mt. Bond and other peaks. This is a perfect place to stop for lunch or a rest.
After a scramble over some rock slides, the trail pushes on past a series of uneven sections before it ends at the junction of the Zealand Falls Hut Trail and the Zealand Falls Trail. Continue straight onto the Zealand Falls Trail to stay on the path of the Zealand Valley Railroad. If you decide to sleep at the Zealand Hut, take a left at the junction (camping option No. 4). The hut is a 0.2-mile steep climb away.
The Zealand Trail crosses several mountain ponds over wooden footbridges. It eventually descends, ending at a parking area on Zealand Road.
From I-93, take Exit 32 toward Lincoln, N.H. Continue on SR 112 (Kancamagus Hwy.) about 5.5 miles to Lincoln Woods parking area; the trailhead is near the Ranger Station.