North Moat Mountain is an excellent winter hike with plenty of alpine views despite its relatively low altitude. Located just outside of North Conway.
View of the Kancamagus Highway from the summit of North Moat Mountain
Winter is finally here in New England and the trails are perfect for some great cold-weather hiking. I think this is the best season to hike in the White Mountains because the views are just as beautiful and the trails are nearly empty. Today's adventure was a hike of North Moat Mountains which North Conway classic and the namesake of Moat Mountain Brewery. The summit dominates most pictures of North Conway. Although only a modest 3,196ft in elevation, it's bare summit and some of its approaches are surprisingly alpine given its low altitude. The trailhead for North Moat Mountain is the same as the trailhead to Diana's Bath which is a popular hiking destination in all seasons. I'm under the impression that the parking lot could fill up easily during some of the busier winter weekends. It most certainly does in the summer. Here's the map-  
View North Moat Mountain Hiking Map in a larger map
There are a few options for hiking North Moat Mountain. Most people elected to do an out-and-back type of hike using the North Moat Mountain Trail. This is a direct ascent of the mountain but unfortunately it misses a lot of the views you could see on the Red Ridge Trail. If you chose to hike the out and back route (this would be the upper segment on the above map), it is 8.4 miles total. This trail was marked pretty well, even in the winter. The other option which we found to be more adventurous was the Red Ridge-North Moat Mountain Trail Loop which is shown above on the map. This ends up being 10 miles exactly. Route finding was more difficult on the Red Ridge trail however. I've been told that even in the summer, the trail can be quite ambiguous in some sections. However the views from the almost bare ridgeline were phenomenal and well worth the occasional delays of looking for those blazes.
Red Ridge Trail, looking towards Middle Moat Mountain
The trail is quite flat at first as it meanders along towards Diana's Bath. Here there is a nice little cascade of waterfalls and small pools which I'm sure are perfect for cooling off in the summer. We decided against taking a dip in the pools in late December. After about a distance of 1.1 miles, it comes to a sign marking the Red Ridge Trail. It appeared that this trail was infrequently traveled at the time although perhaps more people hike it later in the winter season. Taking a left and crossing the stream on to Red Ridge Trail, the route gains and looses little elevation as it circles behind White Horse Ledge. The turn-off to White Horse is 0.8 mile further. There is an option of hiking to the top of White Horse and a sign marks the route. It gently descends again until coming to an unplowed access road which is 0.7 miles from the White Horse Turnoff.
Summit of North Moat Mountain visible from Red Ridge Trail
The seemingly benign first 2.6 miles are followed but a brutal 2.1 mile ascent which gains almost exactly 2,000ft. It was steep even by White Mountain standards and even my microspikes had trouble in some sections. About halfway up the ascent, the ridge become bare and you're thankful you endured the hike. North Conway and Mt Washington Valley are completely exposed and I felt like stopping every 20 feet for pictures. The clouds looked curiously like a thunderstorm, even in the winter. While it is tempting to simply follow the ridgeline up, keep a good eye out for small cairns and trail markers- it is very ambiguous and the trail enters into the pines again before the turn-off. This was difficult to find in the winter.
Mt Chocorua from the ledges
Despite the cold winter temperatures and wind, I was sweating profusely by the time we hit the ridgeline. Winter hikes are always a tedious dance of layering up, layering down and trying to find the impossible combination of clothing. Turning to the left (South), will take yo uto Middle Moat Mountain which is also great. We skipped this and headed up North Moat. It is about 1.1 miles to the summit from here. The trail actually dips down a few hundred feet before ascending the final 600ft to the summit. This was tricky as the steep trail was very icy in some sections. Microspikes served us well on the scramble to the summit. North Moat Mountain stands at an interesting point in the White Mountains where you can see everything on the Kancamagus and everything around North Conway at the same time. It was a unique view and I don't think there's any other mountain with such an opportunity. The cameras were on overtime.
The Kancamagus Highway
North Conway Valley
Coming down wasn't too difficult at all. Some powder and open trails made for a speedy descent. From the summit down to the Attitash Trail turnoff was 1.9 miles with a 2,000 foot descent. The trail then parallels Lucy Brook for another 2.3 miles until coming back to the Diana's Bath Trailhead. What a perfect way to kick off the 2013-2014 winter hiking season! Looking forward to more hikes in the Whites. Read. Plan. Get Out There!