The Hancocks are two official 4000 footers, which lie by themselves between Mt. Carrigan and the Pemigewasset Wilderness, just north of the Kancamagus Highway. Neither peak affords great views from their wooded summits. The experience is more Zen then picturesque: As you climb you glimpse many familiar peaks around you, and the views you get give you the challenge of trying to figure out which mountains you have in sight. There is also a panoramic view towards the west and northwest from the lookout on the North Peak. The approach is easy, but then you find yourself at the junction on the Hancock Loop Trail, deciding which of the two peaks you wish to climb straight up. Whether you turn north or south, a short but steep challenge lies ahead. In the winter you may find that you have the entire trail to yourself. Enjoy the solitude!
The most obvious and popular route to the tops of these peaks starts at the parking area located conveniently at the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway, N.H. Rte 112, about 10 miles east of Lincoln. If you are coming from the west, that would be Exit 32 on Rte. 93. The trail begins just across the highway.
The parking lot is USFS. The fee is $3 for the day (pack those singles!); or you can rely upon your season parking pass available from the ranger station or cooperating outfitter (see Red Tape below).
The trail to these mountains is a loop trail known as the Hancock Loop Trail, which is reached from the Cedar Brook Trail and Hancock Notch Trail, starting at the Kancamagus Highway parking area as follows:
Hancock Notch Trail This trail leads from the Kancamagus Highway to the Sawyer River Road. For the Hancocks, follow this trail 1.8 miles to the Cedar Brook Trail. The trail has a gentle grade this entire length.
Cedar Brook Trail This trail leads from the Hancock Notch Trail to the Wilderness Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. From the Hancock Notch Trail, follow the Cedar Brook trail .7 miles to the Hancock Loop Trail. This trail also has a gentle grade, but five stream crossings which might be challenging at high water or when not well frozen.
Hancock Loop Trial Actually, this is a lolipop trail. It rises gently (600 feet) for 1.1 miles to the trail split. To North Hancock, the trail runs .8 miles (1,150 feet) to the summit. To South Hancock the trail rises .5 miles (1,000 feet) to the summit. The trail runs 1.4 miles between the peaks, and rises and falls over three small false summits.
The parking is $3, payable at the USFS parking kiosk, or show your Season Pass or Golden Eagle Pass. Check here for details on the parking program or for pass vendors. No other red tape.
The Cedar Brook Trail between the Hancock Notch Trail and the Hancock Loop Trail has a wilderness designation. You may not camp within 200 feet of the trail or the streams (and there are plenty of streams), but since the area is relatively flat, if you have chosen to camp in this area you should not have a problem finding a site.
As with the other White Mountains, the Hancocks are a four season experience. Spring brings mud and high water; early summer means bugs; winter means bring snow shoes and crampons and the rest of your usual winter gear. As always, prepare for changing weather.
Although there is abundant water along this trail, precautions should always be taken to filter or treat the water. The many stream crossings may prove challenging during high water.
There are no established campsites along the approaches to the Hancocks, but there is plenty of camping in the area.
The AMC Franconia Brook Tentsite lies a few miles to the northwest. More information.
The Big Rock Campground is located a few miles west on N.H. Rte. 112, the Kancamagus Highway. 28 sites, open year 'round. For more information: Pemigewasset Ranger Station, RFD #3, Box 15, Route 175 , Plymouth, NH, 03264, Phone: 603-536-1310, TTY: 603-536-3281. More campground information.
Camping is available throughout the general area, subject to the rules discussed in the Red Tape section.