Trailing the glaciers in Crawford Notch, N.H.
A trio of snowshoers and hikers head up Mount Washington Trail in Crawford Notch, N.H., where they may reach a height that affords them a spectacular view. (Marty Basch for the Boston Globe)
CRAWFORD NOTCH, N.H. - The fabulous panorama from the rocky ledges of Mount Willard overlooking rugged Crawford Notch is one of the best views in the White Mountains.
You can see the huge U-shaped valley carved by glaciers, Mount Chocorua's rocky summit cone, and the deep rockslide scars on Mount Willey.
And one of the best things about the view is that you need invest only a modest amount of snowshoeing or winter hiking to get there.
The Mount Willard Trail is a pathway for all seasons. On the harder side of easy, the trek is not boardwalk flat, but neither is it a trial, which is one reason it is a popular hike in spring, summer, and fall. In winter it's a manageable two- or three-hour investment of time and energy.
The trail serves as an excellent introduction to winter walking and Crawford Notch is a popular outdoor recreational hub. The Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Lodge is next to the trailhead, and the Mount Washington Hotel with its ski trails and plush accommodations is nearby. Ice climbers venture up to frozen cascades while keen-eyed kids compete to spot the trunk on Elephant Head rock.
The notch also is home to the Conway Scenic Railroad, and the trackside station is a familiar landmark alongside the AMC's Macomber Family Information Center.
Across from Saco Lake, the source of the Saco River, hikers and snowshoers begin the 3.2-mile round trip by crossing train tracks and heading into the quiet of the Avalon Trail. A minute or two later, it's time to take a left on the blue-blazed Mount Willard Trail to the ledges just below the 2,865-foot summit.
Blankets of snow cover the green ferns of summer on the ascent through the initial hardwood and birch forest. Slow and steady is the mantra of the traveler, as winter treks along even familiar trails take more time. One spot to rest is at about the half-mile mark. After rising over a brook, chill out above Centennial Pool's freezing waters.
The trail is forgiving as it follows a former wide carriage road, which at one point was the way for guests to go to the Crawford House Inn, lost in a 1977 fire. As the way leads into Crawford Notch State Park, evergreen boughs conspire to narrow the trail. Adults may have to do some ducking to get onto the ledges. There are no rails for protection on the splendid outcrop, so don't venture close to the edge.
Many players take part in the magnificence of the Willard view. At times, the ledge is visited by plump jays who seem to pose for the camera. Below, Route 302 slithers like a serpent while the train tracks cut through the mountainside. The notch has weathered many rockslides over the years, the most famous occurring in 1826 when torrential rains caused an avalanche that killed the Willey family, for whom the mountain is named. The gouges can still be seen on the right-hand side of Mount Willey.
The blueberries of August are long gone. To the left stand mighty Mounts Webster, Jackson, Pierce, and Eisenhower. If the weather's clear, look for Mount Washington in the distance before exiting one of the Whites' most picturesque stages.
Marty Basch, a writer based in New Hampshire, can be reached through his website at firstname.lastname@example.org.