Travel Guide: A Welch-Dickey Weekend
Words by Taylor Sands
Photos by Jenn Bakos
Spring In New Hampshire; when late April finally ushers in an unhindered, albeit fleeting, New England spring. The first signs of greenery — from the first new shoots of grass to the verdant buds on countless branches — bring a transition of both life and color to the region. The melted snow has revealed the fresh ground and the damp earthy scent of a rejuvenated landscape. As a lifelong New England native, these signs of spring’s arrival have always come as a comfort to me after the long, cold winters. Still, even in my enjoyment I realize that in less than two months’ time, summer will have all but taken over. The short-lived nature of spring in New Hampshire meant that all of the hiking that I did growing up happened during the summer. As a kid I spent time in Melvin Village, which is close to a few short and easy hikes with breathtaking views of Lake Winnipesaukee – views that require little effort or hiking experience to reach. Nonetheless, summer hiking means putting up with heat, bugs, and more crowded trails. So, when the perfect opportunity for a spring hiking weekend presented itself my boyfriend Matthew and me last year, we jumped at the opportunity.
April of 2013 marked a milestone in our relationship – we were celebrating our six-year anniversary. To celebrate, we planned a weekend getaway of hiking. Upon researching possible hikes in New Hampshire the Welch-Dickey Loop presented itself as an obvious choice. The trail had been a favorite of Matthew’s family throughout his childhood, and on several occasions he had mentioned his hopes to hike there together one day. It was decided.
A White Mountain Retreat
When searching for accommodations, I focused on affordability, convenience to the Loop trail, and seclusion. A small bed and breakfast called the Welch Mountain Chalet offered all of these aspects, in addition to a home-cooked gourmet breakfast and an in-room coffee maker. When I called to book our night at the Welch Mountain Chalet, I was immediately charmed by the innkeepers’ friendly demeanor. I felt comfortable and at home immediately. The Chalet offers a single ground-floor suite with a common room, bathroom, master bedroom, and optional second bedroom for family or friends. I told John, one of the innkeepers, that I wanted to book the suite for my boyfriend and me for one night in late April, and that we would be celebrating six years together. In the subsequent conversations I had with John to iron out the details of our stay, he went out of his way to explain the surrounding area, help us sort through our options for breakfast, offer suggestions for local excursions, and outline the best ways to reach the trailhead for the Welch-Dickey Loop.
A Day On The Trails
Getting to Thornton and the Welch-Dickey Loop Trail is simple: the trail head is located less than 20 minutes from Route I-93 in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. A large parking lot next to the trail head makes traveling to and from the hike even more convenient. In embarking on the Welch-Dickey Loop Trail, the hiker gets a two-mountains-for-the-price-of-one experience. Once reaching the trail head hikers will need to decide which direction to take, as the splitting of the Loop begins directly at the signpost. In either direction hikers will reach the first mountain's peak, hike down slightly, hike back up to the second peak, and then head back down the rest of the Loop to reach the trail head once again. The hike is a 4.5-mile round-trip journey, which takes around 3 hours to complete and covers an elevation change of about 1,800 feet. The entire loop is clearly marked by yellow blazes on trees and exposed rock, as well as cairns closer to the peaks. Matthew had hiked the Welch-Dickey Loop in both directions with his family countless times, but for our first time tackling the Loop together, we took the often less-traveled route that would be easier on the upward climb: starting up Dickey, and coming down Welch.
The trail up Dickey is open and easy to hike, and takes the slightly less steep approach heading upwards to the peaks. Hiking in late April gave us a forecast of 60 degrees with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze. The cool air made for a very comfortable climb, even on the steeper sections of the trail. There are several points near the onset of the Dickey route where glacial erratics lay next to the trail, providing plenty of areas for extra shade and rest. Being a less experienced hiker myself, and one who likes to stop and look around frequently, I took full advantage of these aspects of the trail.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of lookout points along the final approach to the top of Dickey. The lookouts begin to appear sporadically between the sections of steeper flat rock, which become more frequent as the tree cover turns sparse near the peaks. From many of these points, Mount Washington and Tuckerman’s Ravine are visible on a clear day.
In general, hikers of the entire Loop will not want for views or spectacular photo opportunities, and it was not until we reached the Dickey peak that I truly began to appreciate this. Welch and Dickey are nestled in a position that offers sights of the rolling hills past Route 93 South, and the entire Presidential Range to the North. We stopped there to take pictures, catch our breath, and enjoy the sandwiches that we had packed for our excursion. The late April weather continued to prove optimal for a New Hampshire hike, as the sunshine at the peak was enough to keep us warm, despite the increased crispness in the breeze. After fully soaking in this first set of views, we made our way over to the Welch peak.
After a short hike down, and then back up, we arrived at the Welch peak. From here, we took in an extended version of our previous view of the presidential range, and also of the route we had taken up to the Dickey peak. From Welch, all of Dickey’s lookout points and rocky outcroppings make for an impressive sight – one that also provides the hiker with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. For Matthew and I that feeling of satisfaction came with a photo. Now back at one of Matthew’s favorite hiking locales, we replicated a picture that his mother had taken 23 years prior, and which she lovingly referred to as, “Matthew on the Mountain." Once I released him from my numerous requests for picture posing, Matthew led the way down from the Welch peak. Upon passing through the rocky slabs near the begging of the Welch trail’s descent, I noticed abundant signage concerning the protection of the mountains’ flora.
Matthew explained that a rare sage-colored moss that grew among the more exposed rocky sections was one of the protected plants that these signs refer to. In these exposed sections of the trail, small barriers have been erected out of branches and stones to protect these gorgeous mosses, whose pastel color and fringed texture add After reaching the fully covered part of the trail once again, we neared my favorite feature of the Welch trail – a rushing and babbling stream that follows the Welch trail all the way to the bottom. I was especially grateful for the occasional opportunity to dip my hands into the water and wet my hair, face, and neck. Occasionally the mists from the stream could be felt just by standing on the trail, an aspect of the Welch side that serves as a welcome relief to either those on their way up, or those on their way down.
Near the very end of the Welch trail, we crossed the stream and the trees began to clear. As we reached the trail head and made our way back to our car, I felt invigorated and refreshed, and elated to have taken part in of one of Matthew’s family traditions. Hiking this rewarding trail on a sunny, spring day in New Hampshire with someone I love made the experience all the more meaningful. Spring hiking in New England had become, at that moment, a tradition that I fully intended to hold on to.
Luxury Dining, Backwoods Style
Upon returning to our room, we cleaned up, made some coffee in the room, and enjoyed some quiet reading time before preparing to venture out for dinner. On our way out, John spotted us from his porch upstairs and came down to offer us a suggestion on a place to try for dinner – the Coyote Grill in Waterville Valley.
Dinner at the Coyote Grill offered us a high-class dining experience in a cozy and friendly atmosphere. For the over-21 crowd, the Coyote Grill offers an almost overwhelming wine list and a few tasting flights of beer. We maintain to this day that the meals we each had there were two of the best we have ever had. I ordered a crab-crumbed haddock and Matthew the maple-glazed pork loin. In fulfilling our request to be seated near a window, the Coyote Grill staff allowed our incredible meal to also be complimented by a lovely view of the entire Waterville Valley Ski area. We left the restaurant in good spirits, accompanied by full bellies and an overwhelming desire for sleep.
The next morning we woke up to a preset alarm and shortly after that a soft knocking at the bedroom door. Breakfast had arrived. Upon making our reservation I had preselected a baked sausage, egg, and cheese strata, but nothing could have prepared me for the feast that was laid out in front of us when we opened the door and looked into the common room. On two large trays, John and Mary had left a full pot of coffee and mugs, glasses of water and fresh squeezed orange juice, two heaping plates of the strata, bowls full of juicy fresh fruit, and two freshly-baked blueberry crumb muffins. Every part of our breakfast was fresh, homemade, and delicious.
Once we had taken the time to enjoy every last crumb of food on those trays, we packed our bags, loaded up the car, and waived our goodbyes to John and Mary. As soon as we left the property, I couldn’t wait to return. And it wasn’t long before we were planning our next trip. This year we will renew our spring tradition and head back to the Welch-Dickey Loop, and to the Welch Mountain Chalet, to celebrate 7 years together. The snow has finally melted, the New England air is crisp and full of those familiar smells of fresh earth, and the buds are full and heavy on their branches: ready to burst with new life. So, what will the weather be like for our day of hiking this time around? The forecast says 60 degrees and sunny.