04-12 OD Mud season

A hiker walks off the trail around muddy section on Osceola. This common practice causes resource damage and costly repairs. (Courtesy photo/USDA Forest Service)

CAMPTON — The calendar says spring has arrived in the White Mountains. However, New Englanders know there is one more hurdle to get over before hiking gets in full swing, mud season. Mud season is the transition between winter and spring when the combination between snow, rain, and melt creates very wet conditions. Hiking during this time can have major impacts on trails and fragile ecosystems.

Saturated soils create deep and wide mud puddles sometimes covering whole sections of trail. These conditions make the trails most susceptible to soil compaction and erosion. Soil compaction reduces the ability for vegetation to grow, and the ground to absorb water causing additional flooding potential. This leads to more erosion exposing rocks and roots.

In addition to mud, snow monorails – hard packed snow in the center tread of a trail – exist above and below tree line, and endure long into mud season.  Walking around monorails widens trails and destroys fragile alpine plants above tree line. 

Follow these tips for a low impact spring outing 

  • Good boots are designed to get muddy. Walk through the mud and stick to the center of the path stepping on rocks whenever possible.
  • Choose hikes at low elevations and south-facing slopes, which tend to dry out faster. Avoid steep trails. Durable surfaces like roads, paved trails, or rail trails are also great options at this time of year.
  • Be prepared for spring weather to change quickly. Higher elevations may still have winter weather conditions.
  • Look for alternative activities until things dry out like road biking, paddling or scenic driving.

To prevent damaging the environment, turn around when the trail is extremely muddy. Soon it will be dry for all to be able to hike more easily. Don’t widen the trail or damage vegetation by walking around the muddy areas. For more information, contact the White Mountain National Forest.

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