This latest (5th) edition of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide (edited by Ken MacGray and Steve Smith) adds a ambitious variety of new hikes to the previous edition’s inventory, most of them with summit views or other inspiring features. At the same time, the 5th Edition strategically condenses descriptions of a few sprawling “nature trail” networks (ex. at Bear Brook). This has left more room for new and exciting hikes including Bayle Mountain and Whitten Woods in the Lakes Region; Jerry Hill, Great Hill, Pulpit Rock, and Neville Peak in the Merrimack Valley; and the amazing Tippin’ Rock in southwest New Hampshire, among others.
Twelve new in-page maps were added to the 5th Edition (bringing the total number of maps to thirty-five). The traditional folded paper map in the back pocket of the guide detailing the popular Monadnock, Cardigan, Sunapee, and Belknap trail systems is still included (frequent flyers to these places might want to separately purchase the more durable Tyvek edition of this map). The 5th Edition also adopts the more recent data presentation redesign used in the latest White Mountain Guide, making it easier to find information at-a-glance.
MacGray and Smith’s best efforts to press the AMC to further fatten this edition of the Guide weren't enough to prevent a couple disappointing “blank spots” on the map, notably some worthy hikes in the Connecticut Valley region south of the White Mountains and various recently acquired open space reservations of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Forest Society). Regarding the latter, the Forest Society sadly declined to enter its newer hiking destinations into this edition of the guidebook (the Society, a non-profit land conservation and advocacy organization, is instead directing hikers exclusively to its own media to increase its fundraising profile). One might also find oneself pining for a bit of strategic overlap between the White Mountain Guide and the Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide (Squam Range?) to lessen the impact of the forced geographic schism in coverage between the two guides (but then again, state lines are just as arbitrary).
These days, with so much online trails information available free or at a small charge (often associated with a GPS app), it's fair to ask "why do I need a physical guide book and map?" Apart from the wonderful physicality of a book and paper (or fabric) map and the artistry that goes into writing hiking guides, the AMC, in its guide series, has long proven itself as the most accurate, comprehensive, and easy to understand source on hiking in the northeast. Where crowdsource apps (like Alltrails.com) frequently contain unvetted, inaccurate data, AMC guides continue to offer trustworthy information. The trail detail routinely included in the AMC guides is particularly useful for helping inexperienced hikers find their way and/or choosing hikes appropriate for their skill level. It's also helpful for any hiker attempting trails that are poorly marked. The guides also include a whole lot of interesting details about the peaks and trails that you won't always hear about on social media or through apps (MacGray and Smith are particularly steeped in this lore and sprinkle it liberally throughout the 5th Edition), making for fun pre-hike reading and planning.
Although it is the case that those who want to hike throughout the good state of New Hampshire may feel compelled to jam a crowbar in their wallet and invest in (at least!) two hiking guides (White Mountain Guide and Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide)—there is just too much good hiking information to fit into one single guidebook these days. Some “older” hikers will recall how the Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide budded off from the bible-fat White Mountain Guide in 1998—a lamentable but necessary split, but I do believe most hikers will agree that the burgeoning inventory of good hiking trails across New Hampshire is anything but lamentable.
Let’s raise a toast to more (and fatter) hiking guidebooks to come!