Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

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Take on one of the Northeast’s most stunning ridgelines while tagging two of New Hampshire’s 10 tallest mountains.

A true classic, this winter hike crosses one of the White Mountains’ most prominent features, Franconia Ridge; delivers moderate climbing that doesn’t require the use of an ice axe; and features a roughly 1.5-mile above-treeline ridge run between Little Haystack and Mount Lafayette. With 360-degree views of the Whites from the ridge, it is one of the Northeast’s most beautiful hikes. And, with a large section of above-treeline hiking, it’s also one of the region’s most exposed hikes, making it a fantastic winter test piece.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles round-trip
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


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Turn-By-Turn

Most hike Franconia Ridge as a loop, beginning and ending at the Falling Waters and Old Bridle Path trailhead and parking lot on Interstate 93N (44.142048, -71.681206) in Franconia Notch State Park.

Hikers driving north on I-93 will find the parking lot just after the exit for The Basin trailhead. Hikers coming from the other direction should park in the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot and use the tunnel that goes under I-93 to access the lot and trailhead. The trailhead is opposite the entrance to the parking lot, where it climbs a short, paved incline to an outhouse and then becomes dirt as it heads into the woods.

Hikers, take notice: This ultra-classic hike is super-popular on weekends and holidays. So, get there early to find a parking spot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

Just 0.2 miles in, hikers will come to the junction (44.139702, -71.679512) of the Falling Waters Trail and the Old Bridle Path. The loop is best done counterclockwise, first up the Falling Waters Trail and then descending the Old Bridle Path. The Falling Waters Trail, which veers right at the junction, gets extremely icy in winter and is much easier to go up than down. Plus, the various waterfalls are more scenic on the approach, as well as more easily overcome with fresh legs early in the day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

From the junction, the Falling Waters Trail heads southeast on a moderate track, until it reaches Dry Brook. From there, the trail intermittently steepens and poses some small technical challenges, as it crisscrosses the icy stream climbing under, around, and over a series of semi-frozen waterfalls. Between the water and ice, the footing along here is often slick, and you’ll probably want your MICROspikes and a pair of trekking poles to negotiate the potentially treacherous terrain. Take care not to slip or plunge a foot into the brook.

Eventually, the trail leaves the brook and begins a series of long, gradual switchbacks up toward Shining Rock. As the trail moves away from the brook, the short, steep, and technical sections dissipate, and the terrain and grade become more consistent—especially once the snow on the ground is packed and covering the ordinarily rocky and rooty terrain.

Shining Rock

After 2.5 miles, the Falling Waters Trail reaches a junction with a short spur trail (44.140186, -71.650940) that heads downhill to Shining Rock, a large granite slab flanking Little Haystack Mountain and visible from Interstate 93. If you have time (remember, darkness comes early in the winter), consider the brief detour.

The Shining Rock junction is also a great place to refuel, add an extra layer and traction devices (if you haven’t already), and get your above-treeline gear ready (such as a balaclava, warmer gloves, goggles, etc.). From the junction, continue upward on the Falling Waters Trail, which steepens and gradually becomes more exposed to the weather for the final 0.5-mile push to the 4,760-foot summit of Little Haystack.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

Shortly after departing the junction for Shining Rock, hikers will push past the treeline to the rocky and icy landscape of Little Haystack Mountain’s summit (44.140362, -71.646080). Although Little Haystack isn’t one of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers (it’s technically a subpeak of Mount Lincoln, the next stop on your journey), it is an awesome summit with fantastic views. Find the hard-to-miss summit cairn, and then, head north on the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

From Little Haystack, it’s 0.7 miles to Mount Lincoln’s summit. The path is easy to follow and, at first, quite moderate. Then, it begins to climb on rockier terrain and crests an ego-deflating false summit, all the while offering fantastic views in every direction and fully exposing you to the wind and weather.

Once you get to the summit of 5,089-foot Mount Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707), the first of two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on the traverse, take a moment—or more, if the weather allows—to soak in the dramatic landscape and fantastic views. From here, you get views in all directions, with the Kinsmans, Lonesome Lake, and Cannon Cliff to the west and the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east. To the south, the pyramid-like tops of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume dominate the view, while to the north lies your next objective, the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

Standing one mile away on the Franconia Ridge is the day’s high point, the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette. To get there, you’ll give up much of the elevation you’ve gained since Little Haystack by descending rocky, slabby terrain similar to what you just ascended. The saddle has a scrubby pine grove, which provides a brief respite from the weather on less-optimal days. Beware that snow can build up in the trees, making this section more difficult and take longer than you may have expected.

From the trees, the Franconia Ridge Trail makes a sharp ascent—the steepest section since the climb from Shining Rock to Little Haystack—to Mount Lafayette’s summit. Relatively straightforward, the climb does contain a few slabby sections and rock outcroppings that warrant your full attention before you get to the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

Lafayette’s summit (44.160717, -71.644470) is well marked with both a large cairn and sign, and is quickly recognizable, as it’s the region’s highest point. If the weather is good, grab a seat in one of the summit’s windbreaks—rock walls built to shield hikers from the elements—and soak up the views. The 4,500-foot Mount Garfield looms in the north, and on clear days, the Presidential Range is visible behind it. To the south, you can admire the distance you’ve traveled, as the peaks of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack are both visible from this vantage point.

The windbreaks are also a great place to have a quick snack. And, don’t de-layer just yet, as there is still some exposed trail left on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From Lafayette’s summit, take the 1.1-mile Greenleaf Trail toward the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut. This section is well defined, but the vast majority of it is above-treeline and is very exposed to the weather—in particular, winds blowing from the northwest.

With the hut visible most of the way, progress can feel sluggish. The slow-going is often exaggerated by the trail’s rugged nature, made even more difficult by patches of snow and ice.

As you near the Greenleaf Hut, the trail dips into tree cover, the first real break in exposure you’ve had for nearly three miles. You’re not out of the woods yet, though, as the area around the hut is often very icy.

Unlike during the summer, there is no hot chocolate, soup, or delicious baked goods in your future—unless you brought your own—as Greenleaf Hut (44.160206, -71.660316) is closed in the winter. However, the building itself provides a good windbreak and is a logical place to stop for a snack and to de-layer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

From the hut, take the Old Bridle Path for 2.7 miles to the Falling Waters trail junction, and then, enjoy the short walk back to the car. Below treeline, hikers may feel that the crux of the day is behind them, but the Old Bridle Path’s upper third is challenging and, in places, exposed. Use care negotiating these ledges, slabs, and steep sections.

As you descend the ledges, take a moment to peer back up at the ridge. It’s nice to enjoy the relative warmth of the sun found on these protected ledges while you peer up at the ridge and remember the bone-chilling cold experienced only a short time ago.

After the ledges, the Old Bridle Path begins to mellow, getting more forested with progressively easier switchbacks. From here, it’s a straightforward, albeit longish, walk back to the junction and then to the car.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Trekking poles and traction devices, like Kahtoola MICROspikes, are essential for negotiating the icy terrain on the ascent and descent. And, although the wind often blows the snow off the ridge proper, it, too, can be quite icy.
  • Bring a vast array of winter accessories to contend with unpredictable, above-treeline winter conditions. A winter hat, balaclava, multiclava, and gloves of varying warmth are a good place to start. And, if there’s wind in the forecast, goggles should also be included.
  • A warm down or synthetic parka, like the Outdoor Research Incandescent Hoody, is great for staying warm during rest breaks, cold traverses and descents, and emergencies.
  • Because it gets dark quickly in the winter and the Old Bridle Path descent is treacherous, add a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, to your pack.
  • Snickers bars and gels are great in the summer but can freeze in the frigid temperatures. Nature Valley bars, trail mix, and leftover pizza—just to name a few—are all excellent winter food choices that won’t freeze in your pack.

Have more questions about what gear to bring? Check out “What’s in Our Winter Peak-Bagging Packs.” Don’t be that guy in jeans and a hoodie hiking across the ridge.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Need a good reason for an alpine start? The parking lots fill up fast! In the summer, excess traffic even goes along the highway, but depending on the amount of snow the mountains have received, that might not be an option in winter.
  • Start cold, so you won’t have to stop after 10 minutes to lose a layer. More importantly, if you’re not over-layered, you’re less likely to sweat through your garments and will stay warmer in the long run.
  • Bring a thermos of something hot to drink. It’s great for warming up your core temperature and a nice morale booster when the going gets cold.
  • Know when to say when. If you get above treeline and decide that it’s too windy or too cold, or you just have a bad feeling, don’t hesitate to turn around before committing to the traverse.
  • Have a backup plan. If you live a few hours from the mountains, like many people do, it can be hard to know exactly what the weather will be doing until you get there. If the weather isn’t cooperating for a traverse, Mount Liberty and Cannon Mountain are close by and are less committing than Franconia Ridge.
  • After a cold day in the mountains, warm up at One Love Brewery in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Their Meat Lover’s Burger features grilled pork belly, BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño slaw, and Swiss cheese, and is a great way to replace some of the calories you burned!

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Franconia Ridge recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3 Early Winter Hikes on the Kank

Fall in the White Mountains sometimes feels ephemeral. One week, you’ll be hiking along in short sleeves, admiring the stunning foliage. The next, you’ll be trudging through the year’s first snowfall, wishing you’d remembered your traction for that icy descent.

Luckily, the period from late fall into early winter is the perfect time to explore the region around the Kancamagus. Specifically, the leaf-peeping crowds have dissipated, while the temperatures and conditions remain comparatively pleasant. For those looking to experience the Kank beyond the overlooks, here are three hikes from the highway that offer something for everyone.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The Hancocks

One of the most popular hikes off the Kancamagus is the 9.8-mile lollipop loop hike of both South and North Hancock. Leaving from Hancock Notch Trailhead, this hike ticks off two New Hampshire 4,000-footers via the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. It remains fairly low in elevation, reducing your chances of encountering snow and ice, and stays in the trees for a long portion, keeping you from prolonged exposure to cold wind. And, because this hike gains and loses the majority of its elevation in short, sustained sections, it’s not surprising to find yourself done with the almost-10 miles a little bit faster than anticipated.

Deciding which direction to hike the Hancock Loop Trail is the hardest part, however. As a tip, head to South Hancock first. It’s a little bit easier to traverse from the South to the North Peak than vice versa, despite the latter actually being higher than the former. Also, North Hancock tends to have better views. Specifically, a large slab here gives you a chance to enjoy a snack as you look out at the Osceolas and the Sandwich Range. Thus, doing it this way lets you save the best for last.

However, summiting South Hancock first also leaves the day’s steepest part for the descent, which can be an adventure in slick or snowy conditions. So, to prepare, don’t forget to bring MICROSpikes and trekking poles.

Credit: Tim Sackton
Credit: Tim Sackton

The Tripyramids

Accessing the Tripyramids from the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead lets you tick off two other 4,000-footers: North Tripyramid and Middle Tripyramid. At about 10 miles round-trip, with almost 3,500 feet in elevation gain, hiking the Tripyramids is much like the Hancocks. Specifically, hikers spend the majority of their time at lower elevations, protected from the elements by the forest. In fact, even their summits are mostly forested, allowing hikers to find shelter from cold weather around the day’s highest points.

While the views here aren’t going to make any “best of” lists, you can look out at Waterville Valley from North Tripyramid, while Middle Tripyramid offers a nice sight of its sister to the north and Passaconaway and Whiteface to the west.

Hikers approaching from the Kancamagus should be prepared for steep terrain. And, even in dry conditions, the section of trail connecting the two summits can be challenging. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the trek being below treeline, temperatures and conditions change from the parking lot to the summit, so pack accordingly.

Credit: Ben Themo
Credit: Ben Themo

Hedgehog

For hikers looking for a little less mileage, there is Hedgehog Mountain via the Downes Brook and UNH Trails. Although you won’t ascend a 4,000-footer, it will get you to the top of a “52 With a View” peak, and delivers greater vistas and more exposure than its taller neighbors. In fact, at just 2,532 feet, Hedgehog is the shortest “52 With a View.”

Because of the lower elevation, Hedgehog is perfect for those late fall days when snow and ice are starting to accumulate on the higher summits, but you’re not quite ready for hiking in full-on winter conditions. Those tackling Hedgehog are treated to an almost five-mile loop trip that delivers moderate grades, open slabs, and great views of the Presidential Range and Mount Chocorua. Much like when you hike the Hancocks, the hardest decision of the day—other than how long to lounge on the ledges—is which direction to go. We’ve always liked to go clockwise, which allows us to tackle the ledges earlier in the day while our legs are still fresh.

A word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by the minimal elevation. Hedgehog delivers terrain similar to the region’s larger peaks. Because of this, pack not just for the trek, but also for the season. Still bring traction devices for potentially icy terrain, a windshirt for the exposed ledges, and a puffy coat for the summit, in addition to other essentials.

 

Just because the leaves are almost all off the trees, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the hiking boots away. Now is one of the best times for hiking in the Whites, so get out for a short trek before snowshoes become required gear. Already took one of these hikes from the Kank? Tell us about your trip in the comments.

 


Crawford Notch Slab Climbs for Fall Foliage

Fall is the perfect opportunity for rock climbers to take advantage of the cool air and increased friction, escape the White Mountain crowds, and do a little high-angle leaf peeping. And, those seeking out moderately-rated routes and great views won’t need to look any further than the slab climbs found in and around Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Central Slab on Mt. Webster

Mt. Webster’s Central Slab has some of the region’s best climbs. Popular moderates—Lost in the Sun, Direct, and A Bit Short—all go at 5.6 or less and have bolted cruxes and belay anchors. About 1,000 feet long, each offers bird’s-eye views of Crawford Notch, Willey’s Slide, and, in the distance, the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Even better, the 30- to 40-minute uphill approach is such a good crowd deterrent that you’ll rarely encounter too many parties.

For first-time visitors, acing the approach might be more of a challenge. If you’re coming from Conway, park in a small dirt pullout on Route 302, just after the Willey House on the left. Climbers coming from the I-93 side of 302 should use the slab itself as a reference, as the pullout is almost directly across. From here, walk across the street and cross the Saco River. Orange ribbons and small cairns lead you uphill on a climbers’ path into the approach gully and the base of the climb. Pro Tip: Leave some post-climb beers in the Saco to chill.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lost in the Sun and Direct both leave from the toe, while A Bit Short starts a little up on the right. All three climb interesting slab, interspersed with some fun flakes and overlaps on mostly clean rock. Every belay station offers great views, but be sure to check out the flattish one at the end of Lost in the Sun and Direct. Here, sit down, take off your climbing shoes, have a snack, and soak in the expansiveness of Crawford Notch’s foliage, before you transition to the rappel. Note: The route requires two ropes, and there is no walk-off.

In terms of gear, first-timers should bring a standard rack up to two inches, along with a few doubles of smaller cams. As well, some of the pitches—especially on Direct—have several bolts. So, to prepare, consider adding multiple quickdraws to your normal assortment of runners and alpine draws.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The West Wall of Mt. Oscar

If long approaches are a turn-off, then check out Mt. Oscar’s West Wall, home to New Hampshire’s most European approach. Simply park at the Bretton Woods ski resort, walk 100 yards to the chairlift, and take it ($5 per person) to the top. From here, hike west on a gravel road for 10 minutes towards the West Mountain summit, enter the woods, and turn left at a wooden sign for West Wall. Then, walk downhill through a pine forest for 10 to 15 minutes to the wall’s base.

The 300-foot tall West Wall has about nine multi-pitch routes ranging in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.7. The slab climbing is fun, with bolts where you want them and generally good gear interspersed. Moreover, it’s a great place to take less-experienced leaders. Specifically, the pitches are short, and every belay station includes bolted anchors with rap rings. However, the shade-induced dampness does make the climbs’ first 10 feet a little slippery.

Once you get above the second pitch, make sure to turn around and enjoy the wilderness behind you. From left to right, you’ll see Mt. Tom, Zealand Notch, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mt. Hale, and the Sugarloafs. As you climb higher, look for Mt. Carrigain looming in the distance.

Most West Wall climbs eventually converge into Guides Route, which becomes markedly easier on the fourth and fifth pitches. As a result, many try a route’s first few pitches, rappel to the ground, and then head back up another route. When you’re done, simply keep climbing up Guides Route, until you can scramble on third-class slabs to the West Mountain summit. From there, savor the views as you unrope and pack your gear for the short hike back to the chairlift.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Main Slab of Mt. Willard

Mt. Willard’s two-tiered slab looms as one of Crawford Notch’s most prominent landmarks. Home to some of the Whites’ first technical climbing, this is the place for fantastic views and fun, history-steeped routes.

To get to Willard’s Main Slab, park on Route 302 at the dirt pullout just south of the Silver Cascade parking lot. A well-tread trail leaves from the back, heading directly uphill to Hattie’s Garden and a railroad track. Turn right, and follow the track for five to 10 minutes to the loose gully that climbs up to main slab’s bottom left side. Pro Tip: Put your helmet on here. Hugo’s Horror Revisited, the slab’s “easiest” route, begins here. The starts for two other popular routes—Time-Space Continuum and Across the Universe—are along the climbers’ path to the right.

Compared to similarly-rated routes on West Wall and Central Slab, the climbing on Willard is stout. Further, although you’ll find some bolts in between the bolted anchors, the runouts sometimes feel spicy, and you won’t always find good gear in between. Some loose, crumbly rock on a couple segments also complicates matters.

All that said, the view down is unparalleled, especially during peak foliage season. Mt. Webster’s slabs command it to the southeast, soaring above the Saco River and Route 302 to the notch’s southern end. In the west, Mt. Willey’s forest and slides reach 4,000 feet in elevation.

 

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

There is much to love about climbing in Crawford Notch, and in the fall, these crags get even better, as the bugs go away and friction improves. Best of all, after a rope-length or two, you’re far removed from the leaf-peeping masses and get rewarded with a view that beats anything they’re seeing down below.


The New Hampshire Climber's Guide to Pizza

Whether I spend the day testing my mettle at Cathedral, getting in laps on Cannon, clipping bolts at Rumney, or wrestling pebbles at Pawtuckaway, I know I’m not making it all the way home without stopping to eat. But, what to eat? That’s usually an easy answer: pizza. 

In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect post-climbing food. It’s delicious, its various toppings can accommodate most palates, and it is relatively inexpensive. Those of us who climb in New Hampshire are lucky to have some fantastic pizza options in close proximity to most of our major crags. My girlfriend recently coined the term “sending slices,” because sometimes that warm slice in the near future is all the motivation you need to push through the crux.

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Pawtuckaway: Pizza by George

Perhaps the best pizza in New Hampshire is right down the street from what’s probably the state’s best bouldering spot. Pizza by George in Raymond is perfect for cooling down after a hard day battling Pawtuckaway’s coarse granite boulders and cracks. Offering gourmet pizza by the slice, this place is a must-visit. But, be warned: These slices are more filling than they look. Insider tip: Save some room for a pepperoni roll or two—they’re delicious.

Rumney: The Common Cafe

For years, I bemoaned having to leave Rumney to drive to Plymouth for a decent post-send slice. That’s no longer an issue, thanks to The Common Cafe. Located in Rumney Village right on the way to the crag, The Common Cafe and Tavern features generously sized pizzas and super-fresh toppings. My inner dirtbag also appreciates the free popcorn they give you while you wait for your food. No one-trick pony, The Common Cafe and Tavern is as good for a coffee and breakfast sandwich earlier in the day as it is for a pizza and pint at the end. 

Cannon: GH Pizza

Rock climbers spending time on Cannon—or anywhere in Franconia Notch—should certainly pop into the town of Woodstock and grab a pie at GH Pizza. The best thing I can say about GH is that there isn’t much to say. The place is totally unassuming.

More specifically, GH makes Greek-style pie, and has a classic pizza-place ambiance. Along with great food, it offers reasonable prices and fast service. For this last point, the hungry climber in me really appreciates this.

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Crawford Notch: Catalano’s Pizzeria

Climbers in the Crawford Notch area are hard-pressed to find a place to eat, much less one that’s great. Catalano’s Pizzeria in Twin Mountain offers incredibly good pizza at reasonable prices, which is quite a trick, as they seemingly have no competition.

Ice climbers leaving Frankenstein will love the “large” large pizzas that always appear extra big. Generally, Catalano’s pizza is always loaded with cheese, and they never skimp on toppings, helping you to replace all the calories you just burned. Insider tip: Stash their number in your phone and call ahead. Things move a little bit slower this far north.

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North Conway: Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co.

In addition to being New England’s climbing hub, North Conway is also northern New Hampshire’s busiest tourist destination. Thus, the town has an abundance of places to eat, and there is no shortage of great spots to grab a slice.

With that being said, after a hard day climbing Cathedral classics and sweating it out on Whitehorse slabs, I head to the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. to calm my nerves with a fresh-brewed pint (or two) and a wood-grilled pizza. Also at this North Conway staple, you are sure to be surrounded by your climbing brethren. Just be careful with what you say, though. You never know if the guy sitting next to you made his first ascension on the route you thought was “a little soft for the grade.”


Alpha Guide: The Presidential Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

This Northeast classic is one of the region’s most sought-after trips, and for good reason.

The Presidential Traverse is one of the most challenging and beautiful point-to-point hikes in the Whites, and the Northeast at large. It summits up to eight of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains—including the five tallest in New England—with the most notable being the iconic Mount Washington. Because most of the hiking occurs above tree line, hikers can expect a day full of incredible views…if the weather holds, that is.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.7-mile thru-hike
Time to complete: 1 day (but with overnight options)
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through September
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Appalachia Trailhead and/or Crawford Path Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

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Turn-By-Turn

Most begin the Presidential Traverse at the Appalachia Trailhead and end at the AMC’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch. Doing the Presidential Traverse from north to south is easier, as it gets the majority of the elevation gain out of the way early in the trip, while leaving smoother, easier trails for the end.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. If not, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Getting to the Appalachia Trailhead from Interstate 93 is straightforward. Follow I-93 to exit 35, US 3 North. Stay on US 3 North for 12 miles to NH 115 North. After roughly 10 miles turn right onto US 2 East, follow it for a little over 7 miles, and the Appalachia Trailhead will be on your right.

If you’re coming from the Route 16, follow Route 2 West for 5 miles west after its juncture with 16, and look for it on your left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climbing up Valley Way

Depart Appalachia on the Valley Way Trail. Although the trail’s start is easy to find, an early morning and a maze of trails leaving Appalachia can make it a careful task to ensure that you start—and remain—on the Valley Way Trail. Otherwise, you’ll spend the morning trying to get back on track.

The Valley Way Trail is initially moderate, but gets progressively steeper as you approach Madison Spring Hut (44.328037, -71.283569). There are numerous trail junctions throughout the trail’s 3.8 miles, but all are well-marked. After 3.1 miles, you will pass the Valley Way Tentsite, one of the few designated camping areas along the Traverse. From the tent site, you will get occasional glimpses of Mount Madison looming above on your left as you close in on the AMC’s Madison Spring Hut.

Overall, the Valley Way Trail gains 3,500 feet of elevation—more than a third of the trip’s total—over 3.8 miles. Equally important, it stays below treeline until the hut, allowing you to get in some miles without being too concerned about the weather.

Mount Adams from Madison's Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Adams from Madison’s Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summits Begin

From Madison Spring Hut make the one-mile roundtrip dash on the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mount Madison (44.328846, -71.276688). Don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance to the summit and back, the Osgood Trails is rugged and steep, gaining 550-feet of elevation. On top of Madison—the Traverse’s first 4,000 footer—take in the inspiring 360-degree views, highlighted by Mount Washington to the south, and your next objective, Mount Adams. However, don’t linger too long before heading back the way you came to the hut, there is still a long way to go.

Back at the Madison Hut refill your water, scrounge for leftover breakfast, or buy baked goods. On a big trip like the Presidential Traverse (especially if you’re doing it in a day) every minute and ounce counts. Since the route after the hut is above treeline for the next 12 miles, the hut is also a good place to reassess the weather. If it is deteriorating, considering bailing here, before the turnaround logistics get too complicated.

Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck
Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Adams (44.3203, -71.2909) is the next summit on the Traverse. To get there from the hut, follow the Gulfside Trail to the Airline Trail. It is a 0.9 mile trip, gaining 950-feet of elevation up rocky and rough terrain. From Adams—the second highest mountain in New England—enjoy dazzling 360-degree views of Mount Madison and Star Lake behind you, and Mounts Jefferson and Washington before you.

Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Jefferson

From Adams, drop down 0.3 miles through a boulder field to Thunderstorm Junction and rejoin the Gulfside Trail. After 1.2 more miles hiking alongside the Great Gulf, you’ll be longing for smooth trail by the time the Gulfside reaches Edmunds Col. Unfortunately, the 0.6 mile-long hike on the Jefferson Loop Trail across Jefferson’s summit (44.304237, -71.316597) is anything but smooth, climbing 800 vertical feet in some of the most challenging hiking yet on the Traverse. Warning: False summits abound on the way to the actual summit.

Jefferson—the third highest mountain in New England—doesn’t disappoint on views. Take a moment to enjoy them, with Mount Adams behind you and Mount Clay and Mount Washington towering before you. Once you’ve had your fill, continue south along the Jefferson Summit Loop until it rejoins the Gulfside Trail. Before you leave the summit though, evaluate the weather, mindful of how much exposed hiking is left.

If you have any doubts, from here there are numerous trail options that will bring you back to your car at the Appalachia Trailhead, albeit with some difficulty. One way back is to backtrack the Jefferson Summit Loop Trail and connect with the Gulfside Trail. Follow the Gulfside Trail for 0.7 miles to the Israel Ridge Path which you will take for 0.8 miles to the Perch Path. Hikers will want to follow the Perch Path for a short distance—passing the Randolph Mountain Club Perch Shelter—before connecting with the Randolph Path. Backpackers might want to stay the night at the Perch Shelter and try and wait out unfavorable weather, or give themselves an extra day before making the long 6.1 mile trek along the Randolph Path as they drop 3,700-feet in elevation to the Appalachia Trailhead. The Perch Shelter costs $10 (for non-Randolph Mountain Club members) to stay the night, and has a spring to fill your water bottles.  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

To Clay or Not to Clay

Following the Gulfside Trail 0.5 miles from Mount Jefferson to Sphinx Col, hikers encounter the first “optional” summit of the trip: the 5,533-foot tall Mount Clay. Since Clay is really a sub-peak of Washington (and thus not one of the 48 official New Hampshire 4,000 footers), it’s not always necessary, but it is still worth the short loop detour for the views of the Northern Presidentials and the ground you’ve already covered. That said, many on the Traverse bypass Clay’s summit and the extra 0.3 of a mile and few hundred feet of elevation by continuing on the Gulfside Trail for 1.4 miles to the summit of Mount Washington.

The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Once past Clay, the hike up Washington on the Gulfside often feels like the longest part of the Traverse. Although the summit looks just minutes away, appearances are deceiving and it’s still more than a mile away. The trail also remains unrelenting and rough. Thankfully, you’ll have great views of Burt’s Ravine, the Great Gulf, Mount Washington and the Cog Railroad to motivate your climb. And if at any point you stop to catch your breath, turn around to admire the distance you’ve already traveled, with Jefferson, Adams, and Madison laid out behind you.

Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Worst Weather in the World and Busiest Summit of the Day

The summit view from New England’s highest peak (44.270584, -71.303551) certainly don’t disappoint. To the east, the Carters and Wildcats dominate the foreground, with, on a clear day, the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Looking north, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Clay take up the skyline. West is the Bretton Woods ski area, followed by the peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Finally, to the south, the remainder of the Traverse is laid-out before you: Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Of course, Washington—home to the “world’s worst weather”—doesn’t offer any summit views on some days. But even on rainy, cool, or cloudy days, you’ll also encounter more people on the summit than you will have on the entirety of this trip thanks to the mountain’s popularity, the auto road, and the Cog Railroad.

Civilization isn’t all bad though if you brought your wallet, as the cafeteria in the Sherman Adams building on the summit offers the opportunity to eat and drink something different from regular hiking fair. On more than one occasion a Coke or piece of pizza has boosted morale, busted a bonk, and been key to a successful traverse. Additionally, it also offers a great place for hikers to refill water bottles and hydration packs.

However, don’t let the warm food, places to sit, and great views, lure you into lingering too long on the summit. You still have 7.7 miles and several hours left.

Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crawford Path

After Washington, the character of the Traverse changes, as you leave the rugged Gulfside Trail and continue for the duration of the trip (if ending at Mount Pierce) on the more gentle Crawford Path. Almost 200 years old, the Crawford Path is the oldest hiking trail in the contiguous U.S., and at one time was used to guide tourists to the summit of Mount Washington on horseback. Also worth noting is that despite some small climbs, the majority of the trip is downhill from here.

This is especially true of the 1.5-mile descent to AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut (44.258831, -71.318817), the highest and largest hut in the White Mountains. Views of the Southern Presidentials dominate this portion of the hike. As you approach the hut, look for Lakes of the Clouds, a set of small ponds, on your left. Re-filling your water at the hut avoids the lines often found in Mount Washington’s summit, making it a faster and easier option. But again, don’t linger too long, unless they’re serving fresh-baked desserts or you’re planning to spend the night here as part of a multi-day traverse.

Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

From the hut, continue on the Crawford Path for 0.3 miles before connecting with the Mount Monroe Loop Trail. The Mount Monroe Loop trail climbs 350 feet to the open summit of Mount Monroe (44.255089, -71.321373), the fifth 4,000-footer of the trip. From here you get a striking view of Washington and Lakes of the Clouds behind you, and before you, the Crawford Path is visible as it snakes its way to your next objective Mount Eisenhower. Before departing, look east, down Monroe’s sheer cliffs and towards Oakes Gulf.

Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck
Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Eisenhower

Dropping off Monroe, connect again with Crawford Path and begin working your way across the 2.1 miles and the 500-foot climb up Eisenhower. Along this stretch you’ll encounter some of the most gentle terrain of the trip, and most likely not a moment too soon for your tired legs. It’s also here that you might begin to feel the effects of an even pleasant day spent above the tree line, as the sun and the wind can start to weather your resolve.

After a steep, but quick, climb up Eisenhower’s flanks, you’ll encounter a giant cairn marking its summit (44.240688, -71.350342) and the sixth four-thousand footer of the trip. Take a moment to look back, take in the view, and appreciate the enormous distance the Traverse has covered so far. Then, if you have the energy, turn south and try to pick out the summits ahead: Mount Pierce (your next objective) and, if you continue further, Mount Jackson and Mount Webster.

Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Leaving Eisenhower, rejoin the Crawford Path heading south towards Mount Pierce. Follow the Crawford Path for 1.3 miles to the split with the Webster Cliff Trail. Follow the Webster Cliff Trail 0.1 miles to the summit of Mount Pierce (44.227802, -71.364769), the seventh 4,000 footer of the Traverse.

On the 1.4 miles between Eisenhower and Pierce you’ll begin to dip in and out of the trees, the first section of below treeline hiking since your ascent of Madison. While only picking up nominal elevation, the rolling nature of this part of the Crawford Path will have you legs feeling weary with the Traverse’s 8,700 feet of elevation gain. The summit of Mount Pierce also signals an exit from the high mountains, as it’s the day’s only peak that doesn’t offer views in every direction.

Mount Pierce's summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Pierce’s summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

Decision Time

Traditionally, the Presidential Traverse “ends” at Pierce. If this is your final summit, follow the Webster Cliff Trail back to the Crawford Path. The beginning of the 3.2-mile descent to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch is surprisingly rugged and is characterized by rocks and roots. After a short time, the trail becomes significantly more moderate. As you get closer to Route 302, the sound of traffic is oddly comforting, letting you know that you’re almost there.

If you’re not ready to be done, extend the Traverse by instead hiking south on the Webster Trail for 2.4 miles to Mount Jackson (44.2031, -71.3742), the eighth 4,000 footer of the trip. On the way, you will pass the Mitzpah Hut, giving you the opportunity to refill your bottles and bladder, buy dessert, or even stay for the night. Although Jackson’s summit delivers great views to the north, west, and south, the 2.4-mile trail is rough in parts and rarely a quick trip, especially with almost 20 miles under your belt already. Except for an open rocky section near the top, the 2.5-mile descent to Crawford Notch from the summit of Jackson on the Webster-Jackson trail is moderate and a little bit shorter than the descent from Pierce.


The Kit

Light is right on the Presidential Traverse. So if you have a good weather window and you’re trying to do the Traverse in a day, here are a few tips for trimming your kit.

  • A super lightweight windshell like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is indispensable on a trip like the Presi that covers so much ground above treeline.
  • If you picked the “right” day to do the Presidential Traverse, plan on getting a lot of sun, especially when hiking north to south. A sun hoody, hat with a brim, and sunglasses are great ways to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Even if the forecast is favorable, the Presidentials are notorious for bad weather. Be prepared for it with a lightweight puffy coat like the Black Diamond First Light and a rain shell such as the Arcteryx Beta SL.
  • The weather changes fast in Presidential’s, make sure you’re ready for it with a winter hat and gloves.
  • You’ll be crossing some of the most rugged terrain the White Mountain’s have to offer. Give your legs some support when they eventually get wobbly with a pair of collapsible trekking poles like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ.
  • Boots are great but trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 are key for trying to quickly cover 20 plus miles.

Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Hiking the Presidential Traverse is a big day in itself. Consider shuttling cars the night before to ease logistical challenges and ensure your vehicle a spot in the lot.
  • If doing the full Presidential Traverse in a day seems like too much, there are three AMC Huts along the route (Madison, Lake of the Clouds, and Mitzpah). Using the AMC huts allows you to follow the lightweight ethic while getting to savor the traverse over multiple days. However, don’t expect to find much camping on route due to alpine zone restrictions.
  • Because this hike is almost entirely above treeline, it’s not one to do in bad weather, so check the Mt. Washington Observatory Forecast before you go.
  • If you get caught in bad weather, there are lots of trails to bail below treeline on, but they will create significant logistical problems and could make it difficult to get back to your car in a hurry. Many of the trailheads they end on are fairly isolated. Don’t count on weathering a storm in Mount Washington’s summit buildings.
  • Getting an early start is a great tactic to avoid late afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Even though the route is well marked, it’s a good idea to bring a map in addition to a route mileage table to monitor your progress.
  • If you’re looking to refuel post hike, check out Catalano’s Pizza in Twin Mountain on the way back towards I-93. If your phone has reception, call in your order ahead of time to make sure dinner is waiting for you. If you feel like you deserve a drink after a long day on the trail, Fabyan’s Restaurant has a decent beer selection, along with traditional pub food.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


5 Hikes in New Hampshire's Lakes Region

It might be tempting to spend your Lakes Region vacation floating on Squam Lake, sitting on Weirs Beach, or riding the Winnipesaukee Railroad, but no trip to New Hampshire is complete without bagging a summit. Whether it’s a quick scamper up West Rattlesnake Mountain or an all-day climb on Mount Chocorua, be sure to devote some time to exploring the area’s incredible local hiking.

Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland
Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland

West Rattlesnake Mountain

Looming above Squam Lake is one of the Lakes Region’s best moderate hikes: the Old Bridle Path to West Rattlesnake Mountain’s summit. Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113 in Holderness, it’s a two-mile round trip with less than 500 feet of elevation gain, all on a well-maintained, yellow-blazed trail that is family friendly and suitable for first-time hikers.

The view south of Squam Lake from the summit’s rocky slabs will impress even the most seasoned White Mountain hikers. For the peak-baggers among us, follow the well-marked Ridge Trail east from the outcrops for over 100 yards to the true summit. If you have more energy, consider adding on some extra miles by hiking on toward East Rattlesnake Mountain or downhill toward Five Finger Point, a peninsula that juts into Squam Lake.

The downside? West Rattlesnake is pretty popular, especially on weekends. To avoid the crowds, consider an early or late start, as the hike is easy enough to complete in an hour or so. Just don’t blame us if you’re late returning because you’ve been lingering on the summit to enjoy the views!

The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland
The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland

Belknap Mountain

Another family-friendly hike, Belknap Mountain is one of New England’s 50 most topographically-prominent peaks. Three different trails—the Red, Blue, and Green—start at the Belknap Carriage Road parking area and wind their way up over the course of a mile. All are well-marked and have about 700 feet of elevation gain.

Once you get to the summit, make sure to climb the fire tower. It offers a fantastic 360-degree view of the region, with Lake Winnipesaukee being the most prominent feature. If you can pull yourself away from the views (and be careful once you do, because the stairs are steep), explore the old ranger’s cabin and still-working water pump, which are a short distance downhill on the Green Trail.

When planning your Belknap Mountain hike, be mindful that the Carriage Road gate is only open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also worth noting that the Carriage Road’s final segment to the upper parking lot is a steep dirt road that may be difficult for cars with low clearance. But, don’t let either of these stop you from enjoying Belknap Mountain. Instead, you can do a slightly longer hike along the Gunstock Mountain Trail, starting from the lower parking area.

Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck

Morgan and Percival Loop

The Morgan and Percival Loop hike is another must-do. Starting from the same parking lot as West Rattlesnake Mountain, this 4.9-mile loop offers something for everyone—fun terrain, a chance to push yourself outside of your comfort levels, and, most notably, fantastic views. While the hiking found here is mostly moderate, the trail does present caves to crawl through, ladders to climb, and open ledges to walk across on your way to the summit of 2,220-foot Mount Morgan and then to 2,212-foot Mount Percival. Of course, if crawling, scrambling, and climbing aren’t your thing, walk-arounds make this hike suitable for almost everyone.

Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113, the Morgan and Percival Loop combines four separate trails: the Mount Morgan Trail, the Crawford Ridgepole Trail, the Mount Percival Trail, and the Morse Trail. Hikers will find them well marked and easy to follow, with signs at all main junctions. Because the trail descending Mount Percival is more gentle in nature, summiting Mount Morgan first is preferred. Be warned that this hike, like its neighbor, is incredibly popular. If you get to the trailhead late, you might find yourself parking on the street and not in the lot. On a positive note, there are plenty of views to go around!

The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck
The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Welch-Dickey Loop Trail

If you’re looking for something a little more difficult, consider the Welch-Dickey Loop. What attracts many is its big-mountain feel jam-packed into just a few miles. With jaw-dropping views, semi-exposed ledges, massive stone slabs, and above-treeline hiking, Welch-Dickey seems like a hike found in New Hampshire’s “big” mountains.

However, with Welch Mountain standing at just 2,605 feet and Dickey Mountain peaking at 2,743 feet, even those of us with sea legs can summit both. Although it’s far from New Hampshire’s most challenging, be warned that it can feel longer and harder than its 4.5-mile length. As well, expect to climb over 1,600 feet and through terrain that can be challenging for non-hikers. Also, because of the hike’s slabby nature, it can be difficult when wet.

Located off Route 93’s exit 28, the Welch-Dickey Loop sits at the Lakes Region’s northern corner. Navigation is relatively easy, as yellow blazes and cairns clearly mark the trail. Most prefer to go counter-clockwise and summit Welch Mountain first, before heading to Dickey Mountain’s summit. Expect to pay a $3 per-day fee to park at the trailhead, or splurge and buy a White Mountain National Forest season pass for $20.

Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland
Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland

Mount Chocorua

The pinnacle of Lakes Region hiking, Mount Chocorua is one of the Whites’ most recognizable mountains. While just 3,478 feet, its rocky, treeless summit leads many to believe it’s much greater in stature than it is. As such, Mount Chocorua is as challenging, if not more so, than many of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. When you consider the exposed ledges, steep slabs, and above-treeline weather, hikers should plan for a full day.

The most popular and direct route up, Piper Trail starts off Route 16 in Albany, N.H., behind Davies General Store. At 4.5 miles (nine miles round trip) and gaining roughly 2,700 feet, the Piper Trail presents a challenge even for seasoned hikers. And, with very steep sections, open ledges, and cliffside scrambling, this trail is perfect for those who like a charge of adrenaline.

For a different route up, continue approximately one mile past the Piper Trailhead on Route 16 to the White Ledge Campground and the Carter Ledge Trail. With nearly the same mileage and vertical gain, the Carter Ledge Trail gives you an option to beat the crowds. However, while this makes the route slightly harder to follow, you intermittently get fantastic views of the summit along Carter Ledge.

 

If you’re heading to the Lakes Region, or are looking for a reason to go, check out some of these fantastic hikes for their impressive views and challenging terrain. And, of course, we want to hear about your experience. In the comments, tell us which Lakes Region hikes you love or just about the great day you had here!

 


The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

With almost 50 4,000-footers to choose from, picking out just a few with the best views can be as challenging as hiking them. No matter where you hike in the White Mountains, you’re in for a visual treat, but these six take the cake for the most impressive summit views. That is, if you can get up to them.

Easy Hikes

Looking towards Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking toward Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Pierce

If you are looking for a big view, with a minimal investment in “sweat” equity, try Mount Pierce. It delivers the best view-to-effort ratio among New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. Beginning from Route 302 in Crawford Notch, a little over three miles of hiking on the gentle (for the Whites) Crawford Path brings you to Mount Pierce’s stunning summit. With its almost 360-degree views, a lot can catch your eye. But, first, you’ll have to avert your gaze from the jaw-dropping perspective of Mount Washington’s southern aspect, the Ammonoosuc Ravine and the Cog Railway.

From Pierce’s summit, you can head back to Crawford Notch. Or, if you’re feeling fit, follow the Crawford Path for an additional 1.2 miles to Mount Eisenhower, another New Hampshire 4,000-footer with fantastic views. From Eisenhower, you can backtrack on Crawford Path or take the Edmands Path to Mount Clinton Road, and then road-walk back to Crawford Notch.

Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland
Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland

Cannon Mountain

Another moderate 4,000-footer with great views is Cannon Mountain. Located directly off Route 93, this 4.4-mile round-trip hike up the Hi-Cannon Trail gains approximately 2,000 feet on the way to one of the Whites’ best views.

Once you get to the top, climb the summit tower, and look east for a breathtaking vantage of the iconic Franconia Ridge. On a clear day, you can look past the ridge to see the Presidentials, including Mount Washington. To the south, you can see the Kinsmans and, to the west, the Connecticut River and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

On days when the tram is running, Cannon’s summit gets busy, however. Luckily, the Hi-Cannon Trail has a few great places to sit back and admire the view without the crowds along the way. Plus, you can poke around the summit’s Franconia Ridge side for slides offering solitude and stunning vistas.

 

Moderate Hikes

Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Garfield

Most climb Garfield via the Garfield Trail, which starts at the Garfield Trail parking area off Gale River Loop Road. From the lot, it is five moderate miles to the foundation of an old fire tower on Garfield’s bald summit. From there, you can look out at the entire Pemi-Loop. Here, the distinct peaks of Franconia Ridge extend on your right and Twins and Bonds to your left. In the middle lies Owl’s Head and the eastern half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. On clear days, don’t forget to look further east towards the Presidentials to find Mount Washington looming on the horizon.

If day-hiking 10 miles feels like too much effort, or if you like to linger, the Garfield Ridge campsite is only 0.2 miles from the summit. Stopping here makes this trip a little more accessible for those looking to step up the effort level or just wanting to take it slow.

Signal Ridge from Carrigan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Signal Ridge from Carrigain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Carrigain

Another 10-mile out-and-back trip brings you to what many consider to the Whites’ best view, Mount Carrigain. Leaving from the parking lot on Sawyer Pond Road, off Route 302, hikers can follow the Signal Ridge Trail as it slowly gains altitude towards the 4,700-foot summit. As you approach, you’ll gain a ridge that meanders in and out of the trees. In between, a few spots give you a sneak peek of what’s to come. Forge past these appetizers to the main course, the observation tower on Carrigain’s summit.

From the tower, you’ll get an unimpeded view of many of the Whites’ most notable areas. To the northeast, you will see Mount Washington and the mighty Presidential Range with Crawford Notch laid out before it. To the west is a breathtaking view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Look back toward Signal Ridge to get a great look at the terrain you covered to earn this dramatic view.

Then, after taking in some of the Whites’ hottest vistas, cool off in the numerous pools and eddies found along the river that hugs the Signal Ridge Trail for the first mile.

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

If you’re looking to truly “earn” your views, Bondcliff and Madison are strenuous yet rewarding options. Of all the 4,000-footers, Bondcliff might be the best at making you truly feel like you’re in the mountains. With views in every direction and a sheer cliff on one side, it exemplifies the ideal summit. Although none of the hiking up is particularly difficult, there is a lot of it.

From the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center, follow the Wilderness Trail to the Bondcliff Trail roughly nine miles to the summit. Standing on the cliff’s side can give you the feeling that you’re on the edge of the world—that is, until you look out. Look to the west to clearly see the eternity of Franconia Ridge. Then, turn your gaze to the right, where the Pemigewasset Wilderness unfolds with the prominent peaks of Mount Bond and West Bond in the foreground and Mount Garfield looming in the background. Turn away from the cliff, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness’ entire western half dominates the landscape.

Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Madison

For those willing to expend the effort, Mount Madison, located at the end of the Presidential Range, delivers big views after a heavy dose of hiking. While numerous trails lead to the summit, the most common, and perhaps “easiest” way, is to leave from the Appalachia Trailhead parking lot on Route 2. Then, follow the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut, before connecting with the Gulfside Trail for just under a half-mile above-treeline push to the top. Despite being under eight miles round trip, this route is rocky, rugged, and gains roughly 3,500 feet in elevation.

The summit delivers a dramatic view of the northern Presidentials and the three tallest 4,000-footers: Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, and Mount Washington. From here, what’s always striking is the expansiveness and remoteness of the Great Gulf Wilderness—a glacial cirque walled off by the Presidentials’ prominent peaks.

If Mount Adams looks enticingly close, that’s because it is. At a little under a mile and a half away, tagging a second summit is very doable for fit and motivated hikers. For even more of a challenge, the Star Lake Trail, which leaves from Madison Hut, has much better views than Air Line, the normal thruway, and is among our favorite trails in the Whites. Farther down, the AMC’s Madison Hut can turn this long day hike into an enjoyable overnight, or provide the perfect place to stage a summit attempt on Mount Adams.

Honorable Mention

Limiting ourselves to the six “best” summit views forced us to leave several great 4,000-footers off our list. Fantastic cases can be made for others, including Moosilauke, Washington, and Franconia Ridge’s Lincoln and Lafayette. So, whether you agree with us or not, make your case for the Whites’ best views in the comments below.

 


ALPHA GUIDE: The Pemigewasset Loop

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

One of the Northeast’s great backpacking adventures proves that good things don’t come easy.

The Pemi Loop represents the ultimate goal for many New Hampshire peak baggers. It traverses the ridgelines of three different ranges—Franconia, Twin, and Bond—in one epic loop around the western half of the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness. With its eight summits and the potential to tick four more via minor detours, the possibility of summiting a quarter of the 48 4,000-footers, all while spending a significant chunk of time in New Hampshire’s largest wilderness area, is a thrilling prospect. More significantly, with huge views, amazing above-treeline stretches, and the reputation for being one of the country’s hardest hikes, the Pemi Loop is a feather in the hiker’s cap and one of New Hampshire’s best, hands down.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 28-mile loop
Time to complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★☆
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

Download

Turn-By-Turn

If you’re coming from Interstate 93, getting to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead is easy. Take exit 32 and follow Route 112, better known as the Kancamagus Highway. After driving through the town of Lincoln and past Loon Mountain, look for the trailhead on your left.

If you’re coming from the North Conway side of the Whites, follow Route 16 to Route 112 (Kancamagus Highway) up and over Kancamagus Pass and past “the hairpin turn” at the Hancock Overlook Parking Area, and the trail will be on your right side.

Credit: Tim Peck
Low on the Osseo Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The First Climb

Leave the parking lot on the Lincoln Woods Trail, and cross the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River on a suspension bridge. At the end of the bridge, the trail turns right, following an abandoned railroad bed for 1.4 miles to the Osseo Trail (44.082691, -71.581635). At the junction, turn left on the Osseo Trail, and follow the yellow rectangular blazes toward Mount Flume, the route’s first 4,000-footer.

At 4.1 miles long, the Osseo Trail gains elevation moderately for the first few miles before steepening, leading to a series of ladders, and eventually putting you on the Franconia Ridge Trail for a final, short burst to the summit (44.108826, -71.628052). In total, you’ll ascend 3,100 feet on this climb, a significant chunk of the Pemi’s 10,000 feet of overall elevation gain.

Summiting Mount Flume. | Credit: Tim Peck
Summiting Mount Flume. | Credit: Tim Peck

On the Ridge

Before dropping back below treeline on the Franconia Ridge Trail, take a moment on Mt. Flume’s rocky summit to enjoy the view. The Kinsmans, Lincoln, and Interstate 93 are to the south and west. Owl’s Head, the Pemi Wilderness, and the Bonds are to the east. Then, the next step on your itinerary—Franconia Ridge—is to the north. Try not to feel overwhelmed, and just follow the yellow blazes as you start making your way along the 1.5 miles to Mount Liberty’s summit.

The descent off Mt. Flume and across to Mt. Liberty is pretty relaxed. As you near the latter’s summit, you’ll encounter a few moves that require some minor scrambling. While they might briefly slow you down, they also mean you’re getting close to the second 4,000-footer of the day.

Mt. Liberty’s stunning open summit (44.115730, -71.642097) is among the Whites’ best. However, while it’s tempting to linger here to take in the views of Loon Mountain, Cannon, and the Bonds, you still have a long way to go.

Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Above the Treeline

Next up on the Franconia Ridge Trail are the 1.8 miles to Little Haystack Mountain. To get there, the route drops back below treeline and joins up with the Appalachian Trail at the juncture of the Franconia Ridge and Liberty Springs Trails. Follow the AT’s white dashes as it traverses, culminating in a short, steep climb to the open summit.

On a typical weekend day, the crowds can be intense on top of Little Haystack Mountain (44.140476, -71.645905). So, instead, consider stopping on a rocky outcropping a little south of the actual summit before the juncture of the Franconia Ridge and Falling Waters Trails to take in the view, get a snack, and avoid the masses.

The Franconia Ridge Trail’s 1.7-mile stretch from Little Haystack’s summit to Mt. Lafayette’s is among the White Mountains’ most iconic. It is entirely above treeline, with views in every direction. In two pushes, you’ll cross Mt. Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707) and Mt. Lafayette (44.160717, -71.644470), the third and fourth 4,000-footers of the day.

Much like Little Haystack’s, Mount Lafayette’s summit is often crowded on a nice weekend day, with hikers doing the Franconia Ridge loop. Since you’ll be heading in a different direction from most after Lafayette, however, follow the Garfield Ridge Trail for a few minutes to find equally great views, without all the crowds. On a clear day, the view to the west, with Garfield in the foreground, followed by the Twins and the Bonds, and then the Presidentials in the distance, is fantastic.

The Garfield Ridge Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Garfield Ridge Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crux

Although the beginning of the Garfield Ridge Trail closely resembles the Franconia Ridge Trail’s best stretches, this 3.7-mile section is the crux of the Pemi Loop’s first half. Dropping sharply before steeply climbing back up towards Mt. Garfield’s summit, the trail is rough, and the elevation change is dramatic. Moreover, at this point, the miles are starting to add up—more than 13 so far—and you might be running low on water. Garfield Pond (44.187107, -71.619034), on your left just before the trail starts heading up again on the final climb to Garfield’s summit, is the first on-route location since leaving Lincoln Woods to refill bottles.

Once you’ve made it to Mount Garfield (44.187298, -71.610764), pause on the open, rocky summit to savor your fifth 4,000-footer of the day in the company of great views in every direction. Look right to admire your traverse across the entire Franconia Ridge. Then, look left to see how much farther you’ve left to go, with the Twins and Bonds before you. Turn around to admire the Pemi’s far edges and, on a clear day, to see all the way to Stowe, Vermont.

Garfield Leanto. | Credit: Tim Peck
Garfield Lean-to. | Credit: Tim Peck

Call it a Night

From Garfield’s summit, continue following the Garfield Ridge Trail downhill for a short distance to the spur trail for the Garfield Shelter—a three-sided wooden lean-to—and tent site (44.190086, -71.607002) at mile 14.3. For backpackers planning on doing the Pemi Loop over three days, this is the logical place to spend the first night ($10 per person a night). The area is managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, it tends to fill up on prime hiking weekends.

Even if you’re not staying at the Garfield Shelter, consider filling your water bottles at the spring located at the spur trail’s junction. It is one of the easiest and best water sources on the whole Pemi Loop.

If you’re planning on completing the loop in just two days, we recommend pushing on toward Galehead Hut (44.187927, -71.568810), which is just under three more rugged miles from Garfield’s summit. Also managed by the AMC, this hut is a great option if you’re looking to go light. Although the hut is a more expensive overnight option, during prime hiking season, it comes with a multi-course dinner the night you arrive and a hearty breakfast the next morning. The food is top-notch. ($113 per night; make reservations in advance). It also has the only real bathroom you’ll see on the trip.

If camping is your preference, the route to Galehead Hut also has a handful of places that meet the White Mountains’ rules and restrictions to pitch a tent (no camping within a quarter mile of any trailhead, hut, or shelter). Don’t camp directly on the trail!

Galehead Hut from an overlook above it. | Credit: Tim Peck
Galehead Hut from an overlook above it. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Halfway Point

Regardless of where you end up staying, Galehead Hut is the trip’s halfway point and near Galehead’s summit. To get there from the hut, follow the Galehead Spur Trail 0.4 miles. The round trip is quite moderate, especially compared to what you’ve been doing. While the summit (44.185150, -71.573586) is surrounded by trees and has no views, near the top, a great overlook offers a spectacular view of the Pemi Wilderness, the Bonds, and Galehead Hut at South Twin’s western base.

The spur trail to North Twin. | Credit: Tim Peck
The spur trail to North Twin. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Twinway

From Galehead Hut, follow the Twinway 0.8 miles to South Twin’s summit (44.187832, -71.554558), the loop’s seventh 4,000-footer. Don’t be lulled by the short mileage, however. This is the loop’s hardest ascent, and is slow-going, thanks to the elevation gain (1,200 feet) and the trail’s roughness. After a day of being above treeline, you’re about to hit some wooded summits. So, take a moment to enjoy the view from South Twin before pushing on.

If you’re doing the “full” Pemi, leave your pack just off South Twin’s summit, and take the North Twin Spur Trail, a 2.6-mile round-trip hike with 750 feet of elevation gain to the summit of North Twin (44.202591, -71.557816), your eighth 4,000-footer. The traverse to North Twin is fairly moderate, with a couple of rocky steps on the final climb. Once you get there, take a picture at the summit cairn, appreciate the lack of view, and backtrack to South Twin.

Once back on South Twin, follow the Twinway roughly two miles to the trail junction near Mount Guyot (44.168594, -71.535614). Still feeling ambitious? If so, drop your pack, and continue along the Twinway for 1.3 relatively easy miles (2.6 round trip) to Zealand Mountain’s summit and “bag” the journey’s ninth 4,000-footer. Just don’t go to Zealand expecting a sight, as it’s in contention for some of the Whites’ most uneventful summit views.

The Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Bonds

If Zealand isn’t in the cards for you, take the Bondcliff Trail at the Guyot junction. From the junction, the trail is briefly above treeline, with fantastic views east into the Pemi, before dropping you at the spur trail for the Guyot Campsite (44.161049, -71.537468).

Guyot Campsite has a shelter, six four-person tent platforms, and a composting toilet. At 0.2 miles from the trailhead, Guyot is the logical second night for backpackers hiking the Pemi Loop as a three-day trip ($10 per person a night, first-come, first-served). Its spring, which is a little ways down the spur trail, is also a reliable place to find water.

From the Guyot Campsite junction, continue on the Bondcliff Trail a short way to the West Bond Spur Trail (44.158905, -71.537270). This is the “must-do” of the optional summits, and perhaps the hike’s best, because you really feel like you’re in the middle of the 45,000-acre Pemi Wilderness. So, drop your pack and make this one-mile round-trip side hike. Ascending a mere 350 feet, West Bond (44.154804, -71.543610) gets you the tenth 4,000-footer of the Pemi Loop. From the summit, you can’t see a road or any signs of civilization, no matter which direction you look.

Climbing near Guyot. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing near Guyot. | Credit: Tim Peck

Back on the Bondcliff Trail, follow it uphill, mainly through the trees, for 0.5 miles before poking above treeline on Mount Bond’s summit (44.152889, -71.531250), the trip’s eleventh 4,000-footer. From Bond’s summit, you get a great view of what lies ahead, as the Bondcliff Trail winds towards the sheer walls of Bondcliff.

Bondcliff

Before leaving Mount Bond’s summit, get a hat, gloves, and windshirt ready. While the 1.2 miles between Mount Bond and Bondcliff are quite scenic (and among the Whites’ most beautiful), they are also either at or above treeline, leaving you exposed to wind and weather. Feeling warm and comfortable will allow you to enjoy the excellent views from the Bondcliff Trail as you approach the loop’s final summit, Bondcliff. No matter if you’re starting to get anxious for the hike to be over, or you don’t want the fun to stop, the numerous false summits on the way to the top can play mind games with even the most resilient of hikers.

On Bondcliff (44.140419, -71.541260), savor the loop’s last summit—number 12—and one of the 48 4,000-footers’ most unique. Aptly named, Bondcliff features sheer cliffs, which make for incredible photos. From the summit, look back, and think about how far you have come, as the entirety of your trip is visible, from Flume to Bond.

Descending the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Homestretch

You would think that, with the last summit out of the way, the rest would be easy, but sadly, it isn’t so. From Bondcliff, you’ve got a lengthy 6.2-mile trek along the Bondcliff Trail back to the Lincoln Woods Trail. There is usually water to be found in the streams along your descent, and if you find yourself running low, it might be a good time to fill up. While the rest is either downhill or on flat ground, it takes a deceptively long time.

The end of the Bondcliff Trail brings you to the Lincoln Woods Trail, the same route on which you started. From here, it’s 2.9 miles along an abandoned railroad. While your legs will enjoy the flat ground, the old ties can interrupt your stride enough to make this last bit harder than it need be. After 2.9 miles on the Lincoln Woods Trail, look for the suspension bridge where this crazy journey began.


The Kit

  • A Sawyer Mini Filter is a small investment for having easy access to potable drinking water.
  • If you’re looking to go lightweight and keep your pack as small as possible, the minuscule yet comfortable Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is a must have.
  • The old adage of “light is right” applies particularly to objectives like the Pemi Loop. The simple and cleanly designed Black Diamond Speed 50 has just enough space for everything you need with no room for “extras,” keeping your kit pared down and you moving fast.
  • After a full day on the trail, you’ll be ready to eat anything, but the last thing you’ll want to do is fiddle with a stove. The MSR Reactor is lightweight, packable, virtually unaffected by temperatures, and boils water quickly. And, don’t forget to pack a lighter.
  • A sun shirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody is a perfect choice for hikes like the Pemi Loop, with extended, sun-exposed sections above the treeline. Quickly becoming a staple of our summer hiking kits, sun shirts provide simple UV protection, reduce the need for sunscreen and bug dope, and help keep you feeling fresh.
  • A UV Buff is another excellent addition to any Pemi Loop gear list. It provides protection from the sun and wind on exposed ridges, and can double as a bandage in an emergency.

On the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • The Pemi Loop is committing and bailing off it can be difficult if you only have one car. From both Garfield and Galehead, it’s possible to drop down to Thirteen Falls in the middle of the Pemi, and hike back to the Lincoln Woods Trail via the Franconia Brook Trail. That trail is another former railroad bed, so it is easygoing for the 10-plus miles back to your car.
  • Although the Pemi Loop is an awesome goal and great accomplishment, you don’t have to do the whole thing in one go. Break it in two by using the Franconia Brook Trail.
  • While it’s tempting to soak in the numerous incredible summit views, those doing the hike in two days will want to keep their breaks short, as the days are long to begin with.
  • You’ll pass numerous streams on the Bondcliff Trail’s final descent and the East Pemigewasset River on the Wilderness Trail. Those ahead of schedule will love the chance to dip their feet in the cool, refreshing water.
  • Although the Wilderness Trail can be the trip’s most tedious part, spend it marveling that it was once part of the White Mountains’ largest logging railroad system.
  • We love Wayne’s Market in Woodstock for post-hike sandwiches. Pro tip: Call your order in at (603) 745-8819 as soon as you get cell service, so it’ll be ready and waiting for you.
  • If you’ve spent a couple of hot days on the trail, Lady’s Bathtub in Lincoln and Crystal Cascade in Woodstock are great places to take a dip.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire loop or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Header photo credit: Jeff Pang


A Guide to Hiking the Great Gulf

Called the Great Gulf, the massive ridge joining Mount Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison forms the largest glacial cirque in the Presidential Range. The roar from Weetamoo Falls and the West Branch of the Peabody River echoes across the wilderness’ ridges and cliffs. Here, salient spurs descend each mountain to form small, remote ravines populated by moose and black bear.

Few places in New England can match its grandeur. The glacially carved, boulder-strewn terrain rises over 2,000 feet from the Gulf’s floor to the peaks, making any visitor feel small and fragile.

The trail network in this region, perhaps the Whites’ most rugged and spectacular, provides hikers familiar with these mountains new vantages, challenges, and solitude. Each ascends a direct and arduous route over a steep ridge or up a wild ravine, making most Presidential Range trails feel tame by comparison.

In addition to ascending tremendous elevation over a modest distance, hikers must navigate all of the challenges nature can provide: house-sized boulders, major water crossings, and precipitous ledges.

great gulf

History

The Edmands Path, Crawford Path, and Valley Way were constructed with a hiker’s comfort in mind, with grading and switch-backs. By contrast, The Great Gulf’s trails, built between 1908 and 1910, were at the mercy of the terrain. Specifically, trail builders used paths nature had already cleared: landslides, boulder fields, and talus. As a result, these trails follow painfully direct routes to the summits, which only strong hikers should attempt.

The Great Gulf Trail [7.4 miles, 4,650 feet of elevation]

Traveling 7.4 miles and ascending more than 4,500 feet from New Hampshire Route 16 to an area below the summit of Mount Washington, the Great Gulf Trail is the network’s artery. It is also perhaps the most demanding. After following the West Branch of the Peabody River for six miles, it passes Weetamoo Falls and eventually Spaulding Lake—a gorgeous glacial tarn—before ascending the massive boulders and landslides of the Great Gulf headwall.

Being in a wilderness area, the Great Gulf’s trails are maintained to a low standard. As such, hikers will encounter brook crossings, sharp boulders, standing water, and slippery river rocks.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Madison Gulf Trail [2.7 miles, 2,550 feet of elevation]

Approximately 2.5 miles from the Great Gulf trailhead, the Madison Gulf Trail climbs to the Adams-Madison Col. It is a gnarly journey, passing brooks and cascades with a steep and wet climb up exposed boulders before intersecting with the Parapet Trail. Keep in mind that the footing becomes dangerously slippery where the Madison Gulf Trail goes through the Parapet Brook and near the Madison Gulf headwall.

Chandler Brook Trail [0.9 miles, 1,350 feet of elevation]

Roughly one mile west of the Great Gulf Trail’s juncture with the Madison Gulf Trail, the Chandler Brook Trail climbs the ravine’s south side on rugged and slippery rock up Chandler Brook to the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Six Husbands Trail [2.3 miles, 2,550 feet of elevation]

At 4.5 miles along the Great Gulf Trail, one of the White Mountains’ steepest paths diverges to ascend a wildly rugged ridge. Six Husbands Trail—named for the six husbands of Weetamoo, queen of the Wampanoag tribe during the 1600s—is among the forest’s most strenuous, demanding, and spectacular hiking trails. It is infamous for its series of wooden ladders that ascend the cliffs of a steep arête, called Jefferson’s North Knee. The Forest Service has secured, with bolts and cables, the ladders to huge outcroppings.

Ascent demands that adventurers suppress any fear of heights to climb painfully tight, cliff-like terrain. Above the ladders, the steep climb continues to the summit of Jefferson. Along the way, views of Adams, Washington, and the Carter Range leave an impression.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Wamsutta Trail [1.7 miles, 2,200 feet of elevation]

Traveling south from the Great Gulf Trail’s juncture with Six Husbands, the Wamsutta Trail ascends a northern spur of Chandler Ridge, going over outcroppings to the Mount Washington Auto Road and the Alpine Garden Trail. Its name references one of Weetamoo’s six husbands, Wamsutta.

After departing the Great Gulf Trail, the Wamsutta Trail makes a steep climb up a ledge and takes you through an exposed scramble of krumholtz and boulders. The view along this portion—sublime scenery of massive landslides on Adams, Jefferson’s knee-like ridges, and Madison’s sharp profile—is the reason to stop and stare in awe.

Buttress Trail [1.9 miles, 1,600 feet of elevation]

Where Six Husbands Trail meets Jefferson Brook, the Buttress Trail, named for the massive ridge that descends from the summit of Adams into the Great Gulf, begins a long journey to the Star Lake Trail. It is easier than the region’s other paths, which makes it helpful for descending.

However, despite a modest elevation gain, it is wild and strenuous. The Buttress Trail snakes uphill, in the path of an old landslide, and crosses a massive talus field with a dizzying view of the Great Gulf headwall, Jefferson Ravine, and Jefferson’s narrow North Knee.

As it heads into a quiet conifer forest, the Buttress Trail then becomes very steep. When reaching exposed terrain, it forces hikers to ascend boulders and squeeze between large rocks. The view here to the Carter Range and Madison is stunning and grand. From this point, the Buttress Trail rises above Madison Gulf’s precipitous headwall before connecting with the Star Lake Trail.

Sphinx Trail [1.1 miles, 1,350 feet of elevation]

Just over a mile southwest of the Six Husbands and Wamsutta Trails juncture, the Sphinx Trail climbs Sphinx Gulf to the col between Jefferson and Clay. For a little over a mile, this trail parallels and crosses the Sphinx Brook, and sometimes overlaps with it. Though slippery in sections and occasionally hard to follow, this trail is a fast trip that can also be used for descending if the brook hasn’t seen recent rainfall.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Day Hike Options

Amazing day hikes are possible using combinations of these spectacular trails.

Up Six Husbands Trail and down Buttress or Sphinx Trail (16 miles or 14.3 miles)

The combination of ascending Six Husbands Trail and descending via Buttress Trail requires significant stamina. Be mindful that, on your return, staying focused helps you avoid slipping. After you’ve reached the summit, use the Gulfside Trail to access Buttress or Sphinx from Jefferson.

Up Great Gulf Trail and down Sphinx Trail (17 miles)

Climbing the Great Gulf headwall is a long day, but well worth it for the view of the Northern Presidentials. For the descent, use the Gulfside Trail to access the Sphinx Trail.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Up Wamsutta Trail and down Sphinx Trail (12.2 miles)

Climbing Wamsutta Trail and descending the Sphinx Trail requires care when crossing the Auto Road and again when descending the slippery Sphinx Trail. Using Alpine Garden Trail, Nelson Crag Trail, and Gulfside Trail, you can connect the Wamsutta and Sphinx Trails.

Up Madison Gulf Trail and down Buttress Trail (11.6 miles)

This shorter option avoids the summits of Madison and Adams, opting for a gorgeous view from the Parapet and Buttress Trails.

For all Great Gulf trails, use care when descending. Steep and demanding, especially when compared to other hiking trails, these routes feature areas above treeline that are exposed over long distances. So, if weather turns bad, know your escape route and realize that, during your descent, these trails become potentially dangerous when wet.

For more assistance, refer to the AMC White Mountain Guide for regulations on camping and more detailed trail descriptions.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Beyond 48: The Northeast's Hardest Hiking Checklists

For many people, just getting to the top of a New Hampshire 4,000-footer is a big accomplishment. For others, summiting all 48 of the state’s 4,000-footers is the ultimate goal and a sign that you’ve “made it” as a New England hiker.

But, for a select few, the White Mountains and New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers get in your blood. So, the idea of stopping at just 48 seems ludicrous. For these people, they move on to tackling more challenging ways to summit the New Hampshire 48, whether by linking them, attempting them in different seasons, or exploring them by different trails.

The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney
The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney

The Big Hikes

In many cases, hiking your first 4,000-footer involves getting out of your comfort zone, accepting a new physical challenge, and returning to your car with a blend of jubilation and exhaustion. Perhaps it’s the desire to recreate this feeling that leads some to move on from the 48 summits to the White Mountains’ classic long, hard hikes.

Presidential Traverse

The most notable, the 18-plus mile Presidential Traverse climbs over 8,500 feet while summiting seven New Hampshire 4,000-footers. For planning out your journey, this includes Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Some ambitious hikers even continue the extra couple of miles to tag the summit of Mount Jackson.

Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse

Although the Presidential Traverse gets most of the attention and has more climbing, many insist that a Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse is more difficult. Helping it earn this reputation, its steep rock trails and 7,200 feet of climbing take you over six 4,000-foot summits. Here, that list covers Moriah, South Carter, Middle Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, and Wildcat D. However, losing the majority of the elevation previously gained and having to reclaim it near the middle at Carter Notch really make the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse feel difficult.

Pemi Loop

While traverses are great, sometimes you want to go big but only have access to one car. Here is where the Pemi Loop rules. The route, as you may know, combines two of the White Mountains’ classic traverses—Franconia Ridge and the Bonds—into what Backpacker Magazine has labeled the country’s second-hardest day-hike.

Covering over 30 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain, this legendary loop hike tags the summits of nine New Hampshire 4,000-footers. This time, you’ll reach Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff. The truly ambitious and fit will then add the summits of Galehead, Zealand, and North Twin for an almost 40-mile day that summits 12 peaks.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Gridding

Although the big hikes present equally large challenges, they can all feasibly be done in a day. For those looking for a longer-term commitment, on the other hand, you can attempt “gridding.” Gridding is defined as hiking every New Hampshire 4,000-footer in every month of the year. These journeys amount to a grand total of 576 summits and appeal to those of us who love checking boxes off our lists.

Until this January, completing the grid was considered a multi-year objective—that is, until Sue Johnston of Littleton, NH, became the first person to do it in a calendar year. And, according to the definitive website for gridders, 48×12.com, only 70 people have completed the whole shebang.

Named for the 48 x 12 spreadsheet used to document ascents, gridding adds the challenge of facing each and every mountain in all possible conditions. That covers the snow and ice of winter to the mud of spring to the heat and humidity of summer to the treacherous leaves of fall.

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen
Credit: Jeff Jacobsen

Red-Lining

If the idea of gridding sounds overly ambitious to you, red-lining will sound downright crazy. While hiking the New Hampshire 48 and gridding revolve around summiting the White Mountains’ highest peaks, red-liners seek to hike every mile of every trail, including viewpoints, campsites, and spur trails (approximately 1,420 miles) found in the AMC White Mountain Guide.

If that sounds like a lot of mileage, take into consideration that many of the trails are out-and-backs or crisscross with others. Typically, this forces red-liners to hike far more miles than just the 1,420 miles required.

Named after the act of highlighting completed trail sections, red-lining is most frequently done over multiple years. What’s truly incredible about it is, considering its relative closeness to major metropolitan areas and hiking’s surging popularity, only 35 people have finished the endeavor. One includes EMS customer Bill Robichaud, who we featured back in 2015:

Redlining the White Mountains

While summiting all 4,000-footers is an incredible accomplishment, you don’t have to stop there! New Hampshire’s White Mountains can be explored and experienced in so many different ways. Whether you want to repeat your favorites, tackle the hardest, grid, red-line, or invent some new way to keep the challenge alive, just remember that the 48th summit doesn’t have to be your last.