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Hike of the Week: Presidential Range Traverse

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This weekly series aims to inspire you to go out there and experience amazing backpacking locations in person. Simply looking at them on your phone or monitor is not enough. Feel the wind, breathe the air and bask in the sun.

This time we’ll take you to the Presidential Range Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It's one of the most picturesque trails and will take you through forests, rivers, and even snow-capped mountains.

Featured Photo: Mt. Washington (photo by Nicholas Erwin)

Why this Hike?

This hike will take you from rivers to forests and way up the tree line. You will hike through lush greens and rocky mountain trails. The hike may be daunting but the views are worth the effort. Everywhere you turn will make you want to take out your camera and capture the picturesque sights. But be warned, this can be a treacherous trail with unpredictable weather.

  • Total distance is almost 26 miles
  • 2-3 days are recommended to complete this hike
  • July and August are the best months
  • Guided hikes are available during the summer
  • There are several options for accommodations, some of which are free; while others will require advance reservations

Take note of these factors before starting your adventure:

  • Sudden thunderstorms are common in the area
  • This is not an easy trail even for experienced hikers, we suggest that you try segments of the trail first then work your way up to the entire trail
  • You'll reach elevations over 6,000 ft
  • Camping is not allowed above the tree line
  • Do not take on the trail alone, it is highly advised to go on the trail with a group
  • Stay on the trail for your own safety

How do I get there?

You have two options to start your hike. Appalachia Trailhead is located on Route 302 and has a parking area that can hold up to 100 vehicles. The other option is Crawford Path Trailhead, which can accommodate up to 50 vehicles.

Map

Since you have the option of finishing the trail in one day (if you are an experienced hiker), or taking your time and going through the trail in 2-3 days, we’ve opted to simply lay out the trail and indicate available lodging and/or campgrounds. However, we highly recommend that if you are relatively new to hiking, you use a guided package or try segments of the trail first.

Here’s a map of our recommended route:


  • Start: Appalachia Trailhead

  • Valley Way to the Madison Springs Hut ( 3.8 miles )
    - Campsite: Valley Way Campsite ( 3.1 miles )
    - Campsite: AMC Madison Springs Hut ( 3.8 miles )
    - Mt Madison Summit ( 4.3 miles )

  • Madison Springs Hut to the peek of Madison via Osgood Trail then back down to Madison Hut ( 4.8 miles )
    - Mt Adams Summit ( 5.7 miles )

  • From Madison Hut, take Gulfside Trail up to Crawford path ( 11.9 miles )
    Exit point - Jewell Trail to the Base Road, follow the cars down
    - Mt Washington Summit ( 13.6 miles )

  • Crawford Path up to Washington then down to Monroe ( 14.4 miles )
    - Mount Monroe Summit ( 15.5 miles )
    Exit point - to Lakes of the Clouds Hut then Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to Base Road

  • Stay on Crawford Path, past Monroe Loop and Eisenhower Loop to Webster-Cliff Trail ( 18.6 miles )
    - Mt Eisenhower Summit ( 18.8 miles )
    - Mt Pierce Summit ( 20.2 miles mark )

  • Webster-Cliff Trail going South for 2.6 miles then North for another 1.7 miles to Mizpah Cutoff ( 22.9 miles )

  • Mizpah Cutoff to Crawford Path ( 23.6 miles )

  • Crawford Path to Crawford Connector ( 25.5 miles )

Trail Description

Expert hikers could finish this trail in a day, but we suggest that you take your time and hike the trail in 2 to 3 days. If you are relatively new to hiking, walking a segment of the trail would be easier and you can then slowly work your way up the entire trek.

We start at the Appalachia Trailhead. From here we follow the Valley Way Trail south until we reach the Valley Way Campsite. This is our first campsite option in case you want to take your time and spend 2-3 days for the hike. Further down the trail is the AMC Madison Springs Hut. You could also camp here but we advise that you make reservations in advance. Before settling for the night here, you could climb up the summit of Mt. Madison via Gulfside Trail, then just head back to your preferred campsite.

Next, we take the Gulfside Trail heading south to the summit of Mt. Adams. Remember that the terrain can get a bit rough and rocky as you get closer to the summit. Comfortable boots and cushioned socks will help against blisters. From the summit of Mt. Adams, take Lowe’s Path down until you reach Gulfside Trail again.

Follow Gulfside trail until you reach the Jewell Trail Junction. You could take this to exit the trail until you reach Base Road. Otherwise, continue on with Gulfside Trail up Mt. Washington.

From the Summit of Mt. Washington, take Crawford Path south. Along the way, you will pass by the Lakes of the Clouds Hut where you could exit the trail by taking Ammonoosuc Trail down to Base Road. Should you decide to push forward, just follow Crawford Trail until you reach the summit of Mt. Eisenhower.

The final stretch is to continue on south, to Mt. Pierce. Follow the Webster Cliff Trail up to the summit then down until you reach the Mizpah Cutoff. Follow the Mizpah Cutoff until it intersects Crawford Path. From there, continue on until you reach the Crawford Connector which is the end of our hike.

What will I need?

The gear needed for the hike will depending on how long you are planning to stay on the trail. For a single day, we recommend at least 2 liters of water per person and a day's amount of food. For lunch or dinner, warm food would be perfect, especially if the weather is cool. Otherwise, here’s a list of other items you will need for the hike:

  • Rain Pants and Rain Jacket
  • Winter Hat and Gloves
  • Sun Protection
  • Whistle
  • Compass
  • Map
  • First Aid Kit
  • Trekking Poles
  • Headlamp

Because of the unpredictable weather, waterproofing your gear is advisable. This is also not the time to break-in those new hiking shoes.

If you plan to stay at a campsite or one of the huts in the area, we suggest making reservations in advance. Planning your trip around July and August is recommended although expect more visitors during this season. Always look out for weather warnings and keep up to date with what to expect. The terrain could get dangerous during extreme weather.

You'll also need to pack a lot more gear when spending the night. For recommendations on what to bring to a multi-day hike, refer to our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List.

Do I need a permit?

No permits are necessary for the hike. If you plan on a guided hike or staying overnight, we suggest calling in advance to book your reservation.

Resources

How to Do a 1 or 2 day Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire 
Backpacking A Presidential Traverse

Have you completed the Presidential Range Traverse? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.

Appalachia Trail guided Guided hikes in New Hampshire Hike of the Week hikes Newport State Park Presidential Range Traverse traverse

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Comment


  • I did the AT through the Whites last summer, including the Presidentials from Franconia Notch to Pinkham Notch. One mistake I noticed in your bulleted list: max elevation is 6288 feet (summit of Mt. Washington), not 4000 feet.

    It is indeed a gorgeous stretch of trail. I was very lucky in that I had 4 straight days of sunshine for the 53 miles in the Presidentials. And the trail was plenty challenging, even in perfect weather.

    You won’t regret facing the challenge. Be prepared, but go!

    Far Enough on

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