High winds blow snow off the peak of Mount WashingtonGreg Neault

Conquering the Presidential Traverse is arguably the most sought after hiking objective in New Hampshire. The hike is named after the peaks it travels over which are part of New Hampshire's White Mountain Range. The mountains along the path are all named after former presidents of the United States as well as some lesser peaks that are not along the Presidential Traverse that are named after prominent figures from history. The Presidential Traverse hikes over Mt. Madison, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Mt. Monroe, Mt. Eisenhower, and Mt. Pierce, though few have had enough endurance to conquer all of them and end up picking and choosing their presidents. The entire traverse is part of the massive Appalachian Trail, but in and of itself, it is a tremendous section. It is recommended to try and conquer this hike in the summer months as the weather on these presidential peaks is unpredictable and, during the winter months, hard hiking turns into arduous mountaineering. Still, even in the best of times, this hike demands a fit group who is well prepared to handle anything.

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 23 miles City/State:   Gorham, New
  Hampshire
Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 9,600 feet elevation gain County:   Coos Dogs Allowed: Yes

 

Getting There: While the Appalachian Trail takes visitors from south to north over the range, many hikers that are only doing this section choose to do the hike in reverse. It is much grander and gets the hard parts out of the way first. Visitors should head down Route 2, past Lancaster on the Vermont-New Hampshire border. Soon visitors will spot signs for the Appalachia trailhead and will be able to exit into a small parking lot. The trail will end at Route 302, so hikers who are doing this with a partner should park a car down there as well or arrange for a ride. This hike is doable in a day, but those that don't have a ride waiting at the end of the hike will be trying to hitch-hike back in the dark.

The Hike: At the trailhead, the hike begins at the fairly smoothly, walking through the forest. For those planning to camp out before starting the traverse, there is a campsite a few miles past the trailhead and the Madison Springs Hut a few miles past that. After passing the campground on the way to the Madison Springs Hut, the landscape begins to rise into the mountains. By the time visitors have reached the hut, they are nearly at the summit of Mt. Madison. Visitors will need to switch onto the Gulfside Trail that loops around the summit of Mt. Madison. This trail is preferable as it gives a good vantage view of the next challenge--Mt. Adams. However the Star Lake Trail cuts directly across the summit and beyond.

Regardless of what trail visitors choose to cross Mt. Madison, getting to Mt. Adams is not the same simple task of following a trail. Where there will undoubtedly be remnants of where others have crossed before, hiking to the next summit requires a bit of bushwhacking. There are few tall trees along the path, so visitors should not find themselves lost as long as their keep their eyes towards the tall point ahead.

Climbing atop Mt. Adams has little reward when the even more daunting peaks of Jefferson and Washington lay ahead. Though the summit has slightly better panoramic views, there is little of interest atop this point. However, the descent of Mt. Adams towards Jefferson presents one of the more mentally difficult portions of this hike. As hikers travel over this veritable no man's land of Edmund's Col, they can walk for hours and see Jefferson getting no closer. The trail is thankfully flat walking until right near Jefferson. Because Jefferson gains 1,000 feet in elevation in just a little over a mile, the flat walking is why the summit seems to never get any closer until hikers are right upon it. It's maddening, but makes reaching it a rewarding endeavour. Since Jefferson gains so much elevation so quickly, a bit of scrambling is often required, but near the summit, a trail begins to take form again. Like other summit trail, the Mt. Jefferson summit trail loops around the summit so hikers can experience all it has to offer. Atop the mountain, there are two big rock piles; the one on the right is technically the summit. Atop that rock pile is a plaque dedicated to a fallen climber of years past. Stand tall on Jefferson and soak in the views of Mt. Washington in the distance. Mt. Washington is the tallest peak in New Hampshire and considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the country, though that is usually only the case in the winter time. Regardless, even in the summer months it still host unpredictable strong winds and weather.

While Mt. Adams to Mt. Jefferson had little in the way of proper trail, the summit loop on Jefferson leads down onto the Gulfside Trail into the great gaping maw below. This trail will lead down the mountain and eventually to a junction to the Mt. Clay summit. Mt. Clay is not formally on the Presidential Traverse, but it is a scenic and rather simple side trip for those with excess energy.

Continuing straight along the Gulfside Trail, another mile up the rocky side of Mt. Washington will put visitors on the summit. While it is only a short distance, the trail is particularly steep, so hikers should focus as to not slip and break their faces open on the rocks. Across the summit, visitors will cross the seemingly out of place Cog Railway tracks and can take joy in being halfway done with the Presidential Traverse. Much of the rest of the trail will be declining in elevation, so the difficult part is over. There is water available on the summit for those that need to reload; it is also a perfect place to stop foir a rest. Unfortunately, the Cog Railway and the auto road also lead up to the summit of Mt. Washington, so sturdy hikers may find themselves in company of lazier tourists. However, while they get on their trains or back in their cars, let them look on you in envy as you head down the Crawford Path down the mountain.

For those that don't think they can complete the trail in the remaining time of the day, about a mile down the slope of Mt. Washington is the Lake of Clouds Hut. It offers some very scenic sleeping grounds so a stay is recommended. Although it is possible to complete the whole traverse in one day, many feel pressed for energy after Mt. Washington. Continuing on the Crawford Path will lead down Mt. Washington, but actually bypasses the next presidential peak--Mt. Monroe. Visitors can choose to bypass by continuing on, or take the Mt. Monroe summit loop trail at the appropriate junction. Once at the summit of this mountain, the trail will rejoin Crawford Path so it is a worthwhile side trip just so that hikers can say they touched all the presidential summits.

Once past Mt. Monroe, along Crawford Path it is pretty much a straight shot to Mt. Eisenhower. Unlike the previous trails, the path becomes wide and well marked, serving for easy hiking if only in knowing where to go and not having to stop to get bearings. On the way to Eisenhower, hikers will pass the alluring square blocked summit of Mt. Franklin to the left and a side path that leads to it. However, it is not on the Presidential Traverse. Like the summit of Mt. Franklin, the summit of Mt. Eisenhower is blockier than all the others. However, the slope leading to it is steep and requires a number of switchbacks to climb it. The majority of the climb is on loose gravel, so opt to stick to the trail instead of ignoring the switchbacks all together. Hikers will know they have gotten to the summit as it is marked with a huge cairn.

For visitors doing this hike in one day, they will likely be working under the constraints of daylight by this time. Mt. Pierce is still yet another long slog through large exposed rocks and stunted pine trees. Hikers are recommended to have headlamps or at least some sort of light just in case daylight runs out.

Compared to other summits, getting to the summit of Mt. Pierce is easy. The summit is rather unimpressive. It is smaller than all the other previous mountains and only with a single, solitary metal pole to mark its presence. However, hikers can rejoice as they have completed the Presidential Traverse in full. Now all that is left is a short three mile walk down Mt. Piece to Route 302.

Plan your next great adventure with explore!
Off the beaten path locations, tips and tricks, interviews with intrepid explorers and more.