Hike Along Some Of The Highest Peaks In The Northeast On This Popular Trail

With above-treeline treks and sweeping views, New England offers some of the best hiking in the northern Appalachian Mountains. The Presidential Traverse is an impressive, rugged trail that's the ultimate challenge for experienced hikers seeking to scale some of the highest and most awe-inspiring peaks in the Northeast.

Located in New Hampshire's scenic White Mountains, the Presidential Traverse is a point-to-point trail that is around 19 miles long, gaining over 8,000 feet in elevation. The hike can be completed in a day during spring and summer (though this is not an easy feat) but typically becomes a two to four-day backpacking trip during chillier months. On clear days, you can see parts of Vermont and Maine from different spots along the path. As you journey this ridgeline route that weaves through the White Mountain National Forest, you'll be surrounded by hardwood forests, clear streams, endangered plants, and mountain lakes. Moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, and other wildlife are natives of this breathtaking Alpine destination. The Presidential Traverse is popular among birdwatchers, as the region boasts over 200 species of birds.

The weather in the White Mountains is notorious for being unpredictable, as windy rain storms can unexpectedly appear on the sunniest days. Monitoring the forecast throughout your trip and coming ultra-prepared with all necessary hiking gear, including a four-season tent, is crucial for your safety. Once you're ready to hit the trails, there are several breathtaking summits you can expect to climb.

Waypoints on the way to Mount Washington

All named after different U.S. presidents, seven main summits surpass 4,000 feet above sea level on the Presidential Traverse. Mount Madison is the first major mountain along the trek. Though there are several trailheads to choose from as you begin your ascent, the Valley Way Trailhead is the most well-traveled. For about 3.8 miles, the rocky hike swiftly rises in elevation — over 3,500 feet — as it winds up to the mountain's peak. Just shy of a mile from Mount Madison, hikers can take the Gulfside Trail for approximately .3 miles before reaching the loop leading to Mount Adams, which features stellar mountain range views. Alternatively, try diverging from the Gulfside Trail and take the Star Lake Trail to Mount Adams to pass by a breathtaking alpine lake.

Whichever path you choose will take you back to the Gulfside Trail, which gains another 1,000 feet in elevation to Mount Jefferson. The mountain has unique features, including boulder fields and views of three glacial cirques, including Jefferson Ravine, Castle Ravine, and the Great Gulf. From Mount Jefferson, you'll venture about .9 miles on the Gulfside Trail until you reach the famous peak of Mount Washington, which is also referred to as Agiocochook, or Home of the Great Spirit, by Indigenous peoples native to the area. Not only is Mount Washington New England's highest peak but it's known for having some of the most extreme weather in the world.

More summits along the trail

The trek from Mount Madison to Mount Washington is considered the most grueling part of the Presidential Traverse. After enjoying the alpine views atop New England's famous peak, the hike begins to trend downhill. You will converge with the 200-year-old Crawford Path, one of the oldest maintained hiking trails in the country. Around 1.5 miles from the slopes of Mount Washington sits the Appalachian Mountain Club's Lake of the Clouds Hut, a popular lodging spot near the path. This is a perfect stop for overnight trips.

Once ready to continue your mountainous adventure, walk south towards the Mount Monroe Loop for more epic sightseeing before hopping back on the Crawford Path. The second to last summit lies at the top of Mount Eisenhower, which can be accessed via the Mount Eisenhower Loop. Though this loop has strenuous switchbacks and gains a bit in elevation, the panoramic views and cairns at the peak make the climb well worth it.

This route leads you back to the Crawford Path, and you can head south to Mount Pierce, the last summit officially part of the Presidential Traverse. From this peak, you can take in beautiful views of Mount Washington and see how far you've come. Once you conquer all the presidential summits, you take the Crawford Path for 3 miles downhill until you arrive at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center. This signifies the end of your long, rewarding journey through the White Mountains.