What is the Presidential Traverse?
The Presidential Traverse is a 19 mile section of New Hampshire’s White Mountains that consists of 7 peaks: Mount Madison, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Mount Monroe, Mount Eisenhower and Mount Pierce. It is the highest elevation ridge in the state. There is also what some consider the “full” presidential traverse (23 miles) which adds an additional 4 peaks: Mount Webster, Mount Jackson, Mount Clay and Mount Franklin within this list. The official list however is the first list of 7 peaks.
The traverse is beautiful, strenuous, and sometimes quite dangerous. With between 9,000 and 11,000 feet of elevation gain stretched over 19-23 miles, many choose to break the hike into two days, but it is certainly doable as a strenuous day hike or run.
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Presidentials on the NH 48 list:
*Not an official 4,000 footer
Day Hiking the Presidential Range
The traverse is considered an extremely difficult day hike, and should only be attempted by individuals that have substantial experience with hiking and are well prepared for rapid weather changes. With this being said, it is one of the most rewarding and beautiful day hikes in the entire country, and is completely doable for those who do have experience with longer hikes.
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Presidentials?
This obviously varies widely depending on your level of endurance, and whether you are stopping at each peak, camping, or running the whole thing. Book time varies based on your path, so take a look at the table below. The record run time somewhere right around 4 and a half hours.
|Route||Distance||Elevation Gain||Book Time|
|Madison to Pierce||19.8||8,500||14H 10 Min|
|Madison to Jackson||21.7||8,800||15H 15 Min|
|Madison to Webster, Webster-Jackson||23.0||9,050||16H 0 Min|
|Madison to Webster, Webster Cliff||23.8||9,050||16H 20 Min|
Overnight Options for Traverse
Many choose to spend 2 or 3 days to take it slow, enjoy each peak, and witness gorgeous sunrises, and sunsets. Their are quite a few options for camping.
There are three AMC Huts along the traverse. The Madison Spring Hut, Lakes of the Clouds Hut, and the Mizpah Spring Hut. You can read about the AMC Huts, Shuttle Routes and rates at Outdoors.com. Please keep in mind the huts usually close in October.
In addition to the AMC Huts, you have the option of camping in legal camping areas. You can’t camp anywhere in the Alpine Zone, within 250 feet of the Appalachian Trail, or within a .25 mile radius of any of the AMC. Unfortunately this means you likely will have to tent or hammock a bit off your path, and likely quite a bit down in elevation if you plan on an overnight without utilizing an AMC hut. There are few areas with well established tent sites that you can find via some research or a good trail map.
Full Traverse Trail Description – North To South
Many choose the north to south route as more elevation gain is accomplished earlier, making for a bit of an easier trek towards the tail end of your very long traverse hike. This trip involves parking one car at the Appalachia Trailhead, and one car at the AMC Highland Center area in Crawford Notch.
Appalachia Trailhead via the Valley Way Trail
The Valley Way Trailhead is a major trailhead, and features many trails heading up to towards the traverse, be sure to stay on the Valley Way Trail towards Madison Spring Hut. Hikers will gain around 3,500 feet in 3.8 miles on this trail, cutting out a whole bunch of elevation early. Hikers wil lascend above treeline just about the same time they reach the Madison Spring Hut.
Hikers may also choose to head up to Madison via Watson Path after pealing off of the Valley Way Trail.
The Osgood Trail heads from the hut to the summit of Mount Madison gaining a little over 500 feet of elevation over a bunch of rugged rocks. Hikers will summit, and head back down the Osgood trail towards the next objective, Mount Adams. The hut represents a great time to fill up on water, and buy some baked goods. The next 12 miles of the traverse is above treeline, and exposed to the elements.
In a little less than a mile, hikers will gain a little less than 1,000 feet to reach Adams along the Gulfside Trail and then the Airline Trail. The summit features stunning views back towards the huts, Madison, and the rest of your day ahead.
After descending Adams towards Jefferson, hikers will need to gain another 800 feet of elevation to the summit over rough boulder terrain.
After Jefferson, hikers have the option to go .3 miles out of the way (.6 miles total) to summit Mount Clay. This is not an official 4,000 footer, and is not an official part of the presidential traverse, so many do choose to skip it, and head straight to Washington.
Washington lies 1.9 miles away from the summit of Jefferson. Yet again, hikers will need to gain a fair amount of elevation up to the summit of Washington. The trail here has stunning views, and is quite easy to follow.
As you are surely aware of, the summit of Mount Washington can have the worst weather in the world, but also, hundreds of people. Grab a bite to eat if you want, water for the rest of your day, a quick rest, maybe a picture or two, and be on your way. You may be at the top of the traverse, but you have about 8 miles left on your journey. You’ll also be able to see all the remaining summits for the rest of the traverse (pending you are lucky and have a clear day).
Lakes of The Clouds
After Washington, hikers will begin descending to Lakes of The Clouds, and the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut. This descent will be on the Crawford Path. This trail connects with the Mount Monroe Loop Trail .3 miles away from the hut. Hikers will then ascend a little under 400 feet to the summit of Mount Monroe.
After summiting Mount Monroe, and getting back on Crawford Path, hikers will head towards Eisenhower where there is another 500 ish foot elevation gain to the summit. This is some of the easiest traversed terrain on the entire trip. Eisenhower has a very large cairn atop the large dome summit. The views here are also fantastic.
Hikers will continue along Crawford Path to Mount Pierce. Pierce still has fantastic views, but has small trees at the summit preventing a full 365 degree view.
Hikers will now head towards Mount Jackson, unless they decide to finish the traverse on Pierce and head down. Jackson is the last mountain on the “official” presidential traverse, though historically, many used to consider Mount Pierce the end.
The trip to Mount Jackson takes hikers passed the Mizpah Hut, yet another awesome AMC Hut. At the summit of Jackson, you are 2.6 miles away from final destination in Crawford Notch. That is of course, if you don’t decide to also summit the very optional, but gorgeous Mount Webster instead of heading straight down.
Winter Hiking the Presidential Traverse
Winter hiking is beautiful, but this hike deserves some respect. The weather can take some nasty turns, so you need to be fully prepared in the winter. Your pace is likely to be significantly slower, so prepare for a much longer day, or plan on some overnight hiking if you have quality overnight winter gear. As I’m sure you have heard, Washington has some of the harshest weather on the planet, and in the winter, this can mean death if you are not prepared.
Water and Food
I’d highly recommend going light on the water to save some pounds. You can fill up at each of the Huts, and the summit of Washington, so really you should safely plan water for about half the trip due to the 4 pretty quick filling stations. You can also purchase snacks/baked goods at the huts, and full meals at the summit of Washington.
A Cautionary Note
The mountains of the traverse should not be taken lightly. These are deadly trails, with drastic weather changes. The weather should be monitored closely on every trip, and you should always be prepared for the unexpected. Winter hiking is only recommended for experienced hikers with the proper equipment.
It can be difficult to plan out the car situation, fortunately we have an awesome shuttle system. Here is a link to the shuttle schedule: http://www.outdoors.org/lodging-camping/lodging-shuttle.cfm
Gear for Day Hike
If you have a good weather window, here is some gear to be sure to bring. The lighter you are, the better with this heavy mileage and elevation gain day hike.
- A super lightweight water and wind resistant shell. This is an essential layer year round.
- Sunglasses, sunscreen / sun proof layers. This is an all day trek for most – and you probably only want to go on a sunny day, so being prepped for the sun is important.
- An extra warmth layer. Even in the summer, you can experience fridgid temperatures on Washington. You should have an extra layer for this, and in case anything goes wrong. A puffy down tends to pack really small and work great. Gloves and hat is also recommended here.
- Trekking poles are really nice for the knees – especially in the White Mountains.
- For a day trek, trail runners tend to be a better option.
- Enough water, electrolytes and calories for your trip. Don’t mess this one up.
If you are looking for overnight or winter, check out our winter hiking gear list.
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A slight chance of rain showers after 5pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 44. Northwest wind 55 to 60 mph, with gusts as high as 85 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible.
A slight chance of rain showers before 9pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 37. Northwest wind 55 to 60 mph, with gusts as high as 90 mph. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 45. Northwest wind 55 to 65 mph, with gusts as high as 80 mph.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 36. West wind 40 to 50 mph, with gusts as high as 65 mph.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 50. Southwest wind 30 to 35 mph.
A slight chance of rain showers before 8pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 39.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 52.
Max DesMarais is the creator of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing his experiences. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites, and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about