Traversing the White Mountains’ Presidential Range

White Mountains Presidential Traverse

They say you are who you hang out with. For this reason, it is difficult to get a true sense of a mountain until you spend some time with its neighbors. Sometimes the character of one peak may be better appreciated after having explored others in the same range. You know what you’re looking at because you’ve seen it before, and you can better understand it within a given context.

Hazy Sunset over Mount Washington – View from Jackson, New Hampshire, of Presidential Range in White Mountains National Forest

Conversely, reflecting on a particular peak while walking on another often leads to epiphanies, those moments where, with the suddenness of a lid popping on a canning jar, things that once seemed disparate now make sense and you are left with a warm feeling of optimism. It’s a cycle: that optimism leads you to continue putting one foot in front of the other, and the continued forward movement leads to more lid-popping epiphany moments, feeding more feelings of optimism. And so on.

Winter on the summit of Mt Jefferson of the Northern Presidential Range in the White Mountain National Forest

Countless people have had their lids popped on a 23-mile stretch of trail in the upper reaches of New England, where the winters are long and the locals’ humor dry. This trail is known as the Presidential Traverse: a strenuous hike across, over, and through the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. With about 9,000 feet of elevation gain over some of the roughest hiking on the east coast, completing the Presidential Range in one go is an ambitious undertaking. Answering the call of the mountains can be one of the most satisfying and life-altering activities one can partake in. The Presidential Traverse, while not to be taken lightly, is a hike to be appreciated, whether you’re enjoying it in one exhausting day, or taking a few days to savor the journey and meditate on the interconnectedness of life and the mountains.

The summit of Mount Monroe, Presidential Range, New Hampshire

The trail is bookended in the north by Mount Madison and in the south by Crawford Notch. Water is not difficult to find, whether from myriad natural sources or out of a tap located near the kitchen in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts. The Presidential Traverse features 8 of the 48 4,000 footers located in New Hampshire. Hiking north to south, the Presidential Traverse takes hikers up Mount Madison (5,367 ft/1,635 m), Mount Adams (5,794 ft/1766 m), Mount Jefferson (4,665 ft/1,421 m), Mount Washington (6,289 ft/1,916 m), Mount Monroe (5,371 ft/1,637 m), Mount Eisenhower (4,780 ft/1,456 m), Mount Pierce (4,311 ft/1,313 m), and Mount Jackson (4,052 ft/1,235 m).

Views of Mount Madison and Adams

The vast majority of the hike is above the tree line. This means that extra precautions should be taken when preparing for the Presidential Traverse. Rapid changes in weather conditions can turn a pleasant daytime hike into a miserable, life-threatening experience. However, the rewards to be gained from a Presidential Traverse are plentiful, both in the naturally pulchritudinous views to be seen and the knowledge to be gleaned of each of the mountains along the way.

So, if you’re up for it and your legs are ready, then grab your poles, don’t forget your rain slicker, and head out for a Presidential Traverse. It’s the most satisfying way to knock out 17% of the Granite State’s 4,000 footers.

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