PRESIDENTIAL TRAVERSE HIKE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR A WEEKEND TRIP IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS

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The Presidential Traverse hike is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in the White Mountains and Northeast USA. The trail expands 20.4 miles and includes over 8,000 feet of elevation and 8 peaks over 4,000 feet. Most notable of these peaks is Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the northeast. With a significant portion of the hike above ridgeline, you’ll be greeted with some of the most stunning and breathtaking views, which makes the challenge all the more rewarding.

Spending 2-3 days on the traverse is a popular option, and can be a great weekend trip with the right planning. Both tent sites and huts are available for accommodation, depending on time of year and availability of space. Down below is a breakdown of everything you need to prepare – quick notes, parking information, directions, detailed itinerary, packing list, and more.

Get ready and get excited to take one of the most challenging and stunning hikes in the northeast!

QUICK NOTES ON THE PRESIDENTIAL TRAVERSE HIKE

  • Difficulty: high difficulty
  • Route: 20.4 miles (33km) point-to-point
  • Elevation Gain: 8,200 feet
  • Location: White Mountains, New Hampshire
  • Best Time to Hike: May – September
  • Resources:
    Shuttle schedule
    Huts information

SKILL LEVEL + RECOMMENDATION

The Presidential Traverse hike is not for the faint of heart; proper research and preparation is essential. Although the hike can be done in one extremely long day, it’s better to take it slower and spend 2-3 days soaking in great views in the mountains. If you’ve never overnight backpacked before, but are in pretty adequate shape, it’s definitely doable. I personally was a very novice hiker and had never backpacked before, but I was able to hold my own on the trail. Be sure to gauge your own skill level before deciding to take this on!

PREPARATION TIPS

1. Take notes and screenshots on any information you might want before heading into the White Mountains area. The area has extremely spotty cell service along the highways and on the trail as well. If you’re planning on meeting with other groups, be sure to stick to a meeting time and location.
2. Check the Mount Washington Observatory weather report before heading out. The traverse is very prone to rapidly changing weather conditions and hurricane force winds.

BUDGET TIPS

1. If you have a proper backpacking tent and sleeping bag, camping can be a more budget friendly option. However, if you want to have a lighter pack, or don’t have access to gear, lodging at the huts is a better option. Information on the 3 Presidential Traverse huts can be found here.
2. If you don’t want to invest in gear but are still interested in hiking, don’t forget to ask your friends and family if they have any spare gear. You’d be surprised about what some people have laying around! Alternatively, a co-op like REI offers great rental options as well.


SAVE ON PINTEREST FOR A LATER READ!

PARKING + DIRECTIONS

ACCESS TO 2 CARS

1. Drop first car off at Crawford Path Connector Trailhead off the 302 highway
– There’s a small fee to leave it there for 2 days (less than $10)
– Bathrooms are available
– It’s a decent sized lot, and wasn’t full on a Friday afternoon
2. Drive 2nd car to Appalachia Trailhead (30 min. from Crawford Path)
– No fee to park here
– No bathrooms available
– The lot is really small. Cars are usually lined up and down the highway. There’s no issue doing this if there isn’t a spot available.

ACCESS TO 1 CAR

If you only have 1 car, shuttle services are available from multiple access points. Park your car in the Appalachia Trailhead, and search the schedule to find a pickup point at the end.

Presidential Traverse shuttle schedule can be found here.

DETAILED ITINERARY

DAY 1

Total mileage: 5 miles

1. With minimal mileage on day 1, you’re fine to start hiking any time from morning to mid afternoon.
2. Start at the Appalachia Trailhead, and follow signs for Madison Spring Hut and Valley Way tent site. The northern summits are a lot steeper and more gravely, so it’s easier to get them out of the way earlier in the traverse.
3. Valley Way Tent Site – keep your eyes peeled for the tent site sign when you’re reaching the 3 mile mark as you’ll have to take an almost 180 turn to head into the tent area.
4. Mount Madison – After setting up camp, head up to Madison Spring Hut (.7 miles from Valley Way) to summit the first peak of the traverse. It’ll be a lot nicer on day 2 to head straight past Madison and start on Adams instead. Don’t forget to refill your water outside the hut on the way back down to camp.

VALLEY WAY TENT SITE INFORMATION

– The bear bag area is located at the front of the site. There’s a suspension line hung between a few trees, but you’ll need your own individual cord and bag to swing over.
– No platforms are available, only a handful of cleared out spaces.
– Outhouse is available in the area.
*The tent site is mainly used by Appalachian thru-hikers. It may be a bit busy if the huts are closed (coronavirus), and you may find yourself having to make your own clearing for a tent.

Information about hours, accommodation, amenities at Madison Spring Hut can be found here.

DAY 2

Total mileage: 12 miles

Get ready the long haul, and the stunning views that make the Presidential Traverse hike one of the best and most popular hikes in the Northeast. You’ll start the day hiking from Valley Way to Madison Spring Hut and end at the other side at Mizpah Hut and Nauman tent site. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen and have a hat readily available as majority of the day is spent above treeline. It may not feel like you’re burning when you’re up there – but trust me, you will without sunscreen.

MORNING

1. Aim to leave the tent site around 6-7AM to ensure you’ll have as much daylight as possible. Head back up to Madison Spring Hut to refill water, as the next available water station will be at Mount Washington.
QUICK TIP: if you’re an earlier riser and don’t mind hiking in the dark, summiting Mount Adams for sunrise is known to have some stunning views.
2. Mount Adams – 1st summit of the day. The peaks before Washington are a lot steeper and more gravely than the ones later in the day.
QUICK TIP: Instead of taking the direct path up to Adams from the hut, take the trail that goes around it. You can leave your packs in the little valley between Adams and Jefferson (the next peak), and summit Adams without your pack on.
3. Mount Jefferson and Mount Clay – Jefferson is similar to Adams in that its steep and gravely; Clay is a very minor summit compared to the rest of the northern peaks.

NOON

1. Mount Washington – the leadup to Washington is definitely very daunting, but it’s more of a gradual incline than the earlier ones. There will be significantly more traffic close to the summit as there’s options to drive or take the train up to the top. You’ll have to cross the train tracks before reaching the top – be sure to look both ways before taking the ladder over. At the top, you can find toilets, a hut with many food options, water stations, gift shops, and more. (You can use credit card!) Enjoy a nice bowl of chili, a slice of pizza, or whatever you’re craving. Take a good rest, but don’t stick around too long; there’s a lot more hiking to do before the end of day.


AFTERNOON

1. Lake of Clouds Hut – roughly 1.5 miles down from Mount Washington. You’ll be able to see the hut and lake the moment you start descending from Washington. If you love brownies, be sure to buy one at the hut. You can thank me later, it was the best snack I’ve ever had when I reached the tent site at the end of the day!
2. Mount Monroe and Mount Franklin – if you’re on a bind for time, there’s a trail from the hut that allows you to pass around it. Franklin is one of the ‘unofficial’ peaks on the traverse, as there’s not much of an incline to make it a true summit. (When I was on the trail, it was hard to tell if we had even passed Franklin or not!)
3. Mount Eisenhower and Mount Pierce – throughout the last 2 summits, you’ll eventually head back into treeline before arriving at Mizpah Hut and Nauman tent site. The area is prone to puddles and muddy trails, so there’s lots of wooden planks placed sporadically throughout the trail.

NIGHT

1. Mizpah Hut and Nauman Tent Site
– Nauman tent site has 2 bear bins and platforms available for tents.
– It’s a 5 minute walk between the tent site and the hut, unlike Valley Way and Madison.

Information about hours, accommodation, amenities at Madison Spring Hut can be found here.

DAY 3

Total mileage: 3 miles

Pack up camp and stop for a water refill at Mizpah Hut before heading out. It should take 1-2 hours maximum to arrive back at the parking lot. It’s a relaxing and mostly downhill walk to finish off the end of the Presidential Traverse hike. Don’t forget to take a celebratory lap and give yourself a big pat on the pack for finishing such a long trek.

PRESIDENTIAL TRAVERSE HIKE PACKING LIST

Proper preparation is critical for overnight backpacking trips. A well-organized list is a great way to ensure you don’t forget any items.

Checkout this article here for a 2-3 day essential packing list for backpacking. There’s a printable version available as well!

Fun story: Before my first overnight trip, I had no idea what to expect and hazardously packed my bag with what I thought I needed. Not only did I forget my spare change of clothes, but my friend I were stuck without tent poles and had to tie strings from our parachute cord to our friends tent and nearby branches to prop it up. Checkout the picture of our successful tent pitching in the ultimate gear list!

ARE YOU PLANNING YOUR OWN HIKING ROAD TRIP THROUGH NEW ENGLAND?

There’s plenty of articles and resources on the site to help you best prepare for your own adventure! Check out the 1-2 Weeks Ultimate New England Hiking Road Trip Guide to get a comprehensive look at the region, or read some article highlights below:

FRANCONIA RIDGE GUIDE | 360 Views
BAXTER STATE PARK, Ultimate Guide
MOUNT KATAHDIN, Highest point in Maine
DOUBLETOP MOUNTAIN, Baxter State Park

Want to make your own epic road trip adventure but don’t know where to start? Check out these
8 Simple Steps to Planning a Hiking Road Trip that will bring you from a basic concept all the way to your final checks before heading out.

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