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Some Specific Hiking Routes

There are many hiking trails on Mount Washington – about a dozen trails lead to or toward the summit. We'll only consider four of them, which are the most popular and, roughly speaking, the most direct routes.

A note on trail markings and signage: The routes of most trails are fairly obvious to experienced hikers, although snow can obscure any trail, and fog above treeline can make trails harder to follow. Any hiker, and especially an inexperienced hiker, needs to pay attention to the route and, if he or she thinks s/he has gone astray, should backtrack to a point where s/he knows for sure that s/he is on the trail, and to continue even more carefully from that point.

Trails may be marked in various ways – though markings may be irregular, spotty, or worn:

Paint blazes on trees or rocks mark some trails. The blazes are usually located about 6 feet high on trees below treeline, and on rocks or cairns (see below) above treeline. They are about the size of a dollar bill. Color of the paint blaze may vary – blazes along the Appalachian Trail (which consists of many shorter trails linked together) are white, side trails to the Appalachian Trail are light blue, standard U.S. Forest Service trails are yellow, and some other trails have different color paint blazes.

Cairns are piles of rocks which mark the trails above treeline. The cairns may be a foot high to several feet high. Some feel that the cairns are too close together on clear days, and are too far apart on foggy days.

Trail signs are typically found at the start of each trail (trailhead) and at trail intersections. Signs vary, depending on several factors; some are large, and may include mileage to various points along the trail; others are small and may have minimal information. Some signs are bare wood, others are painted. Most signs have routed lettering, so they can be read (somewhat) even if weather-worn. Occasionally, signs can fall off the sign posts, the posts can fall down, or signs can even be stolen (!!).

From the east:

From the eastern side of the mountain, the two most popular trails are the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and the Lion Head Trail. A hiker can do an up-and-back trip using only one of the routes, or can do a loop trip using them both, thus seeing some different terrain and different views.

Tuckerman Ravine route:

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins at the Appalachian Mountain Club Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on Route 16. The Visitor Center has public restrooms, a small shop selling books, snacks, and trail supplies, and has public information staff available for last-minute questions. (There is also an overnight lodge at the site.)

From the Visitor Center (at 2032 feet) the Trail ascends 2.4 miles to the Hermit Lake Shelter Area (at 3875 feet). This section of trail is unlike most trails in the White Mountains – it is quite wide and exceptionally rocky (most trails in the area are rocky, but this is unusually so).

If, by the time you get to Hermit Lake, you find that you are already exhausted, then this would be a fine place to relax, enjoy the scenery, and then head back down the mountain – there is still a long and a steeper trail to follow to get to the summit, and getting TO the summit is only half the trip.

At Hermit Lake the Appalachian Mountain Club, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, maintains an overnight shelter area – see more on this below. The Shelter Area caretaker also can help answer questions you may have, and usually has some trail supplies to sell at the caretaker's hut. There is also a public restroom at Hermit Lake.

Beyond Hermit Lake, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail changes in its character – it becomes much narrower, and has several quite steep sections. It ascends along the "Little Headwall" to the "Connection", and then travels into the "Floor" of the Ravine. The steepest and roughest part of the climb comes next, ascending the "Headwall" of the Ravine. This is an area that is typically wet, and extra caution is needed to avoid slipping. While thousands travel this trail each year without incident, the trail ascends a cliff, and travel off the Trail would bring you over a precipice with disastrous results.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In the winter and spring, great quantities of snow are carried by westerly winds onto the Tuckerman Headwall. These lingering snows cover the Trail well into the summer, creating a great hazard (with danger from slipping etc.) to anyone who might try to hike on this portion of the Trail. Thus, the U.S. Forest Service posts the section of the Trail on the Headwall as CLOSED until the snow melts off – which might typically not occur until July. Please, for your safety and that of others, respect this closure and use another trail until the trail on the Headwall is opened by the Forest Service.

After the ascent of the Headwall, the trail becomes marginally less steep, coming to "Tuckerman Junction" (5383 feet), where it turns a bit to the right and ascends the rough boulders of the summit cone of Mount Washington, eventually reaching the summit parking lot and then the summit itself (6288 feet). From Hermit Lake to Tuckerman Junction is 1.2 miles, from Tuckerman Junction to the summit is .6 miles. Total distance from Pinkham Notch to the summit via this trail is 4.2 miles, with 4,250 feet of elevation gained.

Lion Head route:

The Lion Head is the other popular route from the east. The Lion Head Trail actually begins and ends on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, so you need to start on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at Pinkham Notch (2032 feet). At 2.3 miles (just .1 mile below Hermit Lake) (at 3825 feet) take a right onto the Lion Head Trail. The Lion Head ascends steeply via several switchbacks, with several outlooks, and a few challenging pitches, too. It reaches treeline and continues its climb to the Lion Head, a rocky outcrop which overlooks Tuckerman Ravine. The steepness lessens as the Lion Head Trail approaches the intersection with the Alpine Garden Trail (at 5175 feet, 1.1 miles from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail) and then gets steeper and rougher as it has a traversing ascent of the summit cone, reaching its upper junction with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (5675 feet) 1.6 miles from the Lion Head Trail's start. To reach the summit, turn right and continue on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for .4 mile. Total length of this route (including the lower section on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, the Lion Head Trail, and the upper section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail) is 4.1 miles, with 4250 feet of elevation gain.

From the west:

The official parking lot for the following two trails - the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and the Jewell Trail --is a U.S. Forest Service parking area on the Base Road. Please note that parking at this trailhead requires a U.S. Forest Service parking pass, available at several locations thought the White Mountains and also available (for a short-term pass) at the trailhead.

Ammonoosuc Ravine route:

The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail begins at the Base Road parking lot (2500 feet). It travels at first with easy to moderate grades, though the footway is rough, up to Gem Pool (3450 feet), 2.1 miles from the parking area. From this point on the trail travels up the headwall of Ammonoosuc Ravine, which is continually steep, rough, with sometimes slabby rock, and several stream crossings. The trail reaches treeline a short distance below the Appalachian Mountain Club's Lakes of the Clouds Hut (at 5012 feet), which is 3.1 miles from the parking lot. The Hut is usually open from about early June to early September, and is closed at all other times. Overnight lodging and meals are available on a reservation basis (see below). Public restrooms, and basic snacks and trail supplies are also available. The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail ends here – follow the Crawford Path northward for 1.4 miles (passing several junctions with other trails) to the summit of Mount Washington (6288 feet) at 4.5 miles (3800 feet of elevation gain).

Jewell Trail route:

The Jewell Trail also ascends Mount Washington from the west. Of the major, direct trails, it is the longest, but probably the least difficult in terms of terrain, with moderate grades throughout. Because it follows a westerly ridge, it can be more somewhat more exposed to harsh weather than other routes. It begins at the U.S. Forest Service parking area on the Base Road (2500 feet) cross the Base Road to get to the start of the Trail. The Trail travels through the woods gently and crosses Clay Brook at 1.1 miles, and climbs via switchbacks along the side of a ridge. It reaches treeline at about 3.0 miles, and climbs rockily to the Gulfside Trail at 3.7 miles (5400 feet). This route then follows the Gulfside Trail (passing by the Westside Trail and the Great Gulf Trail) and meets the Crawford Path just below the summit of Mount Washington (6288 feet) which it reaches at 5.1 miles (3900 feet of elevation gain).

photo - caption below
Cairns . small piles of rocks . mark the Alpine Garden Trail on the eastern side of Mount Washington. Flowers blossom during the late and brief high-mountain spring.
photo - caption below
Looking southeastward and down from near the summit of Mount Washington. Lion Head can be seen on the left, with clouds spilling into Tuckerman Ravine. Mountains near Jackson and North Conway can be discerned in the distance.
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