Presidential Traverse

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The Presidential Traverse is a strenuous and sometimes dangerous trek over the Presidential Range of New Hampshire's White Mountains. Contained almost entirely in the 750,000-acre (3,000 km2) White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range is a string of summits in excess of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). To complete the traverse, one must begin at either the northern or southern terminus of the Presidential Range and finish at the opposing end. Beginning the journey at the northern end at Mount Madison, one would pass through the townships of (in order, going in a generally south-southwesterly direction) Low and Burbank's Grant, Thompson and Meserve's Purchase, Sargent's Purchase, Chandler's Purchase, and Bean's Grant (at Mount Pierce), all of which are in Coös County.


The Presidential Range from north (left) to south (right). Mt. Pierce is absent

The minimum[edit]

The basic Presidential Traverse begins from a trailhead on U.S. Route 2 or at the Dolly Copp Campground at the northern end of the Presidentials, crosses the great ridge of the range and ends in Crawford Notch at its southern terminus, or vice versa. A hiker making such a journey would travel about 23 miles (37 km), with 9,000 feet (2,700 m) of elevation gain.

A hiker traverses the Gulfside Trail.

By definition, a "presidential" traverse requires a participant to cross over the summits of peaks named after U.S. presidents. Listed from north to south, they are:

The total distance could be shortened to 20.4 miles (32.8 km) by only taking standard through trails. However, you would not summit all peaks.

Additional named peaks[edit]

The Great Gulf and the northern Presidentials as seen from the Gulfside Trail

A traverse which collects all of the trail-accessible peaks in the Presidential Range includes (from north to south):

Adding these peaks increases total mileage traveled and elevation gain to 22.8 miles (36.7 km) and 10,041 feet (3,060 m).


Several minor peaks ineligible for the list due to lack of prominence have no maintained trails leading to their summits. Hiking off-trail is prohibited;[3] however, some hikers have bushwhacked them as part of a traverse. These include:

  • Mount Sam Adams - sub-peak of Mt. Adams, named for Samuel Adams (American statesman and second cousin of John Adams)
  • Mount JQ Adams - sub-peak of Mt. Adams, named for President John Quincy Adams
  • Mount Abigail Adams - sub-peak of Mt. Adams, named for John Adams' wife Abigail Adams (before being renamed in November 2010, this was Adams IV)
  • Adams V - an unnamed sub-peak of Mt. Adams

Lodging options[edit]

There are several campsites and huts along the route of the Presidential Traverse. It is recommended that hikers use these sites, as camping above treeline is prohibited.

  • Valley Way Tent Site - Free. First come, first served. This site offers platform-style options for tents.
  • Madison Springs Hut - Expensive. Co-ed bunk accommodations are offered.
  • Lakes of the Clouds Hut - Expensive. Co-ed bunk accommodations are offered.
  • Mizpah Spring Hut - Expensive. Co-ed bunk accommodations are offered.[4]
  • Naumann Tent Site - Inexpensive. First come, first served. This site offers platform-style options for tents.[5]
A sign warns of harsh terrain ahead.


The White Mountains and the Presidential Range in particular offer both some of the most beautiful vistas in the Eastern United States and some of its most challenging and dangerous terrain. Many hikers attempting a Presidential Traverse have become lost or otherwise disabled in inclement weather above treeline, causing many costly search and rescue operations.


A sign warns of dangerous weather.

The Presidential Range is perhaps most famous for its tumultuous weather, highlighted by the erratic and often extreme conditions upon Mount Washington and its other summits. Being both at the intersection of several storm tracks and the center of multiple converging valleys funneling wind from the west, southwest, and south make its weather unpredictable and at times violent. The summits of the range have been known to see snow and ice in all seasons, and are subject to a combination of hurricane-force winds and blanketing clouds an average of 110 days a year. Mount Washington long held the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded at the Earth's surface, clocking 231 miles per hour (372 km/h), forcing summit buildings to be chained down so they won't blow away.


High winds blow snow off the peak of Mount Washington.

Views from the Presidentials ridgeline in the crisp winter air are unrivaled in the Northeast. However, winter terrain is more treacherous, temperatures may plummet with dangerous speed, and wind speeds often hit triple digits. Snowfall at elevation is measured in feet instead of inches, avalanches are common on the large snowfields and in ravines, and blowing snow, ice fog, and heavy clouds can cause visibility to disappear in minutes. Consequently, those wishing to tackle a Presidential Traverse in winter must be exceptionally fit, experienced in winter mountaineering and compass orientation techniques, very familiar with the terrain, and have high-quality winter gear. Lacking any one of these puts one in serious peril of requiring expensive and hazardous rescue, even death.


Rugged terrain on the Watson Path

The difference in elevation between the highest point (Mt. Washington summit) and lowest point (Appalachia or Dolly Copp Campground, say) along a Presidential Traverse is about 5,000 feet (1,500 m), but the traverse involves repeated gain and loss of elevation between summits along the way, so the total elevation gain is closer to 9,000 feet (2,700 m). Including the principal sub-peaks stretches this to about 10,000 feet (3,000 m). Moreover, the traverse involves about the same amount of elevation loss as gain.

Given that the range has length less than 20 miles (32 km) and that each peak is less than 5 miles (8.0 km) from a major road, some might wonder whether the range lacks the feeling of remoteness. But in truth, the range is a wind-ravaged wilderness.


  1. ^ "HB 82 - Final Version". New Hampshire General Court. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  2. ^ Chris Jensen (May 13, 2010). "Mt Clay Remains Mt Clay". New Hampshire Public Radio. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  3. ^ "Backcountry Camping Rules" (PDF). White Mountain National Forest. US Forest Service. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Presidential Traverse Lodging and Campsite Options - Section Hikers Backpacking Blog". Section Hikers Backpacking Blog. 2015-02-12. Retrieved 2018-03-26.


  1. Daniell, G and Smith, S. AMC White Mountain Guide, 27th Edition. AMC Books, 2003.
  2. Howe, N. Not Without Peril. AMC Books, 2000.
  3. Cox, S and Fulsaas, K. Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 7th Edition. The Mountaineers Books, 2003.
  4. Lanza, M. New England Hiking. Foghorn Press, 1997.

Internet sources[edit]

  1. - Current trail conditions for the Presidential Range, compiled daily
  2. Mount Washington Observatory
  3. Hike the Whites
  4. Appalachian Mountain Club
  5. Chauvin Guides guide to the Winter Presidential Traverse
  6. Presidential Traverse FAQ's
  7. AMC White Mountain Guide Online
  8. Views from the Top

See also[edit]