View from Mount Washington

Guide to Conquering the Awesome Mount Washington

For an adventurer bagging peaks here and there across the country, why not cross the border and head to the tallest peak in the American Northeast? Mount Washington is well recognized among hikers. From its height of 1917 meters, it overlooks the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Despite trip planning and reservations, nothing is ever certain when it comes to hiking Mount Washington. The mountain, recognized as the most dangerous small mountain in the world, experiences very different temperatures at its summit where the world record for the highest winds still stands today.

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About the Trails on Mount Washington

Several routes are accessible to get to the top of Mount Washington. A path or a combination of paths takes hikers to the summit with differences in distances and elevations.

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pin to the guide of hiking Mount Washington
épingle du guide de randonnée au sommet du mont Washington

Trails on the East Side of the Mountain

We chose Tuckerman Ravine and Lion Head, probably the busiest route to the summit on the east side. The 12-kilometre trail represents an elevation of almost 1300 meters.

Other trails are just as well known, always east of the summit. The Tuckerman Ravine loop can be extended via Davis Path and the Boott Spur Trail further south of the summit, for a longer distance the loop can also be stretched north of the summit via Huntington Ravine and Nelson Crag.

Others opt for a shorter (but equally difficult) trail by driving a bit on the Auto Road (access fee) and then walking on the Alpine Garden and Nelson Crag Trails to the top.

Trails on the West Side of the Mountain

The summit is also accessible from the west side of the mountain. The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail goes to the top, or the Jewell and Gulfside Trails for a slightly longer loop. Both of these courses are accessible from the Base Station road.

It is important to recognize our abilities as hikers. Mount Washington, no matter which path one chooses to use to get to its summit, will demonstrate its austere and inclement character. Be aware of the weather at the top of the mountain so you plan well. The advice we have been given and which I am sharing with you here is to “hope for the best but plan for the worst”.

Hiking Equipment

Hiking equipment is often chosen according to the distance and the time spent on the trail but also according to the expected weather. Mount Washington is known for its inclement and extreme weather. Although it is hot and sunny at the base of the mountain, you should make sure to pack extra layers for the summit.

The climb is long and demanding, you need to have enough water to stay hydrated as well as have enough snacks or a lunch to replenish your energy.

Footwear is also crucial. Good hiking shoes or boots protect your feet and keep you from slipping on rocks.

I carry on my back, my 20 L bag. Check out Essential Hiking Gear for a list of all the items I carry on a full-day hike.

Lodging near Mount Washington

Once the trails have been chosen, it is easier to plan accommodation. The Tuckerman Ravine trailhead is behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and the Joe Dodge Lodge.

So we chose the Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham, New Hampshire, to spend the night before our ascent of Mount Washington. Its convenient location made our decision very easy.

The lodge is a perfect refuge for a getaway in nature. It is surrounded by a wooded area near several hikes. Its rustic allure and welcoming employees make the experience an even more memorable adventure.

It is possible to book one or more rooms, depending on the number of beds required. Washrooms are shared, and meals are offered in the common dining room. We had lunch and dinner twice during our stay, and the meals were hearty. The option to vary the menu by conviction or allergy is also offered. There are also a few lounges where residents gather to chat or play board games.

During our first supper in the communal dining room of the lodge, following our arrival, an employee told us about the weather forecast for the next 24 hours, as they do every day.

Weather is uncertain, and the chance of rain means freezing rain or snow near the top, which makes the climb dangerous. We will, therefore, have to wait until the next morning to confirm whether it will be possible to climb the summit.

Hiking Mount Washington

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

In the morning, the sun shines through the clouds, and not a drop of water falls from the sky. We are at the trailhead early in the morning, planning a full day for the twelve-kilometre round trip.

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

We take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which starts behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. The climb is steady through the mixed forest on a trail strewn with rocks and roots. After a little over half a kilometre, we cross a bridge over the Crystal Rapids. We stop for a moment to admire the waterfall on the other side of the bridge.

After 3.5 kilometres in the forest, we arrive at an intersection very close to Lake Hermit and its cabin. The Lion Head trail branches off to the right. 

Lion Head Trail

From here begins the real climb from rock to rock on the well-marked trail. It is easy to understand on this stretch that the ascent is not recommended when the trail is wet or covered with ice. The summit is not very far, but the significant elevation gain slows down the progression.

The Lion Head Trail goes on for 2 kilometres before joining Tuckerman Ravine again. The trees are increasingly scattered until the trail is lined with low shrubs and evergreens only. Joining the Tuckerman Ravine trail 500 meters from the top, the trees disappear completely.

hikers hiking up to the summit of Mount Washington on the trail marked by cairns
Tuckerman Ravine Trail marked by cairns with tundra all around on Mount Washington

Cairns clearly mark the route to the top. Although we occasionally catch a glimpse of the spectacular views through the clouds on the way up, once at the top we find ourselves engulfed in clouds. It was cloudy, but it was the top!

The Summit

The busy summit of Mount Washington is also accessible by car and by train on the cog railway commonly known as The Cog. Among the buildings at the top, one can relax in the cafeteria of the Sherman Adams Visitors Center or visit the souvenir shop.

After a coffee to warm us up, it’s time for the descent. We head back down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to close the loop and all the way down to the foot of the mountain. The trail descends quickly through rocks, small streams and waterfalls.

hikers scrambling the rocky trail of Mount Washington

The last kilometres of the trail through the forest are the same as this morning. We cross the bridge again near the Crystal Waterfalls. The trail takes us back to Joe Dodge Lodge, where a cold and well-deserved beverage awaits us to celebrate hiking Mount Washington to its windy summit, an accomplishment to cherish.

views or the White Mountains on Tucherman Ravine Trail
Cloudy summit of Mount Washington

It was cloudy but it was the summit!

-Adventuresome Jo

The White Mountains are a popular destination for hikers. The vast forest and mountain range offer multiple hiking options. Mount Lafayette is another mountain though not as high as Mount Washington, it is still an enjoyable hike with rewarding views of the endless mountain range. Read about my adventure on Mount Lafayette for more information on this amazing hike.

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