Trekking The Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains

The Presidential Traverse Trail
The Presidential Traverse Trail

The Presidential Traverse is one of the most iconic hikes in the Whites, known for its rugged terrain and stunning views. Located at Gorham, 35 miles from North Conway, this route is an 18.9-mile one-way traverse, considered to be difficult. Going along the summit line of the Presidential Range, 19 miles, above the tree line hike is rocky, windy, and often quite cold, even in summer. Understandably, strong hikers can tackle the route in a single day. Otherwise, stay in one of the AMC huts to turn it into a great overnight trip.

Normally the hike is from north to south. Day hikers should plan to start the trek before dawn. Be ready for sun exposure, cold temperatures, high winds, lightning, and precipitation in all forms. A headlamp is a must. Also, you will need to figure out transportation. Several hiking groups park a car at both ends and then shuttle themselves. But depending on your schedule, you can also use the AMC shuttle.

Taking the Valley Way/Appalachia Trailhead 

Start the trek at Randolph, New Hampshire, at the Valley Way/Appalachia Trailhead, and take the Valley Way Trail south. This path weaves through a thick forest as it gently climbs towards Snyder Brook, which it follows briefly. Numerous trail intersections are dotted along this portion, so watch the trail signs to make sure you stay on Valley Way. Following a couple of miles, the grade steepens. Arriving at the trail junction in the saddle, stay left on Star Lake Trail to reach Madison Spring Hut. Here you can fill your water bottles.

Continuing from the hut, take Osgood Trail east, and push up the talus field to the summit of Mount Madison. Do not hang around too long because you have many more miles to go. Once you arrive at the summit, head back the way you came to return to the hut where you will join the Gulfside Trail. Sooner you will pop out of the forest and stay above the tree line for most of the rest of the hike. The Gulfside Trail leads you to a well-known ridgeline where you will turn left onto the Air Line Trail. This trail will take you past Mount Quincy to Mount Adams. From the peak of Mount Adams, descend to the west along Star Lake Trail. Heading east, you will end your hike much too early. Alternatively, take a strong left turn onto Israel Ridge Path. This path eventually merges with Gulfside Trail for about 0.4 miles. At the split, stay left again to follow Gulfside Trail as it smoothly goes down the ridge.

Taking the Mount Jefferson Loop Trail

Mount Jefferson via Caps Ridge Trail
The Mount Jefferson via Caps Ridge Trail

Moreover, as you go along with the Gulfside Trail, a quick detour will lead you to Mount Jefferson Loop Trail. This will take you up and over the rocky summit of Mount Jefferson. Additionally, you can go on another peak by taking Mount Clay Loop, which leads to its namesake mountain before joining up with the Gulfside Trail. Near Mount Washington, the route takes a sharp turn south towards the eastern side of the summit. Arriving at the junction, turn left onto Crawford Path to reach the peak behind the Tip Top House Museum

As soon as you have had your fill, head back down the Crawford Path. At the first junction, turn left to continue off the summit. The Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained trail in the Northeast. In 2018, more than 150 volunteers showed their love for the Path by repairing 9.3 miles of trail and restoring 1.5 acres of wildlife habitat through a National Forest Foundation-led effort, supported in part by REI. 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the route.


Along the way, except for a couple of detours, continue following the Crawford Path to the end of the traverse. When getting tired, simply stay on that trail the whole way, but you may miss the last few summits! Otherwise, continue past the Lake of the Clouds Hut, then take the Mount Monroe Loop Trail to summit Mount Monroe and Little Mount Monroe. Then rejoin the Crawford Path for about 0.3 miles before taking Mount Franklin Loop to bag Mount Franklin. A little over a mile from Crawford Path to Mount Eisenhower Loop Trail will take you to the second to the last summit. Lastly, detour onto the Appalachian Trail to tag your last peak, Mount Pierce. Then follow the AT to Mizpah Spring Hut, where you can fill up your water and use the restroom.

The Rewards

After filling up your water and using the restroom, take Webster Cliff Trail to Mizpah Cut-off Trail, which leads you back to Crawford Path. If time is still on your side, continue your hike on Gibbs Falls Spur Trail to visit Gibbs Falls. From there, it is only about a half-mile to the end of the hike which terminates at the AMC Highland Center.

The Presidential Traverse hike is one of the most intense and scenic activities in the Northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Covering twenty miles of occasionally strenuous, often stunning, and gorgeous terrain, it takes hikers to cross seven 4,000-foot peaks, over the Presidential Range - all named after U.S. presidents: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Hikers who want to nail down a bit more mileage can add four nonpresidential peaks to their adventure. Namely, the Clay, Jackson (named for New Hampshire geologist Charles Thomas Jackson), Webster, and Franklin.

The rewards though are plentiful. Most especially, the two superbly scenic ranges – the Great Gulf and the Presidential Range–Dry River areas. Also, an opportunity to ascend Mount Washington, cannot be taken for granted. It is one of the country’s most famous peaks. Other than that, to follow in the footsteps of so many previous generations along the Crawford Path. The oldest continuously used and maintained hiking trail in the country. Additionally, several stops along the hike offer views that can extend deep into Vermont and Maine.


Lastly, since the trail is difficult with so many trails here and there, there is no harm in being cautious, at times. This hike is not an adventure for beginners - or even experienced ones if they are making their first trip to the Whites.

Dogs are allowed but in leashed