How to Hike New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse

The Most Rugged Range of Appalachia

A view of Mt. Madison from the slopes of Mt. Adams

It goes without saying that most climbers and adventurers within the States, head west for skiing, hiking and other mountain adventures.

Though for those in the know, New Hampshire’s White Mountains are a deep, rugged and challenging range of mountains that have top notch skiing, hiking, ice climbing and even alpine mountaineering.

Within this region, there is a trekking route called The Presidential Traverse, which scales the highest mountain ridge in the Northeast United States and seven peaks named after US Presidents: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monro, Eisenhower and Pierce.

This 22 mile traverse has been called the most strenuous section of the entire Appalachian trail, and for good reason.

Best completed over the course of two days, doing this traverse in summer is one thing, in winter, only well experienced Mountaineers need apply.

The terrain is rough and rocky, and with over 9000 ft total of elevation gain, this isnt an expedition for the feint of heart.

Getting Here

The Traverse is best completed from North to South, beginning at the Appalachia Trailhead near Randolph, NH.

Mt Washington Valley, is located about an hour and fifteen minutes from Portland and two and a half hours from Boston.

From Boston, hop on I93 North and take it all the way up past Franconia Notch and the town of Lincoln. You will get off on Highway 3 near Littleton, and head northeast to the trailhead near Randolph.

Presidential Range, NH (July 2023)


As with all expeditions into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, checking the weather forecast is absolutely critical before heading out. has the most accurate forecast for the conditions above treeline in New Hampshire.

In the summer time, the trails in the Presidential Range are quite popular and it will be normal to see many other hikers out in the Mountains. Though overall, very few attempt the entire traverse and instead choose to hike shorter sections or just aim to ascend one or two peaks.

Of course, once you get to Mt. Washington, the summertime sees huge crowds as many tourists take the auto road up near to the summit, while others hop on the Cog Railway to the top.

In wintertime, expect nothing of the sort and be prepared for an Alpine zone akin to the higher elevations of Alaska, as frigid temperatures, deep snow and hurricane force winds create one of the most unique environments in the lower 48 States.

Since you will most likely be leaving your car at the Appalachia Trailhead, you will need to arrange a pickup at the South side of the Traverse.

At the end of The Traverse is The AMC Highland Center, and from here there are shuttles in the summer time, that will pick you up and transport you around Mt. Washington Valley, including back to Randolph.

Though in the winter, it is best to contract The White Mountain Taxi Service based out of North Conway. They charge about $35 plus tip.

AMC Huts

AMC Madison Hut

There are 3 different Huts on the Presidential Traverse that can be utilized in the summer for Lodging, food and water. A bunk at one of these Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts costs about $130, thus it’s certainly not the cheapest of accommodations. The first hut, Madison Spring Hut, is near Mt Madison about 2-3 hours from the Appalachia Trailhead.

The Second AMC hut, Lake of The Clouds, is located on the ridge between Mt Washington and Mt Monroe. For the average, to even fit hiker, it will take about 8-9 hours to reach Lake of The Clouds. This is an excellent location to sleep for the night and then complete the rest of the Traverse.

These huts provide vegetarian dinners and breakfasts but fill up fast during June and July.

Since you will most likely be leaving your car at the Appalachia Trailhead, you will need to arrange a pickup at the South side of the Traverse.

You will be ending at AMC Highland Center, and from there, there are shuttles in the summer time that picks up hikers and it will take you back to Randolph. It costs about $25.

Though in the winter time, it is best to contact The White Mountain Taxi service based out of North Conway. This costs about $35 plus tip.

Gear Requirements (Summer)

  1. 40 Liter Pack
  2. Water Proof, Ankle supporting Hiking shoes
  3. Two Nalgene water jugs
  4. Hard Shell Jacket (Wind jacket)
  5. Water Filter system
  6. Paper Map
  7. Portable Solar Phone Charger
  8. Swiss Army knife
  9. Compass
  10. Hard Shell Pants (Wind Pants
  11. Mittens
  12. Stocking Cap (Ear covering Beanie)

Gear Requirements (Winter)

  1. Double Shank Mountaineering boots (Crampon Compatable)
  2. Crampons
  3. 40-70 Liter Pack
  4. 4 pairs of Wool Socks (Vermont Tough)
  5. Three Layer Clothing System for legs and upper body
  6. Down Jacket (Parka)
  7. Hard Shell Jacket
  8. Hard Shell Pants
  9. Gaiters (Large enough to fit over your boots)
  10. Helmet
  11. Sun Glasses with side shields
  12. Neck Gaitor (to protect your neck from. thewind)
  13. Two Wide Mouth Nalgene Bottles and insulating parkas to prevent freezing.
  14. Foam Sleeping Pad,
  15. -10 Sleeping bag (Sea to Summit Alpine II)

The Traverse

The views in The White Mountains are truly spectacular, even compared to The Rockies and Cascades in the western United States, what this traverse has to offer in true Alpine glory is unique.

I completed my first Presidential Traverse in July of 2023 and it went as follows:

Starting at the Appalachia trailhead at about 6:45am and ascending up the Airline Route, I arrived at the AMC Madison Hut at about the 2 and 1/2 hour mark. I grabbed some pancakes for a dollar at the hut, quickly chatted with the Caretaker about the route to Mt. Washington and then read over the posted weather report from The Mt Washington Observatory.

Fortunately the report forecasted excellent conditions for the next 24 hours.

On the Airline trail up to Mt. Madison (July 2023)

I reloaded my pack and made the Trek up to Mt. Madison. I underestimated how rough this trail truly was and was reminded of the excruciating climb of Mt. Rainier’s Disappointment Cleaver in melted out conditions.

Every step felt like a son of bitch, and only a few miles into the climb, it dawned on me that I had barely begun.

I scooted my way down Madison, traversed across a beautiful alpine ridge and took a moment to examine a small lake that reminded me of images from Switzerland.

I climbed up the incredibly rocky and loose trail to the top of Mt. Adams and was feeling some fatigue in my body. I was joined by two other climbers from Quebec who I discovered, were also taking on the Traverse. One of them had “Everest” tattooed on his right calf. I sensed they were going to finish the trek much sooner than I and this was reinforced as I watched them nearly sprint down the slopes of Adams.

Descending mountains is always harder than going up, at least for myself and without snowpack to cushion your steps, the descent can be terribly hard on your feet and legs.

I trekked through another beautiful alpine ridge, leading to the summits of Mt. Clay and Mt. Jefferson. The physical and mental challenge of this adventure was clear but the scenery reminded me of why I had chosen to travel east from my home in Iowa, and not west.

I made my way to Mt. Washington, or Agiocochook as The Native Americans called the notorious highest mountain in New England. “Place of The Great Spirit.”

Though the summit of Washington was rather crowded with tourists who had drove up the Washington Auto road which was open during the summer months.

I had mixed feelings about tourist operations at the top of this mountain. To be able to skip the grueling hike to the summit and take in the mountain’s glory, without earning it, without testing yourself physically and mentally. Something seemed, maybe not quite right….

But perhaps this is a ridiculous opinion to have.

On the descent of Mt Washington

Descending Mt. Washington to The Lake of The Clouds hut was a bitch and a half but arrived at 5pm on the nose.

The hut was full of other hikers but also a very welcoming environment. The caretaker assigned me to the very top bunk in a room with four others.

Most of whom I talked to were just trekking sections of the Traverse, while another older gentleman from North Carolina was in his third month of hiking the entire Appalachian trail.

View from Lake of The Clouds
Lake of The Clouds (July 2023)

Lake of The Clouds, perched between Washington and Monroe was one of the most interesting environments I had seen. I had previously been here six years prior when I first climbed Mt. Washington during the Winter. At the time, it was -15 degrees with 65mph winds.

Now it was 60 degrees with barely 10mph winds.

Capturing the sunset over the White Mountains was by far, one of the highlights of this adventure in New Hampshire.

The next day, I awoke ready to finish the traverse. I quickly packed up my pack, refilled my nalgenes and scooted up the trail towards Monroe.

In four and a half hours time, I summited Monro, Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce and made it down the trail to The AMC Highland Center.

Lake of the Clouds Hut (July 2023)

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