Hiking the White Mountains Presidential Range

New Hampshire's Mount Washington in the White Mountains Presidential Range

Home to world-class hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and some of the most epic terrain in the East, the White Mountains of New Hampshire offer boundless exploration. 

Known for their sweeping vistas, spectacular sunrises, rocky scrambles, and alpine ponds, the high peaks of the Granite State offer year-round recreation. Summer brings berry-picking, fall offers leaf-peeping, and in winter, snowshoeing is popular. Backpacking routes and day hiking trails abound. For those balancing backcountry experience and frontcountry comfort, rustic huts staffed and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club offer a refreshing retreat from the elements. 

Whether you aspire to scramble up one of the 48 peaks over 4,000ft, section hike the most challenging part of the Appalachian Trail, or simply get out for a forest walk, there are endless adventures to be had. Lace up your hiking boots and join us on a rewarding adventure in the White Mountains 

Below, we’ll share what you need to know to get started hiking in White Mountain National Forest. From how to get there, and what time of year you should visit, to which trails to hike when you do. Beginner-friendly day hikes or more strenuous multi-day options – we’ve got you covered.  

About the White Mountains

An Appalachian Mountan Club hut sits on the slopes of the Presidential traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
Lake of the Clouds hut, Presidential Range


The White Mountains are a subrange of the Greater Appalachian Mountain Range, the oldest mountain range on earth. They are rich in geologic and cultural history.  

Over the years, the White Mountains have served as important cultural sites for Native American villages, quarries, hunting grounds, travel grounds, and spiritual practices. They have also hosted early European settlements, farms, and Forest Service sites. 

Within the White Mountains, the presidential range offers the most formidable playground for aspiring adventurers. Comprising 13 mountains, 9 of which are over 4,000ft in elevation, the Presidentials have long challenged anyone with a desire to scale granite.  

Today, the wilderness surrounding the White Mountains remains an exciting challenge for determined Appalachian Trail thru hikers (who have to pass through the Whites enroute), weekend warriors, and Boston day trippers.  

Hiking the White Mountains

The White Mountains are often overlooked by serious mountaineers because their highest point is only 6,288ft – which pales in comparison to the 14,000ft peaks in the Rockies.  However, the reality is that many of the White Mountain Summits offer equally (and in some cases more-challenging hikes) than the Colorado 14ers. 

Why is that?  

  • Although they don’t start at high elevations like the Colorado 14ers do, mile for mile, the elevation gain in the Whites is significant – with several trails gaining upwards of 1,500ft in a single mile and over 4,000ft of gain for the day.  
  • The trails also tend to go straight up the mountain (the Northeasternah-way) versus the more gently graded switchback trails in the Rocky Mountains.  
  • Additionally, the White Mountains are granite mountains. Granite tends to be more challenging (and slippery) to climb compared to the limestone and sandstone peaks in the Rockies.  
  • Finally, New England’s quirky and every-changing climate presents an added challenge for those with summit aspirations. Unlike in the Rockies, where you can see a storm coming for miles, the White Mountains are notorious for spontaneous storms. It’s always important to check (and re-check) the weather forecast before heading out. 

Hikers stand next to a sign for the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

When to Visit 

The best time to visit the White Mountains is June – Early October. If you can, try to catch the peak fall foliage, you won’t regret it. New Hampshire estimates that this happens in Early October in the Whites 

Hiking in the White Mountains is possible during the offseason, and many people still climb the peaks in the winter, but it’s even more important during the winter months to keep an eye on storms, avalanche conditions, and winds, which can make things more challenging and even dangerous. 

In fact the observatory perched atop Mount Washington, the highest peak in the presidential range, recorded a world record breaking 231 mph windspeed in 1934 and set a new U.S. windchill record (-108) in February 2023. 

How to Get there

The White Mountain National Forest, generally located in north-central New Hampshire, has a total protected area of nearly 800,000 acres. There are several gateway towns and visitors centers dotted throughout and around the White Mountains but with many stretches of remote road, travel by car offers the simplest way to get around. If looking at flights and renting a vehicle, consider the following destinations and drive times: 

  • Boston, MA – 2.5hrs  
  • Portland, ME –1.5hrs  
  • Concord, NH –1.5hrs  

Favorite White Mountain Hikes

Below, we’ve outlined a few of our favorite hikes in the White Mountains. From easy day hikes to multiday treks, here are our top picks.  

Arethusa Falls

Easy Day Hike 

2.8 Miles | 800ft Elevation Gain | Out and back 

For those looking for an easy hike in the White Mountains, Arethusa Falls offers a perfect, introductory summer trail. The trail ascends to New Hampshire’s tallest and most stunning waterfall, Arethusa Falls, and a series of smaller cascades around it. Pack a suit, bring the kids, and get ready to splash around on a hot summer’s day. Leashed and well-behaved dogs are welcome.  

Lonesome Lake AMC hut White Mountains
Lonesome Lake hut, White Mountains

Lonesome Lake and Hut – Franconia Range

Moderate Day Hike  

3.2 miles | 1000ft Gain | Loop 

If you’re up for a moderate day hike and want to tick off another state park, this trail leads into the Franconia Range of the White Mountains and culminates at Lonesome Lake, a beautiful body of water boasting views of Franconia Notch and Mount Lafayette. It’s one of the best bangs for your buck hikes in the Whites! 

In addition to stellar views, you can cool off with a dip in the lake at the top and even spend the night at AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut. The hut offers accommodation, food, and water (plus trail friends). Take a peak at the beautiful Lonesome Lake Hut here.   

If you just can’t get enough of this day hike, save your spot on our 4-day journey through the Whites that combines some of the lesser-visited (but stunning) parts of the AT and Franconia Notch.  

Mount Washington – Presidential Range

Strenuous Day Hike:  

~8 Miles | 4,200ft Gain | Out and back 

Coming in at 6,288ft, Mount Washington is the highest (and most talked about) peak in the Northeast. Nowadays, visitors can take the Mount Washington Auto Road or even the cog rail to the summit, but hiking is our preferred choice. 

The most popular route to the top of Mount Washington is the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail. This difficult route traverses steep, rocky terrain and can be crowded during the summer. The trail ascends to Hermit Lake, travels along the west side of a ravine, past the Tuckerman Bowl, up to the headwall, and finally through a boulder field to the top.  

Your payoff is unforgettable views of the Atlantic Ocean, Vermont, and the Adirondacks. Plus, snacks and commemorative trinkets for sale at the gift shop on top, epic photos ops, and of course – bragging rights. 

After a rowdy day on the trail, descend the peak and head into town for a Mount Washington Organic Amber Ale and Pizza at Shannon Door Irish Pub (a New England Classic), or opt make it an overnight trip and crash on the mountain at the iconic Lake of the Clouds AMC hut 

NOTE: Before you set out to climb this peak, it’s important to be aware of the risks. Mount Washington sits at the convergence of 3 storms zones, is known for its ever-changing weather and high wind speeds. Check the conditions before you hit the trail, and make sure that you’ve packed all the essential gear as well as extra in case. 

Alternatively, let our experienced mountain guides lead you to the top 

Presidential range, New Hampshire
Presidential range, White Mountains

Presidential Traverse – Appalachian Trail

Multi-day Trip 

18.5 Miles | 8,200ft + Gain | Point to point 

Known locally as the “Prezi Traverse,” this multiday journey is no joke. It’s an old east-coast-granddaddy-of-a-trail.  

Most hikers take 2-3 days to tackle the presidential range. The route is steep and challenging, but ever-so rewarding. It’s a notoriously difficult section of the Appalachian Trail. We recommend hiking it from North to South. The majority of the hike is above tree line and certain sections can be very scrambly – with loose rock.  

Charming backcountry huts provide a wonderful respite from the elements and a chance to connect with like-minded hikers along the way. First-come-first-serve tent sites offer another overnight option for trail-weary hikers.  

From sun-soaked valley views to a moonscape of rocky scrambles, lace up your boots and hit the trail. But first, check out this video of the traverse on our Youtube Channel. 

Note: This traverse is not for newbies. During the summer, the winds can be fierce, and lightning storms can move in quickly. Make sure you check the weather conditions before you go and be willing to turn back if necessary.  

Allow us to guide you on an epic traverse of the Presidential Range. 

The AMC Hut System

Founded in the late 1800s, The Appalachian Mountain Club is America’s oldest conservation organization. For centuries, generations of Northeasterners have been working hard to conserve lands and provide access to the public. Today, the AMC maintains a series of 8 High Mountain Huts in the White Mountains.  

These huts connect 50 miles of pristine wilderness and offer tired hikers a place to post up, get warm, and eat a hot meal. Plus, they’re charming and offer exceptional views of the New England landscape. Take a peek, you’ll be surprised how “cute” they are.  

Join us on a hut to hut trip in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  

Hike with us in the whites

Offering a world-class selection of rocky summits, treks to alpine lakes, summer berry picking, hut stays, and forest walks, the White Mountains are a premier setting for outdoor recreation. The rugged East Coast topography provides the perfect combination of height, grittiness, and scenery, while New England’s quaint towns and covered bridges seal the deal. The majesty of the presidential range really has no equal on the Atlantic coast. 

Come play with us in the White Mountains. We’ll show you the best kept secrets and probably talk you into visiting Acadia while you’re at it. 

About Claire Van Winkle

Claire V. Wildland Blog Contributor

– Willdland Hiring Coordinator and Blog Contributor –

Claire grew up in the Midwest – swimming in cold Lake Michigan, picking cherries, and running through sandy birch forests. She has spent the last 10 years working in various roles in the tourism industry even bumping into several Wildland/Intrepid folks along the way. She came to us with guiding experience (everywhere from Iceland to Alaska), in addition to hiring, training, freelance design and operations knowledge. She earned a B.A. in Enviornmental Studies and Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and has already been put to work writing some SEO boosting recruitment-oriented blog posts. Claire has been a great addition to the team jumping in mid-hiring season with her sharp, positive attitude, relevant experience and a willingness to jump into anything sent her way! In her free time, Claire can be found in the mountains and especially enjoys recharging her soul via trail running and backcountry skiing.

Check out her website at: http://www.clairekalinadesigns.com/

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