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Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers Guidebook

Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers - A Free Guidebook

Welcome to Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers. This is a freely published list of detailed trip plans including maps, campsites, detailed itineraries, and advice for hiking the 48 mountains on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s 4000 footer list. In addition to climbing the 4000 footers, it provides hikers with a rich sampling of the marvelous scenery and solitude that the White Mountain National Forest has to offer. Many of the hikes listed below are loops for convenience, although there are also several traverses that require car spots.

While several book publishers have contacted me to publish this set of trip plans as a guidebook, I’ve decided to let people access it for free because I love hiking in the White Mountains and want to help preserve it for others to enjoy. The best way to accomplish this, in my experience, is to help people plan backpacking trips that help them prepare them for the rigors of hiking in the Whites and educate them about the backcountry camping regulations that the Forest Service has put in place help preserve the forest.

I’ve worked as a professional backpacking guide in the White Mountains, a volunteer trail maintainer, and have completed many of the big peakbagging and trail lists here including multiple rounds of the 4000 footers and hiking all 635 trails (1460 miles) in the White Mountain Guide. Take it from me, you’ll love hiking and backpacking in the Whites. Most people do.

Trip Plans

  • Presidential Traverse: A Presidential Traverse is one of the most famous and strenuous hikes in the White Mountains. This 2-3 day route is 21.4 miles in length with a cumulative elevation gain of 9,000 feet. It climbs eight 4000-footers including Mt Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson, with 14 miles of above-treeline hiking.
  • Pemigewasset Loop: A Pemi Loop, as it’s known locally, is a 33-mile loop hike that follows the ridgeline encircling the Pemigewasset Wilderness. This 2-3 day route climbs TEN 4000 footers with 9000 feet of elevation gain and has long stretches of above-treeline travel, including a Bonds Traverse and a Franconia Ridge Traverse, two of the most scenic walks in the White Mountains. You can also bring the total number of 4000 footers climbed to TWELVE, by adding in a few short side trips to nearby summits.
  • The Carter Moriah (Long Way) Loop: A 3-4 day, 41-mile scenic loop that climbs the Baldfaces, Carter Dome, South Carter, Middle Carter, and Mount Moriah, before looping back to Evans Notch through the Wild River Wilderness. This route includes 6 miles of exposed above-treeline travel with many marvelous views and swimming holes.
  • Southern Presidential Loop: A 2-3 day, 22-mile scenic loop that travels up the Dry River Valley and climbs the Oakes Gulf headwall to a set of alpine lakes at the foot of Mt Washington. From here, hikers climb Mt Monroe, Mt Eisenhower, Mt Pierce, and Mt Jackson in sequence, before descending the Webster Cliff Trail back to Crawford Notch. This route has close to 10 miles of above-treeline hiking and unparalleled views of Mt Washington, the Dry River Wilderness, and Crawford Notch.
  • Thirteen Falls Loop: A 2-3 day, 31-mile scenic loop that journeys into the most remote part of the Pemigewasset Wilderness below Franconia Ridge, climbing 3 four thousand footers: Mt Garfield, Owls Head Mountain, and Mt Galehead. The route runs along the major watercourses of “The Pemi” past cascades, pools, and gorgeous swimming holes, providing plenty of opportunities to kick off your shoes and soak your feet in the clear mountain streams or jump in.
  • Kilkenny Ridge Traverse: A moderate 2-3 day, 27-mile scenic traverse of some of the wildest and remote scenery in the White Mountains. It’s a particularly attractive route for backpackers interested in avoiding the crowds of day hikers who frequent the southern and central Whites, in a wilder section of the National Forest that’s a good place to see wildlife, particularly moose. Hikers climb two White Mountain 4000-footers, Mt Cabot and Mt Waumbek, in addition to several smaller peaks called The Bulge, The Horn, and Mt Starr King.
  • Willey Range Loop: a moderate 2-3 day, 22-mile loop that climbs four 4000-footers: Mts Tom, Field, and Willey in the Willey Range, before looping past the magnificent Thoreau Falls, Zealand Falls and climbing Mt Hale on the opposite side of the Zealand Valley. The route follows several quite scenic, but seldom used trails that provide an intimate glimpse of the Lincoln Woods Scenic Area. This is an exceptionally pretty route in autumn when the trees in Crawford Notch and the Pemigewasset Wilderness are ablaze in color.
  • Mt Isolation Loop: Mt Isolation is a remote 4000 footer located south of Mt Washington with impressive views of the Southern Presidentials and the “rock pile”, as Washington is often referred to locally. This 2-3 day route follows trails seldom hiked by day hikers and is ideal for backpackers who want to experience the wilder side of the White Mountain National Forest. It visits several open summits and viewpoints, including Mt Crawford, Mt Resolution, Mt Davis, the Giant Stairs, which have equally impressive views.
  • A Mad River Notch Loop: The White Mountain landscape is defined by its mountain passes (called Notches), perhaps even more than its peaks. Crawford Notch, Pinkham Notch, and Franconia Notch are just a few of the great valleys that channel visitors from one region of the White Mountain National Forest to the next. This 2-day route runs through Mad River Notch, a lightly traveled mountain pass that links Mt Tecumseh with East Osceola and Mt Osceola and runs past interesting geologic formations, an old logging camp, and two pristine mountain ponds.
  • The Desolation Loop: The Desolation Loop is a moderately strenuous 41-mile backpack through the eastern half of the White Mountain’s Pemigewasset Wilderness, bounded by the Bonds, Ethan Ridge, Carrigan Notch, and Hancock Notch. There are three 4000 footers on this route (North and South Hancock and Carrigan), but they’re easy to bypass if you want a more relaxing hike with less elevation gain. The entire route can be backpacked in 2-4 days, depending on your fitness level and available time.
  • The Cannonball Loop: This is an epic 2 day, 15-mile loop hike that climbs THREE 4000 footers, visits three lakes, and provides outstanding views of Cannon Cliff and Franconia Notch. Don’t let the short distance of this loop hike fool you. It traverses gnarly mountain terrain with steep climbs and rocky scrambles. But it’s a fun route with lots of opportunities for swimming in alpine lakes, a visit to a high mountain hut, and even some excellent fly fishing.
  • The Howker Ridge Loop is a 2 day, 18-mile loop that climbs all of the peaks in the Northern Presidential Range: Mounts Madison, Adams, and Jefferson. The route passes several unusual geological features including small peaklets known locally as Howks, an alpine tarn called Star Lake, and towering rock spires called castles. After climbing Madison and Adams, we recommend spending the night at one of the Randolph Mountains Club’s huts or campsite, close to treeline. The next day begins with a short climb to Edmands Col before summiting Mt Jefferson and then a looping descent past numerous waterfalls to the valley below.
  • The Kate Sleeper Loop is a 2 day, 20-mile backpacking route that climbs four 4000 footers: North and Middle Tripyramid, Whiteface, and Passaonaway. The Tripyramids and Whiteface/Passaconaway are usually climbed on separate days by day hikers, but they’re linked together by the Kate Sleeper Trail, and make a nice backpacking route that only requires one substantial ascent in order to bag all four peaks.
  • The Moriah Loop is a 2-3 day, 24-mile backpacking route that climbs Mount Moriah and its graceful sister peak, Shelburne Moriah, before dropping down to the Wild River. From there, the route loops back through the heart of the Wild River Wilderness on the Moriah Brook Trail, passing countless cascades and pools that make for great backcountry swimming. Seldom visited by day hikers, this wilderness area is remote and lightly blazed, requiring good map-reading skills and navigation experience.
  • The Fire Warden’s Loop is a 2-3 day, 18-mile backpacking route that climbs four 4000 footers: Hale, Zealand, South Twin, and North Twin. All four of these peaks surround the Little River Valley but aren’t normally climbed together as a group by day hikers because there isn’t an obvious loop to follow. While there’s a trail from the North Twin Trailhead to North Twin Mountain, there’s not a well-known trail linking Hale to the valley floor. However, there used to be a fire tower on Hale (removed in 1972) and a road leading to it that was named the Mt Hale Trail. It’s known today as the Fire Warden’s Trail and is still used by winter hikers and backcountry skiers to climb Hale when the roads to trails on the other side of the mountain are closed in winter. That old trail has been kept open (although it’s not listed in the White Mountain Guide or Appalachian Mountain Club Maps) and makes it possible to climb all four peaks in a continuous loop.
  • A Bonds Traverse is a 2 day, 20-mile traverse of Zealand Mountain, West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff Mountain. Bondcliff is one of the most picturesque mountains on the 4000 footers list and many hikers like to pose for photos on the western cliffs. While it is possible to day hike this route on a very long day, it’s much nicer to take your time, stargaze from Mt Bond, and watch the sunset or sunrise over Bondcliff.
  • A Twins/Bonds Traverse is a 2-3 day, 20-mile traverse of North Twin, South Twin, West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff Mountains. This route is an alternative to the classic Bonds Traverse which approaches the Bondcliff Trail from the east over Mt Zealand. While the Twins/Bonds Traverse is a more strenuous and challenging route, it’s also considerably more scenic with far-reaching views of the Presidential Range and the Pemigewasset from the open summits of North and South Twin.
  • A Carter Wildcat Traverse is a 2-3 day, 23-mile traverse of the entire Carter and Wildcat Mountain Ranges, including Mounts Moriah, North Carter, Middle Carter, South Carter, Hight, Carter Dome, and Wildcats A, B, C, D, and E. Hikers are treated to fantastic views of Mt Washington, The Great Gulf, Mt Jefferson, Adams, and Madison to the west and the Baldface Range to the east, on this epic ridge walk.
  • Mt Carrigain and Mt Nancy: This 2-day, 16-mile trip has it all: great views, an epic ridge walk, a fire tower, two alpine lakes, moose habitat, waterfalls, and cascades. Mt Carrigain is at the geographic center of the White Mountains and on a clear day you can see over 30 of the other 4000 footers from its summit fire tower. From Carrigain, you’ll journey deep into the heart of Pemigewasset Wilderness before visiting two high elevation ponds at the foot of Mt Nancy. The site of the Nancy Brook Research Natural Area, the area surrounding the ponds is prime moose habitat and one of the largest tracts of virgin forest in New England. From there you have the option to climb Mt Nancy (3926′), a New England Hundred Highest Peak which has a fantastic view of Mt Washington and the Dry River Valley, before passing Nancy Cascades, a 300 waterfall which drops into a shallow pool where you can soak your feet on a hot day.
  • A Carter Dome Wild River Loop: This 2-day, 21-mile loop climbs Carter Dome from the west, before descending to the Wild River Wilderness and returning through Perkins Notch. One of the highlights of this route is the open summit of the South Knob of Carter Dome, which at 4274 ft, is a 4000 footer in its own right, even though it’s not listed on the official AMC 4000 footer list.
  • A Tunnel Brook Loop: This 2-day, 19-mile loop hike climbs one of Moosilauke’s many sub-peaks, Hurricane Mountain (3015′), before heading up the Tunnel Brook Trail where there are excellent dispersed camping opportunities. Tunnel Brook is a lush, steep-walled valley on the west side of Mount Moosilauke (4802′). Seldom visited by day hikers, it’s a quiet and secluded place to observe wildlife and witness the avalanche and flash flood damage that Moosilauke and neighboring Mount Clough (pronounced Cluff) experience during major rainstorms and hurricanes.  It then climbs to a protected point just below the Moosilauke summit on the pretty Benton Trail before climbing to the summit sign. From the summit, the route visits Moosilauke’s popular South Peak (4523′), before returning to Dartmouth’s Ravine Lodge at the beginning of the loop.
  • An Oakes Gulf Loop: This 2-3 day, 21-mile loop traces the perimeter of Oakes Gulf, climbing a 5492′ sub-peak of Mt Washington called Boott Spur, Mt Monroe, Mt Eisenhower, and Mt Isolation, before looping back to Pinkham Notch through another cirque called the Gulf of Slides. With nearly 7 miles of above-treeline hiking, this route is best hiked in good weather conditions to fully appreciate the grandeur of the surroundings.
  • Rocky Branch Ramble: This 1-2 night, 14.6 mile route travels to Mt Isolation, one of the most remote 4000 footers, located south of Mt Washington in the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness. Moderate in both length and difficulty, this is a good trip to cut your teeth on backpacking in the White Mountains with free pre-established US Forest Service campsites, easy access to water, and numerous opportunities to swim in the Rocky Branch River.

Mountain/Trip Index