Home / Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers Guidebook / Backpacking a Mad River Notch Loop

Backpacking a Mad River Notch Loop

Osceola Backpack
Photo courtesy Paula Dubay-Santucci

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 travelled 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.

Mad River Notch Loop

Rating/Difficulty

*****/3 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

22 miles w/6000′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Tecumseh
  • East Osceola
  • Osceola

Recommended Duration

2 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

No Camping in Greeley Ponds Scenic Area

New to the White Mountains? Read this Quick and Dirty Guide to Backpacking in the White Mountains for information about camping regulations, road access, trail shuttles, lodging, dangerous wildlife, weather, etc.

Trailhead Directions

  • Mt Osceola Trailhead off Tripoli Rd (FR 30) – 7.0 miles east of I-93 or 2.9 miles west of the Livermore Parking area on West Branch Rd. Tripoli Rd is gated closed in winter, but is usually open by mid May.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountain Trail Map 2 – Franconia-Pemigewasset (2017 ed), which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time. More detailed trail descriptions can be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • FR 30 – 1.9 miles (Short rd walk up a pretty fire road)
  • Mt Tecumseh Trail – 3.5 miles
  • Mt Tecumseh Trail – 2.2 miles
  • Pipeline XC Trail – 0.4 miles
  • Livermore Road -0.3 miles
  • Greeley Pond Trail – 0.7 miles
  • Goodrich Rock Trail – 1.6 miles (out and back)
  • Timber Camp Trail – 3.0 miles (out and back)
  • Greeley Ponds Trail – 2.6 miles
  • Mt Osceola Trail – 5.7 miles

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulate distances on the route to each view or landmark

  • Mt Tecumseh Summit – 5.4 miles
  • Sosman Trail Viewpoint – (optional side trail)
  • Goodrich Rock – 9.8 miles
  • High Camp w/ view of Painted Cliffs – 12.1 miles
  • Lower Greeley Pond – 14.9 miles
  • Upper Greeley Pond – 15.4 miles
  • East Osceola Summit – 17.3 miles
  • Mt Osceola Summit – 18.3 miles

Camping Shelter Options

  • High Camp on the Timber Camp Trail – this is good location for camping on this route, near a reliable brook.

Water

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Sandwich Range Map in Guthook Guide’s New England Hiker Smartphone App (IOSAndroid) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

Leave the Mt Osceola Trail parking area and turn right onto Tripoli Rd (FR 30), hiking 1.9 miles until you see the Tecumseh Trail on the left. There is roadside camping along Tripoli Rd (west) of this point if you’re looking for a nearby place to camp before or after the trip. This short road walk up front eliminates the need for a soul crushing walk at the end of this magnificent route, so you finish on a high note, descending from Mt Osceola Trail back to your car.

The western trail head for Mt Tecumseh on Tripoli Rd.
The western trail head for Mt Tecumseh on Tripoli Rd.

At the Tecumseh trailhead turn left and cross a small stream. There’s no easy water for the next 6 miles or so, so be sure you have enough for the climb to Mt Tecumseh and back down again. This western portion of the trail is climbed less frequently, so it has a wilder aspect. Begin climbing through dense forest, eventually passing a false summit at 3700′. Continue through dense forest to 4000′, where you’ll emerge at the Tecumseh summit viewpoint. There is a loop trail around the Tecumseh summit which can be confusing, so make sure you hike in the correct direction when leaving the summit area.

Tecumseh Summit Viewpoint
Tecumseh Summit Viewpoint – photo courtesy Hosanna Lillydahl-Schroeder

From the top of Tecumseh, you can see the Tripyramids almost due east, a set of three adjacent peaks. North and Middle Tripramid are also 4000 footers, but South Tripyramid isn’t. The three peaks are fun to climb (at another time) on a loop hike via the Tripyramid Trail, which climbs up an avalanche slide (short for landslide) up the north peak, along the adjoining ridge to the Middle and South summits, and back down from the south peak on another avalanche slide.

Sosman Trail
Sosman Trail – photo courtesy Chris Wilton

From the Tecumseh summit viewpoint, there’s a short side path called the Sosman Trail that heads south for 0.6 miles to the top of the adjacent Waterville Valley Ski Area. It follows a nice woodland path and provides an excellent view of Mt Osceola from the top of the slopes. To return to the trip route, reverse directions and follow the Sosman Trail back to the Tecumseh summit area, this time descending down (to your right) on the Tecumseh Trail headed east.

Tecumseh is a popular peak because it is the “shortest” 4000 footer, with an elevation of just 4003′. The trail is also usually well packed out in winter, when skiers and snowboarders hike up it and ski down the adjacent ski slopes. In recent years, this section of the trail has been virtually rebuilt with numerous stone staircases to prevent erosion.

Stone steps on the Mt Tecumseh Trail
Stone steps on the Mt Tecumseh Trail – photo courtesy Chris Wilton

Descend the Tecumseh Trail for 2.2 miles. There are two small stream crossings on the trail which are normally easy to cross except after a heavy rain. The bottom of the trail ends at the Waterville Valley Ski Area parking lot.

Pipeline Trail Sign
Pipeline Trail Sign

Bear left and follow the edge of the lot a short distance to the Pipeline XC trail. Turn left onto the trail and follow it until you reach Tripoli Road. Make a right onto the road and a left at the next paved road.

The Pipeline Ski Trail links the Waterville valley ski lodge to their nordic ski touring center just off Tripoli Rd.
The Pipeline Ski Trail links the Waterville valley ski lodge to their nordic ski touring center just off Tripoli Rd.

Cross over a short bridge and you’ll see the Livermore Trail Head Parking Sign. Turn left at the sign and follow the logging road that leaves from the rightmost side of the lot. This area can be a little confusing because the ski resort has put up their own signs and their trail names differ from those used by the Forest Service. There are maps of the ski trail system posted at most of the trail junctions, so you should still be able to find your way if you get turned around. The Forest Service Trail Signs are always engraved in wood, which is one way to tell them apart from the Ski Resort’s XC Trail names.

Livermore Rd Parking Lot
Livermore Rd Parking Lot

From Livermore Road parking area, the trail passes a kiosk, before turning left and becoming a wide gravel road called the Livermore Trail. Follow it, passing through an open field and crossing a wooden bridge over the Mad River, before turning left onto the Greeley Pond Trail in 0.3 miles.

National Forest Hiking Trails are always marked with engraved USFS trail signs in the Livermore Rd area.
National Forest Hiking Trails are always marked with engraved USFS trail signs.

This trail was severely damaged by Hurricane Irene when a wall of water poured down the Mad River, which runs beside the trail. The entire trail has only been recently reopened after being closed for several years while repair efforts were underway. While the section shown here is well-graded gravel, the trail takes on a more natural and weathered appearance after it passes the Timber Camp and Kancamagus Brook Ski trails further up the Mad River valley.

The southern half of the Greely Pond Trail has been rebuilt and rerouted to repair Irene damage
The southern half of the Greeley Pond Trail has been rebuilt and rerouted to repair Irene damage.

Portions of the Greeley Pond Trail coincide and intersect with backcountry cross-country ski trails in this area. When following trails, note that hiking trails are blazed in yellow, while the cross-country ski trails are generally marked with blue diamonds.

At 1.2 miles, the Goodrich Rock Trail climbs the west side of the valley
At 1.2 miles, the Goodrich Rock Trail climbs the west side of the valley

At 1.2 miles, the Goodrich Rock Trail climbs the west side of the valley, weaving through a “boulder field” of huge glacial erratics called the Davis Boulders. The trail ends at the largest erratic, a huge boulder named Goodrich Rock, that you can climb via a wooden ladder. The top of the boulder has views of Mt Tecumseh and other Sandwich area peaks. If you’re running short on time, you can skip this side trip to Goodrich Rock and continue to a campsite on the nearby Timber Camp Trail, returning to this point the next morning.

Arriving at the largest, which can be climbed via this ladder.
Arriving at the largest boulder, which can be climbed via this ladder.

Retrace your steps back to the Greeley Pond Trail and turn left. The Timber Camp Trail branches to the left in 0.8 miles. Turn onto it and begin climbing gradually. The trail leads to a clearing with a large cairn in about 0.9 miles. This is the best place to camp in the area, with easy access to the adjacent Greeley Brook.

Timber Camp Trail Sign
Timber Camp Trail Sign

The site of an old lumber camp, the Timber Camp Trail leads to the area below Painted Rock, a huge cliff face that towers over the trail and the Mad River Valley. While the trail ends at 2544′ at a cairn next to some old lumber artifacts, there is a herd path that continues up the slope beyond it. Steve Smith, editor of the White Mountain Guide, has written about his adventures on the Timber Camp Trail, in this trip report.

The Painted Rock Cliff Face towers above the valley below.
The Painted Rock Cliff Face towers above the valley below.

Hike back down to the Greeley Pond Trail, and turn left for the Lower and Upper Greeley Ponds, which lie below the southern cliffs of giant Mt Kancamagus. Camping is not permitted in the area surrounding the ponds. Both Ponds are stocked with trout, however, and fishing is permitted with a New Hampshire fishing license.

Lower Greeley Pond
Lower Greeley Pond

Hike for 2.6 miles past the ponds, until you reach the Mt Osceola Trail Junction. Turn left and begin climbing to East Osceola Mountain. While the climb is gradual to start, it soon becomes very steep, crossing an avalanche slide at one point. The wooded summit of East Osceola is viewless and marked by a small cairn.

East Osceola Summit Carin - photo courtesy Jim St. Cyr
East Osceola Summit Cairn – photo courtesy Jim St. Cyr

East Osceola and the main peak, Mt Osceola are connected by a narrow ridge. Partway across, there’s a narrow 20′ chimney that you must climb, although there’s now an easy bypass route to the side that provides surer footing.

The Osceola Chimney
The Osceola Trail Chimney – photo courtesy Jim St. Cyr

After the chimney, climb gradually to a large open ledge at the top of Mt Osceola, which has expansive views of the Tripyramids and peaks in the Sandwich and Pemigewasset Wilderness Areas. The site of a former firetower, this ledge is an excellent place to eat lunch and hang out in the sun.

View from the Mt Osceola summit ledge
View from the Mt Osceola summit ledge – photo courtesy Jim St. Cyr

From the Osceola summit ledge, turn southwest and follow the rocky Mt Osceola Trail down Breadtray Ridge for 3.2 miles back to the Osceola Trailhead on Tripoli Road, where your car is parked.
Written 2018.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He's also finished hiking many of the region's peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

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