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Hiking Mt Washington: A Chandler Brook – Wamsutta Trail Loop

Cascades at the top of the Chandler Brook Trail

The Chandler Brook Trail is a lovely but strenuous trail that runs from the Great Gulf up the side of Mt Washington past many lovely cascades, water shutes, and slides. You can make it into an interesting loop hike by descending by the Wamsutta Trail, which also has many unique views of the Northern Presidentials. I recently hiked this route after heavy rain, which was a bit sketchy because it’s so steep and slippery, but worth the extra effort for the views.

The Chandler Brook Trail climbs 1300′ in 0.9 miles, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. The bottom of the trail where it intersects the Great Gulf Trail can be difficult to find because of blowdowns but once you get on it, it’s relatively easy to follow. Just head uphill.

The thing that makes the Chandler Brook Trail so beautiful is rain, but that’s what makes it difficult too. There are four stream crossings, which can be slippery and hazardous when rain floods the stream. Of the four crossings, the lowest is the most challenging and I found myself bushwhacking about 50 yards uphill to a better, less exposed crossing, where the chance of falling down a waterfall was less great.

The top of the trail runs through a small boulder field which is also exposed to Mt Washington’s winds, before ending at 4125′ along the Mt Washington Auto Rd. From there, you can link up with the Nelson Crag Trail which is about 0.5 miles up the road, or hike 1.2 miles to 5300′ where you can get on the Alpine Garden or Wamsutta Trails. All three of these trails are above treeline and fully exposed, so you want to make sure to have good visibility, low wind, and to avoid thunderstorm weather when hiking them.

Mt Jefferson's Knees from the Wamsutta T
Mt Jefferson’s Knees from the Wamsutta Trail

The Wamsutta Trail is 1.7 miles in length and good if you want to make a loop. It drops steeply back down into the Great Gulf, ending only about 0.6 miles from where the Chandler Brook Trail begins. The top of Wamsutta quickly drops into Krumholz offering some protection from Mt Washington’s winds. It then drops steeply through a maze of boulders, requiring good scrambling ability to get through in one piece. However, the effort is well worth the risk (yes risk, because this is not an easy trail), with unparalleled views of the side ravines on the other side of the Great Gulf. This includes Jeffersons Knees, two precipitously steep subsidiary ridges belonging to Mt Jefferson, the third highest peak in the White Mountains.

Chandler Brook Wamsutta Trail Loop

The bottom of the Chandler Brook Trail begins approximately 4 miles from the Great Gulf Trail parking area across from Camp Dodge on Rt 16. The full itinerary is as follows:

  • Great Gulf Trail (3.9 miles)
  • Chandler Brook Trail (0.9 miles)
  • Auto Road (1.2 miles)
  • Wamsutta Trail (1.7 miles)
  • Great Gulf Trail (4.5 miles)

Total Distance: 12.2 miles with approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

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  1. Barry Blanchette

    I thought walking on the Auto Road was not allowed? I’ve always wanted to try Chandler Trail but figured it would have to be an out and back. 1.2 miles is a long stretch of road. Don’t want to get myself a fine or anything.

    • I thought so too, but I was passed by 6 Auto Road Vans and they all just waved at me. I was prepared to talk my way out of it, but wasn’t hassled at all. Rumor is that there is an off-road snow-cat trail used in winter linking the two trails (to avoid a big Curve on the road), but I only found out about it after my hike. The road walk isn’t great, but at least it’s scenic.

      • I was wondering about that. The MapBuilder layer on CalTopo shows several paths that would help avoid most of the road walk. Two Summers ago I descended Wamsutta and recall briefly going down a path which was not the trail before retracing my steps. That lengthy stretch from top of Chandler to Nelson Crag is extremely narrow on the Auto Road isn’t it? And it climbs about 700′ in 0.9 miles so it’s not like you could briskly walk it (not me at least). Did it feel dangerous with cars/shuttles in that area?

        • I am really disenchanted with the Mapbuilder layer for the Whites and wish I could just get the USGS trails not all the herd paths and incorrect shit it forces on you. I’ve been meaning to complain to Matt.

          That stretch isn’t that narrow of a walk and about half of it is protected from the northwest winds. It didn’t feel dangerous. There’s weren’t many vehicles honestly. It was ATV day.

      • Phillip,

        Yes, there is a “Winter Path” for the snowcats. When the ice and snow make it such that the cats can not cut and plow a level trail (you don’t want these machines sitting at a sideways angle – too easy to slide right off the mountain) they use the path to head pretty much straight up and avoid a lot of side-hill action. Sadly, if you are on the shift that is ascending when they have to do this, you can not ride and must get out and walk. When I spent a week on the summit with the Weather Station in January of 1992, I ended up having to climb most of the way above treeline due to the ice conditions. Thankfully, the machine took the heavy gear bag and I just needed my rucksack.

        Was an interesting week. Saw winds tear icing experiments right off the rail of the summit build (a rail it took us nearly 3 hours of work to clear of ice) Saw a special Navy tow cable pretty much unravel in the cold. Took part is a recovery effort. (freaky how people strip down as they are freezing to death)

        Attempted to gain entry into the “Century Club” by walking the perimeter of the roof in 100+mph winds. Way too gusty. Quite literally blown off my feet.

        But the BEST part of the whole trip (I mean – other than completing the packet radio system to transmit forecasts to the base) was being able to sled down the mountain at the end of the shift. Yes, it was crampons and in places crawling for the first half mile or so until we could get off the wind polished ice and into the lee of the mountain. But after that, it was nearly 8 miles downhill at some pretty quick speeds. Even stopping for photos, we reached the bottom in just over 30 minutes.

      • Don’t know about today, but back in the ’90’s, it was perfectly OK to hike up the road all the way if you wanted. Just not recommended as there was a lot of vehicle traffic many days and that road is not exactly wide. (not to mention the skill of many of the drivers).

  2. I saw you on your hike, near Clam Rock, where I was camping. I think that is the first time I’ve seen you in the wild. I was trotting about with no pack on, to go sit on some river rocks in the sun.

    • Did you ignore me when I said hi? :-)
      I was thinking about camping out but that one site at clam rock next to the bear box was NOT appealing.

      • Did I? Not on purpose! The latch on the bear box was broken. I had hung a bear bag but the other 2 campers had their food in the box. It was my first night backpacking ever!

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