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Hiking the Presidential Traverse Trail

Hiking the Presidential Traverse Trail

The first thing you should know about the Presidential Traverse Trail is that there isn’t a trail by that name in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, despite the fact that it’s listed as such in the AllTrails app. That fact will quickly bite you in the ass because the trail signs you encounter won’t match the information in your app. There are a lot of trails between the north and south ends of the Presidentials and it’s really easy to get lost unless you’ve taken the precaution of buying the AMC’s Presidential Range Map, planning out the sequence of trails you want to follow, and carrying the map with you so you can refer to it.

Again, contrary to AllTrails, there are many different sequences of trails that people follow to hike a Presidential Traverse because there are so many different trails that climb to each of the summits along the route. There are also some mountains along the route that you don’t have to climb, unless, of course, you want to. For example, many people skip Mt Clay, Mt Jackson, and Mt Franklin, because they’re not named after presidents, but others climb them. It just depends on what you want to do, what you want to see, and where you want to finish.

Trail Signs Northern Presidentials
Trail Signs Northern Presidentials

Here are two of the more common trail sequences that people hiking a Presidential Traverse (in one day) do take, although there are many other possibilities and variants, especially if you want to backpack the route and break the hike up across multiple nights (Note: above treeline camping is prohibited.)

  • Start at Appalachia Trailhead (Rt 2) + Valley Way Trail + Osgood Trail + Mt Madison + Osgood Trail + Gulfside Trail + Airline Trail + Mt Adams + Lowes Path + Gulfside Trail + Jefferson Loop + Mt Jefferson + Jefferson Loop + Gulfside Trail + Trinity Heights Connector + Mt Washington + Crawford Path + Monroe Loop + Mt Monroe + Monroe Loop + Crawford Path + Eisenhower Loop + Mt Eisenhower + Eisenhower Loop + Crawford Path + Webster Cliff Trail (S) + Mt Pierce + Webster Cliff Trail (N) + Crawford Path + End at Crawford Path Trailhead (Rt 302)
  • Start at Appalachia Trailhead (Rt 2) + Airline Trail + Airline Cutoff + Valley Way Trail + Osgood Trail + Mt Madison + Osgood Trail + Star Lake Trail + Mt Adams + Lowes Path + Gulfside Trail + Jefferson Loop + Mt Jefferson + Jefferson Loop + Gulfside Trail + Clay Loop + Mt Clay + Clay Loop + Gulfside Trail + Trinity Heights Connector + Mt Washington + Crawford Path + Monroe Loop + Mt Monroe + Monroe Loop + Mt Franklin + Monroe Loop + Crawford Path + Eisenhower Loop + Mt Eisenhower + Eisenhower Loop + Crawford Path + Webster Cliff Trail + Mt Pierce + Webster Cliff Trail + Mt Jackson + Webster Cliff Trail Trail: Jackson Branch + Webster Cliff Trail Trail + End at Webster Cliff Trail Trailhead (Rt 302)

As you can see there are a lot of trails and trail junctions in between the northern end and the southern ends of a Presidential Traverse.  There are also a lot of opportunities to take a wrong turn unless you have an authoritative local map that matches the trail signage. Be smart – bring a good map!

See also:

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  1. That’s the problem with AllFails and why search and rescue hates it. The idiots who post routes don’t use the local trail names or maps!

  2. GET THE MAP. I know that is the entire point of this post, but I just want to reiterate: GET THE MAP. There are soooooo many different trails, especially on the northern slopes of the northern peaks, that you absolutely will need the map. And if you need to bail out, which is almost always a possibility that you will need to consider, you will need to know which trails bring you most directly to a road and which ones bring you deeper into wilderness. GET THE MAP.

    • You make a great point about bail-out routes. You always want to head away from the Great Gulf, Oakes Gulf, or the Dry River when bailing out in the northern and southern presidentials because that direction leads to civilization. Heading into either one of those gulfs or the dry river will put you into wilderness areas that are dangerous if there is still snow and that are very difficult to extract yourself from since they’re so remote. Bring a local map and a way to determine which direction is north.

  3. Hello Phil,
    Thanks for always giving invaluable intel for this 64 year old Section Hiker. I’ve done 1/3 of the AT the hard way, which is section hiking, in my opinion)
    My question: which waterproof breathable rain jacket with pit zips is the lightest?
    Thanks in advance for your response.


  4. Great info… thanks!

  5. Hi Philip,
    I’m planning a Presi Traverse for early July. The plan is to hike northbound, starting at 302 and ending at Appalachia. We’ll spend the night at LOTC.

    It’s hard to ignore that most articles are written based on a southbound traverse. Am I missing any obvious reason to favor a southbound hike over northbound? A big part of the decision to go northbound is to ensure enough time to make LOTC before dinner.

    Thanks for all the great information you share on this site!


    • The reason people go north to south is that it’s easier on a one-day traverse. You expend most of your energy climbing Madison and then except for a few bumps, it’s downhill all the way to 302. The only people who hike the traverse south to north are staying at the huts. But the vast majority of the people hiking this traverse do it in one long day.

    • I prefer going from south to north. When ascending heading south, you are always looking up into sun. Even with sunglasses you can get a headache. Also on a long traverse you are pretty much facing the sun all day. But I must say on this traverse once you finally make it over Washington and the Clays, it is a little disheartening when you stare up at Jefferson.!! Definitely a little easier on the body giong north to south

  6. A friend and I will be doing a two-day travers, SOBO from Appalachia. In other areas I’ve hiked, I’ve been able to find a map with trail names listed next to the difficulty of that trail. Is there any such animal for the Presi Traverse? If bad weather pops up and we need to bail, I don’t want to take a more technical route with exposure, but it’s difficult to determine that with just a topo map. I have the AMC Presidential Range map and the NatGeo White Mountains Nat’l Forest map. I do have a couple of the Whites hiking reference books but, obviously, I don’t want to lug those in my pack. Looking for more of a list of trails.

    • Just a suggestion on the books – use your phone and take pictures of the relevant pages. There are some exceptions but for escape routes, the trails to the west are “easier” than those to the east. For example, if you’re on Jefferson Caps Ridge is the better choice to Six Husbands.

      I’d consider all trails some incremental level of hard. Except Crawford from Eisenhower down but that would be at the end anyhow.

      • Thank you for that – good tip. We’re planning on a level of hard, for sure, but would like to avoid trails like Huntington (from what I’ve read). The info about western routes being “easier” is definitely helpful. Happy trails!

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