After several years of compulsive peakbagging in the White Mountains, I’ve changed my goals and set out to hike many of the trails that I’ve never set foot on before. With over 1500 miles of interconnected trails, there are still many miles of trails in the Whites that I’ve never hiked and I expect this “project” will run well into the future. While I haven’t given up climbing mountains, climbing a peak is no longer one of my prerequisites for taking a day hike or a backpacking trip.
An excellent case in point is the Daniel Webster “Scout” Trail which climbs the western face of Mt Madison, the fourth highest four thousand footer in the White Mountains. The trail ends before reaching the summit however, intersecting with the Osgood Trail at 4760′ about six tenths of a mile below Madison’s summit cairns.
The last 1200 feet of elevation on the Daniel Webster Trail are fully exposed to the elements however and it will feel like you are climbing a mountain, as the trail sidehills through a boulder field up to the Osgood Ridge. The point where this trail ends at 4760″ might as well be a mountain, as it’s higher than most of the other mountains on the White Mountain 4000 footer list and the fact that it provides awesome views.
Three point five miles in length, the Daniel Webster Scout Trail begins inside the Dolly Copp Campground off Rt 16 – just tell the gate attendant at the entrance that you’re there to hike the trail. There is parking at the end of the Dolly Copp Campground Road, a few tenths of a mile beyond the trailhead, where the Great Gulf Link Trail begins. This is also the site of a good swimming spot along the Peabody River.
If you’ve ever climbed the Osgood Trail up to Mt Madison, you know what an arduous and steep climb that is, full of roots and rocks. The Daniel Webster Trail is far easier, shorter, and more direct route than the Osgood Trail and a good alternative for ascent or descent, especially if you want a more direct route to get to Rt 16. The Dolly Copp Campground (a fee is required) at the bottom of the trail is also a million times nicer than the Osgood Campsite on the AT, which is tiny, with lousy water, sagging tent platforms, and is a dump.
The Daniel Webster Trail can be broken into three logical sections.
- The bottom section, starting at 1300 feet of elevation, has the gentlest grade running past large trees and hobblebush meadows, the result of past logging. Water is abundant with numerous stream crossings and rocks have been positioned in the treadway to provide safe passage through wet and muddy areas.
- The middle section runs from 2800 feet to treeline at 4000 feet ,and climbs more steeply, but is still moderate in comparison to the Osgood Trail. The trail is very well maintained despite its low use, with wooden and stone steps placed along steep gradse and freshly raked water bars. The last water occurs at 3600 feet of elevation, just below treeline.
- The final section begins when you enter krummholz at about 3800 feet and the trail gets a lot rockier, turning into a scree and boulder field at 4000 feet up to the Osgood Trail intersection at 4760 feet. At 4000 feet there’s the ubiquitous White Mountain above-treeline warning sign. From there to about 4500 feet, the cairns marking the trail and the blue and yellow painted blazes painted on the rocks can be a bit hard to spot, so be patient in your route-finding. They’re much easier to spot on the descent however, although I’m not sure why.
Once you emerge above treeline, there are excellent views of the entire Howker Ridge (another very scenic trail up to Madison), Pine Mountain, and the city of Berlin (pronounced Ber’lin with the accent on the first syllable) to the north. Turning east, you can also see the unmistakable gap of Carter Notch and clear views of the entire Carter Moriah range, including the diminutive Little Wildcat Mountain below Wildcat A.
When you get to the top of the Daniel Webster Scout Trail, there’s a huge rock cairn at the point it intersects the Osgood Trail along with a wooden trail sign. Hold onto your hat though, because it’s likely to blow off your head once you clear the top of the Osgood Trail and the full force of the prevailing westerly wind hits you in the face.
Once you are standing at the trail junction, you will be able to see Mt Washington, Adams, and Madison, rising majestically above the Great Gulf. While you could continue up the Osgood Trail to Madison’s summit or follow the Parapet Trail to Star Lake in the Adams-Madison col, give yourself time to drink in this view.
The best time to climb the Daniel Webster Scout Trail is in the morning before the rocks at the top of the ascent heat up in the daylight sun and start to radiate heat outwards. When climbing, it’s best to refill your water battles at 3600′ (bring a water filter or chemical purification) and carry two liters because there is no water until Madison Hut in the Adams-Madison Col. Mornings are also better because there is often a chance of afternoon thunderstorms on the higher summits in summer. With no cover, you don’t want to experience lightning and hail at the top of this trail (speaking from experience), so check the higher summits forecast before deciding to climb or descend via this trail.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 31st ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine