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When Does Winter Start in the White Mountains?

When Does Winter Start in the White Mountains

Winter isn’t so much of a season in the White Mountains as an altitude. The onset of winter always starts at the higher elevations first with freezing rain and snow before the snow line drops into the mountain passes and valleys below. In other words, it might be winter on the higher peaks, but autumn in the valleys below. It’s just like spring when the lower elevations warm faster and winter lingers on the high peaks.

For day hikers or backpackers, winter effectively begins when you start having to carry microspikes for extra traction on hikes. That can happen as early as October 1 on the higher peaks, especially on Mt Washington and the Northern Presidentials where the average temperature is below freezing from October through April. Eventually, you’ll need to carry snowshoes too, but early on, microspikes are usually sufficient until mid-November and December, when we start to get larger quantities of snow.

This state of seasonal “in-between-ness” means you must carefully plan hikes by tracking weather forecasts several days in advance to determine if they’re safe and what gear you need to bring. Checking trail condition reports from other hikers on is also very helpful.

Come November 1, I usually switch to my winter backpack which is better suited to carrying sharp traction, like microspikes and crampons, and start carrying a lot more cold-weather clothing layers and gloves on hikes. I add a second headlamp and pack away my water filter since it’s likely to break if it gets frozen and start carrying Katadyn Micropur tablets for water purification since they work in cold water. Eventually, I’ll even start to carry hot water in wide-mouth bottles instead of cold water on hikes, so it doesn’t freeze. I’ve found myself hiking in several inches of snow on 4000 footers by November 1st, but it’s hard to know exactly when autumn surface conditions will give way to snow and ice.

For peakbaggers working on the AMC Winter 4000 footer peakbagging list, ‘calendar’ winter begins on December 21, 2023 and ends on March 19, 2024 (the days vary slightly from year-to-year). The rules for completing this list are rather strict: “Trips must begin after the hour and minute of the beginning of winter (winter solstice), and end before the hour and minute of the end of winter (spring equinox). For example, to count as an AMC Winter 4000 hike for the 2023-2024 season, you must not start your hike before the winter solstice on Wednesday, Dec 21 at 10:27 PM EST, and you must end a hike (all the way back at the trailhead/car) before the vernal equinox Tuesday, Mar 19 at 11:06 PM EST.

You can read all about the winter rules on the AMC4000 Footer website. They may seem strict, but you have to realize that bagging Winter 4000-footers is a game, and games have rules.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 10,000 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 articles as the founder of, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 12 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 576 summits in all four seasons. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.


  1. This was super helpful — thanks! I’m hoping to be backpacking in the Whites the second week in October and was looking around for some tips on what to bring.

  2. In my youth I spent several late August weeks in the Whites. And got snowed on stumbing through a white out of blown snow. I have come back down soaked from the wet trees covered with wet snow. I had been trained to dress in a three season mindset. I’ve fashioned mittens from my extra socks (duct tape across the palm does a good job) and had everything I brought for warmth on me. Maybe July is safe but for the rest of the year you are better off thinking of winter.

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