The AMC’s White Mountain Guide, considered “The Bible” of White Mountains hiking and backpacking, is an indispensable tool in understanding the difficulty, length, elevation gain, and hazards of each of the 608 maintained hiking trails in the Whites, including detailed directions for finding trail heads. If you day hike or backpack in the White Mountains you should read the trail descriptions of the trails you want to hike before you embark on a trip.
The White Mountain Guide is also a fantastic reference for discovering new trails and new regions of the White Mountains that you never knew existed before. I keep separate copies on my night table and in my car because I refer to it so often, and it’s a great gift to give to a budding hiker in your family if they’ve gotten hooked on hiking in the White Mountains.
I stress hazards above, because many of the trails in the White Mountains can be dangerous to hike in bad weather conditions or in the wrong direction. This is particularly true above treeline where there is no cover from lightning and thunderstorms, although there are also trails that are very slippery when wet or that can be too rough to hike for young and old alike. The White Mountain Guide lets you assess these risks in advance so you can avoid a blown trip when you discover that a trail is too dangerous or technical for the other members of your party.
I meet an alarming number of hikers in the White Mountains who’ve never heard about The White Mountain Guide, usually when they’re about to hike down a steep trail that the Guide warns against or they’re about to climb up a mountain, when it’s clear they’re going to have to climb down in the dark because they haven’t arrived early enough to hike out in daylight. That can all be avoided by consulting the White Mountain Guide before your hike, so you can figure out how hard a trail is going to be, how long it will take to hike, how much water you need to bring, if it’s age or dog appropriate, and whether there are any hazards worth knowing about in advance.
Trail Descriptions in The White Mountain Guide
There are 608 trails in the White Mountains, covering 1440 miles of trails and The White Mountain Guide has a detailed description of every one of them including the estimated time to hike it, the amount of elevation gain, and detailed directions for the finding trail heads, which can be fairly difficult depending on the trail. Each entry also lists the best map to use and the trail maintenance organization that maintains the trail.
Each trail entry includes a turn by turn description of what you’ll experience when you hike the trail and well as viewpoints and an explanation of the land features you’ll see from them. The book is also chock full of interesting historical information and facts about the unique animals and plants of the White Mountains, and quite pleasurable reading for those interested.
The White Mountain Guide is a remarkable collection of information that’s been collected and updated since the first edition was published in 1907, then titled Guide to the Paths and Camps of the White Mountains, Part I (which can be viewed online for free on Google Books). Now in its 29th edition, the White Mountain Guide is updated every five or six years with the latest new trails, trail closures, and reroutes collected and organized by the tireless editors, Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman.
List of Recommended Hikes
The White Mountain Guide is divided into 12 parts, each describing a region of the White Mountain National Forest and neighboring trail systems. There’s a list of recommended hikes at the end of each section, listed in terms of difficulty – easy, moderate, and strenuous – which provide an excellent way to experience the scenic highlights of an area or find a trip that’s suitable for your group. The sheer amount of information in the White Mountain Guide can be a bit overwhelming, so these recommended hikes provide a good entry point as you expand your horizons into other areas of the National Forest.
The White Mountain Guide comes with a set of maps that cover all of the trails in the White Mountain National Forest. These are printed on regular paper, so they’re not something you’re going to want to carry with you on trips because they’ll soon fall apart. Instead, you should upgrade to the AMC’s White Mountain National Forest Waterproof Trail Map Set which are quite durable and will last for years of abuse.
However, be advised that the AMC maps only cover trails in the White Mountain National Forest and not all of the trails listed in The Guide. You may never realize this since most people hike in the National Forest exclusively, but you’ll need to buy or acquire additional maps if you hike on the more remote trails located in Western New Hampshire along the Appalachian Trail, in Northern New Hampshire, or Maine.
Not a Pocket Guide
The current 29th edition of The White Mountain Guide is over 646 pages long and not something you’re going to want to carry with you on hikes. Previous editions, like the first version I bought in 1988 were more packable, but that it no longer the case. The White Mountain Guide is also not available in electronic form and I’d be surprised if that changed anytime soon.
Because it’s a reference work, you’re not going to want to tear out pages in the White Mountain Guide and bring them on your hikes. Instead, I take photographs of the pages I need using my cell phone and refer to them when necessary. I wish that the White Mountain Guide was available for Kindle or iPhone readers and apps, but again, it’s unlikely.
Regardless, if you hike or backpack in the White Mountains, get yourself The White Mountain Guide. You’ll learn a lot about the area and become a better hiker for it, more in tune with the challenges you’ll face on your hikes and the opportunities for high adventure!
Disclosure: The author purchased all of his White Mountain Guides and maps with his own funds. This post contains affiliate links.