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The White Mountain Guide and Why It is a MUST-HAVE Planning Reference for Hiking in the White Mountains

White Mountain Guide 30th Edition
White Mountain Guide 30th Edition

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 all of the 600+ 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.

What The White Mountain Guide says about the Huntington Ravine Trail
What The White Mountain Guide says about the Huntington Ravine Trail: “This trail is very dangerous when wet or icy and its use for descent is not recommended at any time.”

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.

What the White Mountain Guide says about the (North) Tripyramid Trail
What the White Mountain Guide says about the (North) Tripyramid Trail: “The steep rock slabs of the North Slide are difficult , and they are dangerous in wet or icy conditions. At all times – but particularly in adverse conditions or descent – the Scaur Ridge Trail is a much safer route than the North Slide.”

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.

What The White Mountain Guide says about the Ice Gulch Path
What The White Mountain Guide says about the Ice Gulch Path: “The Trip through the gulch itself is one of the most difficult and strenuous trail segments in the White Mountains, involving nearly constant scrambling over wet, slippery rocks and it may take much more time than the standard formula allows. There is no way to exit from the ravine in the mile between the Vestibule and Fairy Spring; hikers must either retrace their steps to the end they started from or continue to the other end, and should take this fact into account when considering the suitability of this trip for their party or estimating the amount of time they should allow for it. This trail is not suitable for dogs”

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.

Sample trail summary
Sample trail summary

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.

What the White Mountain Guide has to say about the Albany Brook Trail
What the White Mountain Guide has to say about the Albany Brook Trail: “This short, easy trail follows the shore of Crocker Pond and then leads to attractive, secluded Round Pond (shown)”.

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.

Upgrading to the waterproof versions of the AMC's White Mountain Guide Map Set is well worth it. These maps are very durable and last for years of heavy use
Upgrading to the waterproof versions of the AMC’s White Mountain Guide Map Set is well worth it. These maps are very durable and last for years of heavy use.

Maps Included

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.

Earlier versions of the White Mountain Guide, like the 1988 edition (far right) were more packable
Earlier versions of the White Mountain Guide, like the 1988 edition (far right) were more packable.

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. 

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  1. The WMG is so great that we who use it regularly are incredibly spoiled. I’m hiking in Maine this weekend and though the Maine guide is perfectly adequate, there’s not a lot of detail compared to what’s in the WMG. (I have the previous edition of the Maine one; perhaps the newest edition is better?)

  2. The publication is not available as an ebook, but there is an online version which is very powerful. I’ve used the White Mountain Guide Online for years (through AMC’s website), it’s a $20/year subscription. The Recommended Hikes are included, but my favorite feature is the ability to make Custom Routes. For a Custom Route, the software does the distance/elevation math for you and pulls out the appropriate trail description segments from the book. You can print the Custom Route and it will include a zoomed in map of your route plus the segmented description list. As someone who prefers digital planning tools over paper tools, I’ve found this very useful.

    • Torturous user interface though. Doesn’t work in all web browsers and is simply painful to use. They need to modernize it. I hate it.

      • Agree with Phil here. The problem with the AMC WMG (apart from the constant barrage of membership emails they spam you with) is that you can’t draw off trail routes with the tool. Frankly, you’re better off using Gaia and the free USGS maps which have all the WMG trails on them, at least the ones in the national forest.

  3. I love my WMG and read it faithfully before every hike. Unfortunately here it is 5 years later in 2021 and Phil was right – still no electronic edition. And they dropped support for the torturous online version a few years back. While it was far from great, it had that unique feature Kris pointed out where excerpts from the WMG were pulled based on your route and included in a PDF. That feature can’t be found today in Guthooks, Gaia, or any of the other apps. Pics of the relevant pages from the Guide works for the most part, but if you happen to be forgetful like me then it’s not the best option. I really wish AMC would offer it in electronic format so you always have it with you and available – assuming you didn’t forget your phone/GPS/reader – in case you need to make a mid-hike reroute and need intel on the alternatives. Phil, you seem to have insight here – can you give your opinion on why AMC doesn’t make this available electronically? Piracy is my initial thought but there are ways to prevent that these days. Thanks.

    • I doubt it’s anything as sophisticated as fear of piracy. They probably just don’t have the expertise to do it. The AMC corporate and publishing is just not very cutting edge, which is in part why the WMG online died a horrible death. But I’ll ask the two editors when I run into them next time I see them in the woods.

    • They were planning on offering a Kindle version of the SNHTG for the 2020 edition. Then publication got pushed back to 2021 and they canceled the electronic version. The curious thing is that on the last projected 2020 publication date for the print copy the Kindle version was available on Amazon and remained so for about a month.. I even have the free sample portion that covers all of Monadnock. Unfortunately. i waited getting the full electronic version, because I wondered if an AMC member discount would be available. When I asked why the Kindle version ended up disappearing. I was told it had to do with high editing fees.

  4. I love my AMC book. I’ve had it for years with the maps. I also use it and bring my maps with me.

  5. Time to update image and links for the 31st edition. About 10% more pages. The waterproof maps aren’t tyvek anymore. individual map prices have gone up 30%, but the 4-map set is the same price as in 2017.

    • The maps included with the book – at least for the last couple versions – have been paper. That’s not a change. AMC website still lists the individual maps as being waterproof & tearproof. It doesn’t specify material but would be surprised if it wasn’t still tyvek.

      • Yes, the maps included with the book are still paper. The additional purchase waterproof ones have a much different texture than the 2017 ones and don’t appear to be tyvek. They’ve been on sale for almost two weeks through the AMC. I saw them in Pinkham Notch. The employees there said the change was due to supply chain issues. Maps are now available anywhere (Oct 17 release date). Retailers other than the AMC can offer the book starting October 24, 2022.

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