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Winter Hike to Mt Potash

Landslide scarred peak of Mt Passaconaway
Landslide scarred flank of Mt Passaconaway

Mt Potash (2700′) is a small kettle shaped mountain located across from the Passaconaway campground on the Kancamagus Highway with 360 degree views of Mts. Passaconaway, Whiteface, The Sleepers, The Tripyramids, The Huntingtons, Hancocks, Carrigan, Chocorua, Paugus, and Hedgehog among others. It’s on the 52-with-a View peakbagging list and with good reason.

I climbed Potash one frosty morning when the temperature was in the single digits, hiking up and down the Mt Potash Trail. A pleasant 2.2 mile walk through open woods, the trail rises steeply, gaining 1400 feet in about 1.8 miles as it climbs to the mountain’s open summit. I hiked the trail wearing lightweight crampons for extra traction which proved useful since there are sections of the final climb that are rather exposed with steep drop-offs.

Frozen Downes Brook Stream Crossing
Frozen Downes Brook Stream Crossing

I almost turned around at the beginning of this hike when I encountered frozen Downes Brook,  a wide stream at the bottom of the climb. There’s a significant stream crossing here that could be high consequence if you fell in and got wet in winter weather. I spent a long time scouting a few different crossing points and found good footing about 100 feet above the blazed crossing, but had to bushwhack a steep bank to get back to the trail.

I met some other hikers later in the day who opted not to make the crossing and I can understand why. Winter stream crossings can be tricky. You really need to look out for the frozen ledges along the banks because you can get swept under them and drown if you break through.

I wouldn’t have crossed unless I had a high certainty level that I’d make it. I also knew that if I didn’t, I was only 0.3 miles from my car and a pair of dry shoes and socks. That was an important factor in my decision-making.

After the stream crossing, I was surprised to see how little the trail had been used recently. While I didn’t need to break trail, the footprints I was walking in did have fresh snow in them. I would have thought that Potash would be more heavily hiked in winter than it is apparently. Maybe that stream crossing scares people off.

Mt Potash

There is an alternate route around the stream crossing by hiking up a logging road further up the Kanc, but I’m not really sure exactly where it comes out on the highway, although you can see it on the map above where it intersects with the Mt Potash trail. Click on the map above and it will display in Caltopo, where you can read off the Lat/Lon coordinates. The upper part of this logging road is part of the Oilverian-Downes Brook XC Trail.

The Sleepers and Tripyramids from Mt Potash
The Sleepers and Tripyramids from Mt Potash

There are two major viewpoints on Mt Potash. The first is a bit lower than the summit and is the first open ledge you come to, providing a close up view of Mt Passaconaway, a 4000 footer in the Sandwich Range. As you approach the summit, the entire Sandwich Range opens up before you like a giant amphitheater. It’s a rare view of the ridge connecting Passaconaway, Whiteface, the Sleepers, and Tripyramids, all linked together.

Mt Carrigan
Mt Carrigan

Continuing up to the summit, the view opens up to include the Huntingtons, the Hancocks, and Carrigan as well as all of the other mountains in the Sawyer Pond area. You can even see The Captain, a famous cliff below Mt Carrigan, in the distance. The views are simply outstanding.

I’ve been meaning to climb Potash for some time and am glad I took a few hours to hike up to its open summit. This peak is a keeper, a hike to be repeated in warmer weather when I can bring a picnic lunch and a few friends.

Total Distance: 4.4 miles with 1450′ of elevation gain.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

Written 2016.

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  1. As an FYI, the bypass for getting around the Downes Brook crossing, FR511, is clearly evident and signed where it meets the Kanc. From the highway, I believe it’s less than a mile before it intersects the trail (stone steps on the right).

  2. Love that you wrote about Potash. I did it last fall and was surprised by how excellent the summit views were. And it is not a well-traveled mountain, or at least it wasn’t that day. I had the summit to myself for about 20 minutes and only after I was getting ready to leave did another group arrive. A hidden gem, I guess.

    • When the snow is gone, I might just walk up Passaconaway on that slide or take that northern ridge off Whiteface to the summit or rock hop Downes brook and fly fish. Massive off-trail potential there! Potash opens the door to many opportunities.

      • The abandoned Downes Brook Slide Trail up that slide has been on my bucket list for a while. Maybe this year? The present Passaconaway view spur uses the top of the old trail, and the slide is still climbed occasionally. I’ve read some conflicting reports on the difficulty, some saying it is wet, mossy and nasty, others saying it isn’t so bad. Some interesting history on when the trail was illegally re-cleared, blazed and signed in the 90s:

        • It’s been on my list too. Didn’t know the history. I’ve done a lot more hiking in the Sandwich Range this past year. Great place. Just bagged Paugus (bushwhack) last weekend.

  3. Gonna climb mt. Moosilauke on Saturday (2/27). Any suggestions for the best trail up the mountain in winter? I know enough not to take Beaverbrook trail at least.

  4. A really beautiful and useful description. Thanks!

  5. Phil,

    Do you know anything about the old yellow blaze trail off the summit? I hiked Potash on 7/17/21, and while wandering around up there, found a path leading behind a large boulder. From there, old, very faded yellow blazes lead down some open ledges down the mountain. I continued to follow for a few hundred yards until the path wasn’t obvious. The trail is opposite the view of the Sleepers and Tripyramids, before reaching the last summit ledge.

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