The classic hut based Presidential Traverse is a three day trip across the top of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, with nights spent at Lakes of the Clouds and Madison Spring huts. It can be extended to a fourth day by spending an extra night at Mizpah Hut. It can obviously be done in either direction, there are considerable differences in difficulty between the two directions.
This is a popular trip, and in good weather it is spectacular, with about one and a half of days spent above treeline. Unfortunately hut reservations must be made weeks in advance, and so it is impossible to predict what the weather will be like. Distances and elevation gains are given on the assumption that all summits will be ascended, see the Notes on Bypassing the Summits for a discussion of the distance and elevation savings of bypassing them.
The northbound traverse is easier, as it rises gradually on the first day, following the Crawford path, which was initially a bridle path.
On the first day take the Crawford Path from the notch to Lakes hut, going over (or around) the summits of Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin and Monroe [ow: 7.4 miles, 4,250 feet, 5:50]. While the elevation gain is substantial it is spread out over seven miles , and the trails all have good footing and are nowhere very steep. There are patches of scrub between Pierce and Eisenhower, beyond that the trail is entirely above treeline.
On the second day continue on the Crawford Path to the summit of Mt. Washington, then take the Gulfside trail to Madison hut, optionally taking loop trails to go over the summits of Clay, Jefferson and Adams [ow: 7.0 miles, 1,900 feet, 4:25].
On the third day ascend Madison by the Osgood trail, and descend to Appalachia either by returning to the hut and taking the Valley Way, or going down the Watson Path to the Valley Way, the distance is the same for both [ow: 4.7 miles, 550 feet, 2:40]. In bad weather a direct descent by the Valley Way is almost completely sheltered (ow: 3.8 miles, 0 feet, 1:55).
A longer alternative is to take the Osgood Trail all the way down to the Great Gulf Trail, and exit by that trail [ow: 5.6 miles, 550 feet, 3:05], or by taking the AT along the Madison Gulf and Old Jackson Road trails to Pinkham Notch [ow: 7.7 miles, 1,100 feet, 4:25]. Either alternative gives an additional mile of above treeline ridge walking, it should not be done in bad weather when the steeper but more protected Madison Gulf Trail can be used to descend to the Great Gulf. Since the Madison Gulf Trail is very steep and has a few scrambles it is rarely used as a descent route except when the weather makes the more exposed routes dangerous.
It is possible to add Jackson to the first day of the trip, going up the Jackson branch of the Webster-Jackson trail and taking the Webster Cliff trail to its junction with the Crawford Path [ow: 9.2 miles, 4,350, 6:45].
Here is a summary of the three day south to north traverse:
|Route||Distance||Elevation Gain||Book Time|
|Day 1: Crawford to Lakes||7.4||4,250||5:50|
|Day 1: Crawford to Lakes adding Jackson||9.2||4,350||6:45|
|Day 2:Lakes Hut to Madison Hut||7.4||4,250||5:50|
|Day 3:Madison Hut to Appalachia, over Mt. Madison||4.7||550||2:40|
|Day 3: Valley Way bypassing Mt. Madison||3.8||0||1:55|
|Day 3: Madison Hut to Great Gulf trailhead||5.6||550||3:05|
|Day 3: Madison Hut to Pinkham by AT||7.7||1,100||4:25|
The southbound traverse involves a stiff climb on the first day, with three options allowing you to choose as much distance as you wish. The first is simply to go up the Valley Way to the hut (ow: 3.8 miles, 3,550 feet, 3:40), and doing the summit (rt: 0.8 miles, 550 feet, 0:40) either then or later (in summer, often after dinner). A more strenuous variation is to start on the Valley Way, then take the Watson Path to the summit and descend to the hut by the Osgood Trail (ow: 4.6 miles, 4,050 feet, 4:20). The distance and elevation gain are the same as for taking the Valley Way all the way to the hut and then doing the summit, but the trail is steeper and the footing is rougher.
The second option is to start from the Great Gulf trailhead, and take the Great Gulf and Osgood trails over the summit of Mt. Madison and down to the hut (ow: 5.6 miles, 4,050 feet, 4:50). There is a long ridge walk as Mt. Madison is approached, with excellent views in good weather but very exposed to the elements. In bad weather it may be advisable to bypass the summit by taking the Parapet Trail. Note that this is a very rough trail, and many hikers who use it to avoid the exertion of going over the summit regret the choice.
The longest way is to start at Pinkham Notch and to take the AT, which follows the Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf, Great Gulf, Osgood Cutoff and Osgood trails (ow: 7.7 miles, 4,050 feet, 5:50).
The second day is spent entirely above treeline, taking the Gulfside Trail from Madison Hut to the summit of Mount Washington, and descending to Lakes of the Clouds Hut by the Crawford path (ow: 7.9 miles, 3,400 feet, 5:40). The only option here is whether to go over the summits or around them.
The third day is spent on the Crawford Path, optionally going over the summits of Mounts Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce before descending to Crawford Notch (ow: 7.4 miles, 350 feet, 3:50). It can be extended by following the Webster Cliff Trail down to Mizpah Hut and then up to the summit of Mount Jackson, descending by the Jackson Branch of the Webster-Jackson Trail (ow: 10.6 miles, 700 feet, 5:40).
|Route||Distance||Elevation Gain||Book Time|
|Day 1: Appalachia to Madison Hut, over Mt. Madison||4.6||4,100||4:20|
|Day 1: Madison Hut by Valley Way, bypassing Mt. Madison||3.8||3,550||3:40|
|Day 1: Madison Hut from Great Gulf||5.6||4,050||4:50|
|Day 1: Madison Hut by AT from Pinkham||7.7||4,050||5:50|
|Day 2: Madison Hut to Lakes Hut||7.9||3,400||5:40|
|Day 3: Lakes Hut to Crawford Notch||7.4||1,150||4:15|
|Day 3: Lakes Hut to Crawford Notch adding Mt. Jackson||10.6||700||5:40|
It is possible to add Mizpah Hut and make it a four day trip. This is most often done by northbound hikers who want to shorten the long first day. However you get to the hut on day one, day two is 5.0 miles, with 2,350 feet of elevation gain and a book time of 3:40.
The shortest way to the hut is by the Crawford Path and the Mizpah Cutoff (ow: 2.6 miles, 1,900 feet, 2:15). For the many other possibilities check the Mizpah Hut page.
The distances and elevation gains in the text and tables assume that you will be going over all of the summits. It is possible to save some elevation gain (and a very small distance) by bypassing some or all of them. The following table gives the approximate savings. While none are individually very large, bypassing all summits between Lakes and Madison huts saves about a mile and 1,400 feet of elevation gain.
|Summit||Distance||Elevation Gain||Book Time|
|Mounts Eisenhower and Monroe||0.1||350||0:15|
|Mounts Clay and Jefferson||0||300||0:10|
|Mount Madison (Valley Way)||0.8||550||0:40|
Note that in many cases the bypasses are on an easier trail than the summit loop. The sections of the Gulfside bypassing the summits of Mounts Adams and Clay have excellent footing, while the scramble up and down Mount Adams is more rockhopping than following a trail.