Mount Washington: Take the Ambitious Way and Avoid Crowds

Despite some down-sides, Mount Washington (6,288 ft./1,917 m.) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is well worth the visit.  While the crowds can be a bit overwhelming – and the summit itself underwhelming – for we hikers seeking wilderness scenery, the alpine ridges of the Presidential Range are among the longest exposed ridges in the region.  But to avoid the crowds taking the direct trails, rail or the auto road to the summit take the long way up via the Glen Boulder and Lawn Cutoff Trails and take-in an extended tour of the alpine zone.

It has to be noted that the majority of this route is above treeline and will expose a hiker to the threats of the mountain.  Mount Washington has been called the most dangerous small mountain in the world and for good reason: Here the highest recorded wind speed was recorded and many have fallen or suffered from hypothermia in all seasons.  It is recommended that hikers on the mountain know the safest, quickest route to get below treeline if harsh weather comes through.  Bring the Ten Essentials plus a full rain suite, gloves and a wool cap.  The first time I climbed in the range was during the month of August and I used the gloves and the cap against the wind; I was grateful I packed them.

This long route from the east avoids the popular Tuckerman Ravine Trail as well as the auto road well to the north.  The trailhead is located on Route 16 less than a mile south of the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  The Trailhead starts at 1,829 ft./557 m. and within two mi./3.2 km. and an ascent of about 2,800 ft./853 m. the trees give way to the alpine zone.  The trail takes you over Slide Peak (4,806 ft./1,465 m.), a moderately prominent high point along the ridge.  Shortly thereafter, the trail comes to a tee at the Davis Path; going right takes you north toward the summit.  Continue walking along the field or “lawn” of boulders the size of love seats for 1 mi./1.6 km. to the Lawn Cutoff Trail junction.  If the weather is clear you’ll clearly the see the summit and know to continue north for just under 1 mi./1.6 km.  Returning by the same paths makes a round trip distance of 11.1 mi./17.9 km.

Alternatively, if you wish to avoid Mount Washington, its gift shop and antennae altogether, from the Lawn Cutoff junction you can take the Camel Trail to the Crawford Path heading south and bag Mount Monroe’s summit (5,372 ft./1,637 m.).  It is also a reasonably satisfying hike.  The total trip is roughly equidistant.

  • Roundtrip to Mount Washington: 11.1 mi./ 17.9 km.
  • Total elevation gained: 4,459 ft./1,359 m.
  • Roundtrip to trip to Mount Monroe alone: 10.2 mi./17.3 km.
  • Total elevation gained: 3,543 ft./1,080 m.
  • Best Map: AMC White Mountains Map 1 of the Presidential Range

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2 thoughts on “Mount Washington: Take the Ambitious Way and Avoid Crowds

  1. Good post about this alternate route up Mt. Washington! Adam and I hoped to hike it when we were up there in July, but I’m still having ankle issues. I suffered a bad sprain back in the spring. The granite in NH really aggravated it and we had to keep our hikes short this year. We’re hoping next year we can tackle it.

    When we were up there this year, we overheard the woman at the hiker information desk talking to two guys. The guys were dressed in Tevas, cotton shorts and t-shirts. They explained that they wanted to hike a bit on the “famous AT” before they drove back down the mountain – “maybe 10-12 miles”. It was already near noon, with storms moving in. The woman explained how dangerous their plan was and pointed out how unprepared they were. We saw them a short while later, getting back into their car and driving down. At least they listened to her wisdom!

  2. I would imagine NH granite being relentless on an inflamed joint. Don’t rush the healing (which probably goes without saying).

    As for the Cotton Brothers, I have seen these fellas before too. I don’t think any hikers or climbers would blame them for wanting to go hike the “famous AT” for the romantic adventure or some sort of bragging rights. But having some realistic expectations and being prepared is a big deal.

    Thanks for sharing illustrating both the interest in the trails there and the trouble anyone faces up there, Christine.

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