Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the presidential range and stands 6,288.2 ft tall. At the top, there is an observation center that records wind and weather patterns, as well as a place to eat, a museum, and a gift shop. Mount Washington has the highest wind speed ever recorded that was not a part of a tornado or cyclone – 231 mph, and previously held the record for highest wind speed ever recorded until 1996. The scientist in the observation group live there year round and conduct research on weather patterns. Make sure you have a chance to visit the museum and tour the observatory on your trip. This is a beautiful hike, but definitely a challenge one. There are other trails mentioned below that are easier options, as well as the Cog Railway for non-hikers. Total time for hiking: Approximately 3-4 hours of hiking plus 1-2 hours of idle time (depending on how long you stay at the top) This is also the fastest hike to the Lake of the Clouds hut.
- Distance: approximately 8.2 miles round trip
- Time: 6-8 hours
- Difficulty: challenging to intermediate
- Time of year: April to September
- Elevation gain: 3,812 Feet
- Plenty of water – there are two places to refill
- Bug repellent
- Quick dry towel
- Hiking shoes or trail shoes
- Money for chili at the top
- a light windbreaker if it’s during the summer – there are no trees at the top and it’s quite windy
- Packed lunch or snacks – opportunity to purchase these at the summit
We used the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to hike Mount Washington, which is one of the longer approach trails. If you prefer something shorter, I would recommend using either the Lion Head Trail (2 hours of hiking) or the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (3 hours of hiking)
In the morning, we made our way to the trailhead, which has a parking lot adjacent to the Cog Railway. There is a small parking fee that you need to pay before starting your hike, make sure to have some cash on you.
At the start of the trail, you’ll enjoy a path that that follows the Ammonoosuc River. There are plenty of wonderful spots that you can stop to sit and relax along the riverbank. Most of the area is vibrant and green during the summer months, giving the area a tropical or rainforest feeling. There is little elevation gain for the first 2 miles of hiking; however, be aware that there are lots of rocks and roots along the path.
Your first landmark is crossing Monroe brook, which offers a small pool and waterfall – Approximately 1.5 miles from the start of the trail. The next leg of the hike is the most arduous as you will ascend the most elevation over the shortest duration.
From Monroe Brook, the ascension is quite steep. Make sure that you take your time and that you secure good footing before continuing on the trail. There are a few precarious areas that might require additional assistance or planning before making your next move. After passing this challenging stretch of approximately 0.5 miles, you’ll notice the trees becoming thin and offering occasional openings and clearings. If you look closely, you might even spot the Cog Railway. There is a train that still uses a coal engine and is easy to spot by the smoke.
At 3.1 miles you’ll approach the Lake of the Clouds hut. Here you can stop to refill your water, buy a snack, and relax before the next leg of the journey. To your right, you’ll see Mt. Monroe just 0.3 miles away. Use the Crawford Trail to continue on to Mt. Monroe. To your left, you’ll see Mt. Washington. The last leg of the trip is 1.4 miles and is comprised of rock staircases to the summit.
Worth mentioning are the two lakes adjacent to the hut. Word on the street is that two guys once hiked a canoe all the way to the lakes as a joke. Joke is on them……..that would not be worth it. Anyways, the lakes are picturesque and are a nice spot to have lunch if the weather is permitting.
You’ll start noticing scientific equipment along the way that is used for environmental studies. At this point, you should also notice that you are above the tree line and that there are no trees. Make sure to stay on the trail and to look for the white trail rocks. It would be easy to get lost here in the fog or snow. The trail looks the same as the surrounding rock piles that were created by a glacier years ago.
After 1.4 miles of walking up the rock staircases, you will arrive at the summit of Mt. Washington. Here there is an indoor place to eat, a museum, and the observation station. If you or any member of your party took the Cog Railway, the drop off station is right next to the restaurant. The classic dish at the restaurant is the chili, which I’ve heard is quite good. Restrooms and even a few places to stay are available here – booking must be made in advance for accommodation. A historical lodge is available at the top, making a unique experience for those with a bit more time.
The best spot to take a photo is the tower in the observation station. There are a number of ladders that you will need to climb, but the view is worth it. You might have to pay for access, but there is a tour of the observation station included in the price of admission.
After your tour and meal, you’ll continue back via the same route that you came. Alternatively, if your knees are not feeling up for the return journey, you can purchase a ticket on the Cog Railway and then walk to the car park.
Another excellent resource for your Mount Washington hike or other New Hampshire hikes is the Appalachian Mountain Club – check out their website here: https://www.outdoors.org