The valley is a four-season destination for outdoor fun. Hiking is the primary distraction in summer and early fall while winter brings alpine and cross-country skiers. Due to avalanche threats, Tuckerman's Ravine is best skied in late spring – even then, always come prepared for wild and very challenging conditions. Newbies beware.
In summer, adventurers converge on the region for hiking, kayaking, mountain biking and camping. Most ski resorts open up their slopes as 'adventure parks,' where families can zoom down the mountain on ziplines, roller coasters and bikes.
In December the villages morph into winter wonderlands, with visitors cross-country skiing and snowshoeing across miles of well-groomed trails. Downhill skiers hit Attitash, Wildcat and Black Mountain, sometimes as early as November. A passenger-carrying snow coach heaves itself up the Mt Washington Auto Road.
Fall & Spring
Early fall sees hikers hoping to enjoy the foliage before the snow arrives. All Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hiking huts end full-service operations by mid-October. Downhill skiers hang tough into April and even early May.
The AMC huts re-open with full service in late May.
Climbing Mt Washington
Mt Washington's summit is at 6288ft, making it the tallest mountain in New England. The mountain is renowned for its frighteningly bad weather – the average temperature on the summit is 26.5°F (-3°C). The mercury has fallen as low as -47°F (-43°C), but only risen as high as 72°F (22°C). About 256in (more than 21ft) of snow falls each year. (One year, it was 47ft.) At times the climate can mimic Antarctica's, and hurricane-force winds blow every three days or so, on average. In fact, the second-highest wind speed ever recorded was here during a storm in 1934, when gusts reached 231mph.
If you attempt to hike to the summit, pack warm, windproof clothes and shoes, even in high summer, and always consult with Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hut personnel. Don't be reluctant to turn back if the weather changes for the worse. Dozens of hikers who ignored such warnings and died are commemorated by trailside monuments and crosses.
In a pinch, if you've reached the summit but don't want to hike back down, you can try to catch a ride with the Mt Washington Auto Road Hiker Shuttle. This first-come, first-served shuttle runs up and down the auto road, with a stop at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Rides may fill up, and the shuttle stops running when the auto road closes for the day, so always be prepared to hike back down.
In good weather, the hike is exhilarating. The only disappointment is exerting hours of effort, exploring remote paths and finally reaching the summit, only to discover a parking lot full of cars that motored up. Don't feel bad – just treat yourself to a 'This car climbed Mt Washington' bumper sticker.
Lakes of the Clouds, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring. The names of the mountain huts dotting the Appalachian Trail (AT) as it twists through the White Mountains inspire thoughts of a grand adventure. Even better? The huts deliver on that inspiration, and you only need a long weekend – and good hiking shoes – to experience their charms.
Managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the eight wooden high-mountain huts are spaced about a day's hike apart. The huts are full-service in summer and early fall, meaning that a small 'croo' of workers prepares family style breakfasts and dinners for guests and manages the overnight co-ed dorms. The huts have been in operation for more than 125 years. If you're a hiker but not sure about backpacking, try an overnight hut trip to get your feet wet.
The huts offer a nice mix of personal service and do-it-yourself adventuring. Check out their locations on the AMC website (www.outdoors.org) and consider mileages, elevation changes and sights along the way. Then reserve your bunks as they suit your route. You pack everything you'll need during the day, while the 'croo' takes care of your evening and morning meals and your lodging. If you buy an AMC membership, you get discounts on lodging, gear and AMC guidebooks.
You can use a two-car shuttle system or reserve a space with the AMC Hiker Shuttle. Note that numerous trails link to the huts and to the AT, so you have lots of flexibility with route planning. You cannot drive to the huts.
Huts & Lodges
The AMC's Highland Center and Joe Dodge Lodge are good first-night accommodations if you're arriving late. Lakes of the Clouds Hut is the highest-elevation hut at 5012ft. It's a good place to overnight if you're attempting to hike to the summit of Mt Washington. Galehead Hut is the most remote of the eight, but your payoff is a vast view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from the front porch.
Trails are rocky and steep in the White Mountains and the Presidential Range. Weather can change from warm and sunny to cold and foggy in seemingly an instant. And those rocks can get slick. Experienced hikers often use two hiking poles for balance and support.
You'll find an answer to just about every hut-to-hut question at the AMC website (www.outdoors.org). The AMC's fold-out White Mountains Trail Map is also helpful, as are its various hiking guides. For history and details about each hut, consider the engaging Passport to AMC's High Huts in the White Mountains.
Three Routes to the Mt Washington Summit
|Cost||One-Way Distance (miles)||Total Trip Time (hr)||Dates||Key Considerations|
|Tuckerman Ravine Trail||free||4.2||8-10||Varies; best conditions typically mid-Jun-early Sep||Must be in good physical shape. Check the weather before departure. Carry half a gallon of water, a map and compass. Follow the 10 Essentials for a Safe & Pleasant Hike and other instructions at www.outdoors.org.|
|Cog Railway||adult $72-78, child $41||3.5||3||late Apr–Nov||Advance reservations are recommended. Be prepared for crowds and a sold-out coach.|
|Auto Road||self-guided $31, guided tour 2/3hr $36/65||7.6||2-3||self-guided May–mid-Oct; guided late May–mid-Oct||Physically easy but those with a fear of heights may not enjoy this drive. Car needs to be in good condition.|