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The Presidential Traverse: An epic endurance day hike in the White Mountains

Presidential Traverse in White Mountains, New Hampshire

This grueling but stunning day-hike, spanning eight of New Hampshire"s high peaks is a test of endurance and willpower. You will encounter rough terrain, nonstop ups and down and unpredictable conditions as you hike over 20 mile in a single day. But bag all of these and you will have conquered one of New England's greatest day hikes.


Trail Info

Presidential Traverse Stats, White Mountains New Hampshire

Leg Info

Leg info table for Presidential Traverse

**These distances and elevation numbers are estimates based on available data. They should be used to give a sense of how long or challenging each leg is, but shouldn't be considered 100% accurate.

Know before you go

  • Start early if you plan to do this as a day hike. In case the numbers don't make it obvious, this is a seriously challenging hike. This is still the single most amount of elevation gain I've ever done in a single day and my friend (who had thru-hiked the PCT) said this may have been his hardest day of hiking ever. It will take longer than you think, even if you are a seasoned hiker.

  • Pick a clear day for the attempt and be prepared with warm gear. Obviously you want those killer views, but the Presidential Range is notorious for extreme weather conditions. (Mount Washington recorded the highest ever wind speed in a non-hurricane ON EARTH). People have died from exposure in July on this range. So check the weather before you begin and have warm gear in your pack.

  • There are places to fill up water and get food along the trail. While I always recommend bringing more than you need, this hike is unique in that there are water fill ups and places to purchase food along the way. This will allow you to calibrate your pack so you can save a few pounds.

  • This is a point to point hike so logistics planning is required. The typical route is to go north to south, beginning at the Valley Way trailhead and staging a car at your exit point near the AMC Highland Center. Note, there is a shuttle system in this area, but given the likely late finish time, you may miss that last shuttle so a staged car, or a nice friend, is a better option.

  • Skipping Mount Jackson will save you three miles (18 miles one way). Depending on who you ask, this summit may or may not be considered part of the official Presidential Traverse. You can make a game time decision as the routes down from the decision point lead to similar exit points.

  • Consider breaking up the trip into multiple days. There's two reasons for this. First, you might enjoy it more. By peak 6, I found myself focused more on finishing than enjoying the hike. Second, the shelters maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club are awesome! They're so cozy and have everything you need for a night. If I was ever to do this again, I'd take 2-3 days and enjoy myself.

A different way to go about bagging these peaks

If you are making your way down the NH 48 list, the Pressie Traverse is the most efficient way to bag these peaks. However, there's plenty of other combo routes to hit these summits. If I was doing them separately, I'd do it like this:


The Trail

#1 Madison (5,367ft / 1,636m)

Trail to Mount Madison on Presidential Traverse in White Mountains of New Hampshire

The start of our morning looked like this. A lovely sunrise on what would be a gorgeous early September day. Despite the weather, we had already made a mistake. We started too late. We didn't hit the trail until almost 6:30. And with the sun due to set around 7, we had just over 12 hours to finish while the sun was still up. Seems like a lot of time, but this trail will take more than you think.

Valley Way to Mount Madison on Presidential Traverse in White Mountains of New Hampshire

The first peak on this classic traverse route is Mount Madison. We would follow the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut before taking the out and back trail to Mount Madison. This first part has the most constant elevation gain, as you ascend over 4,000 feet to reach this 9th highest peak in New Hampshire. So much for a warmup.

Valley Way to Mount Madison on Presidential Traverse in White Mountains of New Hampshire

The trail is pretty much straight up with minimal switchbacks (a classic New England hike) and a mix of dirt (possibly mud), roots, and rock. Luckily it was still nice and cool in the morning so getting our hearts pumping felt nice. Note, there are several trail junctions along this path. As long as you follow the signs for Valley Way and Madison Hut, you are going the right direction.

Valley Way to Mount Madison on Presidential Traverse in White Mountains of New Hampshire

Once you arrive at Madison Hut, you will head LEFT for the remaining 0.5 miles to bag peak #1. This is a great opportunity to ditch your pack at the hut if you want to save as much energy as possible.

Trail to Mount Madison on Presidential Traverse in White Mountains of New Hampshire

The ascent to Madison did require a bit of minor scrambling over some larger boulders. But with as we broke treeline and started to get those panoramic views of the White Mountains, any sort of negative thoughts faded away.

Mount Madison Summit on Presidential Traverse in White Mountains of New Hampshire

Peak #1 in the books. Let's get on to #2!

#2 Adams (5,774ft / 1,760m)

#3 Jefferson (5,712ft / 1,741m)

#4 Washington (6,288ft / 1,917m)

#5 Monroe (5,384ft / 1,641m)

#6 Eisenhower (4,780ft / 1,460m)

#7 Pierce (4,310ft / 1,310m)

#8 Jackson (4,052ft / 1,235m)


SS Reflections

The Presidential Traverse holds a place as my greatest physical accomplishment of a day hike. I have never gained more elevation in a single day and even my long days thru-hiking the Colorado Trail didn't compare to what I asked my body to do to finish the Pressie. Sometimes I think I might have been so focused on finishing, I didn't look around as much and relish the beauty of this amazing piece of New Hampshire. But then, when I think about what I accomplished that day, it's hard to smile and be proud. After I was done, I told myself I'll never do that again. But as I write this and reflect, a small voice in my head whispers, "maybe, just maybe."

Other Helpful Resources


DISCLAIMER: This website is for entertainment purposes only. The web designer and contributors are not liable for any injuries, accidents, or damages resulting from the use of information provided. Trail data, including trail statistics such as mileage and difficulty ratings, are provided as estimates based on the best available data at the time of publication and may not be 100% accurate. Conditions on trails can change; users should verify information with local authorities or  other reliable sources before embarking on any hiking or outdoor adventure. Hiking is a high-risk activity; individuals should know their limits, take precautions, and prioritize safety. By using this site, you acknowledge and accept these risks; the web designer and contributors are not legally responsible for any consequences.

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