Mount Washington, with its 6,288 foot summit often poking into the clouds, provides one of the most exhilarating and challenging hiking experiences east of the Mississippi. While there are taller peaks in the eastern US, most notably in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains and the Black Mountains of North Carolina, none provides the diversity of climate and hiking experience of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Mount Washington is perhaps best known to hikers for its rapid weather changes. A day that dawns with 70 degree temperatures and blue skies at the base of the mountain can devolve into a fierce winter storm on the summit in a matter of hours. And fierce is no joke: it snows every month of year on the summit, and the wind speed on the summit has been recorded as high at 231 mph!

Is the weather always that bad on Mount Washington? Definitely not. But on any given day, in any month of the year, it can be. “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the smart hikers’ mantra. Willingness to turn back if you encounter conditions beyond your fitness and experience level can make the difference between life and death. Better to hike halfway up Mount Washington safely and return to hike another day, than to add to the count of the more than 140 hikers who have lost their lives, mostly due to hypothermia, on this rugged mountain.

Despite the challenges, around 250,000 people visit Mount Washington each year. Its proximity to large northeastern cities like Boston and New York make it an irresistible attraction for summit-baggers, serious hikers and weekend visitors alike.

Popularity of Mount Washington

It is easy to see why so many people are drawn to the mountain known to some indigenous tribes as Agiocochook, “the place of the Great Spirit.” The panoramic views in the alpine climate above treeline are stunning and ethereal, like being transported to another world. On a clear day, summit hikers can gaze across hundreds of miles to the Atlantic Ocean and mountains peaks in six states. Perhaps most breathtaking of all are the views of the alpine landscape of New Hampshire’s own Presidential Range and the famed Lake of the Clouds Hut nestled in a saddle 1,200 feet below the summit.

Taking a breathe at all can be a challenge, though, as the steep ascent, even on the so-called easy routes, leaves hikers gasping for air, at least on the final hand-over-hand scramble to the top. Hiking safely to the summit of Mount Washington requires advance preparation, proper gear, good overall fitness, and little bit of luck. Check out some of our resources on preparing for a Mount Washington day hike.

Further reading on Mount Washington day hikes

Looking for more information about day hiking Mount Washington? Here are some pages to check out.

Learn about our annual Mount Washington HIKE for Mental Health

Interested in joining a great hike, for a great cause? Learn about HIKE for Mental Health's annual Summit Mount Washington day hike.


Comments

Mount Washington — 7 Comments

  1. I am seriously thinking signing up for Mt. Washington hike – I have hiked before but not the type of trek as i noticed on youtube. Question – if and when i need a helping hand specially ledge climbing will it be available or i am 100% on my own – how much weight in generally individual carrier during the hike. Thank you for your respose

    • Ashvin, Mt. Washington is a physically challenging hike but if you can walk up 5 flights of stairs without stopping and still be smiling at the top, then you will likely be fine. We provide assistance and will not leave anyone behind. It is a day hike, not overnight. In terms of weight, the recommended gear list is shown on the hike event page, which for 2018 is here: https://secure.hikeformentalhealth.org/np/clients/hike/event.jsp?event=310. I hope you can join us. Be sure to register if you plan to attend. It is free and let’s us know how many people to plan for. Thanks for the comment!

  2. We DID it!! While my husband hiked it in 2013, this year, 2018 was my first time, and the first time I’ve ever done a hike of this magnitude. We were so fortunate to have gorgeous weather all the way to the summit, and even then, just some chilling winds, so fleece/sweaters made us happy. For someone not used to this, it was a REALLY HARD hike up the Jewell trail, but perhaps I appreciate it even more having to persist through the physical and mental self-talk that comes when you’re really stretched to your limit. We were almost dead last to arrive, but we DID arrive, and in the end that’s what counts. It was an amazing experience, for a really important cause- decreasing the stigma that often comes with mental health issues.

  3. Hey Leo😊, I’m thinking of returning this year to join the hike. I had the luxury of the van trip when I went in ‘14. I thought I’d post a question publicly, as it may help someone else in the logistics. Is Boston the closest flight destination and then do some research into shutting from there?

    • Hi Ally, thanks for your question. The nearest airport would be Manchester, NH, about a 2 hour drive. Not much farther away is the Portland, Maine, jetport. And Boston Logan is about a 3 hours drive, depending on traffic, but that may give you more flight options and perhaps cheaper flights. I hope that information helps your planning!

    • Absolutely, Reece. Hiking Mt Washington in winter can be and usually is a totally difference activity than hiking it in the summer. That would be a great topic for a new article for our site, if anyone feels inclined to give it a whirl!

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