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.
- Clothing and Equipment for a Mount Washington Day Hike
- Getting in Shape to Hike Mount Washington
- Preparing Mentally to Hike Mount Washington
- Safety Precautions Before Your Mount Washington Day Hike
- Mount Washington Day Hiking Trails
- Frequently Asked Questions about Hiking Mount Washington
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.
- Hike Mount Washington with HIKE for Mental Health
- Summit Mount Washington Smashes Goal
- Amazing photos and trail notes from our 2017 hike
- Painting the mountain orange: 2016 Summit Mount Washington photos
- Stunning views of 4th Annual Summit Mount Washington
- Spirits and Funds Reach New Heights on 3rd Annual Summit Mount Washington