Climbing Mount Washington can be one of the most rewarding hikes on offer in the United States. But as anyone who has tackled it will tell you, it’s not for the faint-hearted! This mountain is the highest in the Northeastern United States, at a whopping 6,288.2 ft above sea level. So if you get the chance to reach this peak, you’ll certainly get bragging rites after. But exactly how long does it take to climb Mount Washington?
The Appalachian Trail passes right over the peak of Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. With over 2000 miles of the most scenic hikes in the whole country, The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. But arguably one of the most stunning parts of the Appalachian trail is crossing over the peak of Mount Washington. But after all those days tackling the numerous miles of the Appalachian Trail, will you still have enough juice left to climb to the summit of Mount Washington?
The amount of time it takes to climb any mountain always depends on a few factors. Some of these include your level of fitness, how much you have prepared for the hike, what the weather conditions are like, and of course which route you choose to take up the mountain. Later we will go into these individual factors, to help you accurately plan your own journey up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. But to begin with a rough estimate, exactly how long does it take to hike Mt. Washington? A normal hike, on average taking into account the factors above, up the mountain will take about 5 hours. But what else could factor into the legit of your climb up Mount Washington?
To start with, which trail should you take?
There are many different trails you can choose to take, to reach the summit of Mount Washington, or to explore the flatter adventures below. Most of these routes take roughly 5 hours if you’re aiming to reach the summit of the mountain, so make sure you’ve planned your trip well in advance, and considered your timings carefully, so you’ll be in no danger of being left out in the dark! As we’ve mentioned previously, climbing Mount Washington is not an activity to be taken lightly! We would only recommend this to experienced hikers, especially those who have some experience with mountaineering. That being said, there are a few different options out there for you in terms of hiking up, or around, Mount Washington.
The most common hike up Mount Washington, that takes you all the way to the summit, is the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. This 6.6-mile trail will definitely take you a whole day to complete, so make sure you head out early! If you’re thinking about camping and then hiking up Mount Washington, consider choosing the Pinkham Notch camp area. This is where the Tuckerman Ravine Trail starts from, so it’s a great place to camp, and then wake up with the lark and set off on this stunning trail.
The Tuckerman Ravine Trail starts at the Pinkham Notch camp: even if you’re not sleeping here overnight, don’t worry, it’s very accessible by car or RV. Once on the trail, it has an elevation gain of 4,280 feet, so if you’re not a fan of steep inclines then this trail might not be for you! However, if you have a bit more of a no pain no gain attitude, then listen up. The Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads you straight up the bowl of the stunning Tuckerman Ravine. The trail takes you up a few pretty hairy routes, so we wouldn’t recommend this trail for less experienced hikers, or if you’re going with your family or young people. But the steep rock steps which lead you up the bowl of the ravine could be worth it for you, especially if you’re looking to get some beautiful photos of your hike.
As you traverse the steep rock steps leading around the bowl of the Tuckerman Ravine, it allows you stunning views, as the earth opens up beneath you. Here you can catch a glimpse of the ravine, and if you look up to the north you can catch a glimpse of the Wildcat Mountain, another notch on your belt of witnessing the beauty of the White Mountains. The beautiful Wildcat Mountain has five summits along Wildcat Ridge, which curves around two miles to the south and west. At many points, it juts into the water below, and especially on fall days, you can witness the lovely colors of the leaves as they reflect in the water below.
If you’re looking for a trail with all the amenities you could need, then the Tuckerman Ravine Trail could be just right for you too. As it is the most popular trail up Mount Washington, it will provide for your needs throughout your hike. For example, there are places to refill your water bottle at the base of the bowl, and at the well pump near the Hermit Lake Shelters.
The Hermit Lake Shelters also offers toilets, shelter, and snacks, if you’re looking to take a break along the way. For all the hikes which lead you to the summit, you’ll be well provided for, with a visitor center which offers a museum, gift shop. cafeteria, observation area and the Mount Washington Observatory. Here is the ideal place to stop, rest, and take in your surroundings, patting yourself on the back for making it to the summit!
If you’re looking for an alternative, or have already made your way up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, then there are a few other options available for you. Some of the routes up the eastern slope you can choose from including Boott Spur, Huntington Ravine, Lion Head Trail (Lion’s Head) and Nelson Crag trails. If you’re looking to head up the northeast of the slope, then opt for the Great Gulf Trail. If you’re looking to coincide with the Appalachian Trail, then take a look at the Crawford Path or the Gulfside Trail. Or, lastly, to head up the western side of the Mountain, take a further look at the Ammonoosuc Ravine, and the Jewell Trails.
Our recommendation of the route, if you’re looking for stunning and varied nature and views, is to combine three of the aforementioned hikes: Jewell Trail, Gulfside Trail, and the Crawford Path. This route amounts to 11.2 miles and will allow you to take in more views, due to the way it goes in a loop around the Mount. Once you break free from the tree line, there are some incredible views down to the Ravine, and across at mountains, hills and flats in the distance. For nature viewing this trail is also ideal, especially the incredible views you can see from the summit, the spectacular white mountains surrounding you.
It’s the ideal route for bird watching, and for seeing a large variety of wildflowers. If you want to be able to identify some of the flora and fauna around you, and you’re not a natural botanist, consider downloading some of these useful hiking apps. Some of these hiking apps can help you identify the beautiful wildflowers on your hike, and some can even use GPS and your phone camera to tell you the names and some of the details of the peaks you can see from the summit of Mount Washington.
Will the weather affect how long my hike takes?
If you’re allergic to inclement weather, we wouldn’t recommend planning a journey to Mount Washington. This mountain can have some of the most dramatic weather conditions of all of the mountains in the US, another reason why it should be only considered by those with some experience in hiking and mountaineering. Some of the weather conditions here can be very dramatic, leading to poetic scenery. At one point, the highest wind ever observed by man was recorded at the summit, a whopping 231 miles per hour! This is still the record for the highest winds speeds outside of a tropical cyclone.
However, the changing weather on Mount Washington can be well worth the risk. If it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to see the landscape opening up to you, viewable up to 130 miles away! But, you might be very lucky to get a hike like this. If you’re looking for clear weather and long-distance views, then we would recommend heading to the mount in the summer with your backpack, and always checking there forecast before you head off. On clear days, you can walk this mountain in 4 hours or less, depending on your fitness levels. Obviously, you can head off with no worries, without having to take as much time to watch you don’t slip on a rock, for example.
But if the weather goes in the opposite direction, what can you expect, and what effect could it have on the length of your hike? Well, when we warned you about the weather conditions on this mountain, we weren’t joking. Mount Washington is not only the most dangerous American mountain, but it’s also thought of to be the home of the world’s worst weather.
And although it makes more sense to go in the summer, early fall of late spring the weather here can be unpredictable at any time of year. But what is predictable about the weather here is that it will probably be bad. For roughly 300 days of the year, the summit is surrounded in fog: but it’s worth the risk for one of those rare clear days, where you can see some of the best and furthest views on offer in the entire United States.
The weather on Mount Washington really is extreme. The Mount Washington Observatory, located at the summit of the mountain and operating as an NGO, which records the weather conditions on the top of the mountain, has measured some really extreme weather. In 2017, the weather station measured a record low of minus -36 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that at this point the mountain was one of the coldest places on the planet! Because the weather conditions are so often bad on this mountain, you should take this into account when planning your journey. It might take longer, for example, if you’re hiking through the fog, or you need to stop to readjust your ice shoes or clamps.
Seeing as there is often rain on the mountain, a word of caution: be careful where you’re treading! And remember to take with you a heavy-duty rain jacket. If you’re heading off on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, for example, often you’ll be on quite steep, rocky paths. Make sure you’re very careful with how you proceed, and that you’re wearing the right kind of walking boots to suit wet weather.
This, amongst other reasons, is why this climb can be seen as quite dangerous. However, as long as you’re experienced, you’re wearing and taking the right kit, and you’re very careful about how you walk, then this hike should be safe for you. More than a quarter of a million people visit it each year, so don’t be scared off, just ensure that you’ve taken the necessary precautions.
If it’s raining, snowing, hailing, or it has been and the ground is wet or snowy, then your journey up Mount Washington might take a bit longer than you’re expecting. On a clear, sunny day, you should be able to reach the summit in 4 hours. Depending on your experience, and how bad the weather is that day, you should allow about 6 hours for you to reach the peak. This might mean a very early start, so we hope you’re an early riser!
How else can I climb Mount Washington?
If the weather, and challenging climb, is putting you off considering climbing Mount Washington, think again! There’s a much easier way to reach the summit, which will still leave you feeling adventurous. We’ll give you a clue: this is the reason why so many cars in the Northeast have a bumper sticker on them saying “this car climbed Mount Washington”.
If your driving skills are stronger than your mountaineering skills, consider heading off on the scenic NH Route 16: the Mount Washington auto road. But be warned, if you’re a nervous driver, this route is definitely not for you. It has an average grade of 12 percent. Once you get to the middle of the mountain, there’s a nerve-racking mile of hard-packed gravel, with what feels like quite a steep drop to the side.
But if you’re nearing TopGear levels of driving, and want a truly invigorating drive, this is one of the best in the world. We think it’s one of the most breathtaking drives in the North of America. There are many places to stop, and viewing stations from which to take in the incredible scenery surrounding you.
However, you have to pay to climb the mountain by car, but the charge does include the famous bumper sticker, so your car can be the talk of the town. Climbing and descending the mountain slowly, and stopping off at the viewing points, is perfect on a rainy day, where you can avoid getting soaked, and take in the views when you see a break in the clouds.
If you’re looking for an even more scenic adventure, what better way to discover the mountain than with New England’s own Cog Railway? The Cog Railway, affectionately known just as the Cog, is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. A great day hike is to take the train up in one direction and walk back down to make it a round trip, taking you straight back to the parking lot.
A visit to the White Mountain National Forest will always be filled with adventure. People flock here from around the world for the stunning fall foliage and the excellent opportunities for winter skiing. But for those of you brave enough to tackle the hike, the experienced hiker will ask: how long does it take to hike mount Washington? The answer, as we have outlined, depends on lots of factors, like the frankly tempestuous weather conditions, and your general level of fitness. To ensure you’re as safe as possible, make sure to set off early, and plan your hike to a T. Take a look at our complete checklist to make sure you’re ready for any eventuality!
Bonus tip: For a sneak peek of what it feels like to use the Cog Railway, check out this video!