Presidential Traverse

Presidential Traverse

A Presidential Traverse, as it is known to hikers in the Northeast, is a strenuous and sometimes dangerous trek over the Presidential Range of New Hampshire's White Mountains. Contained almost entirely in the 750,000 acre White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range is a string of summits in excess of 4,000 feet. To complete the traverse one must begin at either the northern or southern terminus of the Presidential Range and finish at the opposing end. As there are multiple definitions for the Presidential Traverse, what happens in between is a question of debate and options are discussed below.

Presidential Options

The great debate as to what exactly comprises a Presidential Traverse has been greatly argued over the decades (and indeed almost centuries) that man has been hiking recreationally in the White Mountains. Listed are some trips commonly undertaken by Presidential Traverse candidates. Mileage and elevation are approximate and depend heavily on the combinations of trails used (of which the options are nearly limitless).

The Minimum

The basic bare bones idea of a Presi Traverse (as it is known to White Mountain habitues) is a trek that begins at any given trailhead on NH Route 2 at the northern end of the Presidentials, crosses the great ridge of the range and ends in Crawford Notch at it's southern terminus or the reverse of said trip. This is a very vague plan of action allowing for many options as well as minimum mileage. A hiker using this definition could get away with as few as 17.2 miles traveled with 6,695 ft of elevation gain. Such low numbers are accomplished by traversing the entire range while avoiding the peaks by skipping the loop trails which lead to their summits.

By Definition

By pure, letter of the law definition, a "presidential" traverse would require a participant to cross over the summits of the "presidential" peaks. Peaks in the Presidential Range indeed named after Presidents and included in the list of peaks necessary to complete a pure traverse are as follows (listed from north to south):

Mount Madison - named after James Madison

Mount Adams - named after John Adams

Mount Jefferson - named after Thomas Jefferson

Mount Washington - named after George Washington

Mount Monroe - named after James Monroe

Mount Eisenhower - named after Dwight Eisenhower

Mount Pierce - named after Franklin Pierce

The inclusion of the trails that would lead a hiker over these peaks would alter the trip both in length and difficulty. Mileage would be added in addition to the hardship of ascending the rugged rocky summit cones of the peaks as well as the elevation gain associated with such an endeavor. The traverse would expand to include 19.2 miles of travel and 8,815 ft of elevation gain.


The hardcore hiker will not be satisfied with either the minimum standard for a Presi Traverse, nor with the mid range challenges offered by adding in only the official presidential peaks. A true veteran of the White Mountains most challenging of treks will only be satiated once he or she has made a traverse which collects all of the trail accessible peaks in the Presidential Range. Peaks included in this trip but omitted in the last are as follows (also from north to south):

Mount Clay / Mount Reagan - named after Henry Clay (a senator and contemporary of Daniel Webster). The state of New Hampshire has officially renamed the peak Mt. Reagan by state law in 2003 following the death of President Ronald Reagan. However, according to policies of the United States Board on Geographic Names a geographical feature is not eligible to be renamed in the honor of a deceased individual until at least five years following their death. Additionally, Clay is not considered an eligible peak as it does not rise more than 200 ft from the shoulder of Mt Washington, and is thus considered to be a minor summit of that peak.

Mount Jackson - named not for President Andrew Jackson as many believe, but for famed Geologist Charles Thomas Jackson who served as State Geologist for New Hampshire as well as Maine and Rhode Island in the late 19th Century.

Mount Webster - named for Daniel Webster, famed American Statesman and New Hampshire native.

Mount Franklin - a sub peak of Mt. Monroe named for famed inventor and political figure Benjamin Franklin.

Adding these peaks onto an already long and arduous journey across some of the most rugged hiking terrain in the east will earn hikers a total of 22.8 miles traveled and a staggering 10,041 ft of elevation gained.

Extra Credit

You just can't get enough of the beautiful Presidential Range and 23 miles and 10,000 ft of elevation gain just isn't difficult enough to challenge your stamina. If this describes you, than you can go for broke and pull out all the stops. There are more peaks which may be added to this monumental undertaking. These peaks have no maintained trails leading to their summits as well as being ineligible for the list due to lack of prominence above the shoulders to the peaks which surround them. However, with solid outdoor orientation skills and motivation bordering on silly a hiker can bushwack his or her way to four more peaks on the way to Presi Traverse glory:

Mount Sam Adams - named for Samuel Adams (American Statesman and second cousin of John Adams), a sub peak of Mt. Adams.

Mount JQ Adams - named for President John Quincy Adams, also a sub peak of Mt. Adams.

Adams IV - an unnamed sub peak of Mt. Adams (although Abigail Adams has been proposed.

Adams V - another unnamed sub peak of Mt. Adams.

As none of these peaks is accessible via a maintained trail, access to information regarding possible distances and elevations gained is not easily attained. The total distances and elevation gained in undertaking such a trip thus shall be subject to estimations. Your guess is as good as mine.


Taking on the Presidential Traverse in any of it's many configurations is a task not for the uninitiated or casual hiker. The White Mountians and the Presidential Range in particular offer some of the most beautiful vistas you will find in the east. Conversely, they also present very challenging and dangerous obstacles in the path to reaching these stunning locales. Many hikers attempting the traverse have become lost or otherwise disabled in inclement weather above treeline causing many costly search and rescue operations.


The rise to the ceiling of the Presidentials is a definite factor in the pursuit of a full traverse. The fact that the range stretches less than twenty miles from one end to the other and its trails are easily accessible from the road suggest that they are not as remote as some would believe. The fact that the ridge reaches over 6,000 ft above sea level suggests that there is a lot of uphill travel before you none the less. Any path chosen promises a lot of elevation gained in a short distance.


They don't call them the White Mountains for nothing. The peaks of the Presidentials are clad in a cap of white New Hampshire Granite, and lots of it. Once above timberline hikers encounter a knee abusing stairway of granite stones ranging in dimension from baseball size to compact SUV size...and larger. The terrain is even more challenging when it is hidden from view.


The Presidential Range is perhaps more famous for its tumultuous weather than for its scenic vistas. Mount Washington in particular has developed a reputation for erratic weather. Its simultaneous positions at the center of several converging storm tracks and at the center of several converging valleys (which act as wind corridors) from the West, Southwest, and South make the weather on these peaks unpredictable and at times violent. The summit of Mount Washington has been known to see snow and ice in all seasons and is subject to both hurricane force winds and blanketing clouds 110 days a year on average (two thirds of the year). The mountain also holds the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded at the Earth's surface, clocking 231 mph. They chain the summit buildings down so they won't blow away, this doesn't say much for a hiker's chances in such weather. So, be sure to check the weather forecast before you head out on a Presi Traverse.


A winter Presidential Traverse is about as difficult and awesome an adventure as one can find east of the Mississippi. The views from the ridgeline in the crisp winter air are unrivaled (and seemingly endless). However, as difficult as the traverse can be in the summer, winter takes ever aspect of the traverse and cranks it to 11. The terrain is more treacherous, the temperatures plummet, the winds hit triple digits on most days, snowfall is measured in feet instead of inches, avalanches are common on the large snowfields, and visibility can disappear in minutes. Persons wishing to complete a Presi Traverse in winter must be physically strong, familiar with winter mountaineering and compass orientation techniques, very familiar with the terrain, and have high quality winter gear. A winter traverse can go from beautiful to deadly very quickly.


# Daniell, G and Smith, S. "AMC White Mountain Guide, 27th Edition". AMC Books, 2003.
# Howe, N. "Not Without Peril". AMC Books, 2000.
# Cox, S and Fulsaas, K. "Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 7th Edition". The Mountaineers Books, 2003.
# Lanza, M. "New England Hiking". Foghorn Press, 1997.

Internet Sources

# [ Mount Washington Observatory]
# [ Hike the Whites]
# [ The Appalachian Mountain Club]
# [ Chauvin Guides guide to the Winter Presi Traverse]
# [ Presidential Traverse FAQ's]
# [ AMC White Mountain Guide Online]
# [ Views from the Top]

See Also

# Presidential Range
# Mount Washington (New Hampshire)
# Hiking
# Mountaineering
# Peak Bagging
# Mount Washington Auto Road
# Mount Washington Cog Railway

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