The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, accessing the summits of Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington, is equal parts majestic beauty and watch-your-step treacherous, sheltered tranquility and boot-to-boot hiker highway, destination hike and the fastest route between Point A (ground floor) and Point B (the AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut). Combined with the Crawford Path and Jewell Trail for a nine-mile loop of New England’s tallest mountain, this is a can’t-miss New Hampshire hike.
The trail begins with a leisure stroll through dense forest that while still close to the road feels miles apart inside. There’s an easy rock hop across Franklin Brook and at the one-mile mark the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail connects with the access trail from the Cog Railway base station. From here the trail turns right and follows the Ammonoosuc River for a stretch over rocky terrain where any elevation gain is gradual at best.
Eventually the trail reaches Gem Pool, a great spot for a snack break to take in the scenic waterfall and fuel up for the pending climb. Once across the Gem Pool’s outlet brook, the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail’s initial nature walk is over and the real butt-kicking hiking begins with steep staircases that give way to full-on rock scrambles. There’s also several awe inspiring viewpoints as the trail overlooks the cascades and ultimately crosses the primary brook at a flat spot. It should go without saying that caution needs to be exercised around the cascade ledges.
The rock scrambles are more frequent in the upper portion of the trail, which can be tricky when wet, especially on descent. The viewpoints are also on the rise as the shrinking trees thin out, delivering grand vistas of Mt. Washington. At the three-mile mark the trail emerges above treeline a short distance from the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and the Crawford Path junction. To summit Mt. Monroe, it’s a relatively easy, 0.3-mile side hike with only one spot where the footing gets tricky on a ledge. This diversion does require backtracking to return to the hut, but the views of the Presidential Range from the Mt. Monroe summit are 100 percent worth the effort.
From the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, it’s a 1.4 mile hike on the Crawford Path (also the Appalachian Trail) to the summit of Mt. Washington that’s tougher than it looks. The cone is one giant, seemingly-never-ending, rock pile, and the entire climb is out in the open and exposed to the elements. Whether you believe it or not, the Mount Washington Observatory doesn’t boast recording the world’s worst weather for nothing, so come ready for anything. It’s also best to mentally prepare for the Disneyland crowds sure to be found on the summit, especially on weekends. And don’t worry when you see the train, you’re not hallucinating.
When traveling on U.S. Route 302 East, turn left onto Base Road, which is located immediately after Fabayan’s Station Restaurant and a billboard for the Cog Railway. The trailhead parking lot is 5.4 miles from the intersection on the right. It is a White Mountain National Forest lot with a $3 per day fee.