4.1 miles (one way)
5-9 hours (round trip)
Difficulty: Family Hike for the first 2.4; Weekend Warriors for the last 1.7
Recommended Gear: Hiking Boots or Trail Runners; Trekking Poles
If you’re looking to boldly hike where no explorer has gone before, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail isn’t for you. On the contrary, Mt. Washington is a major New Hampshire tourist destination. People flock to the summit of this massive mastiff to admire the views from the highest point in New England (elevation 6,288 feet), visit the Mount Washington Observatory, home to the “world’s worst weather,” and attend or participate in one of the mountain’s many signature events. There’s no shortage of routes to the top, either, with the Mount Washington Auto Road and the Cog Railway popular options. For those inclined to bipedal transportation, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail handily beats the Appalachian Trail and other routes in a popularity contest.
Put it all together and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is the White Mountains’ version of hiking Disneyland. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Mt. Washington and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail offer a truly unique New England hiking experience that should be conquered by anyone remotely interested in the sport. If for nothing else than to say you’ve done it. Consider it required reading for hiking.
The trail begins behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center just after the bathroom facilities (running water and flush-able toilets, truly hiker chic). Soon thereafter there’s a bridge crossing the Cutler River, followed further along by a decent river viewing spot at a 90 degree bend in the trail. Just keep an eye on where you’re going as there’s plenty of off-chutes and side trails to distract those prone to getting lost. To stay on track simply follow the wide, rocky road. Ice cream not included. It’s a good thing, too, because the first 2.4 miles is a pedestrian, gradual climb that will barely burn the calories from a cone of rocky road. Overall this stretch is great for tourists with children, but it’ll get serious hikers wondering, “Where’s the beef?” Patience being a virtue I don’t have an abundance of, I found myself exiting stage right for the instant gratification of the Lion Head Trail.
Those who stick to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail will soon pass the Hermit Lake Shelters and reach the base of the ravine. There’s a modest waterfall here good for cooling off on hot days—then again, climbing the mountain works too. From the base to the top of the headwall the trail is narrow but well worn. The climb isn’t nearly as steep as one would think, the switchbacks keep it relatively easy. Trickling streams cross the trail in a few spots, creating the potential for slippery rocks, but there aren’t any truly treacherous spots so long as you stay the course. Off-trail shenanigans could be disastrous. And of course take extra care in foul weather.
One thing to really be careful of when climbing the Tuckerman Ravine headwall is to not step too close to the down-mountain side of the trail. There are many rocks that can easily be knocked loose, endangering hikers below. Though I should have known better, I stupidly made this mistake when yielding to oncoming hikers. Despite a heart-pounding moment where I watched a rock roll free, it soon settled into some debris causing no harm. Thank God. Lesson learned.
From a distance the Washington cone looks benign. Up close and in person, this final-mile stretch of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is challenging and steep, seemingly climbing a foreign planet of alien rocks. To conquer this section continue past the Alpine Garden Trail on to the Tuckerman Junction intersecting the Southside Trail, Tuckerman Crossover and Lawn Cutoff. While the Southside Trail connecting to the Crawford Path (also the Appalachian Trail) is a viable (and I think easier) route to the summit, the official Tuckerman Ravine Trail takes a 90 degree turn to the right at the junction. The Lion Head trail soon rejoins Tuckerman for the final push to the auto road parking lot and staircase climb to the summit and visitor center. Try not to laugh at any tourists who are short of breath climbing the steps from the parking lot. It’s borderline rude.
Take care in the last push from the Lion Head junction to stay on the trail, marked by cairns and painted rocks. I somehow made the mistake of getting off-target, which in fair weather was a no-harm, no-foul mistake as the summit was a can’t miss. In foul weather this mishap is likely more troublesome. Washington isn’t home to the “world’s worst weather” for nothing, after all. Which brings me to the you’ll-think-your-mother-wrote-it segment of the post. Always consult the weather report before attempting this hike and pack plenty of water, dry-wick and warm layers, and rain gear (even on good days). In late spring and early fall make sure to first check the report on trail conditions in the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center as sections are often closed due to snow and ice.
The views from the summit of Washington are unparalleled. Mt. Madison, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson and other statesman of the presidential range are all lined up as if posing for a post card. Should you get the urge to actually send one, there’s a gift shop and post office inside the visitor center. Then again, if it’s ice cream you’ve got a hankering for, you just might be able to reward yourself at the snack bar. It’ll taste much better than if you drove the auto road.
From the North take Route 2 into Gorham and connect onto Route 16. The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is on the right shortly after the turn for the Mount Washington Auto Road and Wildcat Mountain ski area. From the South take Route 302 North from North Conway to connect onto Route 16.
View of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail climbing the headwall as seen from the Lion Head Trail.
Waterfall near the base of Tuckerman Ravine.
The Tuckerman Ravine Trail can be a little wet and slippery near the base of the headwall, but clearly nothing to worry about.
The trail is fairly easy on the ravine headwall thanks to the switchbacking.
View of Lion Head from atop the Tuckerman Ravine headwall.
Tuckerman Ravine Trail cairns on the final approach to the Mt. Washington cone. It doesn’t look like much, but this section can take its toll.
Better get an early start to see the summit like this. Otherwise, chances are you’ll be waiting in line to take a picture.
Had I known there was a Post Office in the summit visitor’s center, I would have brought my Netflix movie. Just because.
A Cog Railway train on the summit. For those who aren’t hiking, this is a fun (albeit pricey) route to the top.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road snaking its way to the top.
Very thorough and detailed report! Thank you! Heading up there tomorrow..
I live in Saint John New Brunswick and will be heading down in 2 weeks to hike the mountain and see the sites in New Hampshire. This description was the best that I have read in detail , thanks
Thanks Lorne, glad you found it helpful!
I did it on July 2. It is an exhausting climb to the top. Took almost exactly 4 hrs as predicted. Yes, I am older & slower, but do not underestimate this climb. Hard work. I was delighted to take the hiker shuttle bus back down. Great experience.
I agree with Larry, even though I had trained for the climb, I found it difficult. Two years later, I can’t wait to try it again. Please note, however, if you don’t want to climb down, you can take the van shuttle. It cost $30.00 and takes about a half hour. By the way, this report was as accurate as it gets.
Thank you so much for having this overview! I found it to be extremely helpful in planning my trip this coming Labor Day! Any comments on the weather at the top of the mountain during this time of year?
Your welcome, Christi. Thanks for checking out the site. Good luck on the mountain. Weather advice? Be prepared for anything!
gOSTEI DA NOVIDADE, E DA FORMA DE ESCLARECIMENTO AO CONSUMIDOR,QUE VÃŠ COMO UMA OPORTUNIDADE DE VIAJAR MAIS VEZES EM VÃRIOS MOMENTOS DE SUA VIDA QUE NÃƒO SÃ“ EM FÃ‰RIAS PROGRAMADAS.
Merci pour la mention.Je vous invite Ã©galement Ã suivre la prÃ©sentation de Cliff Dennett, lors de cette mÃªme confÃ©rence, qui a crÃ©Ã© la sociÃ©tÃ© Soshi Games et qui est un expert reconnu dans la gamification en entreprise (il Ã©tait auparavant en charge du laboratoire d’innovation pour les entreprises de Lego)
not living in some fool’s paradise, I was LATE…simple as that. I take full responsibility. I can’t blame it on anything. I guess that was my way of coping/healing…to create something to give myself a 2nd chance…even to save my mother’s life.Have a lovely day.—Verde
Wonderful exatnpalion of facts available here.
Awesome job here. I love the humor and the detail really helped build confidence for this hike. I’m headed out this weekend and will repost upon my return. Thanks!
Thanks Tyler. Good luck this weekend! Please share your photos with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Please don’t judge me for this question… at any point in this hike did you find yourself dangerously skirting the edge of a very long drop? (I would love to hike up with some friends this summer but taking the auto road last summer was sheer terror & now I’m gun-shy).
Laura, it’s steep but safe if you stay on the trail. Freelancing off trail can put you in serious danger of being near a cliff.
I too wondered if the hike up Mt. Washington involves being on or even near any sheer drop offs? ( I have driven up a few times and find it terrifying.) Also, follow up question – if the trail avoids any dangerous edges/ledges, how easy is it to find, stay on, and follow the trail? Are inexperienced hikers likely to lose the trail and get lost? I’m worried about this if it isn’t clearly marked.
Great write up, thanks! We have done 12 of the ADK 46 with more coming and plan to tackle Mt Washington this summer. We’ll let you know how we do.
We are planning on heading to the northeast of the USA for some good hikes next year. Mount Washington is definitely one that makes the list. I drove through the White Mountains while on a road trip through New England in 2008 but now it’s time to see these beautiful states from up above! Thanks for the great post; it is very informative and certainly makes us want to get over there that much sooner now.
I did it last year at the end of June, we doing it this coming Saturday with my granddaughter, and your description of the trail is as perfect as it can be. Will try to venture of to the Lion’s Head trail, but will take the decision when i’m on the trail. Hope the weather is friendly, because a wet trail will make it a little bit dangerous. If somebody is doing it alone, just keep following the arrows painted on the rock after the rest at the bottom of the Ravine, specially the section where the waterfall is.
Done the Tucks trail twice, once after staying overnight in a Hermit Lake shelter. Took I forget how many hours up and down, but the trips was grand.
On one trip, came down from the summit via the Lion’s Head trail for a change in perspective from the headwall; the other was via Boott Spur, for ditto.
Going up or down, I go at two speeds: slow, and slower.
Great Information thanks so much. I am thinking of doing this with my 7 year old who is very athletic. She wants to do it. I am afraid she might get too tired or do something foolish like run ahead and get lost. Has any kids done this around that age? I don’t want to put her in any danger of course. Perhaps I should wait till she is older?
you should definitely wait till she is older
Hi Lorraine, I wonder if you took your daughter to hike it. And if so, what was your experience? I came across this while planning the trip with my 7,5 year old son and looking more info on hiking with kids.
My 16 year old and I did the Tuckerman Ravine hike last year. Based on our experience, I would not recommend it for kids. It’s a challenging hike in my opinion – at least half a day and hard work at that. Depending on your experience, of course, it might be easier or harder than it was for us, but we were working most of the time we were climbing. Some spots are more exhausting than others and there is some exposure when climbing out of the ravine that I found really scary – it was a bit wet the day we did it, but it was slippery and technical in one exposed spot.
All of that said, we had a great experience, I just think it would be too much for (at least) most kids under 14, as well as challenging for most recreational hikers or climbers of any age. Everyone is unique though.
Good luck with whatever you decide.
Made it to the top on 18 July ’19. Left PNVC with overcast skies which cleared once we entered the ravine. Clouds/fog moved in during the summit push limiting the views we had hoped for. We passed snow to the left of the trail at the end of Tuckerman Ravine – surprising to see in mid-July … of course, this only adds to the story:).
We were a group of six 50+ year old hikers with moderate to good levels of fitness and one 25 year old AT expert. Total time was just under 6 hours with many water breaks/photo-ops and two longer stops at Hermit Lake and Tuckerman Junction. The hike was a fantastic experience – we WILL return! Thanks to the great group from PA who included my wife and me on the climb.
This description of the trail is accurate. It would also be helpful to carry a trail map – available at PNVC. My wife and I did not have hiking poles – I would suggest this as necessary if not mandatory gear.
Took the $31 shuttle down as it was getting late. Looking forward to another attempt which we hope to make a hiking ’round trip.’
we are experienced hikers and in good shape, but it little long in the tooth (I am 75). However after Hermit Lake shelter we followed some trails skiers take that eventually fizzled out. It took as at least an extra hour climbing over large boulders to get out of the ravine and find our way back to the trail on top of the ravine. Fortunately the weather was great that day. However it was a foolish mistake. If it does not look like your are on the trail, you probably are not. We were not proud making such a beginners mistake.
Great article! Thank you! I was 58 last year and hiked Jewell trail in early June. Was planning on Tuckerman Ravine but it was closed for snow. A friend cancelled so I hiked alone, did not see another person on trail till I got near the top. I had all recommended equipment and had checked weather. Still didn’t completely prepare me (a Georgia resident) for the ice, 50 mile per hour winds and 15 degree windchill temp at the top. Took me 3.5 hours one way. Enjoyed it a lot. Coming back this summer to hike TR trail (late July) for my 60th birthday. Trip down only took 20 minutes, I talked myself into taking the railway. Had thoughts of twisting an ankle and waiting a long time time for help.
Surprised at the description. The first part is moderate difficulty and relentless. This is not family friendly. Plenty of rocks to turn an ankle on. This is the first 2.4 miles. Hikers appreciating this description must not be novice hikers in terms of fitness or ability.
Very good info just would like to see a map too.
Hello, I and my wife are thinking of doing 1 way hike to Mt Washington in July and take the cog train down. We are novice hikers. Which is the easiest trail to take to go to summit? Tuckerman or Jewel trail?