Mt. Adams via King Ravine Trail

Mountains:  Mt. Adams (5799'), Adams 4 (5355')
Trails:  Lowe's Path, King Ravine Trail, Air Line
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Presidentials
Location:  Randolph, NH
Rating:  Difficult  
Features:  Summits, views, boulder caves, ice caves, 4000-footer, alpine zone
Distance:  10.2 miles  
Elevation Gain:  4600 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 8:30  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 11:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  07/24/1999 (Saturday)  
Weather:  Mostly rainy - temps varied greatly
Author:  Webmaster
Companions:  GONErs: Laura H., Mark, Rob O.

Route Summary   

  • Follow Lowe's Path for 1.8 miles.
  • Turn left onto King Ravine Trail.
  • Follow King Ravine Trail for 3.1 miles until its end at Air Line. You will pass by several other junctions that you should ignore.
  • Follow Air Line the rest of the way to the summit of Mt. Adams. Sixty yards after King Ravine Trail meets Air Line, Air Line joins Gulfside Trail and follows it for 70 yards before diverging off to the left.
  • Return via Lowe's Path for the entire descent.

Place         Split
Lowe’s Path Trailhead on Rt. 2 (1375') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Jct. Lowe’s Path/ King Ravine Tr. (2575') 1.8 1.8 1:30 1:30
Jct. King Ravine Tr./Air Line (5100') 3.1 4.9 2:45 4:15
Mt. Adams summit (5799') 0.6 5.5 0:40 4:55
Adams 4 summit (5355') 0.6 6.1
Lowe’s Path Trailhead on Rt. 2 (1375') 4.1 10.2

  Trail Guide   

We started out on Lowe’s Path and followed its moderate grade for 1.8 miles until we came to the junction of the King Ravine Trail. Up to this point it was extremely hot and extremely humid and sweat was rolling off of us even as we stood still while deciding which route to take.

The skies were threatening and it had rained off and on for the drive up to the trailhead. We decided to at least go as far as the floor of King Ravine so that we could check out the boulder field. As we headed up the King Ravine Trail it began raining steadily which was actually much more pleasant than the heat and humidity we were previously suffering from. Shortly before reaching the floor of the ravine, the rain became torrential. I thought I was already totally soaked from the steady rain, but the downpour proved me wrong - I was sopping wet within seconds and could feel the extra weight of all the rain on me and my clothes and my pack. It was not looking good for an ascent to Mt. Adams. We continued on, still determined to at least see the boulder field. Another group we came across had set up tarps over the trailhead where they were waiting out the storm. At this point we were only about 15 minutes from the ravine. Magically, once we reached the ravine, the weather cleared and the views opened up. We sat on the boulders and ate lunch, thankful for the respite from the rain so that we could assuage our hunger in relative dryness.

The views from the ravine were breathtaking in spite of some lingering haze. We decided since it was (relatively) clear, to continue up the headwall. The King Ravine Trail splits in two directions and then shortly rejoins. We followed the path called "Subway" because it promised to wind through and over boulder caves (the "Elevated" path may be taken for an easier climb). It was a fantastic and sometimes scary route. At some spots we had to jump from one boulder to another - only over a span of a foot or two; but if we were to miss, we could tell the fall would be far down between these huge boulders with possibly no way to climb up the vertical walls that they formed. In other spots, we had to go through narrow caves that were formed by the boulders. This usually involved taking off our packs and passing them through separately because the passageways were so tight we could just barely fit ourselves through.

Shortly after this, there’s a sign for the Polar Ice caves. This route loops around and then shortly rejoins the main part of King Ravine Trail. This section also passes through some really tight caves. It is said that ice exists in this section year round - and sure enough, we found small patches of snow and ice both inside the caves and just in colder sections of the route, tucked beneath a rock overhang. Ice in July; while a while ago on this same day, we were melting from the heat and humidity. There were great temperature fluctuations along this loop. In one spot where we stood it was cold and brisk; we took two or three steps away from that spot and it was overbearingly hot and humid. This is a section of the trail that you don’t want to miss (even if you don’t want to have to crawl through a tight cave, you should at least go up to that point, then turn around and go back to the main trail - just the temperature fluctuations are fascinating).

After emerging from this section, the steep headwall ascent begins. It rises about 1100 feet in 0.5 mile. Part way up, as we paused and looked back down to the floor of the ravine, we saw a huge white cloud filling up the base of the ravine and it seemed to be chasing us up the headwall. We kept looking back as we climbed and the cloud kept getting closer to us. Finally it veered off towards one side of the ravine so we weren’t actually enveloped within it although it was close and quite a unique feeling to be chased UP a headwall by a cloud (I’m much more accustomed to seeing clouds above me, rather than below me).

At the top of the headwall is where the King Ravine Trail ends and meets up with a bunch of other trails. Great views can be had here, although the weather was deteriorating again and we were starting to get hazed in. Mt. Madison was directly in front of us, Mt. Adams was to the right, and more ridge was to the left. We followed the Air Line up to the summit of Mt. Adams. As we climbed, the fog got thicker and we could barely see the cairns that marked our route (in fact, we could barely see each other).

We took a small break at the summit and held company with extremely strong winds. Normally the views would be fantastic here but the weather severely restricted our visibility. At this point we headed down Lowe’s Path which we would follow all the way back to Rt. 2. Shortly after leaving the summit, it began pouring again. Worse than that, was the distant rumbling of thunder. We were totally exposed and still over a mile away from the relative shelter of the tree line. We began moving over the wet rocks as fast as we could manage without falling and injuring ourselves. Even though we moved as fast as our coordination allowed, it seemed to be a losing battle as the tree line still wasn’t in sight. Suddenly the skies cleared once again and the thunder and threat of lightning subsided. We cheered with joy that we didn’t have to suffer any lightning strikes!

The rest of the way down was uneventful. Although it wasn’t sunny, the rain held off (except for a few light showers). One section of the trail was extremely buggy and many sections were steep (although not as steep as the headwall).

After getting back to the parking area, I put on a fresh set of clothes, bought some munchies from the store and headed home. Less than five minutes into my drive it began raining again and a thunder and lightning storm was in full force. It was a huge relief to be sheltered in a warm, dry car at this point!

NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

  • From Rt. 16, take Rt. 2 West.
  • Follow Rt. 2 for 10 miles.
  • Park on the right at Lowe’s Store (small parking fee charged).
  • The trailhead is about 100 yards farther down the road, on the opposite side as Lowe’s Store.


Lowe’s Store. They have bathrooms around the side of the building farthest from the parking area. The bathroom keys are inside the store just inside the door. The store is a convenience type store. The people working there were real laid-back and pleasant and friendly.

More Mt. Adams Trail Reports   


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