Mt. Adams, Mt. Madison, Madison Hut

Mountains:  Mt. Adams (5799'), Mt. Madison (5366'), Madison Hut (4825')
Trails:  Air Line, Randolph Path, Gulfside Trail, Appalachian Trail, Air Line Cutoff, Osgood Trail, Pine Link, Valley Way
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Presidentials
Location:  Randolph, NH
Rating:  Difficult  
Features:  Views, summits, 4000-footers, hut, alpine zone, loop hike
Distance:  10.1 miles  
Elevation Gain:  5050 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 8:00  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 9:15   Typical: 11:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  09/06/2008 (Saturday)  
Weather:  Clear for the ascent, 60-70's
Author:  Diane King
Companions:  SDHers: Mark, Deb, Tessa and Quincy (2 dogs)

Rainbow over King Ravine (photo by Mark Malnati)

Route Summary   

This is a loop hike up Mount Adams via Air Line, down to Madison Hut, then up Mount Madison, and finally returning to the parking area via Valley Way. There are fantastic views from the summits as well as from the upper portions of Air Line and Madison Hut.

Ascent to Mt. Adams:
  • Start at the Appalachia parking lot and follow Air Line all the way up to the summit of Mount Adams. You will encounter many trail junctions along the way - pay attention to the signs and you should have no trouble. Below are listed a few points that may be a bit confusing:
  • Air Line and Valley Way start out sharing the trail, but after crossing the old railroad bed (the Presidential Range Rail Trail) and reaching the edge of a power-line clearing, the trail will fork: Air Line goes right (follow this route) and Valley Way goes left.
  • At 0.9 mile, Air Line will coincide with Randolph Path for 20 yards and then bears left uphill.
  • Above the junction with Air Line Cutoff at 3.5 miles, special attention should be made to follow the trail across the treeless terrain - pay attention to the cairns as well as trail signs.
  • At 3.7 miles, Air Line joins Gulfside Trail which is also the Appalachian Trail and follows it for 70 yards before diverging off to the left.
  • At 4.3 miles, you will arrive on the summit of Mount Adams.

Mount Adams (photo by Mark Malnati)

From Mt. Adams to Mt. Madison:
  • Descend on Air Line for 0.6 mile which will return you to Gulfside Trail/Appalachian Trail. Turn right.
  • After 70 yards turn left to stay on Air Line.
  • After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Air Line Cutoff.
  • Follow Air Line Cutoff for 0.2 mile to its end.
  • Turn right on Valley Way and follow it for 50 yards to Madison Hut.
  • From Madison Hut, follow Pine Link for just 30 yards to the junction with Osgood Trail.
  • Follow Osgood Trail which is also the Appalachian Trail for 0.5 mile which will bring you to the summit of Mount Madison.

Mount Madison and Madison Hut (photo by Mark Malnati)

Descent from Mt. Madison:
  • Retrace your steps for 0.5 mile down Osgood Trail, then to Pine Link, and then to Madison Hut. Be careful when leaving the summit: Osgood Trail continues down the other side so be sure to descend on the same leg of Osgood that you took on the way up.
  • From Madison Hut, follow Valley Way for 3.8 miles all the way back to the Appalachia parking lot. You will encounter many trail junctions along the way - pay attention to the signs and you should have no trouble.

Mount Washington Auto Road snaking up Mt. Washington (photo by Mark Malnati)

Place         Split
Appalachia parking lot (1306') 0.0 0.0
Jct. Air Line/Randolph Path (2000') 0.9 0.9
Jct. Air Line/Scar Trail (3700') 1.5 2.4
Jct. Air Line/Chemin des Dames (4475') 0.8 3.2
Jct. Air Line/Air Line Cutoff (4800') 0.3 3.5
Jct. Air Line/Gulfside Trail (5125') 0.2 3.7
Mt. Adams (5799') 0.6 4.3
Madison Hut (4825') 1.0 5.3
Mt. Madison (5366') 0.5 5.8
Madison Hut (4825') 0.5 6.3
Jct. Valley Way/Upper Bruin (4150') 0.5 6.8
Jct. Valley Way/Watson Path (3175') 0.9 7.7
Jct. Valley Way/Randolph Path (1953') 1.5 9.2
Appalachia parking lot (1306') 0.9 10.1

Mt. Madison (photo by Mark Malnati)

Overview and Route Options   

This section gives a general overview of what to expect on this hike and describes various route options for making the hike easier, if desired.


We will first ascend Mount Adams via Air Line and then take Air Line down to Air Line Cutoff over to Madison Hut and then over to Mount Madison and down Valley Way.

Air Line and Air Line Cutoff: Air Line starts at the Appalachia parking lot with Valley Way and shortly diverges right. It is steeper in parts than Valley Way and rougher. It reaches treeline at a lower elevation and has excellent views into King Ravine as it goes along the crest of Durand Ridge (known as the Knife-edge). Air Line Cutoff connects Air Line to Madison Hut and is sheltered by scrub. It is 3.7 miles from Appalachia to Madison Hut via this route and has 3550 feet of elevation gain.

Valley Way Trail: We will descend Madison via Valley Way. The grades are easier than on most of the other trails, and the footing is better. It is in the trees with no views until Madison Hut, but since the hut and adjoining summits have such great views that is no great loss. It is 3.8 miles from Appalachia to Madison Hut via this route and has 3550 feet of elevation gain (or loss since we will be descending).

The overall rating for this hike is very strenuous with over 10 miles to cover and 5050 feet of elevation gain.

Diane climbing Air Line up to Mount Adams' summit (photo by Mark Malnati)

Route Options

This is a very strenuous hike. Please consider your current hiking level and this season's hiking experiences to determine whether it is feasible to complete both peaks. Choose just one peak if you think your condition or pace warrant it.

In my opinion if you wanted to save some time and effort but still do an interesting and challenging hike, a good choice would be to go up Air Line only as far as Air Line Cutoff, then to Madison hut, then up Mount Madison and descend via Valley Way. If you are not having an optimal day or brought someone new with you, you could always just hike up to the hut and back and skip the peaks.

When hiking in September, it is important to bring extra warm clothing and wind protection and to remember that the daylight hours are getting shorter.

Diane on Mount Adams (photo by Mark Malnati)

Trail signs on Mt. Adams (photo by Mark Malnati)



Trail map of hike route to Mt. Adams, Madison Hut, and Mt. Madison (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

Three dayhikers and two labs arrived at the Appalachia parking lot and departed around 8 a.m. The forecast wasn't terrific due to the hurricanes down south expected to push rain and wind through New England over the weekend; and I am sure that, together with the warning of a brisk/strenuous hike, deterred the majority.

Deb had previously decided to bag just one peak–Mount Madison via Valley Way and Mark and Diane stuck with the original plan to go up Air Line over to Mount Adams then to the hut and then Mount Madison.

We remarked from the beginning that it seemed odd that Deb's dogs never even tried to meet us on Air Line. We had clear skies and temps in the upper 60's to begin. We expected to reach a cloudy/windy summit; instead we hiked into clearing blue skies and lots of sun (about 75 degrees) and a fantastic view of King Ravine, Mount Adams, Mount Washington and Madison Hut.

Mount Madison's summit (photo by Mark Malnati)

Shortly after Air Line Cutoff we joined Gulfside Trail and then turned left to continue on Air Line to the rocky summit of Mount Adams. We looked below to Madison Hut for the dogs and Deb but couldn't see them. Two people were at the summit but left shortly. We ate snacks… Mark had some sticky melon in hand when we looked up and saw a rainbow and I said "quick get the camera". He dropped the snack and took pictures and then I grabbed the now sticky camera to get some with him and the rainbow. This was a first in my life to see a rainbow at the summit and it was extraordinary. A few tenths down we saw another rainbow positioned over King Ravine–this was more clear and brilliant and Mark pulled out the camera again and we pondered whether Deb would be able to see these from wherever she was.

We continued to the hut and had lunch around 12:30 to 12:45 and figured Deb must be up on Mount Madison now. We looked out to see her hitching up the dogs outside and she came in and said the dogs had already been over to Adams. The five of us summitted Madison via Osgood Trail. I got to the top and the dogs met me there and there was an older couple who said those were the dogs they had been feeding peanuts to. Then Deb and Mark arrived with a younger couple who said those were the dogs they saw on Adams... so, the dogs are out there bagging peaks like crazy even if we all aren't with them. The second couple said they were checking their paws because they figured they would be bleeding... uh ha... no way, these pooches can do anything... they just need to beg a little along the way.

Valley Way (photo by Mark Malnati)

So down we went back to Madison Hut and then 3.8 miles down Valley Way. Cloudy skies took over at Madison's summit and followed us the remainder of the day with a couple intermittent light showers. The crew seemed a little weary when the shower hit on the down stretch so I used one of those "professional hiker motivation techniques" and asked what flavor of cold beer they wanted from the icy cooler stowed in the trunk at the parking lot. Suddenly new color and vigor appeared and we slipped and trekked and whined a little for another mile. Then we met up with two young caretakers on their second trip up to the hut for the day. One was a young college-aged gal with a wood frame "pack" carrying about 48 pounds who cheerfully told us how she took a header on the way up… we were spellbound and managed to carry on for another mile I think before we started whining again.

We were down at 5:15 p.m. and gladly stood in the light rain sipping refreshment and talking about how it was a day we were glad we didn't miss.

Oh, if you want an abbreviated trip report, here's Mark's version:

As usual Quincy and Tessa (the two labs) stole the show, everywhere we went there were other hikers who had somehow previously met them. For a hike that was a potential rainout we made out great. A terrific hike, two rainbows and a moose sighting on the way home!
Tessa on Mt. Madison (photo by Mark Malnati)

Quincy on Mt. Madison (photo by Mark Malnati)

Quincy, Tessa, and Deb on Mt. Madison (photo by Mark Malnati) Diane serving up a rainbow on Mt. Adams (photo by Mark Malnati)


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

The trailheads are accessed from the large Appalachia parking lot from which many trails depart. Appalachia is located on the south side of Route 2 in Randolph, New Hampshire.

  • From the western junction of Routes 2 and 16 in Gorham, it can be reached after traveling approximately 5.5 miles farther west on Route 2.
  • It is also about 1 mile west of Pinkham B Road.

Mt. Madison viewed from Mt. Adams (photo by Mark Malnati)

Other Notes   

WMNF Recreational Pass

A parking permit is required to park at White Mountain National Forest trailheads and parking areas. You can purchase a WMNF permit from the forest service and other vendors and can also pay-by-the-day using self-service kiosks located in many parking areas.

For more information on parking passes please refer to the White Mountain National Forest website.

  • $5 per day
  • $30 for a year-long pass
  • $40 for a year for a household

More Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison Trail Reports   



Air Line (photo by Mark Malnati) Air Line from Madison (photo by Mark Malnati)


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