Mt. Jefferson via Castle Ravine

Mountain:  Mt. Jefferson (5716')
Trails:  Castle Trail, Israel Ridge Path, Castle Ravine Trail, Randolph Path, Gulfside Trail, Mount Jefferson Loop, Appalachian Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Presidentials
Location:  Randolph, NH
Rating:  Difficult  
Features:  Summit, views, slab cave, 4000-footer, alpine zone, river, brooks, loop hike
Distance:  10.2 miles  
Elevation Gain:  4240 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 7:17   Typical: 7:15  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 9:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  09/05/1999 (Sunday)  
Last Updated:  09/14/2009  
Weather:  Warm overall - even on the summit - temperature varied from 60-80 degrees
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

This is a loop hike ascending Mount Jefferson via Castle Ravine and descending on Castle Trail. Mount Jefferson is a 4000-footer and offers fantastic 360-degree views.

  • Start on Castle Trail and follow it for 1.3 miles. Note that you will need to cross Israel River which may be difficult at high water.
  • Then leave Castle Trail, bearing left on Israel Ridge Path.
  • Follow Israel Ridge Path 0.4 mile until arriving at a junction with Castle Ravine Trail.
  • Bear right onto Castle Ravine Trail.
  • After 1.5 miles you will reach a junction with The Link which comes in from the left and runns concurrently with Castle Ravine Trail. Keep going straight on Castle Ravine Trail.
  • After 0.2 mile on the combined Castle Ravine Trail / The Link, you will reach another junction where Emerald Trail comes in from the left. Keep going straight.
  • After 0.1 mile, Castle Ravine Trail goes straight while The Link to diverges to the right. Stay straight on Castle Ravine Trail.
  • Hike for another 0.3 mile which will bring you to Roof Rock – a rock tunnel that the trail passes through.
  • Continue on Castle Ravine Trail, climbing up the headwall, for another 0.7 mile until the trail ends upon meeting Randolph Path. Be careful to pay attention to cairns and paint blazes while navigating the headwall so you don't get off track.
  • Veer right to follow Randolph Path, and almost immediately pass by a junction with The Link on the right. After 0.1 mile Randolph Path ends at Edmands Col where it meets Gulfside Trail which is part of the Appalachian Trail (AT).
  • Turn right and follow Gulfside Trail / Appalachian Trail for 0.2 mile which will bring you to a junction with Mount Jefferson Loop Trail.
  • Gulfside Trail / Appalachian Trail behind and bear right onto Mount Jefferson Loop.
  • Follow Mount Jefferson Loop for the final 0.4 mile to arrive at the summit of Mount Jefferson.
  • For the descent, follow Castle Trail all the way down from the summit to the parking area, ignoring all cross trails (you'll pass by three junctions).

  • For the descent, we will follow Castle Trail all the way down.
  • Leave the summit in a northwesterly direction. Be sure to pick up the right trail as four different paths take off from the top.
  • Follow Castle Trail for 0.5 mile until reaching a 4-way intersection with The Cornice.
  • Keep straight on Castle Trail and follow it for another 1.0 mile to a 4-way intersection with The Link; keep going staright on Castle Trail. En route to this junction, you will pass The Castles – rock formations which include a pair of 20-foot pillars.
  • Descend for another 2.2 miles which will bring you to another junction where Israel Ridge Path comes in from the right. This is the junction we met on our way up. For the descent, keep straight ahead on Castle Trail.
  • For the final 1.3 miles, you'll be retracing your steps on Castle Trail which will bring you back to the parking lot.

Place         Split
Castle Trailhead (1500') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Jct. Castle Trail/Israel Ridge Path (1900') 1.3 1.3 0:32 0:32
Jct. Israel Ridge Path/Castle Ravine Trail (2100') 0.4 1.7 0:15 0:47
Lower jct. Castle Ravine Trail/The Link (3125') 1.5 3.2 0:54 1:41
Upper jct. Castle Ravine Trail/The Link (3225') 0.3 3.5 0:12 1:53
Roof Rock (3600') 0.3 3.8 0:21 2:14
Jct. Castle Ravine Trail/Randolph Path (4900') 0.7 4.5 1:11 3:25
Mt. Jefferson summit (5716') 0.7 5.2 0:39 4:04
Jct. Castle Trail/The Cornice (5100') 0.5 5.7 0:34 4:38
Jct. Castle Trail/The Link (4025') 1.0 6.7 1:08 5:46
Jct. Castle Trail/Israel Ridge Path (1900') 2.2 8.9 1:07 6:53
Castle Trailhead (1500') 1.3 10.2 0:24 7:17



Map of hike route to Mt. Jefferson (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

This was a fantastic hike – especially the route up. I started out on Castle Trail and in less than a half-mile into the hike was the first of many stream crossings. This one was over Israel River and was fairly easy due to large boulders that looked like they were deliberately placed in the river to serve as stepping stones. The water level was low enough so that the tops of the boulders were completely dry.

Continuing along the trail, the roar of the river can be heard but it's not readily in sight; by taking short detours off to the side, you can look down at the river. At the junction of Castle Trail and Israel Ridge Path, I veered left to head up Israel Ridge Path; and shortly after that, veered to the right to follow Castle Ravine Trail.

Almost immediately after leaving Castle Trail the river reappeared trailside and remained there for about two miles (although after about a half-mile, the name of the water becomes Castle Brook; Castle Brook and Cascade Brook converge to form Israel River so I got to see the very beginning of a river).

Although there were many stream crossings, the trail was well marked so it was apparent when it was time to cross. Most of the crossings were fairly easy, although caution definitely had to be used as the rocks were very slick. The brooks were pretty with many small cascades.

At all the crossings, there was a small white sign on at least one side of the bank, labeled, "PATH". Paint blazes, small white signs with arrows, and cairns, were also employed to point the way, so although the Castle Ravine Trail appeared to have low usage, it's easy to follow if you pay attention to all the markers.

At one point, I found strange bright orange-colored growth on a fallen log. The outer layer of bark had been peeled away and there were tiny orange spheres bunched together on the log to form what looked like, from a distance, a big orange paint blaze. Each sphere was smaller than a pinhead.

Roof Rock (photo by Webmaster)

As I got closer to the foot of Castle Ravine, the brook went "underground". I could still hear it gurgling but I could only catch glimpses of the water when I looked under low boulder overhangs. Also, in this area, I came across "Roof Rock" where a big boulder sits atop a couple others, forming a short tunnel. It was tall enough that I could walk through it, bent forward, without removing my pack.

Soon after leaving Roof Rock, the views totally opened up as I entered the ravine. Both the ravine and views from it are breathtaking. I could look up and see the ridge that I would be walking along during my descent along Castle Trail. The far end of the ridge has tall but relatively thin boulders sticking up prominently – they make quite an interesting crenellated formation.

The climb up the headwall of the ravine is strenuous. It took me a little over an hour to cover the 0.7 mile between Roof Rock and the top of the ravine (taking my time and moving slowly – but I was still breathing hard). The views from within the ravine are well worth the effort. I paused often to drink in the splendor of the sights. Footing up the headwall is very unstable as there are tons of small loose rocks that dislodge, pivot, or rock as your foot attempts to claim a step. The roar of the brook could be heard most of the way up the headwall.

Above the headwall (photo by Webmaster)

There's one spot on the headwall where the trail was a little tricky to follow: at one point the trail is going up what looks like a "stream" of boulders, but then shortly veers off to the right through some scrub and later joins a different "stream" of boulders. If you miss the turnoff and keep heading up, you'll be far off from the actual trail so keep looking for cairns and paint blazes to ensure you're on track.

Upon reaching the top of the ravine, I veered left to follow Randolph Path for 0.1 mile to Edmands Col. Appearing to the right is Mount Jefferson and to the left is the massive-looking Mount Adams. At the col there is a historic marker honoring J. Raynor Edmands who used to be president of the AMC and who was responsible for making many of the trails over the Presidentials a consistent grade and has a path on Mount Eisenhower named after him.

At this point, I took a right and followed Gulfside Trail until it met up with Mount Jefferson Loop Trail, where I took another right and followed this route up the final ascent to the summit. Along this section, the sound of Mount Washington's cog railroad whistle pierced the silence.

The summit is an open clearing, with piles of boulders along it's outer perimeter. It's on top of the tallest pile of boulders that the summit proper lies. There were views to be had in all directions. Since it was hazy, only the closer views were clear. Although I didn't see anybody else on the trails until I reached the headwall, the summit was crowded, especially the summit proper. I didn't stay on that particular crag for long due to the people congestion, the vicious black flies, and the view of the awful railroad smoke clogging the skies.

I headed over to the side of the summit where the Castle Trail starts its descent and found a great secluded seat there – a boulder with a built-in backrest. Some of the louder people could still be heard but I was the only one in that section, there were no bugs, the breeze was more refreshing, no black clouds of pollution were visible, yet it still provided fantastic vistas. I hung out here for a while and broke into my third water bottle as I ate lunch (I consumed two, 48-ounce containers of water on my climb up to the summit).

Looking back up to Mt. Jefferson (photo by Webmaster)

Leaving the summit, I was pleased to discover that over the first mile of my descent of Castle Trail provided me with never ending views. The ridge I walked upon formed one arm of the ravine that I had earlier hiked up. It was neat to be walking upon what I had earlier looked up at; and looking down at what I had earlier walked upon. From this ridge, the roar of the brook below could again be heard.

The first 1.5 miles of the descent was slow due to the challenging footing over the piles of rocks. Shortly after entering the woods the footing became much easier with only occasional rough spots. Eventually the trail became quite gradual and I jogged much of the last couple of miles.

By the time I had reached the end of the trail, I had seen dozens of toads. Most of them were tiny – only about the size of my thumbnail. Several of them were a neat orangey color – not pumpkin orange – but kind of the orange that's produced when the brightly setting sun casts its glow on a cliff of formerly beige-looking rocks. Some of the other toads were chocolate brown in color and some were the typical beige toad color. I saw only one relatively big toad – it was about two inches long.


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

The trailhead for this hike is located in Randolph, New Hampshire on the south side of Route 2.

From I-93:
  • From I-93, take Exit 36 for Rt. 3 North.
  • Follow Rt. 3 North for about 10 miles which will bring you to the junction of Routes 302 and 3 in Carroll (Twin Mountain).
  • Continue driving north on Rt. 3 for 2 miles, then turn right at the blinking light, onto Rt. 115.
  • Follow Rt. 115 for about 13 miles until it ends upon meeting Rt. 2.
  • Turn right onto Rt. 2 East.
  • Follow Rt. 2 East for about 4.2 miles, then turn right into the parking area.
  • To find the trailhead, walk through the parking area to a driveway that continues on the side of the parking lot farthest from the road.
  • Follow the right-hand branch of the driveway until you see a small trail sign, then enter the woods.

From Rt. 16:
  • Take Rt. 16 into the town of Gorham.
  • At the western-most junction of Routes 2 and 16 (this will be the first junction if heading south on Rt. 16; the second junction when heading north), head west on Rt. 2.
  • Follow Rt. 2 for 8.3 miles, then turn left into the parking area.
  • To find the trailhead, walk through the parking area to a driveway that continues on the side of the parking lot farthest from the road.
  • Follow the right-hand branch of the driveway until you see a small trail sign, then enter the woods.

More Mt. Jefferson Trail Reports   



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