Mt. Washington via Great Gulf Trail

Destinations:  Mt. Washington (6288'), Spaulding Lake (4228')
Trails:  Great Gulf Link, Great Gulf Trail, Wamsutta Trail, Gulfside Trail, Appalachian Trail, Trinity Heights Connector, Chandler Brook Trail, Mount Washington Auto Road, Dolly Copp Road
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Presidentials
Location:  Martins Location, NH
Rating:  Difficult  
Features:  Summit, views, 4000-footer, lake, river, brooks, waterfalls, cascades, loop hike
Distance:  21.5 miles  
Elevation Gain:  5450 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 13:45  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 17:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  06/23/2001 (Saturday) (2 days)  
Last Updated:  09/07/2008  
Weather:  Windy, rainy, and 40 degrees on the summit
Author:  Art O'Leary
Companion:  Eight members from Boy Scout Troop 11

Route Summary   

This was a lollipop-loop hike starting at Barnes Field Campground near Route 16, and climbing Mount Washington basically via the Great Gulf Trail. The descent was made via the Mount Washington Auto Road and Chandler Brook Trail, then slightly up the Great Gulf Trail where we had earlier set up our backcountry camp. The next day we finished the descent via Great Gulf to return to Barnes Field Campground.

Ascent of Mount Washington - Day 1:
  • From Barnes Field Campground, walk south on Dolly Copp Road reaching Dolly Copp Campground and the trailhead for Great Gulf Link after 1.3 miles.
  • Still going south, follow Great Gulf Link for 1.0 mile where it will meet up with Great Gulf Trail.
  • Go straight, following Great Gulf Trail along the West Branch of the Peabody River for 1.5 miles to the junction with Osgood Trail, ignoring junctions with ski trails along the way. Bear left at this junction to remain on Great Gulf Trail.
  • After 0.9 mile you will reach a junction with Osgood Cutoff. Just before this you will pass over The Bluff which is a high bank offering views of Great Gulf. At the junction with Osgood Cutoff, turn sharply left to stay on Great Gulf Trail which is also the Appalachian Trail (AT) at this point.
  • You will be reaching two intersections between Great Gulf Trail and Madison Gulf Trail within the next 0.1 mile. First you will cross Parapet Brook. Next you will reach the junction where Madison Gulf Trail goes to the right and is part of the AT. Keep going straight on what is, for a very short time, Great Gulf Trail, Madison Gulf Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. You will cross a suspension bridge over the West Branch of Peabody River. Next you will reach the second junction between Great Gulf and Madison Gulf Trails. At this point, turn right to remain on Great Gulf Trail while Madison Gulf Trail and the AT go to the left.
  • After 0.3 mile, you will pass Clam Rock - a huge boulder - on your left.
  • After continuing along for an additional 0.8 mile, you will cross Chandler Brook and then reach the junction with Chandler Brook Trail on the opposite bank to the left.
  • Stay straight to keep following the Great Gulf Trail. After 0.6 mile you will reach a 4-way junction between Great Gulf, Wamsutta, and Six Husbands Trails.
  • Here we turned left and went a short ways up Wamsutta Trail in order to reach a designated backcountry campsite. After setting up camp and ditching our heavy gear, we retraced our steps back to the 4-way intersection, then turned left to continue our trek up Great Gulf Trail.
  • Great Gulf Trail sustains its course along the West Branch of the Peabody River with its many cascades adding scenic interest and after 1.1 miles (shortly after a river and then a brook crossing) reaches a junction with Sphinx Trail.
  • Veer left to keep following Great Gulf Trail. Crossing the river again, you will soon reach Weetamoo Falls. And a while after that, you will arrive at Spaulding Lake which is 0.9 mile from the junction with Sphinx Trail. The lake is small but lovely and is surrounded on three sides by the towering cliffs of the Great Gulf headwall.
  • Leaving the lake behind, you must now tackle the very steep headwall with rough, rocky footing - with rocks that will usually slide downwards as you step on them - somewhat akin to walking in loose beach sand but much more difficult. The route will also be likely difficult to discern because winter snow slides may sweep away the cairns. The route up the headwall begins in a southerly direction and then curves slightly to the southeast (towards the left when heading up).
  • After 0.9 mile and 1,600 feet in elevation gain, you will crest the top of the headwall and then join Gulfside Trail which comes in from the right; this is the end of Great Gulf Trail.
  • Go straight on what is now Gulfside Trail as well as the Appalachian Trail. You will cross the Cog Railway tracks and 0.2 mile from the end of Great Gulf Trail, you will reach an intersection with Trinity Heights Connector.
  • Turn left onto Trinity Heights Connector which is also the Appalachian Trail, and follow it for 0.2 to arrive at the summit of Mount Washington.

Partial Descent of Mount Washington - Day 1:
  • For the descent, follow the Mount Washington Auto Road (watch for cars) for about 3.5 miles until reaching the Chandler Brook Trail which is about 0.7 mile below the 5-mile post.
  • Turn left and descend the steep Chandler Brook Trail to its end at 0.9 mile, with several crossings of Chandler Brook as well as views of waterfalls.
  • Upon reaching the junction with Great Gulf Trail, turn left and ascend gently for 0.6 mile until reaching the 4-way junction with Wamsutta and Six Husbands Trails.
  • Turn left and follow Wamsutta Trail for a short ways to the campsite. That's the end of the hiking for this day.

Final Descent of Mount Washington - Day 2:
  • On the second day, we packed up camp, retraced our steps on Wamsutta Trail, then turned right onto Great Gulf Trail to make our return trek to Barnes Field Campground near Route 16.
  • We followed Great Gulf Trail all the way down to its junction with Great Gulf Link, for 4.2 miles, retracing our steps from early yesterday.
  • At the junction with Great Gulf Link we veered left to follow Great Gulf Link for 1.0 mile back to Dolly Copp Campground and Dolly Copp Road.
  • Continue north the final 1.3 miles on Dolly Copp Road to return to Barnes Field Campground.

A variation for this hike would be to start at the Great Gulf Trailhead but otherwise follow the route as described. The different starting point would shorten both the ascent and descent by 2 miles each making it a 7.9 mile trek up to the summit and 9.6 miles for the descent. (After 0.3 mile on the Great Gulf Trail, you will reach the junction with Great Gulf Link from which point you can follow the directions above.)

Place         Split
Barnes Field Campground (1250') 0.0 0.0
Great Gulf Link trailhead at Dolly Copp Campground (1250') 1.3 1.3
Jct. Great Gulf Link/Great Gulf Trail (1375') 1.0 2.3
Jct. Great Gulf Trail/Madison Gulf Trail (2300') 2.5 4.8
Jct. Great Gulf Trail/Wamsutta Trail/Six Husbands Trail (3100') 1.7 6.5
Campsite on Wamsutta Trail 0.05 6.55
Jct. Great Gulf Trail/Wamsutta Trail/Six Husbands Trail (3100') 0.05 6.6
Spaulding Lake (4228') 2.0 8.6
Mt. Washington summit (6288') 1.3 9.9
Jct. Mount Washington Auto Road/Chandler Brook Trail (4125') 3.5 13.4
Jct. Chandler Brook Trail/Great Gulf Trail (2800') 0.9 14.3
Jct. Great Gulf Trail/Wamsutta Trail/Six Husbands Trail (3100') 0.6 14.9
Campsite on Wamsutta Trail 0.05 14.95
Jct. Great Gulf Trail/Wamsutta Trail/Six Husbands Trail (3100') 0.05 15.0
Jct. Great Gulf Trail/Madison Gulf Trail (2300') 1.7 16.7
Jct. Great Gulf Link/Great Gulf Trail (1375') 2.5 19.2
Great Gulf Link trailhead at Dolly Copp Campground (1250') 1.0 20.2
Barnes Field Campground (1250') 1.3 21.5


  Trail Guide   

We prepared for this Mount Washington hike by first completing three 10-milers as part of a training program. This made sure that those attempting this challenging hike had the stamina and determination required.

The night before the hike we camped at Barnes Field Campground. We had two moose walk through the campsite. Be sure to use the "Bearmuda Triangle" and bear bags and/or car trunks for your food and garbage.

We started early in the morning from Barnes Field Campground and headed up Great Gulf Trail to its junction with the Wamsutta Trail. That part took from 7:30 a.m. to noon. We found a good designated site to camp, ditched the heavy stuff and set up camp. We brought lightweight winter coats and snow pants, ponchos and flashlights up to the top - it was 40 degrees up there that Monday at noon.

Then we continued up to Spaulding Lake by 3 p.m. The weather looked okay, so we continued on up the "headwall": it rises 1,600 feet in about 0.8 mile. What a challenge and what a view!

Just as we came over the top by the Cog Railway, the clouds came in and it got real windy and began raining. We got up to the top at about 5 p.m. It was heavy fog - you have to follow the cairns (piles of rocks) - my glasses fogged up and I could barely see my feet!

We had planned on going down to the campsite on the Wamsutta Trail, but the weather was too bad and it was getting late, so we went down the Auto Road to get out of the weather and lower in elevation. You can travel fast here; it only took an hour to go almost 4 miles.

Then we went down the Chandler Brook Trail. This path might be okay in good weather, but I got that terrifying feeling you get at the top of a roller coaster. Basically you have to slide down a mile's worth of rocks (and 1,300 feet of elevation loss) on your behind. It is very steep; a good hiking stick woulda been useful. It took about 2.5 hours to go down this trail on wet rocks. When we reached Great Gulf Trail after 9 p.m., we needed flashlights to proceed on the last 0.7 mile to the campsite.

So overall, we went 10 miles up and 5 miles down the first day, then hiked out 6.5 miles back to our base camp at Barnes Field Campground the next day.

On the summit of Mount Washington

Sooooo... if you're thinkin' of goin':

  • The Great Gulf Trail itself is absolutely beautiful! It follows a river most of the way up the wilderness area with lotsa waterfalls/cascades. You cross the river several times - there's even an awesome "Indiana Jones" suspension bridge across it about halfway up. It's not very crowded - we only saw about a dozen other people along it. It's not extremely steep up until you approach Spaulding Lake. You are pretty well sheltered from the elements until then, too. Plenty of water if you have a filter or those stinky little pills (there's a bubbler at the top in the Summit House).
  • The biggest risk, other than hypothermia or a heart attack is falling down and falling rock. Be prepared for first aid and hypothermia in case of a broken leg or ankle. About half the guys slipped at one point, and once a 500-pound rock started rolling when stepped on. If you get injured, it may be a day before help can get there (the cell phone didn't work either on top or in the wilderness area).
  • Start early: the end of June is great for lotsa daylight, but we shoulda started about an hour earlier.
  • Somehow we lucked out - there was hardly any bugs at all - yeeha!
  • "Thorlo" socks work great - you can go 10 miles with them wet and get no blisters.
  • Bring up the mountain: raingear, a lot of water (about 1 gallon or 4 liters) or Gatorade, extra good socks, wool sweater, wool hat, wool gloves, bug spray, suntan juice, first aid kit, asthma medicine/inhaler, survival kit, compass, jackknife, matches, rope, small flashlight, bug net, camera, cup, whistle, toilet paper, hiking stick, watch, bandana, trail lunch, munchies.
  • Be prepared for very hot temperatures at the bottom and very cold temps at the top.
  • Leave-no-trace: carry it in/carry it out (this rule goes for anywhere you hike).
  • There are some good guide books with maps from the AMC: White Mountain Guide, Appalachian Trail Guide to New Hampshire-Vermont , and Mount Washington and the Presidential Range Guide. The trail descriptions are very accurate - they almost narrate what you're doing. But the trail times are rather fast; it seemed like a mile an hour would be a better average estimate.
  • There are a bunch of designated wilderness campsites. Some are in absolutely beautiful locations, particularly on the Great Gulf Trail near The Bluffs, about 50 yards up the Wamsutta Trail, Clam Rock, or near the Madison Trail.
  • Get a waterproof map/plastic bag so you don't end up lost, with a giant spitball in your pocket.

NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

To Barnes Field Campground:
  • Barnes Field Campground is located in Martins Location, New Hampshire, just south of the boundary with Gorham.
  • From the junction of Routes 2 and 16 in Gorham, follow Rt. 16 south for about 5 miles and then turn right onto Dolly Copp Road (Pinkham B Road).
  • Follow Dolly Copp Road (Pinkham B Road) for less than a mile, reaching Barnes Field Campground shortly after the road bends to the right.

To Great Gulf Trailhead Parking:
  • The parking area for Great Gulf Trail is located off of Rt. 16 in Greens Grant, New Hampshire.
  • It is about 1.5 miles south of the junction between Dolly Copp Road (Pinkham B Road) and Rt. 16, and heading south, will be on the right-hand side.
  • Heading north on Rt. 16, it is about 5 miles beyond the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center in Pinkhams Grant and will be a left-hand turn.


At the summit of Mount Washington are bathrooms, a cafeteria, gift shop, and museum.

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. Washington Trail Reports   


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