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4000-footers: An Introductory Guide

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Anyone who has ever hiked even the smallest amount in the White Mountains is bound to have heard of the 4000-footers. To those new to hiking, they seem a legendary achievement. To completers of the list, they represent the spirit of hiking in the Whites. Ask any New Hampshire peakbagger about his experience on one of the peaks, and you will probably receive a wealth of information and plenty of tips and suggestions. Some even make it their sole purpose for hiking and complete the list again and again, in every month of the year, in a certain order, or another challenge. Although some 15,000 people have conquered the list by now, it remains an impressive feat. After just a few 4K adventures, you may find yourself hopelessly hooked. Battling the crowds on the northern Presidentials or reveling in the solitude on Mt. Isolation, taking an afternoon to leisurely trek up Cannon and mingle with the tourists or getting up at 4:00 to begin your 20-mile expedition to the wild and untamed Bonds, standing awestruck at the panorama from Mt. Carrigain or peeking through the trees in false hope of seeing anything at all on Owl's Head, discovering new favorites like Middle Carter or visiting the classics like Mt. Lafayette, you'll find endless adventures for everyone on the NH48.

You can find all of New Hampshire's 4000-footers here on NH Family Hikes, but you will find them grouped in a neater arrangement on this page. In addition to our suggestions on how to get started with your quest, you will find three tables with varying information on each mountain. The first table lists statistics for each hike required to collect all 48 and has clickable rows to bring you to each one's separate guide. This is by no means a complete reference, but we think it's a suitable reference for beginners. Please note that you may fashion nearly unlimited different routes to each peak, but we present our one recommended route for each one.

Before you begin

It is fairly obvious that your first 4000-footer should not be Mt. Washington, but if you are new to hiking, you may want to prepare physically and mentally for the high peaks by tackling some smaller mountains with the characteristics of the big ones. Here we present our recommendations coupled with the reasons we chose them.

Mt. Kearsarge North - This 3000-footer boasts an inspiring panorama of the Conway area, and climbing it involves lots of open ledges.

South Moat Mountain - Although a very minor peak under 3000 feet, this knob on the Moat Ridge has a wide open summit that appears higher than it is. Its hiking trail is formidible for such a low mountain, involving many open ledges and several steep, rocky pitches.

Welch and Dickey Mountains - These two tiny peaks are dwarfed by everything around them, but they offer far-reaching views from their open rocky summits. The Welch-Dickey Loop Trail attacks a few sheer rock pitches that are quite steep and provides new hikers with the experience of taking on two mountains in one hike.

Mt. Crawford - This rocky peak in the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness has a spectacular vista of the higher Presidentials and the region at the south end of Crawford Notch. Its hiking trail, the lower Davis Path, tests the endurance of hikers as it climbs relentlessly. Add on Mt. Resolution and/or Stairs Mountain for a tougher peakbagging challenge.

Mt. Cardigan - This Lakes Region 3000-footer is the gem of Southern New Hampshire with its endless vista in all directions and extensive sub-alpine zone. The hike is very rugged for its entire 6-mile length.

There are plenty of small mountains out there that are in many ways more difficult than the 4Ks, but conquering one or all of these is an excellent way to build endurance and confidence before you move on.

The First Step

Once you feel you can confidently conquer a few of the mountains above, it's time to move on to the easiest of the hardest. Here are (in our opinion) the very easiest of the 4000-footers and excellent choices to begin with.

Mt. Pierce - This broad, low mountain in the Southern Presidentials just barely pokes into the alpine zone and offers an excellent view up the Presidential ridgeline. The trek on the lower Crawford Path can hardly be considered difficult, as it maintains moderate grades the entire way up.

Mt. Tecumseh - The very lowest of the 48 at 4003', Mt. Tecumseh (home of the Waterville Valley Ski Area) is one of the shortest 4K hikes at five miles round trip, with an optional extra mile for a scenic side trip. The trail is never too steep, and ascends with the aid of many stone staircases. At the summit, there is a small but beautiful vista of Waterville's surrounding mountains.

Mt. Waumbek - One of the northernmost 4000-footers, as well as one of the most underrated, Mt. Waumbek is reached by a gradual, woodsy climb over Mt. Starr King and across a wild, mossy ridge. Near the summit is a good view of the Presidential Range.

Mt. Passaconaway - One of the two Sandwich Range 4000-footers and another of the most underrated. The pleasant Dicey's Mill Trail explores the huge old-growth forests of the Bowl and provides a very moderate ascent route. It gets a bit rougher around the loop at the top, but the four stunning viewpoints (which many hikers miss), are worth it.

Tips for working on the list

Once you know your mind is set on achieving all 48, it is time to develop a strategy for working through them.

>-Know the most difficult peaks, and determine what path you will use to prepare for them. Use the chart and our descriptions to decide which intermediate hikes will challenge you to step up your ability to reach closer to the hardest ones. For example, if you are uncomfortable with the thought of scrambling up a landslide on Tripyramid (optional), Flume (optional), or Owls Head (necessary), consider first trying out the trip up Hancock or Willey to experience a less challenging trail with a steep pitch and loose gravel. Or if you are unsure how you will make it the 18 miles for the roundtrip to Bondcliff or Owls Head, perhaps you should work up to it gradually with Garfield (10 mi), then Carter Dome (12 mi), then Isolation (14 mi). Other peaks present different challenges, such as Adams, which is considered the most difficult due to its huge elevation gain; Wildcat and Wildcat D, which involves unsettling rock scrambling; or Owls Head (again!), which requires the crossing of potentially dangerous rivers.

>-To keep your quest varied and exciting, remember to select peaks from different ranges and areas in turn, rather than visiting nearby peaks consecutively. You will enjoy rotating through various regions and experiencing what each one has to offer. Be aware of the driving time for each general area and plan accordingly.

>-Plan based on the weather. Don't be the careless hiker who misses the view from the Bonds because of low clouds! Know which peaks you can visit with less than optimal weather and which ones you want to save for the perfect day. For example, if you have a day with hundred-mile visibility, you might choose Washington or Carrigain over mountains like Tom or Isolation, which have short-range views. Mt. Hale, on the other hand, is the only peak on the list with no view at all.

>-Know which mountains are best for certain times of year. You will want to plan for peaks which require large water crossings for late summer when water is low, for example, or save a lower peak surrounded by river valleys for autumn foliage viewing.

>-Save one for last. Don't use up all the most exciting peaks first; save some for later and remember to keep one special one for last. Popular finishing peak choices include Carrigain and Isolation. Other good choices would be Adams, Moosilauke, or any of the Bonds.

Each new check mark in your list will be a unique experience that you will remember forever. Never let the desire to finish a list get in the way of having a good time and claiming the fullest adventure and scenic beauty for each one.

Two more mountains

There are an additional two mountains that are worthy of mention here, which 4K climbers may wish to climb as part of their quest.

Mt. Guyot - The 4000-footer list is based on a prominence requirement of 200 feet, meaning that you must have to descend at minimum 200 feet from any peak above 4000 feet before you can get to a higher place in order for it to be a 4000-footer. Mt. Guyot is known to meet this requirement, but the AMC mysteriously excludes it from their list. Mt. Guyot is summitted on the way from Zealand to Bond, so if you follow our recommended routes, you can know that you achieved all 49 4000-footers in New Hampshire.

Sandwich Dome - New England's highest mountain under 4000 feet. Its elevation has been unofficially measured at 3993', but the USGS map doesn't list its height, leaving it as a range from 3960'-4000'. Sandwich Dome is included on the 52 with a view list.

Completion

Please visit the AMC 4K Club website for information about how to receive your achievement patch when you finish.

Tables

The following table lists route statistics for each hike to one or more 4000-footers. Everything listed here describes the particular routes we recommend for climbing each one. Each combination of mountains or route to such can always be altered by consulting other guides. Difficulty listed here is subjective and relative to the set of NH 4000-footers; it is not a general classification. Click on any row to view our guide for that hike.

Mountains Round-trip Distance Elevation Gain Difficulty Special/Unique Features
Washington/Monroe10.4 mi4200 feetHardFollows Ammonoosuc River to source, with waterfalls and alpine lakes. Views from alpine zone for miles. AMC hut and state park. Walk past edge of Great Gulf.
Adams/Madison10.3 mi5100 feetHardClimbs up Durand Ridge with views down into King Ravine. Views from alpine zone for miles. AMC hut and alpine lake in cleft between peaks. Descent along brook past many waterfalls.
Jefferson5.6 mi2700 feetModerate"Potholes" ledge with views ahead. Views for miles from alpines zone. Rock scrambles up the three Caps. Scenic loop across alpine lawn.
Lafayette/Lincoln9.1 mi3900 feetModerateThree waterfalls and brook with cascades. Shining Rock viewpoint. Views for miles on alpine traverse across the ridge. AMC hut and small lake with view of entire ridge.
South Twin/North Twin11.5 mi3350 feetHardWalk along river. Nice ledges on both peaks.
Carter Dome/South Carter11.8 mi4150 feetHardWalk along river. Notch with lakes, boulders, AMC hut, and cliff scenery. Rock outlook over notch. Panoramic views from Mt. Hight.
Moosilauke7.9 mi2450 feetEasyRiver walking. Huge alpine summit. South peak with different views.
Eisenhower6.6 mi2750 feetEasyAlpine Bog. Huge alpine summit.
Carrigain10.6 mi3400 feetModerateBrook walk. Signal Ridge outlook. Summit fire tower.
Bond/West Bond/Zealand17.6 mi3550 feetHardRiver walk. Pleasant marshes and ponds. Waterfalls and cascades near AMC hut. Zeacliff outlook. Alpines bogs and ledges. Large alpine zone on Mt. Guyot.
Middle Carter10.2 mi3200 feetModerateImp Face and North Carter outlooks. Ridge with bogs and ledges.
Garfield10.0 mi3050 feetEasyLong gradual forest trail. Birch glades. Optional pond to see. Tall foundation on summit.
Liberty/Flume9.9 mi3550 feetHardBrooks. Landslide climbing. Unique ledge scenery.
Wildcat/Wildcat D10.0 mi3200 feetHardLake with views. Many difficult ledges with views. A cave. Wildcat Ski Area with an observation tower. Minor views and bogs on Wilcat Ridge.
Hancock/South Hancock9.8 mi2700 feetModerateRiver scenery. Steep gravel and dark forests.
South Kinsman/North Kinsman10.2 mi3100 feetHardTwo mountain lakes. AMC hut. Rock scrambles and bogs. very wide open summit on South Kinsman.
Osceola/East Osceola8.4 mi2400 feetEasyMany ledges and outlooks on and between peaks. Challenge of optional rock chimney.
Field/Tom7.4 mi2950 feetEasyBrook and cascades. Wild fir forests. Extra views from Mt. Avalon
Bondcliff18.4 mi3300 feetHardVery long walk on railroad grades. Rivers and brooks. Iconic cliff and alpine summit
Willey5.5 mi2850 feetModerateLadder chain. Steep gravel.
North Tripyramid/Middle Tripyramid11.2 mi3000 feetHardWildflowers, rivers, cascades, boulders, and clearings on Livermore Road. Challenging slides with spectacular views.
Cabot10.6 mi2800 feetEasyBirch glades. Remote Lake. Views from the Horn.
Cannon4.6 mi2200 feetEasyCannon cliffs view. Talus slopes. Observation tower and ski area with summit restaurant.
Hale4.4 mi2300 feetEasyBrook. Pretty forests. Huge grassy clearing at summit.
Jackson6.5 mi2550 feetModerateBugle Cliff. Cascades. Scenic loop with Mt. Webster. Gray Jays!!!
Moriah9.0 mi3400 feetModerateMany steep ledges with views different than the summit.
Passaconaway9.3 mi2950 feetEasyOld-growth forest in the Bowl. Series of four viewpoints around summit loop trail.
Owls Head18.4 mi2900 feetHardVery long walk on railroad grades. Many rivers. Landslide climbing.
Galehead10.4 mi2500 feetModerateRiver walk. AMC hut.
Whiteface8.4 mi2850 feetModerateLedge scrambling with many views.
Waumbek7.2 mi2600 feetEasyGentle and scenic forest climb.
Isolation14.4 mi3600 feetEasyRemote river and forests.
Tecumseh6.0 mi2200 feetEasyRock staircases. Ski area.

This table provides an overview of the character of each 4000-footer's summit.


Mountain View Type View Rating Summit Type Summit Structures/Markings
Mt. WashingtonOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyMt. Washington State Park
Mt. AdamsOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyA signpost
Mt. JeffersonOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyA cairn
Mt. MonroeOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyA benchmark
Mt. MadisonOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyA benchmark
Mt. LafayetteOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyA stone foundation
Mt. LincolnOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and rockyNo markings
South Twin MountainOpen in all directions10/10Sub-alpine and rockyNo markings
Carter DomeStand-up directional5/10Forested and gravellyA cairn
Mt. MoosilaukeOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and grassyA stone foundation
Mt. EisenhowerOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and gravellyA huge cairn
North Twin MountainTwo wide ledge views9/10Forested and gravellyNo markings
Mt. CarrigainOpen in all directions10/10ForestedA fire tower
Mt. BondOpen in all directions10/10Alpine and gravellyA benchmark
Middle CarterWide view in most directions from ledges9/10ForestedNo markings
West BondOpen in all directions10/10Sub-alpine and ledgyNo markings
Mt. GarfieldOpen in all directions10/10Open and ledgyA cement foundation
Mt. LibertyOpen in all directions10/10Open and ledgyA benchmark
South CarterLimited directional view from a clearing3/10Completely forestedA small cairn
Wildcat MountainWide directional view from a ledge7/10Forested and ledgyA small cairn
Mt. HancockDirectional view from a ledge7/10Completely forestedA trail sign
South Kinsman MountainOpen in all directions8/10Sub-alpine and ledgyA large cairn
Mt. OsceolaWide ledge view9/10Forested and ledgyFire tower footings
Mt. FieldLimited views in two directions over trees5/10Completely forestedA cairn
Mt. FlumeThree-directional view from open summit9/10Open and ledgyNo markings
South HancockLimited directional view from a clearing6/10Completely forestedA trail sign
Mt. PierceWide directional view from open summit7/10Sub-alpine and ledgy/grassybenchmark/cairn
North KinsmanDirectional view from a ledge7/10Forested and ledgyNo markings
Mt. WilleyDouble directional views from ledges8/10Forested and ledgyNo markings
BondcliffOpen in all directions10/10Sub-alpine and ledgy/gravellyA benchmark
Zealand MountainNone at summit; Wide views from Zeacliff8/10Completely ForestedOrnate sign
North TripyramidLimited directional view over trees;
Wide directional view from slide
8/10Completely forestedNo markings
Mt. CabotNone at summit; Three-directional from Horn;
More views from one trail approach
8/10Completely forestedA sign
East OsceolaDirectional view over trees;
Wide directional view from ledge.
9/10Completely forested A cairn
Middle TripyramidDouble directional views over trees6/10Completely forestedNo markings
Cannon MountainOpen in all directions9/10Completely forestedAn observation tower
Wildcat DDirectional view from ski area6/10Completely forestedAn observation tower
Mt. HaleNone2/10Cleared and grassyA huge cairn
Mt. JacksonOpen in all directions10/10Sub-alpine and ledgyNo markings
Mt. TomDouble directional views over trees6/10Completely forestedNo markings
Mt. MoriahThree-directional views from open summit9/10Open and ledgyNo markings
Mt. PassaconawaySeries of directional views9/10Completely forestedA tiny cairn
Owls Head MountainDirectional view from slide5/10Completely forestedA cairn
Galehead MountainDirectional view from clearing4/10Completely forestedNo markings
Mt. WhitefaceWide directional view from several ledges7/10Completely forestedNo markings
Mt. WaumbekDirectional view from a clearing5/10Completely forestedA large cairn
Mt. IsolationThree-directional view from summit ledges8/10Sub-alpine and ledgyA benchmark
Mt. TecumsehDirectional view from clearing6/10Completely forestedNo markings

This table provides quantitative information about the mountains.


# Mountain Elevation Prominence* Isolation** Range Town
1Mt. Washington6288'6158'820 miPresidentialSargents Purchase
2Mt. Adams5799'861'3.0 miPresidentialThompson and Meserves Purchase
3Mt. Jefferson5712'753'1.7 miPresidentialThompson and Meserves Purchase
4Mt. Monroe5372'264'0.7 miPresidentialSargents Purchase
5Mt. Madison5366'466'0.6 miPresidentialLow and Burbanks Grant
6Mt. Lafayette5280'3360'17.2 miFranoniaFranconia
7Mt. Lincoln5089'189'0.7 miFranconiaFranconia
8South Twin Mountain4902'1522'4.7 miTwinFranconia
9Carter Dome4832'2821'5.0 miCarterBeans Purchase
10Mt. Moosilauke4802'2932'12.5 miMoosilauke MassifBenton
11Mt. Eisenhower4780'355'0.8 miPresidentialsChandlers Purchase
12North Twin Mountain4761'301'0.9 miTwinBethlehem/Franconia
13Mt. Carrigain4700'2243'5.9 miSouthern PemigewassetLincoln/Livermore
14Mt. Bond4698'218'2.3 miTwinLincoln
15Middle Carter4610'720'1.9 miCarterBeans Purchase
16West Bond4540'200'0.4 miTwinLincoln
17Mt. Garfield4500'840'2.0 miFranconiaFranconia
18Mt. Liberty4459'399'1.5 miFranconiaLincoln
19South Carter4430'240'0.7 miCarterBeans Purchase
20Wildcat Mountain4422'1034'0.9 miCarterBeans Purchase
21Mt. Hancock4420'1240'2.2 miSouthern PemigewassetLincoln
22South Kinsman Mountain4358'2418'4.4 miKinsmanLincoln
23Mt. Flume4328'428'0.8 miFranconiaLincoln
24Mt. Osceola4340'2040'6.0 miLincoln-WatervilleLincoln/Livermore
25Mt. Field4340'1701'4.9 miWilleyBethlehem
26South Hancock4319'179'0.7 miSouthern PemigewassetLincoln/Livermore
27Mt. Pierce4310'240'0.9 miPresidentialBeans Grant
28North Kinsman Mountain4293'273'0.7 miKismanLincoln
29Bondcliff4265'205'0.7 miTwinLincoln
30Zealand Mountain4260'240'0.6 miTwinLincoln
31Mt. Willey4255'275'1.0 miWilleyBethlehem
32North Tripyramid4180'1360'5.0 miSandwichWaterville Valley
33Mt. Cabot4170'2671'12.9 miPilotKillkeny
34East Osceola4156'336'0.7 miLincoln-WatervilleLincoln/Livermore
35Middle Tripyramid4140'280'0.6 miSandwichWaterville Valley
36Cannon Mountain4100'760'1.7 miKinsmanFranconia
37Wildcat D4062'287'0.7 miCarterBeans Purchase
38Mt. Hale4045'634'2.1 miLittle RiverBethlehem
39Mt. Jackson4052'352'1.2 miPresidentialBeans Grant
40Mt. Tom4051'351'0.8 miWilleyBethlehem
41Mt. Moriah4049'922'2.3 miCarterBeans Purchase
42Mt. Passaconaway4043'823'3.0 miSandwichWaterville Valley
43Owls Head Mountain4025'845'1.6 miFranconiaFranconia
44Galehead Mountain4180'284'0.5 miTwinFranconia
45Mt. Whiteface4020'600'1.8 miSandwichWaterville Valley
46Mt. Waumbek4006'1298'4.8 miPlinyKilkenny
47Mt. Isolation4004'224'0.9 miPresidentialSargents Purchase
48Mt. Tecumseh4003'1743'2.4 miLincoln-WatervilleWaterville Valley


*Prominence is a measure of how much a mountain stands out. If a mountain has a prominence of 500', that means if you are standing on the summit and you want to walk to a higher place, the very minimum vertical distance you must descend in order to climb up to another place higher than the summit is 500 feet.

**Isolation is a measure of how alone a mountain is. If a mountain has an isolation of 0.5 miles, that means the nearest place that is higher than the mountain is half a mile from the summit.

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