Mount Washington via Nelson Crag

Mountains:  Mt. Washington (6288'), Nelson Crag (5635'), Ball Crag (6112'), Low's Bald Spot (2800')
Trails:  Great Gulf Link, Great Gulf Trail, Madison Gulf Trail, Old Jackson Road, Nelson Crag Trail, Appalachian Trail, Mount Washington Auto Road, Dolly Copp Road
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Presidentials
Location:  Martins Location, NH
Rating:  Difficult  
Features:  Summits, views, 4000-footer, river, brooks, cascades, loop hike
Distance:  18.5 miles  
Elevation Gain:  5450 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 12:15  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 13:00   Typical: 15:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  06/24/2006 (Saturday)  
Last Updated:  09/07/2008  
Weather:  Rainy, then hazy
Author:  Art O'Leary
Companions:  Four scouts, four leaders

Route Summary   

This was an almost-loop hike starting at Barnes Field Campground, and climbing Mount Washington via the Great Gulf, Madison Gulf, and Nelson Crag Trails, then descending to Route 16 via the Mount Washington Road where a ride back to the campground had been arranged.

  • 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.
  • Follow 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 2.4 miles 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, veer left to follow the Madison Gulf Trail which is also the AT.
  • Follow Madison Gulf Trail from this point for 1.9 miles all the way to the Mount Washington Auto Road, at which point Madison Gulf Trail ends just around the bend from the 2-mile post on the auto road. Note that since this segment of Madison Gulf Trail runs through the Great Gulf Wilderness, that no paint blazes (not even the white blazes normally associated with the AT) are used. A worthy detour along this segment is to Low's Bald Spot which offers a great viewpoint. Just 0.2 mile before reaching the auto road, turn left to follow a spur for 0.1 mile to reach the ledgy knob. Returning from the spur, turn left to continue on Madison Gulf Trail.
  • Cross the auto road (watch for cars), and pick up Old Jackson Road on the other side. Old Jackson Road is a trail and is also part of the Appalachian Trail.
  • Descend Old Jackson Road for almost 0.2 mile until reaching the junction with Nelson Crag Trail. Turn right to get on Nelson Crag Trail, which you will follow for the rest of the way to Mount Washington's summit. Up until this point the hike has been pretty mellow but from here on out the climbing will be much steeper.
  • After 1.1 miles on Nelson Crag Trail you will reach the alpine zone and the crest of Chandler Ridge.
  • Continue on the path beyond this point for 0.6 mile which will put you in very close proximity to the auto road, 0.3 mile above its 5-mile post.
  • From here to the next trail intersection is 0.8 mile. Along the way you will pass over Nelson Crag. Upon reaching Alpine Garden Trail, go straight across it to continue on Nelson Crag Trail.
  • Next you will cross Huntington Ravine Trail just 0.3 mile later.
  • At this point there is only 0.8 mile left before reaching the summit. First you will climb the rocks to Ball Crag, then cross the auto road and then cross the Cog Railway before finally reaching the summit.
  • For the descent, follow the Mount Washington Auto Road for 8.0 miles all the way to Route 16 and remember to watch out for cars.
  • The junction of the auto road and Route 16 marks the end of this hike, but if you weren't able to arrange for pickup here, you can walk back to Barnes Field Campground by turning left and following Route 16 north, and then turning left onto Dolly Copp Road in order to return to Barnes Field Campground. This will add about 4 miles to the trek. Optionally you could follow Route 16 north just until reaching the parking area for the Great Gulf Trailhead. Turn left into the parking area, follow Great Gulf Trail for 0.3 mile, then turn right and follow Great Gulf Link for 1.0 back to Dolly Copp Campground. Then continue north on Dolly Copp Road for 1.3 miles until reaching Barnes Field Campground. This option also adds about 4 miles to the journey.

A variation for this hike would be to start at the Great Gulf Trailhead and hike up Great Gulf, Madison Gulf, and Nelson Crag Trails as described. The different starting point would shorten the ascent by 2 miles making an 8.7 mile trek up to the summit. Then descend via the Mount Washington Road as described and walk north on Route 16 for less than 2 miles back to the Great Gulf Trailhead which would make the return trip about 10 miles and would enable you to do a true loop (instead of an almost-loop). (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. Madison Gulf Trail/Old Jackson Road/Mount Washington Auto Road (2675') 1.9 6.7
Jct. Old Jackson Road/Nelson Crag Trail (2625') 0.2 6.9
Mt. Washington summit (6288') 3.6 10.5
Rt. 16 via Mount Washington Auto Road (1600') 8.0 18.5


  Trail Guide   

Suspension bridge over West Branch in the Great Gulf Wilderness (photo by Jon Salisbury & Steve Fiedler) Boy Scouts from St. Leo's Troop 11 finished up the year with a hiking adventure in the Presidential Mountains of New Hampshire on June 23-25th.

The troop camped at Barnes Field near Gorham, and set off Saturday morning hiking in the rain through the Great Gulf Wilderness. We followed the trail along the Peabody River upstream, past a series of waterfalls, then crossed over an "Indiana Jones" type suspension bridge, just as the weather cleared. The younger scouts went up that far, then returned to camp, while four of the older scouts and four adults continued on to ascend Mount Washington.

Leaving the Great Gulf Trail, we headed south through steaming woodlands on the Madison Gulf Trail, crossing a number of smaller streams. After crossing the Mount Washington Auto Road, we took Nelson Crag Trail up to the boulder-strewn summit. Overall, it took from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 p.m. to reach the top.

We descended via the auto road, returning back to the highway at 9:30 p.m. We basically hiked 18 miles sideways, and about a mile up and down vertically.

This arduous trek was not undertaken lightly, however. In order to "Be Prepared," the scouts planned their year to ensure each boy would have the skills and conditioning necessary.

Since they were attempting to climb the "Home of the World's Worst Weather," in December, they camped in survival shelters on a Winter Survival Campout at Leominster Sportsmen's Camp Bartlett. In May, they began a series of four 10-mile hikes around town and on the Monoosnock Ridge and Midstate Trails. The ultimate preparatory test was a 20-miler on the Midstate trail from the Mount Wachusett ski area to Rutland and back; twice over the mountain in one day. And Mount Washington was still about twice as difficult as that.

They can because they think they can!  The group on Mount Washington's summit (photo by Jon Salisbury & Steve Fiedler)



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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