Five First 4,000-footers
The White Mountains 4,000-footers list is one of the most popular peak bagging challenges in the northeast, and every year hikers flock to New Hampshire to summit the 48 peaks in hopes of eventually completing them all.
But with so many mountains to choose from, where do you even start? The 4,000-footers can seem daunting at times, especially to beginners who might still be testing their own abilities and their comfort on the trail.
Needless to say, if you’re just getting into hiking and want to see if the 4,000-footers are for you, chances are you’d prefer to start with a more moderate hike with a rewarding view rather than a tougher challenge with less payoff at the top. Luckily there are no shortage of mountains that fit the bill, so if you’re looking to start your 4,000-footers journey, here are five great peaks to consider hiking first.
Summit Elevation: 4,802 feet
Recommended Route: Gorge Brook Trail
Towering over the surrounding landscape in the southwestern corner of the White Mountains, Mt. Moosilauke serves as the gateway to the Whites for northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. The mountain serves as an excellent preview of what’s to come, boasting an extensive network of trails catering to hikers of all abilities with beautiful 360 degree views waiting at the top.
Moosilauke is also an ideal introduction to the 4,000-footers for beginners thanks to the gentle and pleasant ascent offered by the Gorge Brook Trail. Starting from the Ravine Lodge trailhead hikers will climb approximately 2,450 feet over the course of 3.7 miles, with several nice viewpoints along the way before breaking treeline near the top. Once at the summit hikers will have a clear view of the surrounding landscape, including nearby Franconia Notch, the Green Mountains of Vermont and even the Adirondacks in New York.
Once finished at the summit, hikers can either descend the way they came or complete a loop by traveling 2.1 miles down the Carriage Road Trail, making sure to stop at the South Peak along the way, before descending the Snapper Trail back to the Gorge Brook Trail and the Ravine Lodge trailhead for a 7.6-mile round trip.
Summit Elevation: 4,312 feet
Recommended Route: Crawford Path
The Presidential Range is the highest and most majestic mountain range in New England, and the views afforded by its peaks are some of the best in the northeast. While most of the range’s peaks are challenging and the terrain often difficult, Mt. Pierce on the southern end of the range is quite moderate by comparison while still offering incredible views northwards towards the rest of the Southern Presidentials.
To reach the summit of Mt. Pierce, the best way to go is by taking the Crawford Path. Originally cut in 1819, the Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the United States, and today it serves as the primary route across the Southern Presidentials leading all the way to the summit of Mt. Washington. You won’t have to go nearly that far for Pierce though. Starting at the Mt. Clinton Road trailhead and utilizing the short Crawford Connector trail, you’ll hike 3.1 miles covering 2,350 feet of elevation gain before eventually popping out of the trees at the Webster Cliff Trail junction just below Pierce’s summit.
From here you’ll see the entire Southern Presidential range and Mt. Washington laid out before you, and at any point along the last 0.1 miles up to Mt. Pierce’s summit cairn, you can sit back and take in the incredible view atop Pierce’s bare summit ledges. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also continue further down the Crawford Path to summit nearby Mt. Eisenhower as well. Or if you’d prefer, you can also head further down the Webster Cliff Trail and visit the Mizpah Spring Hut, finishing the loop via the Mizpah Cutoff to rejoin the Crawford Path and eventually return to your car.
Summit Elevation: 4,500 feet
Recommended Route: Garfield Trail
The Pemigewasset Wilderness is a teeming forest ringed by high peaks sitting right in the heart of the White Mountains. From any of the peaks within its boundaries you are almost guaranteed to find breathtaking views of untouched nature stretching on for miles, but if you want the best bang for your buck, it’s hard to go wrong with Mt. Garfield.
While the approach is fairly long at 5.0 miles, the hike up the Garfield Trail from the Gale River Loop Road trailhead is gentle with good footing throughout. The route climbs 3,050 feet utilizing an old logging road and some switchbacks, and it’s not until the final 0.2 miles that you encounter anything resembling a challenging ascent. The payoff is worth it though, as Mt. Garfield’s exposed summit provides an iconic view of the surrounding landscape, with lonely Owl’s Head rising up before you bordered by the Franconia Range peaks on the right and Twin Mountain to the left.
Summit Elevation: 4,340 feet
Recommended Route: Mt. Osceola Trail via Tripoli Road
One of the main peaks enclosing the Waterville Valley area, Mt. Osceola is the tallest mountain in New Hampshire south of the Kancamagus Highway and its summit boasts one of the best views. It also happens to be among the most moderate ascents, making this an ideal choice for new hikers looking to get their feet wet.
Starting at the trailhead along Tripoli Road, hikers can take the Mt. Osceola Trail 3.2 miles up to the summit, a gentle ascent covering just 2,050 feet of elevation gain. While the first mile or so is rocky, the footing improves greatly further up the trail, and the views across Waterville Valley to Mt. Tecumseh, the Tripyramids and to Mt. Osceola’s nearby East Peak are outstanding.
Those feeling ambitious can continue down the Mt. Osceola Trail to bag East Osceola as well, though beginners should know that section of trail is more challenging and features The Chimney, a short but near vertical section of trail that can be treacherous if not navigated carefully.
Summit Elevation: 4,006 feet
Starr King Trail
While Mt. Waumbek itself does not boast impressive views from its summit like the other four mountains on this list, the nearby Mt. Starr King features an unparalleled view of the Presidential Range, which the vast majority of hikers will encounter on their way to the 4,000-footer’s summit.
One of the two northern-most peaks on the 4,000-footers list, Mt. Waumbek is a straightforward 3.6-mile hike covering 2,600 feet of elevation gain starting at the trailhead on Starr King Road. The first mile of trail is moderately steep, but the final push up to Mt. Starr King and the mile-long stretch between that peak and Waumbek’s summit are both fairly gentle.
Just beyond Waumbek’s summit is a blowdown providing another nice view across to the Presidentials, which hikers should be sure to check out before turning for home. The simple out-and-back route is also highly recommended for first-time winter hikers, providing a great test to try out new snowshoes and other winter gear.
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