Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains
This hike is one of the shorter, more moderate approaches into the Presidential range of New Hampshire. While the hike is only about 6.5 miles, we hiked an extra 2.4 miles for the chance to enjoy some views!
View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike
Charles Dickens started off A Tale of Two Cities with the line, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.” When I was thinking about starting to write about Mt. Pierce, I was thinking, it was A Tale of Two Hikes with the worst and best of times. All of us have good days and bad days on the trail and this was a bad one for me. I wasn’t really feeling the hike deep down and I felt like I was just going through the motions rather than taking a moment to enjoy what I was able to do. The morning started off with a lot of fog around, which didn’t really help my mood. I was thinking it may burn off by the time we got to the top, but we weren’t so lucky.
The first .4 miles along the trail were relatively flat as it meandered through a wooded area. We crossed a footbridge at the base of a small waterfall and at .4 miles, we reached a junction with the Crawford Path. Taking a left at the junction, we began our ascent. The ascent begins while paralleling the Gibbs Brook on the left of the trail. The trail was extremely rocky which was making each step a challenge, as I felt like I was doing a demented, granite-laden version of a StairMaster. Most of the trail to the summit consists of having to step on rocks, so there is little evidence of soft ground to place your feet. I would recommend shoes with good padding, thick comfortable socks, ankle support, and trekking poles to help yourself along.
At 1.9 miles, we reached a junction that led to the Mizpah Spring Hut, which is the return trip for this lollipop loop. Stay left and continue to climb up to the summit. The trail continued to be rocky and the fog was just sticking to the mountaintop as we progressed. I was feeling hopeless about being able to spot any views. As we got higher, we could tell the views would have opened up to the left of the trail but all we could see was a sea of gray. At 3.1 miles, we reached a large rocky, outcropping and waited a while for the views to open up. While the wind was picking up, we felt there was no end to the fog. At the outcropping, another sign for a junction pointed us to the summit and the Webster Cliff trail to the Mizpah Spring Hut (continuing on the Crawford Path would lead to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower in 1.6 miles). We took that sharp right and headed up to the top, where we reached the summit of Mt. Pierce in a short distance.
At this point the trail began to descend. The first part of the trail was a gradual descent, but eventually the trail was some of the steepest, rockiest downhill my feet and knees have witnessed. At 4.0 miles, we reached the Mizpah Spring Hut, maintained by the AMC and beds can be reserved in advance. We stopped for a while here and ate lunch. The croo (yes, that is how they spell it) that maintains the hut and cooks dinner and breakfast for overnight guests, had baked some cookies which we purchased and supplemented our lunch. As we were enjoying our lunch, we could see that the fog was finally lifting.
From the hut, we explored the nearby Nauman tent area (also able to be reserved for outside camping) and then proceeded on to the Mizpah Cutoff Trail to complete the lollipop section of the hike. The Cutoff Trail starts off flat, but is a relatively easier descent. We reached the junction with the Crawford Path at 4.7 miles. A return trip to your car by taking a left would make this a 6.6 mile hike. However, we had a debate about what to do. Going back up to the summit would be adding another grueling, rocky 2.4 miles, but the views could finally be opening up. What we had researched before told us how great the views were, so the temptation was hard to resist. I felt like I owed it to myself (and our readers) to change my attitude and fight through to see these views. I could tell Christine wanted to see the views as well, so we decided to hike up to the summit again.
As we climbed, we saw people descending that we had seen earlier on our hikes. I stopped to ask everyone if they had seen views, thinking if there was still little hope we could turn back around. Early on, some were saying that we may get lucky to see things, but as we got closer, we were told the views had opened up. As people were descending, we ran into several people that we had seen before near the summit and they had wondered if we were hiking the summit again. We got looks of admiration, which made us feel like we fit in with New Hampshire hikers – we weren’t just some normal, Virginia couple that isn’t used to hiking the tough, challenging White Mountains. When we reached the rocky outcropping near the summit, the views were spectacular. There were still clouds in the distance that was stuck to Mt. Washington and some of the other high peaks, but we could still see miles of beautiful mountain ranges around us.
We hiked again up to the summit and the views got more amazing as we looked behind us each step. We stayed up here a little longer to take in the views. After getting our fill, we went back down the Crawford Path and made our way back to the car. When we reached the end, we were a little more tired and had covered more miles than we had planned, but it was a rewarding day. At the parking lot, we saw a fox standing next to our car, but it quickly darted off into the woods.
One thing to note about Mt. Pierce is that it was once named Mt. Clinton. When hearing some people refer to it as Mt. Clinton, my initial thought was that Mt. Pierce had been renamed for President Clinton. I thought that would be odd, since Franklin Pierce was the only President born in New Hampshire and I couldn’t see them changing the name for a President from Arkansas. But the original name was from DeWitt Clinton, a governor of New York and U.S. Senator, also known for being largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. Even though the name was changed in 1913, some people have still held onto the original name of Mt. Clinton.
Summiting Mt. Pierce has been on our New Hampshire ‘To Do’ list for several years now. I’m sad Adam didn’t have a better day on the trail, because I really enjoyed myself and had a strong hiking day. It’s always tough when your hiking partner is in pain or having a hard time with terrain, because there’s really nothing you can do beyond cheer them on (which is sometimes annoying) or stay quiet and let them work through the challenge.
We chose to hike Pierce on a day forecast to be clear and beautiful. As typical in the Whites, the clouds and drizzle stuck to the mountains far longer than the valley. It was sunny and pleasant at the AMC Highlands Center, but the peaks loomed in the clouds. We decided to start our hike on good faith that the clouds would blow off before we reached the summit.
Hiking along the stream early in the hike was pretty and pleasant. Gibbs falls were lovely and I always enjoy the sound of water running through the woods! As we continued to climb uphill, the fog did the opposite of what we hoped/expected – it just got thicker! In fact, every time I paused to take a photo I had to wipe the lens with my shirt to get the droplets and mist off the glass.
Between the Mizpah Cut-Off trail and the summit, we were passed by a pair of trail runners. Running on mid-Atlantic mountain trails is challenging enough. I can’t even imagine keeping that pace over the rocks and roots of New Hampshire!
As we ascended, the fog enveloped the mountain even more. We debated taking the Mizpah Cut-Off trail, and visiting the hut first, but decided to chance the summit so that we’d hit the hut closer to lunchtime. That turned out to be the wrong call. At the summit of Pierce, we sat on the rocky outcropping looking into a sea of clouds. We couldn’t even tell which direction held the spectacular view we’d heard described in our hiking guide.
We sat in the clouds for a few minutes before deciding to push on to the hut. The Webster Cliff trail crossed a ridge for a while, using boardwalks and traditional trail. We stopped at one last high point and checked out the movement of the clouds. Every now and then, the clouds would blow off enough that we could see the shoulder of a mountain or the faint shape of a peak through the mist. We again discussed waiting/going back to the summit versus heading down to the hut. We agreed that it would still be a while before the view would clear, and proceeded to Mizpah Spring.
The Webster Cliff trail got steeper and slippery, using wooden stairs and ladders in a couple places. We eventually reached the hut. While we ate our lunch, the last of the clouds blew off, leaving bright bluebird skies above the White Mountains. We discussed climbing back up to the summit. Neither of us wanted to ascend via Webster Cliff, so we decided to delay our summit decision until after we walked the Mizpah Cut-Off back to its junction with the Crawford Path.
At the junction, we agreed that you don’t climb a presidential peak and pass on the opportunity to take in a spectacular view. We hiked the extra 1.2 miles (2.4 miles round trip) with 1,000 feet of elevation gain a second time. And you know what… it was SO WORTH IT. The views were spectacular, expansive, breathtaking. Even with Mt. Washington still in the clouds, it was a stunning view.
The hike down was long and slippery. We were passed again by the trail runners we had seen earlier. They had been all the way to the summit of Mt. Washington and back. Wow! We didn’t go that far, but we still felt our hike was worthy of celebration with a huge meal at The Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth. It’s always such a gift to have a great view day in the White Mountains!
- Distance – 6.5 miles
MapMyHike Stats *
- Elevation Change – 2500 feet
- Difficulty – 4. While there are steeper, more challenging trails in the White Mountains, this one is still challenging.
- Trail Conditions – 2. The trail is mostly rock, requiring big steps and unsteady footing.
- Views – 4.5. From the summit of Mt. Pierce on a clear day, you can see miles of the Presidential range.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3.5. Early in the hike, you can see Gibbs Falls and the start of the Crawford Path part of the hike goes along the scenic Gibbs Brook.
- Wildlife – 2. We weren’t expecting to see much, but we were lucky enough to see the fox at the end of our hike. Keep a lookout for the rare Bicknell’s Thrush.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. Signage was fairly good at the junctions, but we were a little confused on how to get to the Mizpah Cutoff Trail from the hut.
- Solitude – 2. This is a popular trail since the Mizpah Spring Hut is one of the easiest of the AMC huts to access. Expect to see people at the summit of Mt. Pierce and the hut mostly. Clear days in the summer could make this quite popular.
Download a trail map (PDF)
Directions to trailhead: From I-93: Take Exit 35 for Twin Mountain. Follow 3N for 10.4 miles. Turn right onto 302E and proceed for 8.2 miles. Turn left onto Mt. Clinton Road. There will be a large gravel parking lot at the trailhead ($3 fee applies).
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.