Table of Contents

These notes are written to help you compare the various routes that are commonly used to hike to the peaks. They are written on the assumption that you have a guidebook and a set of maps, so no directions are given to trailheads, and the trails are not described in any detail. I have omitted hikes that are substantially longer or more difficult than the standard ones, or that are simply less often used. The fact that a trail is not mentioned here does not imply that it is unsuitable.

The warnings about weather and strenuousness given for Mount Washington are just as applicable to the Northern Peaks.

You may want to look at the Northern Presidentials page for information on the huts and campsites in the areas, and for hikes that include Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson.

Mountain Weather Forecast

The best forecast for Mount Washington and its neighbors is the Mount Wasington Observatory's Higher Summits Forecast. There is also a point forecast for Mount Madison.


The map below is a fully interactive Google map, you can zoom in or out and click on any feature. Specifically clicking on the P symbols will allow you to get driving directions to the trailheads.

View Mount Madison in a larger map

Routes to Mount Madison

The most direct (and most commonly used) route up Mt. Madison is the Valley Way from the Appalachia trailhead to Madison Hut, followed by the Osgood Trail to the summit [rt: 8.4 miles, 4,100 feet, 6:15]. The trail is in the trees, and thus protected from the wind, almost all the way to the hut, which is a good objective if the weather does not allow for a summit attempt. The Brookside Trail is a much less used trail that runs a bit closer to Snyder Brook and is an excellent alternative (same distance). There are two stream crossings, the lower one (where there used to be a bridge) has good stepping stones, the upper one may be tricky at high water. In good weather one can start up the Valley Way, then take the Watson Path to the summit, descend to the hut and take the Valley way back (0.1 mile shorter, same elevation gain).

The Valley Way, while steep, is less steep and smoother than most of the other trails in the Northern Presidentials. The Watson Path is steeper and rougher, and also more exposed to the weather. In compensation, it reaches treeline about 500 feet lower than the Valley Way, and so has more views.

Another loop that is often done is to go up to Madison Hut by the Airline Trail and Airline Cutoff trails, then use the Osgood trail to go to the summit of Mt. Madison and back, and return by the Valley Way [rt:8.3, 4,100 feet, 6:10]. The Airline has much better views than the Valley Way, but it is more exposed and somewhat steeper.

The Howker Ridge Trail [rt: 9.0 miles, 4,450 feet, 6:40] starts at Randolph East, at the north end of the Dolly Copp Road. The trail goes through woods with several interesting waterfalls, then ascends the crest of Howker Ridge, which has four little bumps called Howks, three of which have good views. It joins the Osgood Ridge trail shortly before the summit of Mt. Madison. A loop can be made going up the Howker Ridge trail, and descending by the Osgood Trail to the hut, then taking the Valley Way and Randolph Path back to the car [lp: 9.4 miles, 4,450 feet, 6:50].

The Daniel Webster Scout Trail [rt: 8.2 miles, 4,100 feet, 6:10] starts at the Dolly Copp campground road, about 0.9 miles south of the campground entrance. The upper part of the trail, below its junction with the Osgood Trail is very steep.

The Osgood Trail from the Osgood Cutoff to Madison Hut is part of the AT and so is often used. Day hikers reach it by the Great Gulf Trail [rt: 10.2 miles, 4,100 feet, 7:10]. It has a long section above treeline, this gives great views on days with good weather, but substantial exposure when the weather is less good. There is a very rough (rocks and roots) and steep section before treeline. It can be used as the final segment of a hike from Pinkham Notch to Madison Hut, using the Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf and (for a short distance) Great Gulf Trails. That is the route of the AT.

The Madison Gulf Trail is one of the many trails that go up over the headwalls of the many glacial cirques that surround the Presidentials. Like all of them it is steep and rocky, and requires occasional scrambles. In exchange you get great views while on the trail, in addition to the views you get at the summit. Take the Great Gulf Trail to its junction with the Madison Gulf Trail, then follow Madison Gulf trail to its end on the Parapet Trail. Follow the Parapet Trail, then Star Lake Trail, to the Madison Hut, and take the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mt. Madison. You can return the same way [rt: 12.8 miles; 4,150 feet; 8:30] or descend by the Osgood Trail [lp: 11.5 miles; 4,150 feet; 7:50].

Routes to Mount Madison
Route Distance Elevation Gain Book Time
Valley Way or Watson 8.4 4,100 6:15
Airline-Valley Way loop 8.3 4,100 6:10
Osgood 10.2 4,100 7:10
Daniel Webster 8.2 4,100 6:10
Howker Ridge 9.0 4,350 6:40
Howker Ridge-Valley Way loop 9.4 4,350 6:50
Madison Gulf 12.8 4,150 8:30
Madison Gulf and Osgood 11.5 4,150 7:50

Mt. Madison in Winter

While there are a large number of routes that can be used to climb Mount Madison in summer, almost all winter hikers use the Valley Way when they are not also doing Mount Adams. The trail to the hut (which is closed in winter) is in the trees, protected from the wind. It has moderate grades most of the way, though the final half mile is steeper. The climb up to the summit is over a mix of bare rocks, snow and ice, and is about half a mile. It is exposed most of the way, though protected in parts from the prevailing winds. It is probably the easiest of the major Presidential peaks, but that does not make it an easy hike!

Since the climb up Mount Madison only involves about 8½ miles and 4,000 feet it is probably easier to do it as a dayhike than as a backpack. For those who enjoy winter backpacking, and are willing to carry the extra weight, the Valley Way Campsite is an attractive option.

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