Great Gulf Trail
CONTRIBUTION BY ELIZABETH KANE
History: The Wilderness Act of 1964 officially protected the Great Gulf as the first designated Wilderness area in the White Mountains. It now encompasses 5,658 acres of definitively perceptible wild land, home to tumbling waterfalls, rugged trails, and rapture-inducing forest spans.
One of the grandest characters in the Great Gulf’s history was intrepid trailblazer Warren W. Hart. Hart first entered the still relatively untrammeled Great Gulf in 1908 and envisioned a trail network there of a difficulty caliber still uncontested in the remainder of the White Mountains. Over the next three years as AMC’s councilor of improvements, he cut not only the Great Gulf Trail, but nine others including the infamous Six Husbands Trail and the now abandoned Adams Slide Trail.
Beta: Approximately 7.4 miles long, 4,650 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot just off of NH 16 to the Gulfside Trail Junction. Climb and additional half mile or so to summit Washington.
There is notably varied footing among this trail, including narrow, mossy singletrack, slick slab scrambles, a pleasant section of old logging road, and talus hopping. The prevalence of water along this trail can mean mud, so be prepared with proper footwear.
Climbing the headwall out of the Great Gulf is a truly visceral experience. As you pass Spaulding Lake, the views open and the Northern Presidentials rise high and rim the breathtaking landscape.
Navigating the talus can be challenging; look for blazes and cairns and be aware. This trail is generally recommended for ascent rather than descent.
Why:The Great Gulf is the most expansive glacial cirque in the White Mountains. It sits on the eastern side of the Northern Presidential Range, which boasts the highest peaks in New England. The great crescent arm of these summits extends northeastward and envelops the massive bowl, which is drained by the West Branch of the Peabody River. The trail follows this drainage to the headwall, passing several pleasant waterfalls and the diminutive but stunning Spaulding Lake.
There are several designated campsites along the trail. Other options nearby include Osgood Tentsite and AMC’s Madison Spring Hut (not open year round, reservations required.) Please know Wilderness backcountry camping regulations prior to hitting the trail.
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