After my adventures in the snow trying to climb the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, we decided to try to get to the top of Mount Washington again later in the summer. So, last weekend, we set off again, this time via a trail no one in the group had ever done before: the Jewell Trail. This trail leaves from the same parking area as the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, but follows the Cog Railway up to the summit. Honestly, the Jewell Trail is better than the Ammonoosuc Trail, due to the fact that it’s in better shape and offers very good views (I think…unfortunately, the mountain was shrouded in clouds most of the day!). The younger members of my group were also thrilled that they could see the train make its way up the mountain. The Jewell Trail route up to the summit is a little longer than the route via Ammonoosuc Ravine (5.1 miles (8.2 km) versus 4.5 miles (7.2 km) and 3,900 ft. (1,188 m) versus 3,800 ft. (1,158 m) elevation gain), but if you’ve tried both, I think you’ll agree that the Jewell Trail is easier overall!
There are two trailheads for the Jewell Trail. The first is the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead, located on Base Station Road, 5.5 miles (8.8 km) from US 302. To get to Base Station Road, take US 302 to the town of Bretton Woods. If you’re coming from the north, you don’t want to drive all the way to the town; just before the town, on the north side, US 302 will cross a river (the Ammonoosuc River). Don’t cross the river. (If you’re coming from the south go through Bretton Woods and cross the river). Follow the signs for the Cog Railway down a road that crosses the railroad tracks. This is called Base Station Road. Drive 5.5 miles (8.8 km) down this road to a “Trailhead Parking” parking area on your right. A sign will mark this. As soon as you enter the parking area, you will be faced with a signboard. There is a $3 fee to park in this area, but you get a signboard with maps and a primitive restroom. The trail begins across the road from the parking area (it’s well-marked).
The second trailhead is less than a mile (maybe a kilometer) further down Base Station Road towards the Cog Railway. The railway station is visible from the parking area; this is a dirt parking area that is called “Hiker Parking”. A sign will point to it and ban all hikers from parking beyond this point. There is no fee to park in this area (to my knowledge…there’s no signboard, either). I parked here, then hiked up the old road at the west (mountain) side of the parking area to the railway station parking area. Go to the back of the station and descend the steps. Here you’ll find (at least in the summer; I’m not sure about the rest of the year) a variety of steam-powered machines. The younger members of my group really enjoyed seeing these, and I agree that they’re quite nice. Beyond these, in the woods, is a sign for the Jewell Trail. I wonder if this sign exists except in summer; I said in my Ammonoosuc Ravine Post that there was no sign in this area, and there was in August…so these may be seasonal signs. Anyway, you should be able to locate the trail beyond the steam equipment even without the sign. Cross the Cog Railway tracks and head over the bridge and up the trail.
The Jewell Trail begins quite steeply, with plenty of rocks. I think this is to discourage hikers. But don’t turn back—the trail soon gets better, ascending less steeply and on a better trail. It wanders through the woods for some time, eventually connecting with the Jewell Trail from the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead. The trail in this section has rocks, but is nowhere near as rocky as the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail (nowhere near!). It switchbacks some, but mostly you’re following the ridgeline, so you’re ascending with that instead of a man-made route up the mountain.
At about 3 miles (4.8 km), you’ll suddenly break through the trees and find yourself on the ridgeline with rocks and bushes all around you. You will pass a few spots before this that seem to signal you’re almost out of the trees, but then you enter the forest again. Here, though, you really are out of the trees, and will be for the rest of the hike. You will also get your first look at the Cog Railway, over on your right. We hit this spot right as the steam train, which only ascends the mountain once a day, was going up; very exciting! Keep climbing the rocky, switchbacking path up the side of the mountain. (Follow the cairns and the blazes—there were no blazes in the woods, but there are here.) The views from here should be good. As it was, we were completely clouded in, so we rarely saw much besides swirling clouds!
At 3.7 miles (5.9 km), you will hit the Gulfside Trail (which is part of the Appalachian Trail). Turn right. This trail is very well maintained; someone has done a lot of work to keep the rocks fairly flat, so it’s not a hard hike. Three tenths of a mile (0.48 km) later, you’ll cross the Mount Clay Loop Trail; keep going straight up the hill. Not long after this (about 0.1 mile (0.16 km)), you’ll come to a signpost. The Gulfside Trail goes left up the mountain, but several of us opted to go straight (on the Westside Trail) a very short distance to the Cog Railway. We watched two trains go down the mountain (one of which was the steam train), and then hiked up the trail near the tracks. No one seemed to mind. I know they don’t want you hiking next to the tracks the whole way up, but up here no one seemed to care how close we were to the tracks. Up farther, the Gulfside Trail and the one we followed cross the tracks—there’s no sign here, or even an easy way to do it. You just have to cross the tracks some time and keep following the trail up towards the top of the mountain. Enjoy the video of the train on the tracks!
The last 0.2 miles (0.32 km) of the trail are more difficult, over rocks and large scree (keep following the signs for Mount Washington…I think you’ll have to switch over to the Trinity Heights Connector to reach the top). It’s very doable, but you just have to get up it! Keep following the cairns and blazes. All along this we kept getting glimpses of the top as the clouds moved out of the way, and then shrouded the peak from view again. It was really cool, especially since we couldn’t see our goal; it just kept getting closer each time we could peek through the clouds. So, suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of a great throng of people…on the summit! The trail takes you up just behind the Tip Top House (formally a hotel, and now a museum (small fee); this is the oldest building on the top of Mount Washington). Just to your left is the summit, with a sign marking it. We waited our turn in line to get a picture…proof that we’d been to the top!
From here, there are several places you can go. The observation area is just to the left of the sign; I highly recommend this. We didn’t have much of a view down the mountain, but we did get a great view of the trains. Inside this building (under the observation area) are visitor services (including restrooms and water; there’s also a post office if you need to mail something). In the basement (go in the doors and then turn right and down the stairs), there is a hiker’s lounge (i.e., tables and chairs). It was cold and windy enough that we were thankful to eat lunch there. I recommend that you go over to the gift shop on the other side of the mountain; on one side of the shop is a sign that talks about the highest wind speed ever recorded. Inside, the gift shop is very small, but the merchandise is quite reasonably priced. We bought a post card and then mailed it at the post office under the observation area.
To return to your vehicle, there are two main trails down: the Gulfside Trail, which you came up, and the Crawford Path. We opted to go down the Crawford Path to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, since this takes you back to the same parking area as the Jewell Trail. This was very beautiful, but a big mistake. I’m sure the Jewell Trail would be easier to go down than the slickrock on the Ammonoosuc Trail…oh, well…next time!
Round Trip Trail Length: 9.5-10 miles (15.3-16 km)
Facilities: Pit toilets at the parking area; flush toilets, water, food services, etc. at the top
Fees: $3 per day to park
You can read more about the Cog Railway at http://www.thecog.com/
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
This Week’s Featured Product!
The members of my group purchased packs very similar to this just before leaving on a trip. Oh, what a difference! We love them! Not only can we carry far more water than before, but they function like extra backpacks…some of us carry extra water bottles in the inside pockets; I opt to slip in a jar of peanut butter and another of jelly. Each person can also now carry their own water, which is great. Several members carried daypacks as well, and found that they sit nicely on top of the waist pack (I like mine in front, so wearing a regular daypack didn’t bother me). Elastic straps keep the water bottles from falling out, even on rough terrain and while scrambling…I wore mine to the top of Mount Washington and back down, no problem!
Thu Aug 17
Decreasing cloudiness and windy. High 49F. WNW winds at 50 to 70 mph, decreasing to 35 to 50 mph.
Fri Aug 18
Showers in the morning, becoming a steady rain in the afternoon. Windy. Thunder possible. High 51F. Winds SSW at 25 to 35 mph. Chance of rain 80%.
Sat Aug 19
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Windy with scattered thunderstorms. High 57F. Winds W at 20 to 30 mph. Chance of rain 40%.
Sun Aug 20
Partly cloudy skies with gusty winds. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 52F. Winds WNW at 25 to 35 mph.
Mon Aug 21
Sun and a few clouds with gusty winds. High 57F. Winds WNW at 20 to 30 mph.