Hiking a Chandler Brook Wamsutta Trail Loop on Mt Washington

Cascades at the top of the Chandler Brook Trail

The Chandler Brook Trail and the Wamsutta Trail are two lovely but strenuous trails located on Mt Washington that run from the Auto Road to the bottom of the Great Gulf Wilderness Area. They’re not very popular trails, despite the fact that they’re quite beautiful hikes, because they’re hard to access on foot and are eclipsed by Mt Washington and the other Presidential peaks (Madison, Adams, and Jefferson) that surround them.

Of the two trails, the Chandler Brook Trail is the easiest to hike up, while the Wamsutta is the best hiked downhill. There are a number of ways you can connect them at the top. Walking the Auto Road (1.2 miles) is the easiest option or you can follow the winter snowcat bypass, although it can be difficult to follow. The winter snowcat bypass is not an official trail or road, and it’s not signed. It forks right from the Auto Road, a short distance above the Chandler Brook trailhead, and looks like a wide gravel-covered path. The snowcat uses it to climb Mt Washington in winter rather than following this section of the Auto Road, so it doesn’t slide sideways off the mountain.

Trail Sequence

  1. Great Gulf Trail (3.9 miles)
  2. Chandler Brook Trail (0.9 miles)
  3. Winter SnowCat ByPass or the Auto Road (1.2 miles)
  4. Wamsutta Trail (1.7 miles)
  5. Great Gulf Trail (4.5 miles)

On the Trail

The Great Gulf Trail

The Great Gulf Trail starts with a bridge crossing over the West Peabody River
The Great Gulf Trail starts with a bridge crossing over the West Peabody River

The Great Gulf Trail is a typical White Mountain Trail, full of mud, roots, and rocks. It’s not heavily blazed, but it is well signed and has a fair amount of traffic which makes it easy to follow. The hike into the Great Gulf passes several designated campsites called The Bluff and The Clam which have bear boxes, but no privies. They’re not the greatest campsites, in terms of soft or flat tent pitches, but they provide the opportunity to break up the hike if you want to camp out. The Osgood Tent Site is another nearby option with tent platforms.

Chandler Brook Trail

The Chandler Brook Trail begins on the left, just after an easy stream crossing. The Chandler Brook Trail climbs 1300′ in 0.9 miles, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s unblazed for the most part so you need to pay attention to follow it. The trail runs along the sides of a narrow ravine with a stream running through it. There are four stream crossings, set below waterfalls, which can be slippery and hazardous when rain floods the stream. This climb is best done in dry conditions, several days after a rain.

Mt Adams and the Buttress Boulder Field in Jefferson Ravine.
Mt Adams and the Buttress Boulder Field in Jefferson Ravine.

During the stream crossings, which are really quite narrow and often rock-hoppable if the stream is running low, you can catch glimpses of the Northern Presidentials through the trees. For example, here’s Mt Adams and the Buttress Boulder field (photo above), as seen from the lowest stream crossing.

The top of the trail runs through a boulder field that is exposed to Mt Washington’s winds, before ending at 4125′ along the Mt Washington Auto Rd.

Mt Jefferson's Knees from the Wamsutta T
Mt Jefferson’s Knees from the Wamsutta Trail

The Wamsutta Trail is 1.7 miles in length and good if you want to make a loop. It drops steeply back down into the Great Gulf, ending only about 0.6 miles from where the Chandler Brook Trail begins. The top of Wamsutta quickly drops into Krumholz offering some protection from Mt Washington’s winds. It then drops steeply through a maze of boulders, requiring good scrambling ability to get through in one piece. However, the effort is well worth the risk (yes risk, because this is not an easy trail), with unparalleled views of the side ravines on the other side of the Great Gulf. This includes Jeffersons Knees, two precipitously steep subsidiary ridges belonging to Mt Jefferson, the third highest peak in the White Mountains.

There’s a steep ledge right before the trail reaches the bottom of the Great Gulf that you do want to be on the lookout for and be very careful descending. I’ve done it a few times unscathed but worst-comes-to-worst you can make a slight detour off to the side to avoid it.


Total Distance: 12.2 miles with approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

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