For the final day of our weekend trip to New Hampshire, we decided to take a trek up to Crawford Notch to hike Mount Jackson. I can’t speak for the other two, but I was a bit drained from the first two days of hiking, and made a big pitch for doing a shorter mileage hike for the third day. Also, the weather forecast for the day had improved dramatically from what we were initially anticipating at the beginning of our trip, so we all thought that going to a nicer summit like Jackson would be a cool idea to end out the trip. The nice part about hiking Jackson at about 2.8 miles was that we could get a little bit of a later start, so we stopped for a quick breakfast in Lincoln and got to the trailhead a little before 10 to finish the weekend off strong.
The trailhead for Jackson is probably one of the more interesting trailheads we’d been to in any of the states we’d hiked in so far. There is a decent sized welcome center for Crawford Notch right at the side of the road, and a really picturesque pond on the other side of the road. We could tell this was a pretty significant tourist spot, and it was also featured a confluence of hiking trails as the trailheads towards Pierce/Eisenhower, Tom/Field, and Jackson were all along that small strip of the highway. We got what appeared to be the last two spots on the small parking section at the welcome center, walked around for a second to see the sights, and then headed a couple hundred feet down the road to get to the trailhead that would take us to Jackson.
Our plan for the day was to hike up and down to Jackson only, ignoring its neighbor Webster since it wasn’t on our list of mountains to climb, but we also decided on the way to take advantage of a couple of lookout opportunities on the steeper side of the notch. The first side trail only veered off within the first tenth of a mile on the trail, and it led an additional tenth or two to a spot called the Elephant Head. Even from the road, we could get a pretty clear idea of what the Elephant Head was since it stood out clearly on the side of the mountain and looked exactly like it was called. The elevation of the spot wasn’t terribly high, but it still gave a nice view of the train tracks and the visitor center where we came from, so it was worth a little detour for sure. The second lookout came after we started ascending up the cliff pretty steeply; only this one was not terribly far off the marked trail. This one was called Bugle Cliff, and offered similar views to the Elephant Head, only a bit more expansive and dramatic thanks to the higher altitude. Neither of these lookouts really took too much time out of the day and provided some pretty nice views, so I’d definitely recommend making the detours on the way up.
The trail took a steady turn from this point, since we’d basically gotten over the cliff-side by this point, paralleling up the side of the cliff at a more gradual pace than before. The trail condition was very good in this part, with very little mud or loose rock, so we made it up to our next junction without incident. We stopped at the junction where the trail forked either straight towards Webster or east towards Jackson. We could see clouds starting to roll in from across the road, but they all seemingly evaporated by the time they got to us, so we never got any of the rain that we thought might hit us in the morning. We took a break at the junction like we usually do and took the fork towards Jackson with only a little over a mile to the summit left to go!
As expected, the trail did start to climb a bit quicker once we turned off and we found ourselves quickly ascending for the last push to the summit. Very much like the rest of the sections before, the trail up to the summit was really well maintained and easy to climb right up until the last push, which got a bit more dramatic. I think we’re all still getting over the shock value of some of the trail-less peaks in the Adirondacks and the difficulty of the trail conditions there, because I keep thinking as I climb these peaks in the Whites about how much nicer the trails are then some of the worst I’ve seen. This kind of talk is also great filler for this blog entry because there were no really exceptional moments on the way up ‘til the summit (you can read that as I have nothing good to talk about). Right before you get to the official summit of Jackson there are a couple of steep spots that felt like hell on my legs after 3 days of hiking, but luckily it was probably less than a tenth of a mile of steep pitches before we got to the large summit area of Jackson for our fifth peak of the weekend!
The summit of Jackson is nice and spacious and has views from all sides as it is bisected by a ridge trail going up towards the Presidentials. We settled on a spot that gave us a stunning up close view of Mount Washington and took off our packs to rest for a little bit. While the weather coming up was pretty ideal for October, it was notably blustery about tree-line, so the jackets had to go back on when we got to the top. At one point my hat even lifted off my head in one of the strongest gusts, and I thought to myself how much worse it must’ve been on the gigantic mountain we were checking out from our vantage point. I’ve seen videos and heard stories about the rough weather conditions on Mount Washington, and seeing it from just a few miles away really invigorated my interest in summiting it, which we’re going to try to do next summer on a warm, calm day! Nonetheless, Jackson was definitely a nice summit experience, with a lot to see and ample room to accommodate all of the weekend crowds that flock there.
After the winds started getting intense, we decided to get going off the top of the mountain, and ducked under tree line quickly to start our final descent of the trip. Five peaks and some very dramatic views later, our trip was just about over, but we did still have a good 3 miles of descending to go. We took our time on the way down since it was a fairly quick day hike, and enjoyed what would be our last hike of the year. Coming down was about as uneventful as going up was, and once we got to the road we only had a short walk over to where the cars were. At the parking area we took another second or two to look around, since it was a fairly interesting trailhead area with various touristy buildings and dramatic views of the mountains on any side of the Crawford Notch. Climbing Jackson was a nice way to cap off the trip, since it’s a fairly short day hike with a pretty nice payout up top with some dynamic views in every direction. Overall, it was a pretty successful day to cap off a big hiking season for us!
Recommendations: This is definitely a great day-trip for just about anybody enthusiastic about climbing. It’s a quick day, with some great views, and just a few challenging spots to make you feel like you earned it as you get to the top. The fantastic up-close views of Washington make it worth the trip alone.
Ratings: Views – 8, Difficulty – 2