Difficulty Level: High
8.3 miles over 6 hours
WHY GO Mount Washington dominates the Presidentials, the highest range in New England. Renowned rock- and ice-climbing outfits call the nearby village of North Conway home; beautiful and challenging mountain passes attract mountain bikers and road cyclists; and the backcountry skiing is world-famous.
WHAT TO KNOW First-time hikers of Mount Washington may be lulled into a false sense of security. There is a road and a train to the summit (which has a museum and cafe), but more than 135 people have died on the mountain since 1849, most from its fierce and unpredictable weather.
HOW TO CLIMB IT The routes from the valleys to the summit range from technically difficult (like Huntington Ravine Trail, a craggy scramble over ledges and rocks) to strenuously steep (most of the others). Every route includes 1,500 to 2,000 feet of above-timberline exposure, so the best approach is to give yourself a three- or four-day window to wait for nice weather, and prepare for the worst anyway, with warm clothes, supplies and food.
MY ROUTE Starting at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center off Route 16, I picked up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It was wide and mostly smooth for nearly two and a half miles before turning steeply uphill at the Hermit Lake Shelter to climb through Tuckerman Ravine. At the summit, I poked around the Tip-Top House (a hotel that no longer operates) and the Observatory Museum (admission $3; 603-356-2137; mountwashington.org/education). Returning, I followed the Lion Head Trail and its amazing views back to the lower Tuckerman Ravine Trail.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE The people! The sheer numbers debarking from cars and the train on the summit always amaze me. My advice: start early if you want a little peace and quiet.
LOCAL COLOR Break up the hike by staying at one of the Appalachian Mountain Club's backcountry huts. Lakes of the Clouds and Mizpah Spring, on the flanks of Mount Washington, offer full-service camping: $116 on a weekend gets you cold running water, hot dinner and breakfast, and even a pillow and blankets on your bunk (reservations required; outdoors.org).
Difficulty Level: High
11 miles in 6 hours 45 minutes
WHY GO Katahdin comprises several peaks connected by ridges, saddles and the precipitous Knife Edge. The lack of roads, antennae and buildings on the mountain is largely because of Percival Baxter, a former governor who from 1930 to 1962 amassed the land and funds to create what is now the 210,000-acre Baxter State Park. The result is New England's most pristine high point.
WHAT TO KNOW Baxter State Park regulates everything from campsites and bunks to parking spots for day hikers. Maine residents have priority, but everyone can check for availability by phone or online (207-723-5140; baxterstateparkauthority.com). All reservations must be made by regular mail. The park entry fee is $14.
HOW TO CLIMB IT There is no road to Katahdin. Most hikers start from Roaring Brook or Chimney Pond campgrounds, where rangers post the daily weather forecast at 7 a.m. — information you need, given the exposure and rugged nature of Katahdin. Less traveled are the Northwest Basin Trail and the Hunt Trail.
MY ROUTE Full of anticipation for a loop of the Cathedral, Knife Edge and Helon Taylor Trails — and one of the East's most exhilarating (and harrowing) ridge scrambles — I set off from my campground at Roaring Brook (34 miles from Interstate 95) and followed the 3.3-mile Chimney Pond Trail. But gusting winds, limited visibility and steady rain forced me to the Saddle Trail. Ascending gently for almost a mile, the trail climbed a steep rockslide for about a third of a mile before leveling out. It was another mile to the peak, where I snapped two rain-blurred photos of the marker and turned to descend by the same route.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE The slide path on the Saddle Trail required the use of handholds and extreme care.
LOCAL COLOR Baxter has 18 peaks over 3,000 feet, but nearly everyone goes to climb Katahdin. An alternate loop, from South Branch Pond Campground over Traveler Mountain, offers many of the same features as Katahdin minus one: crowds.
Difficulty Level: High
6.2 miles in 3 hours 30 minutes
WHY GO Mount Mansfield's ridgeline spans over a mile in length — all above treeline — and 360-degree views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, the Greens and the Whites are simply spectacular.
WHAT TO KNOW Vermont Route 108 through Smugglers' Notch cuts around Mansfield's northern tip and is one of the East's most breathtaking drives. (During foliage season, it's also one of the most traffic-laden.) For views of sheer cliffs and great leaf-peeping, hike Mansfield from the Notch.
HOW TO CLIMB IT Familiarize yourself with a local guidebook, because the numerous routes to the summit of Mansfield range from moderate hikes (the ridgeline from the top of the Toll Road) to the strenuously steep (Hell Brook Trail, which approaches from Smugglers' Notch). The Long Trail — the 270-mile footpath that spans the length of Vermont from Massachusetts to Quebec — and the Sunset Ridge Trail, which approaches from Underhill State Park on the mountain's western side, are less difficult but worthy climbs. In addition to a Toll Road most of the way to the top, Mansfield also has a gondola, courtesy of Stowe Mountain resort. But you'll still have to ascend the difficult Cliff Trail.
MY ROUTE I started at the trailhead for the Long Trail on Route 108 and hiked one and two-thirds miles south to Taft Lodge, where I stopped for lunch. After reaching the summit, which I enjoyed along with some 200 other hikers, I traversed the ridge and took about a half-mile walk on the Toll Road to the Haselton Trail, which brought me to the base of the ski area. The trailhead was just over a half-mile walk along Route 108.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE The final quarter-mile to the summit involved some light scrambling and moderate exposure.
LOCAL COLOR If you want to celebrate your high point with a craft beer, you're in luck: three microbreweries make their homes near Mount Mansfield: the Shed Brewery (1859 Mountain Road, Stowe), Trapp Family Lodge (700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe;trappfamily.com) and The Alchemist (23 South Main Street, Waterbury; alchemistbeer.com).
Difficulty Level: Moderate
6.6 miles in 2 hours 30 minutes
WHY GO Mount Greylock and the Berkshires offer Massachusetts' best — and longest — hikes and views, particularly during foliage season. And its prime hiking season can often stretch comfortably into the spring and fall. Mount Greylock serves as New England's midrange high point.
WHAT TO KNOW Massachusetts' highest peak dominates the Mount Greylock State Reservation — 12,500 acres of trails, streams and picnic areas. The Appalachian Trail transects the park and summits Greylock, so you may encounter end-to-enders. Be sure to wish them well; the terminus in Maine is still a long way off.
HOW TO CLIMB IT Hiking trails climb all sides of Mount Greylock; the south-north-running Appalachian Trail is the most famous, most rugged and most heavily used. Aside from their length, Greylock's trails aren't technical. There's shelter on the summit at Bascom Lodge, a restaurant and inn (open mid-May through the end of October) but you'll still want to pack water and a raincoat. Cheshire Harbor Trail approaches from the east and the Hopper Trail from the west. A paved road goes up and over Greylock (open late May to Nov. 1).
MY ROUTE I started at the Cheshire Harbor trailhead, at the end of West Mountain Road. I followed the gently sloping trail for three and a third miles, where it intersected with the Appalachian Trail just below the summit. I turned right and followed the Appalachian Trail to the top. Once there, I climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the War Veteran Memorial Tower — truly the pinnacle of the Massachusetts high point. I returned along the same route.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE There was an unmarked junction or two, but if you pay attention to the Mount Greylock State Reservation map you won't lose your way.
LOCAL COLOR Bascom Lodge (bascomlodge.net) caters to drivers, overnighters, day hikers and through-hikers alike. Breakfast and lunch are inexpensive; dinner reservations are required.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
3.4 miles in 1 hour 30 minutes
WHY GO Mount Frissell may be New England's most underrated high point; many guidebooks don't even include it as a day hike. But the hike is full of significant landmarks — how often can you bag a summit, a state high point, and a tri-state marker in one hike? The area surrounding Mount Frissell is sparsely populated and heavily forested, with views of the Catskills and Berkshires. This is Connecticut? Who knew?
WHAT TO KNOW Bear Mountain, the highest summit in Connecticut, probably steals some of Mount Frissell's thunder. But despite what an erroneous marker on top of Bear declares, it is not the high point; the south shoulder of Mount Frissell — whose summit is in Massachusetts — is higher. If you don't pay attention descending from the summit, you could miss the high point marker entirely.
HOW TO CLIMB IT Mount Frissell is off the beaten path, but is accessible by trails in multiple states. The Mount Frissell Trail is a short day hike, while the Mount Alander Trail, originating in the Mount Washington State Forest in Massachusetts, and the South Taconic Trail, originating in the South Taconic State Park in New York, are longer options.
MY ROUTE I found three small parking pullouts and several trailheads on Mount Washington Road by the Connecticut-Massachusetts state line. (It's a few turns off of Connecticut Route 44 in Salisbury.) The Mount Frissell trailhead was on the west (left) side of the road, just on the Massachusetts side. Little more than a mile up the trail was the summit, but I didn't dawdle there; this quest was for state high points. I continued past it and found the Connecticut high point marker — a cairn and green disk in the rock — about 300 yards down the trail. I pressed on for about a third of a mile and came to the three corners of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE Unsure footing. On both sides of the summit, watch out for smooth, slabby rock.
LOCAL COLOR For extra credit, hike to the top of Bear Mountain. The trailhead is across the street from the Mount Frissell trailhead. After your hike, cool off in Mount Washington State Park's Bash Bish Falls State Park in Massachusetts — one of New England's most spectacular waterfalls.
Difficulty Level: Easy
100 yards in 15 minutes
WHY GO Truth be told, Jerimoth is barely even a hill, although the Highpointers, who are dedicated to climbing all 50 high points in the United States, have been known to decorate the high point with Himalayan prayer flags à la Everest.
WHAT TO KNOW Named for the son of an early Rhode Island settler, Jerimoth (pronounced Jer-EYE-mith) is privately owned, and access to the high point used to be restricted to a few days a year, and before that, it was closed completely. Legends and rumors of surly landowners — including one who held two hikers at gunpoint — have given the smallest state's high point a reputation as America's toughest to access. The current owner opens it to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
HOW TO CLIMB IT There is just one route to Jerimoth Hill.
MY ROUTE The trailhead is just beyond the state line off Rhode Island Route 101. A sign and map, courtesy of the Highpointers Club, mark the trailhead. I followed the path to the large rock and cairn marking the high point. I never broke a sweat.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE Rhode Island Route 101 is a busy road to cross.
LOCAL COLOR If the 15-minute stroll to the high point doesn't tap your energy, drive 13 miles along Route 101 (which turns into Route 6) to Snake Den Park for a woodsy hike on the trails.