Eastern Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
These plants of the alpine tundra at the peak of Mt. Washington were left by the retreat of the glaciers. These same plants can be found 400 miles to the north on the Arctic tundra. Photo by Robert Buchsbaum.
Forest: White Mountain National Forest
District: Androscoggin Ranger District
Description: Rising above all other peaks in the northeast Mount Washington is the crown jewel of the White Mountain National Forest. It is also one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. The first day of spring often brings temperatures well below freezing, if not well below zero. Mid summer can bring driving rain, freak snowstorms, gale force winds, and a high temperature that rarely reaches 70 degrees. The first visitors to the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire called them “daunting terrible” and “a vast howling wilderness.”
It seems unlikely that any plant could grow in this hostile environment, but grow they do, from the narrow green river valleys at the base up the broad forested slopes to the rocky ravines and the broad expanse of the alpine summit. The species found here have adapted over the millennia to ever-changing weather conditions and a relatively short growing season. A brief four to five mile hike takes a visitor through a series of plant communities that would require a 400-500 mile drive to the north.
Fascinating and beautiful plants can be observed all over the mountain, but it is the alpine species which seem to capture our imagination. Stranded in their high altitude homes as the last glacier receded, many of these species are also found on the tundra hundreds of miles to the north. A visit to Mount Washington in early summer is well rewarded. Wonderful arrays of blooms stand out in sharp contrast to its green forests and the gray broken rocks of the alpine zone. Please remember, do not stray from the trails when visiting alpine zones. Although this habitat may appear tough and indestructible, it is actually a very fragile environment, where one misplaced step can destroy what has taken hundreds of years to establish.
Directions: You can reach Mount Washington via Interstate 93. Perhaps not the most direct, but certainly the most scenic route is to travel via exit 35. Take route 3 north to its intersection with route 302. Follow route 302 to the east. You will have magnificent views of Mount Washington all along the way. The mountain can be accessed via many trails, the auto road, or the cog railway. Continue on route 302 until you reach Glen, New Hampshire. Turn north on Route 16 and travel to the Appalachian Mountain Club Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. One of the best ways to experience the mountain is to hike up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the Pinkham Notch. Always check in at the Center before leaving on a hike, as the weather is highly variable and can change quickly.
Ownership and Management: USDA Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest, Androscoggin Ranger District (603) 466-2713.
Closest Town: Jackson and Gorham, New Hampshire.
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