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Great Gulf Wilderness

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The United States Congress designated the Great Gulf Wilderness (map) in 1964 and it now has a total of 5,658 acres. All of this wilderness is located in New Hampshire and is managed by the Forest Service.


Cradled within the rugged crescent of New Hampshire's Presidential Range lies the Great Gulf Wilderness. This peaked carpet begins at Mount Washington, unfurling north and east to cover the flanks of Mounts Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Then, finally, it enfolds the Great Gulf, the largest cirque in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The small and beautiful Spaulding Lake lies on the floor of this steep-walled bowl and is drained eastward by the West Branch of the Peabody River. Many rivulets tumble into the Peabody from both sides of the glacially carved valley. From the headwall rising 1,100 feet to 1,600 feet above the bowl's bottom, the gulf drops ruggedly east for about 3.5 miles, then flattens into more open country for another 1.5 miles. Mount Washington, just south of the Wilderness boundary, stands at 6,288 feet, the highest point in New England. Let the records show that it was here, on April 12, 1934, that winds howled past at 231 miles per hour, the highest wind velocity ever documented on Earth. The southern Wilderness boundary lies just north of the Mount Washington Auto Road, which provides motorized access to the summit. Mount Adams anchors the northwestern Wilderness boundary, and at 5,799 feet garners second place in the New England height tourney. Mount Madison, at the northernmost point of the Wilderness, tops out at 5,366 feet then plummets 4,000 feet to river valleys below. The views from the ridge and summits of the Presidentials, and from the floor of the bowl, rank among New England's best. The name of the Wilderness likely comes from the early misadventures of legendary explorer Ethan Allen Crawford. Upon taking a wrong turn on an 1823 hiking trip, Crawford found himself at the "edge of a great gulf." The area is rich in history that dates back to its first recorded observation by Darby Field in 1642. Botanists, geologists and lovers of the wild began their visits in the early 19th century and the first trail was blazed in 1881. A number of other historic trails were constructed in the 30 years that followed, most of which are still used today. A number of spur trails hook up to the Great Gulf Trail, which serves as the main artery for the area's trail network and cuts roughly east-west through the center of New Hampshire's oldest and smallest Wilderness. Beginning about 1.5 miles east of the Wilderness boundary, the trail traverses approximately five and a half miles of Wilderness and then continues toward the summit of Mount Washington. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail runs essentially perpendicular to the Great Gulf Trail as it takes in 2.7 miles of the Wilderness on its way from Georgia to Maine. In all, there are about 22 miles of maintained hiking trails within the Wilderness.

Planning to Visit the Great Gulf Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Great Gulf Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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