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I'm planning a 3 day hike (somewhere between early June and early September) in the New Hampshire's White Mountains, specifically the Presidentials.

I'd like to avoid the biggest crowds and would like to know the busiest months.

I imagine that July and August are the busiest but I may be wrong because of other factors like Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and other factors I haven't considered.

Are the trails heavily used on weekdays outside of prime vacation time period?

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Given your time period of early June to Early September, my guess is that the least crowded period will be early June. This report (Fig. 4) shows the number of bed nights in AMC huts as a function of months. July has about 10% less bed nights than August and both July and August have substantially more bed nights than June or September. My guess is that August is about peak capacity for the huts since there are about 425 beds (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Huts_of_the_White_Mountains).

My guess is that the decreased numbers in June are due to less visitors at the beginning of the month due to black flies and schools still being in session and the decreased numbers in September are due to schools starting up again and it beginning to get cold. Therefore the beginning of June would be your best bet in terms of crowds, but watch out for the black flies.

  • Thanks for the for the report. Fig. 4 really seems to be what I was looking for. This seems for Huts and not overall affluence, but it's a good indicator nonetheless. Also thanks for the black fly warning. I've only done 4 overnights in NE and so far I have never encountered bugs in significant numbers (compared to my native province of Quebec) but that may have been because of the dates I visited. I will bring some bug protection if I go in June (I normally only bring bug protection when hiking in Canada). – Gilles Feb 20 '18 at 17:28
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    @Gilles I agree hut usage is only part of the picture. Having trail head numbers would be nice, but I couldn't find them. Given the hut usage numbers agree with my experience and mental model, I think it is a good enough answer. By the way, I would totally recommend early September over any other time except late September. – StrongBad Feb 20 '18 at 18:42
  • The flies may have something to do with it, but, there are always way more people "on vacation" and doing vacation-type activities like any sort of traveling and like camping and hiking after the Fourth of July in New England. That week or weekend is like a starter's gun. – Beanluc Feb 23 '18 at 23:11
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Early September is the best choice considering the criteria you have given. While it is true that there are less hikers in early June than later in the summer, there are reasons for this.

Black flies can be quite annoying then. June is also wetter and muddier than early September. Avoid Labor Day weekend, but there will be fewer hikers immediately after that. September weather tends to be dryer with more clear days than other parts of the summer.

Personally, my favorite time to hike in the White Mountains is from Labor Day until peak leaf season. That's in early to mid October, depending on elevation and weather specifics of that year.

Timing isn't the only way to avoid crowds. Most of the people will be on the AT, or doing day hikes on a few of the popular trails that afford a out-and-back to some nice vista or other destination. The White Mountains has a large network of trails, with most of them not crowded at all, even during peak season.

So don't do the Presi-traverse on the AT. You'll meet lots of people and have a hard time finding a place to camp at night. Instead, make a loop over more obscure side trails. It helps if you can spot a car, but there is also a shuttle bus system for hikers run by the AMC.

I've done two and three night loops in the middle of summer west of Crawford Notch and hardly run into anyone once I got past casual day-hike range from the trailhead. If you insist on going up to the Presidential ridge, especially near Mt Washington or Lake of the Clouds or Madison huts, you're going to run into people. But that's only a tiny fraction of the available trails, especially if you have the flexibility to not have to get back to a trailhead for three days.

Take a good look at the maps. Get the AMC maps printed on Tyvek. Those really do hold up well to water and other trail-abuse. The AMC does a decent job of keeping the trail information on those maps current. They are no doubt the best maps for hiking in the White Mountains.

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