Ethan Allen Crawford and his father, Abel, were not the first to summit Mount Washington. But their actions in 1819 unlocked the fabled mountain to countless adventure-lovers who flock to the Appalachian Trail and New Hampshire from around the world. After watching numerous hiking parties run into trouble attempting the thick woods on Washington’s southwest slopes, the Crawfords set out in 1819 to cut an 8.5-mile, rolling path from the valley where they lived (now Crawford Notch) to the mountain’s summit, 6,288 feet above sea level.
In 1820, the year after opening Crawford Path, Ethan Allen led one of the first guided expeditions up to Washington’s summit. It was on this expedition that the group collectively named many of the mountains in the Presidential Range.
In the years that followed, the Crawfords relentlessly maintained and promoted their namesake trail, along with the inn and tavern they managed in the notch near the trailhead. In 1840, Thomas J. Crawford, a younger son of Abel, converted the path to an equestrian route, but hikers have dominated the trail for the last century.
Today, the trail runs northeast from Route 302, just up the road from AMC’s Highland Center, to join the AT before traversing mounts Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, and Washington—a route well-trodden by thru-hikers. In recent years, AMC has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to reconstruct portions of the highly trafficked Crawford Path, considered by many to be America’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail.
It also may be one of the country’s prettiest. AMC’s archivist, Becky Fullerton, says Crawford Path has always drawn those seeking an experience far removed from their daily lives.
“Hikers still come for the drama of this particular trail as it passes through forests, follows a stream, and bursts forth onto miles of open ridgeline,” Fullerton says. “Imagining people who are separated by 200 years from our own experiences passing this way only adds to the awe.”
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