Mt. Jackson ranks 38th on the official New Hampshire’s 4,000 footer list at 4,052 feet and is part of the Appalachian Trail as it passes through the Southern Presidential range. The summit is exposed and during good weather offers views of Mt. Washington to the north, the Pemigewasset Range and wilderness to the west, and east to Maine. For a peak of 4,052 feet it offers spectacular vistas, particularly in the early fall. This time of year there is less insect activity, and fewer chances of afternoon thunderstorms than in summer. Spring can be wet and depending on the year, snow may still remain in higher elevations.
There are two trails that directly lead to the summit, the Webster-Jackson Trail and the Webster Cliff Trail (A.T.). Jackson can also be combined with nearby Mt. Webster (3910 feet) to make a pleasant 6.2-mile loop trail combining the Webster-Jackson trail with the Webster Cliff trail. This is not a particularly long loop but it is challenging. Upper sections of the Webster-Jackson trail are steep, and sometimes the large granite slabs will require you to assist your dog in achieving the summit. It depends on your dog’s ability to maneuver around and over 3-4 foot high rock sections. I would not recommend this loop for a beginning hiker or their companion animal.
Parking for the Webster-Jackson trail is located on the same side of 302 as the Macomber Family Information Center (Crawford Depot) and is a small un-marked paved lot. There is no parking fee for this area; there are also no facilities. If traveling North on 302 the lot is right before the Depot on the left side of the road. Dogs should be leashed when exiting a vehicle due to the proximity of the parking area and busy route 302. The trailhead is across the road from the parking area, and signed with a white trail marker. The Webster-Jackson trail is marked with blue blazes and is well maintained. There are ample sources of water available for dogs to drink. Some of the sections are rocky and a dog with experience in the woods would enjoy this trail. It climbs at a moderate grade through pine and birch forest until at mile 1.4 it comes to the junction. Mt. Jackson to the left and Mt. Webster to the right, each is almost equal distance to the summit 1.1 to Webster and 1.2 to Jackson.
The left or Jackson Branch of the trail ascends gradually at first and then more moderately as it crosses three branches of Silver Cascade Brook. This again offers opportunities for water along the trail although it can be muddy. As the trail approaches the summit’s rocky cone there are steep ledges where you may have to use your hands to scramble up. In this area dogs who are agile and good jumpers will have to problem ascending the ledges, however larger dogs may run into some issues and require assistance from humans, either hauling them up a step or two or showing them where to jump. This section of ledges is short and the summit is achieved soon after and well worth the effort (2.6 miles from US 302). Enjoy some views, have a little lunch share a treat or two with your dog.
Time From 302 to Summit of Jackson: 2-3 hours
The Webster Cliff Trail runs across the summit of Mt. Jackson, to the right of the summit cairn head toward Mt. Webster and US 302 to gain the summit of Mt. Webster and the Webster branch of the Jackson-Webster trail. This section of the loop is heavily traveled and is part of the Appalachian Trail, so expect in the spring, summer and fall to run into other people. The 1.3 miles from Mt. Jackson to the junction with the Webster-Jackson trail is an easy grade once you get down from the summit of Mt. Jackson. It crosses some very wet gullies on the ridge. Most of these have boardwalks in place or stepping-stones for humans. Expect a muddy wet-pawed dog at the end of this section. Although this is a ridge, it is not exposed fully and views are limited but it does offer a nice break from the uphill climb to Mt. Jackson. At the junction with the Webster-Jackson trail you can turn right and descend or you can go an extra .13 miles to the summit of Mt. Webster 3,910 ft. Not a 4,000 footer but a fine summit none the less with views of Crawford Notch.
Descending the Webster branch of the Webster-Jackson trail is a steady downhill grade, combined with rough footing and often wet conditions make this trail challenging for the two footed. Dogs will have no issues bounding down the slippery slopes thanks to their four-wheel drive advantage. This loop could be done in reverse as well, however descending the ledges at Mt. Jackson may also be challenging. Right before the Webster branch rejoins the Jackson branch there is a nice little cascade and pool that offers some chilly mountain water good for soaking paws and feet alike. The trail climbs steeply out of this cascade area and rejoins at the junction.
Overview: This hike is challenging and should be done by a hiker with good ability as well as good communication skills with their dog. I found in several locations the need to direct my dog on the best way to get around rock obstacles as well as offer support for some of the ledges. I did not need to pick up my dog to assist with any particularly hard areas but dogs with less experience that may be necessary. The heavily used Webster Cliff section of this trail was at the time of my hike quite soiled with human waste. Pay attention to what your dog is getting into on the sides of the trail, most hikers responsibly take care of this, but for those who do not it can make a hike unpleasant for everyone else. Another point to consider is that the trailhead is located right along busy US 302. I recommend leashing until a safe distance from the road. There is a trail at .1 miles for Elephant Head and I used this as my guideline for when I should release and leash my dogs respectively.
US 302 to Junction with Webster and Jackson Branches: 1.4 miles
Junction to Mt Jackson Summit: 1.2 miles
Mt Jackson Summit to Mt Webster Summit: 1.45 miles
Mt Webster Summit to US 302 trailhead: 2.4 miles