Backpacking the Rocky Department Ramble

Mt Isolation is a distant 4000-footer positioned within the Presidential Vary-Dry River Wilderness south of Mt Washington, with excellent views of Washington, the Southern Presidential Vary, the Oakes Gulf Headwall, and the Dry River Valley. Average in each size and issue, it is a good journey to chop your tooth on backpacking within the White Mountains with free pre-established US Forest Service campsites, easy accessibility to water, and quite a few alternatives to swim within the Rocky Department River. There are 5 stream crossings alongside this route however they’re often straightforward rock hops in summer season, so you may hold your footwear dry.

Whereas the gap of this route might seem quick, you shouldn’t underestimate the problem of climbing the rocky trails main out to Mt Isolation. Whereas skilled White Mountain hikers do hike the complete spherical journey distance in sooner or later, it’s a very lengthy and strenuous day, that may be higher damaged up with a minimum of one in a single day to calm down and luxuriate in some wonderful stargazing.

Mt Isolation Out and Again


*****/3 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Acquire

14.6 miles w/3350′ of cumulative elevation acquire

White Mountain 4000 Footers

Beneficial Period

1-2 nights


June through October

Permits Required



Backcountry Tenting Rules for the White Mountain Nationwide Forest.

Most of this route passes by means of the Presidential Vary-Dry River Wilderness Space. Please observe all wilderness space restrictions. 

Trailhead Instructions

The northern Rocky Department Path Trailhead (to not be confused with the southern trailhead on the finish of Jericho Rd) is a parking zone with house for about 25 automobiles on the west facet of Rt 16, about 5.5 miles north of Jackson NH, simply previous the freeway bridge over the Ellis River. This can be a no-fee lot.


Consult with the AMC White Mountain Path Map 1 – Presidential Vary (2017 ed), which is the perfect waterproof map obtainable for this area, though I’d advocate shopping for the whole AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) somewhat than one map at a time. Extra detailed path descriptions may be discovered within the AMC White Mountain Information (2017 ed), which is taken into account the climbing bible for the area. Take photographs of the pages utilizing your telephone for straightforward reference, as a substitute of carrying the complete e-book with you on hikes.

I additionally advocate buying a GPS Cellphone App resembling Far Out’s White Mountain Nationwide Forest Information, which lists a lot of the trails, trailheads, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources within the White Mountains Nationwide Forest. GaiaGPS is one other GPS Cellphone App, which is stronger when it comes to topographic map protection for the White Mountains however doesn’t have as a lot details about trailheads, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources. I take advantage of each regularly.

Path Sequence

The route follows the next trails in sequence.

  • Rocky Department Path (West) – 3.7 miles
  • Isolation Path (North) – 2.6 miles
  • Davis Path (South) – 0.9
  • Davis Path (North) – 0.9
  • Isolation Path (South) – 2.6 miles
  • Rocky Department Path (East) – 3.7 miles

Scenic Highlights

The next record offers cumulate distances on the route to every view or landmark

  • Rocky Department River  – 3.7 miles
  • Mt Isolation – 7.2 miles

Tenting Shelter Choices

There are three designated USFS tent websites alongside the route, as marked on the hooked up map above. All are free. None of them have bear bins, so you ought to be ready to hold a bear bag, use an Ursack, or carry a bear canister to retailer your meals and smellables at night time.

There are additionally quite a few pre-existing campsites alongside this route if the designated tenting areas are full. Attempt to camp out of sight of the path and make sure to go away no hint. This complete space is right for hammock tenting as an alternative choice to carrying a tent.


Pure water sources are plentiful within the White Mountains though it’s possible you’ll must descend to them from ridgelines alongside facet trails when you run quick. In any case, carry an in depth topographic map with you and don’t depend on the overview map supplied with this journey description to search out water sources.

The Appalachian Mountain Golf equipment Huts are taking reservation in 2022. Contact the AMC for reservations and data at outdoor.org. (Notice: You do not have to remain of their services when climbing within the White Mountains.) All Randolph Mountain Membership Cabins have reopened for 2022 on a first-come-first-serve foundation.

Climate Cautions

This route is delicate to seasonal and climate situations which might make it hazardous. There are 5 water crossings of the Rocky Department River on this route which can grow to be tough to cross in excessive water. One of the simplest ways to keep away from excessive water ranges is to examine the climate and postpone your hike if heavy precipitation is forecast throughout or just a few days earlier than your hike.  Remember to examine the Climate.gov and Mt Washington Observatory Increased Summits forecasts earlier than your hike.

On the Path

The trail leaves the north end of the parking lot.
The path leaves the north finish of the parking zone.

After parking on the trailhead, start climbing up the Rocky Department Path, which leaves from the north finish of the lot, passing the trailhead kiosk. This path climbs 1950 ft of elevation within the subsequent 2.8 miles, which is fairly tame by White Mountain requirements however may be difficult when you’ve got a heavy pack. It’s the solely vital climb on this route, as the remainder of the route is sort of gradual.

There are two cross-country ski trails, blazed with blue diamonds that intersect the path at 0.5 miles (on the left) and 0.7 miles (on the correct) from the trailhead. Go by them each and proceed straight up the Rocky Department Path by means of a lush open forest.

Pass the Wilderness Area Boundary at mile 2.3.
Go the Wilderness Space Boundary at mile 2.3.

At mile 2.3, you’ll cross an indication marking the Presidential Vary-Dry River Wilderness boundary, lastly reaching the highest of the preliminary climb at mile 2.8. The path continues on a stage grade by means of a muddy space, earlier than descending regularly to the Rocky Department River at mile 3.7. The decrease part of this descent is commonly moist and a few rock hopping could also be required to keep away from water flowing between the rocks underfoot. It’s referred to as the Rocky Department Path for a purpose!

The first stream crossing.
The primary stream crossing.

There’s a quick path on trail-left resulting in a tent web site simply earlier than the primary stream crossing, which is marked because the Rocky Department Shelter #2 on outdated maps. The shelter has been eliminated. Cross the stream and climb up the far financial institution (the stream is just about 30 ft huge) and search for the signal under, turning proper to comply with the Isolation path.

Turn right onto the Isolation Trail
Flip proper onto the Isolation Path

The path follows an outdated logging street, coming to a second stream crossing in 0.4 miles which is far simpler than the earlier one. Cross the stream and switch left on the opposite financial institution. The path runs alongside the Rocky River which narrows to a tiny stream, proving loads of alternatives for a fast soak, as you proceed north.

USFS Campsite Sign
USFS Campsite Signal

When the path begins heading northwest, you’ll cross by two designated campsites. The primary of those has easy accessibility to water, whereas the second is northwest of a dependable stream that crosses the path. There are additionally quite a few pre-existing (bootleg) campsites alongside this stretch, though the 2 designated websites are a lot nicer, drier, and value tenting at if there’s house.

The stream crossings are quite shallow, but you can usually step from one rock to the next to keep your shoes dry.
The stream crossings are fairly shallow, however you may often step from one rock to the subsequent to maintain your footwear dry.

The path turns into more and more moist and rocky because it continues north, touring by means of a stand of fallen timber by means of which a path has been reduce. This complete space has skilled vital harm from a number of hurricanes and microbursts up to now decade, making the route all that extra attention-grabbing to hike by means of.

Turn left and follow the Davis Path to the Mt isolation summit spur trail in 0.9 miles.
Flip left and comply with the Davis Path to the Mt isolation summit spur path in 0.9 miles.

If you attain the Davis Path junction flip left (south) and comply with the path 0.9 miles to the Mt Isolation spur path, which is clearly signed and climbs a brief distance to the open summit.

North Isolation, Monroe, Washington, and Boot Spur
North Isolation, Monroe, Washington, and Boot Spur

The summit of Mt Isolation is open rock ledge with wide-ranging views. The most important mountain on the horizon is the rocky cone of Mt Washington and under it, is the yawning chasm of Oakes Gulf, a deep glacial valley on the head of the Dry River. Mt Monroe is seen to Washington’s instant left. Boott Spur is to its proper, a 5000+ foot subsidiary summit of Washington, positioned atop the southern wall of Tuckerman Ravine. North Isolation, is only a quick distance away, additionally off the Davis Path. Tenting on open summits or above treeline will not be permitted within the White Mountain Nationwide Forest in an effort to protect the delicate alpine vegetation that lives in these alpine areas.

To return the best way you got here, descend the spur path that climbs to the Isolation and switch left while you attain the Davis Path, retracing your route again alongside the Isolation Path and the Rocky Department Path to the trailhead on Rt 16.

In regards to the creator

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 8500 miles in america and the UK and written over 2500 articles because the founding father of SectionHiker.com, famous for its backpacking gear critiques and climbing FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine climbing and backpacking, Philip is the creator of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free on-line guidebook of the perfect backpacking journeys within the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire. Click on right here to subscribe to the SectionHiker publication.

Security Disclaimer

This journey plan cannot warn you to each hazard, anticipate your expertise, or limitations. Due to this fact, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent websites, and pure options on this journey plan should not representations {that a} specific place or tour might be secure for you or members of your get together. If you comply with any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume accountability in your personal security. Underneath regular situations, such excursions require the standard consideration to visitors, street and path situations, climate, terrain, the capabilities of your get together, and different components. All the time examine for present situations, obey posted indicators, and Backcountry Tenting and Wilderness Space Rules. Hike Secure and comply with the Hiker accountability code. 

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