|Mount Cardigan, New Hampshire|
|A great 3-hour mountain hike for those of average stamina—and what a view!|
Approaching the mountain from the west through the small town of Orange, climbing up the narrow mountain road, Mount Cardigan shows a bare summit of metamorphic rock from which you can enjoy fine views of the region.
Be sure to descend the mountain on the side you ascended! Yes, it seems simple, but too many hikers end up at the wrong base camp with no way to go around the base to their cars. If you end up at the base on the east side at 4 pm when your car is on the west side, what will you do? You certainly don't want to go over the mountain again in the dark.
Cardigan Mountain State Park, located in the 5000-acre Cardigan Mountain State Forest on the western slopes of the mountain, has a parking area at the trailhead, picnic tables (one beneath a shelter, several with charcoal grills), and pit toilets. An information board shows you the lie of the land, and simple printed trailmaps are yours for the taking. There is no cost for admission.
What to Bring
The park has no water supply or other services, so bring everything you need for your hike, especially a big water bottle. (Several springs and small streams along the trail may do for water in an emergency.) Also, carry out everything you bring in: there are no trash receptacles.
Stout shoes and sturdy clothing are a good idea, as is some sandwiches or at least a supply of energy snacks. You may want to have sunblock and a windbreaker for the summit, where it will be considerably colder than at the base, and certainly windy.
The 1.5-mile (2.4-km) climb to the summit, a vertical ascent of 1000 feet (305 meters) takes about 1-1/2 hours—at least it did for me, a guy in his 60s who is not in bad shape, but not an athlete. Figuring a half-hour to enjoy the view at the summit, and an hour to descend, the total hiking time is about 3 hours.
Making the Climb
The wisest plan is to begin your hike in the morning, before 12 noon at the latest, just in case something goes wrong (missed trail turn, sprained ankle, etc.) and you need extra time for your descent. You don't want to be on the mountain when it's dark.
The West Trail, marked by stone cairns, is the shortest and most favored route to the summit. It's also the fastest way down in an emergency or severe weather.
The rocky West Trail path gets difficult and steep in a few spots, and you must clamber over boulders. There may also be patches of mud and muck.
At the Summit
The bare summit, above treeline, is topped by a fire lookout tower, usually locked up tight. There is no shelter at the summit.
AMC Cardigan Lodge
On the eastern slopes of the mountain, approached from Bristol and Alexandria NH, the Appalachian Mountain Club's Cardigan Lodge, 774 Shem Valley Rd, Alexandria NH, offers hikers and campers private rooms with private bath, bunkrooms with shared bath, and individual and group walk-in tent sites. Hearty, healthy meals are served in summer and autumn, and on winter weekends.
Multiple hiking and cross-country ski trails depart from the lodge through the AMC's 1200-acre (486-hectare) reservation, including trails to the summit of Mount Cardigan. The eastern slope trails to the summit are longer than the West Trail.
Other than the summit, the Lodge is the trailhead for two short nature trails and the longer, atmospheric trail to Welton Falls, 30 to 60 minutes' hike from the lodge (75 to 120 minutes round-trip). More...
The AMC High Cabin, near the summit, is great for back-country groups.
If you don't stay at the AMC Cardigan Lodge, consider the Henry Whipple House in Bristol NH (map). A 1904 mansion now run as a bed-and-breakfast, the Whipple House has five comfortable, atmospheric guest rooms with bath, and three suites. Breakfasts are delicious and Sandra, the innkeeper, is an avid hiker who can advise on all the region's trails. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan