Mount Monadnock (3,165 feet) in southwestern New Hampshire has repeatedly been called “the second most climbed mountain in the world,” which may be true or not (likely not), but it sounds good. But it is true that Monadnock sees a lot of climbers, especially on a sunny weekend in prime foliage season. (There are links to information on individual parks at NH State Parks . Most of the parks sites have a downloadable/printable hiking map. )
Monadnock is popular for a couple of reasons. First it’s a climb that most reasonably-fit people can do—yet still enough of a challenge that you feel like you’ve really accomplished something when you reach the summit.
Second, the summit is wide open, with 360-degree views that takes in all six New England states. Monadnock is really a lovely place. But there are many, many other, mountains to hike. Most of them are quieter than Monadnock. And many of them have rocky, bald summits which make great overlooks to see fall foliage from on high.
My son Justin and I recently climbed Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire from Winslow State Park one of two state parks on its flanks. The other is Rollins State Park. From Rollins, it’s a half-mile stroll to the summit. From Winslow, you have two trails to choose from: the Winslow trail which is pretty steep and 1.1 miles long, and the Barlow, more gentle but 1.8 miles long. Together they make a nice loop. There’s also the 4.6 mile long Lincoln trail which starts on Kearsarge Valley Road near the golf course.
The climb up Kearsarge on the Winslow trail is steep enough to get your heart rate up and give you a good cardio workout, but it’s not so long that you need to plan a whole day for the adventure. And the views from the top are spectacular. Central and southern New Hampshire, including Pleasant lake and Sunapee are laid out at your feet, Ragged Mountain sits nearby. In the distance, the White Mountains of new Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont loom low on the horizon.
My only complaint about Kearsarge is the huge, unsightly communications tower that sits a few hundred feet from the actual summit. Such are the penalties of modern conveniences. We just kept our eyes to the north and west and ignored it as much as possible.
Three other mountains near Kearsarge are also worth the climb if you happen to be in the area. Ragged Mountain (2,250 feet) in Danbury, N.H. and Mount Sunapee (2,743 feet) in Newbury, N.H. have open summits. Both are home to ski resorts so there are a variety of trails and access roads to climb. You can even cheat and ride the chairlift to Sunapee’s summit the first three weekends in October. . . but you wouldn’t do that, would you?
The other great mountain nearby is Mount Cardigan (3,165 feet), which can be accessed from Cardigan State Park on the western slope, or from the AMC’s Cardigan Mountain Lodge on the eastern flank. Cardigan is a full-day jaunt for most folks, especially from the Eastern side—but there are a number of trails here that allow you to loop over the two open summits of Cardigan and Firescrew (3,064) and the long ridge between.
Any of these mountains are worth a visit now that foliage season is in progress—or even in the quiet season when the weather’s still nice but the days are shorter and the leaves have fallen. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
I recently had an opportunity to spend a few unfettered hours on a sunny, cool, perfect early-fall Saturday in Williamstown, Mass, a corner of the Berkshires I haven’t had time to fully explore. A glance at the hiking map of the northern Berkshires in the AMC’s Massachusetts Trail Guide quickly showed more trail options than I could explore in a week, let alone a morning.
I decided to hike a short section of the Appalachian Trail and started heading south from the Williamstown Water Works. The AT here climbs pretty relentlessly for a couple of miles to a wonderful overlook on Prospect Mountain with the whole of the town laid out below and New York and southern Vermont beyond.
At that point, I decided I didn’t have time to continue on the AT toward Mount Greylock as I had originally planned. So I strolled another mile out the ridgeline on the Mount Prospect Trail to the actual high point of Mount Prospect which, alas doesn’t have any views from its “summit.” But a little farther down the other end of the ridge there’s a wonderful little opening looking south down the valley. Perfect place to sit quietly and just look before turning around and heading back to civilization.
With a couple of side jaunts, I probably walked seven or eight miles, total. In that time, on a perfect fall day, I saw a grand total of nine other hikers, all on the AT section.
But where were all the other people who should have been out enjoying a grand day? Where were you?
One of the hikers I talked briefly to was a through-hiker who had walked from Georgia to West Virginia, then left the trail and traveled to Katahdin. He was now headed south to finish in West Virginia. Two things about him struck me as amazing: First, his pack weighed less than 25 pounds with food. I’ve never learned to get along with that little.
Second, he had done all his hiking in rubber Crocs with no socks on. His only complaint about them was that his feet got really dirty. His footgear made my ultralight Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking boots seem positively clunky. I carry a pair of Crocs for camp footwear and had always assumed I could hike in them in an emergency. Now I know . . . but I think I’ll still choose lace-up footgear with some ankle support