Mount Cardigan
GOOD FOR: Ages 9-12

Source:Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont (AMC Books)
Address:Shem Valley Road, Alexandria
Hours:No posted hours
Fee: Free for day use; contact Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) for lodge and campsite fees

Cardigan State Park,; AMC Cardigan Lodge and Campsites, 603-466-2727 (reservations),

Bathrooms: At AMC Cardigan Lodge
Water/Snacks: At AMC Cardigan Lodge

USGS Mount Cardigan quad; Southern New Hampshire Trail Map, Map 2: D5–D3 (AMC)

Enjoy a quintessential hike through a mossy ravine and a long, gradual climb to spectacular views, with side trips to a beautiful waterfall and swimming holes.

Wide-open skies and granite slabs greet you on the summit of Cardigan.
Photo by: New Hampshire Department of Parks and Recreation

Though it requires one of the most challenging hikes in this book, Mount Cardigan is a great destination for those ready for a true mountain expedition. The trip has so much to offer families: a gentle grade, waterfalls, swimming holes, caves, a jaw-dropping summit with views into Vermont and Maine, and amenities at AMC’s cozy Cardigan Lodge and Campsites. Home-cooked meals are available to guests at the lodge or the campground, including fresh-baked breads daily, homemade soups, and hearty entrees, all served family-style in a rustic dining hall. (Note: Dogs are allowed on-trail, but not at the lodge or campsites.)

From Cardigan Lodge, take Holt Trail to its intersection with Manning Trail, and veer left to stay on Holt Trail. Veer left at Grand Junction (1.1 miles) onto Cathedral Forest Trail (also known as Holt-Clark Cutoff Trail). Follow this 0.6 mile to Clark Trail and turn right.

Clark Trail climbs steadily through a northern hardwood forest of sugar maples and birches. It emerges from the trees onto a rocky ridge with excellent views. From June through August, the delicious low-bush blueberries in this area are ripe for the picking. Mount Cardigan’s distinctive open granite summit is in the subalpine zone, where the conditions are so harsh that plants can’t grow much higher than waist height and the scrawny trees that do survive are called “krummholz,” which is German for “crooked wood.” Notice the forests of miniature spruce trees that have been stunted by the extreme weather conditions on this exposed ridge.

The expanses of open granite slabs on the summit (2.6 miles) are awe-inspiring, and you will want to leave plenty of time to explore, eat lunch, and soak in the views of the Green Mountains, Mount Kearsarge, Mount Monadnock, and Ragged Mountain to the south and the White Mountains to the north.

From the summit, continue on the loop by following Mowglis Trail for 0.5 mile to the summit of Firescrew, the northern shoulder of Mount Cardigan. In between these two peaks, a 0.25-mile spur path leads to some interesting rock overhangs and small caves known as the Grotto. From the summit of Firescrew, take Manning Trail for 2.5 miles down to the Cardigan Lodge.

Plan B:

If you’re staying at Cardigan Lodge or Campsites, visit beautiful Welton Falls. From Cardigan Lodge, take Lower Manning Trail 1.1 miles to the 15-foot falls and their excellent swimming holes. On the way, you can stop at the Fowler River’s countless swimming holes, so make a day of it by bringing a picnic and working your way down the river to the falls and back. There are some nice pools farther downstream from the falls as well, so continue exploring if you have the time.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Nearby Canaan on NH 4 offers pizza, delis, and some basic restaurants. The Cardigan Mountain Orchard at 1540 Mount Cardigan Road offers fresh-picked apples and baked goods.


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