On a chilly Sunday morning after a hearty breakfast, we set out to conquer Mount Cardigan, one of New Hampshire’s most popular day hikes.
We followed the West Ridge Trail which junctions with the Skyland Trail at 1.0 mile shortly before “Cliff’s Bridge”. This trail is well marked by cairns along the open summit, which is extremely useful during bad weather.
On our ascent up the mountain, we noticed the transition from maple and beech trees into red spruce and balsam fir. These coniferous trees are far better adapted to surviving in the thin soil open ledges on the higher parts of the mountain. While the summit is not above the tree line, it is bare rock due to the forest fires of 1855, which cleared the summit of Mount Cardigan leaving behind an open granite summit and alpine scrub. This allows for breathtaking 360* views and creates the feel of a much higher mountain, leaving hikers satisfied with their efforts as they bask in the beauty of the mountain ranges which are laid out before them.
For a full loop which provides variation in scenery, follow the Clark Trail to the South Ridge Trail on your descent. This will take you to the South Peak of Cardigan and Rimrock. Be careful to follow the cairns at Rimrock to stay on South Ridge Trail rather than Skyland Trail which will take you 4 miles away to Alexandria Four Corners. We chose to stay stay on the West Ridge Trail due to the extreme wind which made hiking along the summit difficult.
At the summit, we followed the cairns to the highest point. Hiding from the biting wind behind an outcropping, we sipped steaming coffee from our thermos and munched on granola bars and oranges. The wind gusting so hard we felt as though we might be blown off the mountain,we decided to make our way back down. Beneath the fire tower which stands watch over the summit, we stopped to chat with two men who were strapping on their skis and preparing to race down the mountain.
Halfway down the trail, we slipped along the frozen waterfall which I imagine is lovely in the warmer months with the water rushing over the rocks. In the winter time it is frozen over and a bit treacherous to hikers who are not wearing Yak Tracks. Overall the trail was well packed and well marked making this a wonderful winter hike! Many of the hikers that we passed brought along their canine companions. We recommend bringing warm drinks, plenty of water, and a snack to renew your energy at the summit. Always prepare properly for winter hikes by dressing warmly and bringing the necessary gear.
Afterwards, we headed to Salt Hill Pub in Hanover, NH for a post hike refuel. Mount Cardigan, a moderate hike with rewarding views, is a wonderful way to spend a winter day!