Mount Cardigan is without question my favorite mountain in New Hampshire (so far). I’ve hiked up this bald-top mountain twice, a while ago, via the same trail that was challenging, scenic and pleasant at the same time. The weather was absolutely perfect on both occasions and the views extraordinary.
Located in the towns of Alexandria and Orange in the western part of New Hampshire, Mount Cardigan is “only” 3,155 feet (962 meters) high and has large areas of bare rock. Although not technically above the tree line, the summit is in fact completely treeless, due to a forest fire in 1855. It hasn’t been replanted since and now the mountain appears higher than it actually is. The advantage is that the bare summit offers fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including landmark mountains such as Mount Monadnock to the south, the White Mountains to the (north)east and Vermont’s Camel’s Hump to the west. Add to that the fact that the mountain’s relatively low height makes for a relatively short hike, and you know that this is a very popular hiking destination.
And indeed, people have been since the first decades of the 19th century. In 1867 a carriage road to the summit was built, increasing the mountain’s popularity even more. The carriage road is not in use anymore nowadays, but there still are a few excellent hiking trails that lead to the top.
Hiking Mount Cardigan: To the Summit
I started up the West Ridge Trail, a class-one trail that’s located in Cardigan State Park on the mountain’s western side. After about half a mile or so, the trail splits up. The West Ridge Trail bends to the left and the class-one-two South Ridge Trail turns right.
I followed the South Ridge Trail on my way up and chose to take the West Ridge Trail down, creating a fun and scenic loop. The total distance of this loop isn’t more than 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), but especially the last section to the bare summit is pretty steep. I was lucky that the weather was so good; in wet weather those granite slopes would definitely have been slippery and way more challenging.
The entire roundtrip took me approximately 2.5 hours, including a panoramic lunch break at the top.
The reasons I like Mount Cardigan so much are obvious: it is a mountain that offers fabulous views in all directions; the hike up to its summit isn’t too long and makes for a great afternoon activity; and the possibility to do a loop hike is always better than having to hike back down on the same trail.
The best (and only) way to get to Mount Cardigan is by car, so when you visit New Hampshire, definitely make sure to rent a car and go for an exploratory drive.