Mt Cardigan Loop Trail

• 5-star hike
• 3.5 mile loop • Medium difficulty
• Elevation gain 1,250 feet (1,950 - 3,121 ft)
• Sunapee Region • Orange NH
Google MapGoogle Earth KMLNavigate

The last outpost from the zombie apocalypse. Or, the Mt Cardigan fire tower.

Although the New Hampshire timberline – the elevation at which tree growth recedes – is over four thousand feet above sea level, there are several notable mountain summits below this height that are bereft of trees, affording spectacular views. Mount Cardigan is one of these summits, caused by a 1855 forest fire which burned off vegetation and topsoil resulting in a denuded and desolate peak. The mountain’s loss is our gain – at least in terms of the views afforded to us from the summit – and the Mount Cardigan Loop Trail traversing the Western flanks provide a short and spectacular way of reaching it.

Beginning at the State Park parking area, follow the West Ridge Trail through a forest of maple, birch and beech trees for two-thirds of a mile to the junction that marks the start of the South Ridge Trail. Choosing a counter-clockwise loop, continue through the forest on the South Ridge Trail until the tree line recedes around 1 mile into your hike. The forest trail involves some level sections, but also rocky steps and some roots with occasional mud in places.

Forest of maple, birch and beech trees comprise the first mile of the hike.

From here the New Hampshire mountain views begin to reveal themselves, and the target of your hike becomes apparent - the 3,121 foot high domed peak of Mount Cardigan, topped with a squat fire tower. From here wayfinding on the trail is effected by painted blazes and occasional rock cairns. Hiking the granite slabs from here is not too difficult, not too steep, but occasionally slippery – particularly on the way back down.

At the summit you’ll find the fire tower, adorned with solar panels and well anchored to the rock, looks like a cross between a lunar excursion module and something from Mad Max. You’ll also find 360 degrees of spectacular views below you.

The return trip on the clockwise route proceeds down the West Ridge Trail all the way back to the trailhead and parking lot, for a total length of 3.5 miles. Should you wish, you could shorten your journey by using the West Ridge Trail as an out-and-back route for a total length of 3.0 miles.

The treeless summit of Mount Cardigan, topped with a squat fire tower.

Views on the descent of the West Ridge Trail.

The State Park trailhead is appointed with a picnic area and restrooms, though outside of peak season the restrooms appear to be out of action. Also, the final six miles to the trailhead requires driving on unpaved, but well compacted dirt and gravel roads.

Official websiteAllTrails link
Trailspotting NH hiking trail reviews
Trailspotting NH map of trails
Comment at Facebook Trailspotting Group