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Mt Cardigan West Loop, Orange NH


• 5-star hike
• 3.0 to 3.4 mile options
• Medium difficulty | Gain 1,180 to 1,250 feet
• Sunapee Region | Orange NH
• Driving Directions: Trailhead


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.

West Loop | 5★, 3.4 miles, Loop, Medium, Gain 1,250ft | 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.


West Loop
West Ridge Trail

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, looking like a cross between a lunar excursion module and something from Mad Max. The fire tower is one of around 27 standing fire towers in NH, and one of the goals of the state's Fire Tower Quest Patch. See Trailspotting's Fire Tower List for a map of all standing New Hampshire fire towers and links to fire towers that we've visited.


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

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 3.4 miles. 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.

West Ridge Trail | 4★, 3.0 miles, Out & Back, Medium, Gain 1,180ft | 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, but you miss out on some of the views.


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


Views on the descent of the West Ridge Trail.

Tangents:
• Trail Links: Official Site, AllTrails Public
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

NH Fire Towers
See Trailspotting's Fire Tower Map for list of towers, locations and links to best nearby trails.
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