The leaves are quickly changing as cooler weather becomes the norm once again in New England. It seems like summer always passes much faster than I’d like it to, but autumn is still a welcome season in my book. There is nothing quite like the beautiful New Hampshire landscape during the time of peak fall foliage. The bright oranges, yellows, and reds, paint a fiery backdrop for all of the excellent fall-oriented activities and events that this state has to offer. Whether you’re apple-picking, getting lost in a corn maze, or sipping your ninth pumpkin spice latte of the day, New Hampshire is the place to be when it comes to taking in all things fall.
One such activity that is perfect for this season is hiking! Whether you’re a novice or a pro, New Hampshire has many hiking trails throughout the state for all skill levels. One of my favorite hiking areas in the Upper Valley region is Cardigan Mountain State Park, located in Orange, NH. Covering 5,655 acres, Cardigan Mountain State Park features a handful of moderate-level trails that originate from different starting points surrounding the summit (so make sure you keep track of where you park your car!). A map of the trails is available here. Climbing to the summit of Mount Cardigan is easiest via the 1.5-mile West Ridge Trail, which has a more gradual ascent. The other trails are longer and a bit more challenging.
Although Mount Cardigan is not an incredibly high mountain, topping off at 3,155 feet, it features a treeless summit which offers incredible views of the surrounding areas; perfect for leaf peeping! In 1855, a major forest fire left the summit of Mount Cardigan a bare, granite mountaintop. The summit has remained this way since, and allows for 360 degree views of west central New Hampshire. From Mount Cardigan, hikers can see Mount Monadnock, the White Mountains, and mountains in Vermont and Maine.
I have also heard that Mount Cardigan is a great spot to view fireworks on the Fourth of July (bring a headlamp for the way down). Additionally, I know a few people that have snowshoed there during the winter months, although the park is not staffed during the off-season. Because the summit is bare, winds can be quite powerful and temperatures can be fairly low, despite the mountain not being incredibly tall, so make sure you are prepared ahead of time. And if you visit during the warmer months, say “Hi” to the warden in the fire tower at the top.
Mount Cardigan is a lot of bang for your hiking buck, in that the trails are not tremendously difficult, but the views are beyond spectacular. Seriously, viewing the fall colors in every direction is truly breathtaking. Bring your camera!