Cardigan State Park is the quintessential park ‘n hike state park and, if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it doesn’t disappoint. The park is basically a parking lot with a few picnic tables. Following the signs towards the park, you wonder if the road is going to peter out first, but eventually, after the old sign for the Cardigan Mountain State Forest, the park appears.
The park gives you a great jumping off place to climb Mt. Cardigan, whose treeless summit gives outstanding views in all directions. There’s even a fire tower on top. Since the trail isn’t that hard, it’s popular with families as well as casual hikers. The park gives you a head start up the mountain and the direct trail to the top is a little less than 1½ miles. There are also trails from the eastern side of the mountain but they are longer, steeper, and start nearly 500 feet lower.
I took the West Ridge trail to the top, which is the most direct, easiest, and naturally the most popular route. Before I realized it, I was already past the treeline and quickly approaching the summit, with cairns leading the way.
I arrived at the top about 20 minutes before anyone else so had the views all to myself. Ooh – Aah! 360° of terrific views.
To make things interesting, I continued north on Mowgli’s Trail to the top of Firescrew, which got it’s name from a huge forest fire in 1855 that completely devastated the top of the mountain (and from a distance looked like a giant screw of flame – sort of a reverse tornado). The mountain never recovered, hence the bald summit…and the great views. The trail to Firescrew wasn’t very exciting but the view back towards Cardigan was beautiful.
After climbing back to the top of Cardigan, I took the South Ridge Trail back down to the parking lot. That trail starts by going steeply down the the sheer slope to South Peak, from where you get more terrific views of the summit, then Rimrock, with more southern views.
Finally, not far from where the South Ridge Trail rejoins the West Ridge Trail, there was a huge area just filled with trout lilies. I hadn’t seen any on the way up, which was still cloudy and cool, but since reaching the top it had gotten warmer and sunnier and they all seemed to have opened. It was really special.
I wouldn’t recommend ascending the South Ridge Trail, except to see the trout lilies if you’re there in May like me. Otherwise it was steeper, longer, and wetter. However, it wasn’t a bad way to descend if you need some variety.