For those of us living in the Upper Valley region which bestrides the Connecticut River, Mount Cardigan is the go-to mountain to climb. It’s family-friendly and views are to die for and the hike from the western side is barely a mile and a half. So I’ve hiked it many times to the point of ho-hum. What I’ve rarely done is hiked it from the east so I’ve probably given the park short shrift in my previous assessment. Whether giving it an A or B rating, the park, or rather the state forest that contains the park, is well worth a visit.
From the east the easiest access to the trail network is from the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge. From there are lots of choices, depending on your whim, as well as advice and maps.
Here’s a closeup of the map, also available for purchase, with hiking suggestions listed on the side. I’d highly recommend Welton Falls, which is heading away from the mountain, although that was not my destination this time. The darker green is the state forest while the lighter green is the AMC’s own preserve. Both are packed with trails. The only warning normally given is about the upper portion of the Holt Trail, which is one of the steepest and most challenging hikes in the state, even including those in the White Mountains. But I wasn’t heading that way either.
Today’s hike was the Manning Trail, which climbs Firescrew Mountain, just north of Cardigan. From there most folks head south to Cardigan, but I chose to head north instead, making a loop by hiking to the Back80 Trail and returning to the lodge and my car.
This route meant I had a fairly energetic climb to start the day, followed by a mostly gentle downhill return. It was a good workout: not too hard or too easy.
The trails are well maintained and signposted, although I’d follow the original sign and not someone’s edits like the image above. There were a few side trail options, including this viewpoint towards Cilley’s Cave, which once sported a hermit of that name.
There was a newly blazed trail from the north to the cave too, which would have avoided the treacherous descent from the west, but I chose to skip that diversion entirely this time.
The lower trails were pleasant, encountering beaver ponds, trickling streams, and even my favorite: cellar holes.
Altogether a delightful morning’s hike. And that’s what’s so good about this park: there are so many good options to choose from, especially if you are heading there from the east side of the mountain.
Back at the AMC lodge, I spotted my first monarch of the season.