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Mt. Cardigan Super Loop

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.8 (8) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A tough but worthwhile loop around Mt. Cardigan State Park, with great views and steep pitches!


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Map Key

9.7

Miles

15.6

KM

Loop

3,139' 957 m

High

1,376' 420 m

Low

3,074' 937 m

Up

3,075' 937 m

Down

12%

Avg Grade (7°)

57%

Max Grade (30°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Historical Significance · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

The road from Canaan to the Summer parking lot is closed in winter and early spring, but the winter parking lot located at the gate can fit 6-8 cars. Unless otherwise stated, Cardigan State Park is always open to recreation. The park is free to use, year round.

Overview

A great point to point loop around Mt. Cardigan St. Park; connecting Rimrock, Mt. Gilman, Firescrew, Cardigan, and the Cardigan AMC lodge. Though steep and rugged in places, the views are unparalleled, and the limited traffic on most of the trail sections (even in summer) make this a gem in central NH.

Need to Know

Lots of shade and creek crossings. Bring ample waters (2 liters) on hot summer days, and don't drink the river water! Rocks and roots make the descents a little treacherous, pay attention!

Description

From the Summer Parking lot, take the West Ridge Trail 0.5 mi to your first junction and then go straight through the junction onto South Ridge Trail for another 0.7 mi. Once you get to Rimrock, turn south on Skyland Trail for 1.1 mi until the summit of Gilman Mtn. (also known as Orange Mtn). Just past the summit, turn northeast onto Vistamont Trail towards the AMC lodge. After 1.0 mi, turn east on the Clark trail for 0.8 mi of the smoothest, fastest descending on this loop. Clark Trail T's into the Woodland trail (an old logging/access road); turn left (east) on Woodland Trail for ~0.5 mi. At the next junction stay on the Woodland Trail by turning left (north) towards the AMC Cardigan lodge (in 0.7 mi). Once at the lodge, take a break, a swim, check out the lodge, purchase some snacks if you want, and refill water if you need to.

From the AMC Lodge, head west on the Holt Trail, taking the Nature path detour (great flora and fauna). When you reach the Holt Trail, backtrack towards the Manning Trail (0.1 mi) and then turn W-NW (left) onto the Manning Trail. The Manning Trail has some lower gradient smoother sections but becomes a steep, gnarly ascent in the last mile to the top of Firescrew (keep you eyes open for yellow blazes (it's easy to lose the trail).

Once on the summit of Firescrew (hard to define), turn south onto the Mowglis Trail and tackle the last and steepest bit of bedrock scramble to the top of Cardigan (0.6 mi). Enjoy the view and breeze from the top of Cardigan before turning SW from the summit and following the stone cairns to the West Ridge Trail. The first part of the descent is steep bedrock that turns to a rocky and rooty trail. Once past the small waterfall, the trail mellows and is enjoyable all the way back out past the first junction to the summer parking lot (1.5 mi).

The highest point on the trail Mount Cardigan at 3,121 feet in elevation.

Contacts

Shared By:

Simon Pendleton with improvements by Asher Leiss

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 8 votes

#823

Overall
  4.8 from 8 votes
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Recommended Route Rankings

#13

in New Hampshire

#823

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10,305 Since Jul 5, 2015
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Photos

Mt. Cardigan
Jul 10, 2015 near Grafton, NH
Summit view
Jul 10, 2015 near Grafton, NH
Photo from the Skyland Trail looking north toward the summit of Mt. Cardigan
Jul 5, 2015 near Grafton, NH
Summit of Mt. Cardigan with fire tower (photo looking NW).
Jul 5, 2015 near Grafton, NH
West Ridge Trail near summit view southest toward Canaan, NH.
Aug 3, 2018 near Grafton, NH
The junction between Skyland and Vistamont Trail on the summit of Gilman Mtn (photo looking east down Vistamont Trail).
Jul 5, 2015 near Grafton, NH

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Check-Ins

Nov 15, 2020
Jamie Marshall
Oct 25, 2020
Anna Ulrich
May 16, 2020
Jenna Smith
3.3mi
May 26, 2019
Dana Gravedoni
Aug 8, 2017
Matthew Geason
May 20, 2017
jonmaurer
Beautiful hike! 8.5mi
Aug 14, 2016
Chris Funderburk