A PATH WELL TRAVELLED (WITH SECRETS). MOUNT MONADNOCK IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
Words and Images by Rebecca Sperry
"Well-travelled" or "very popular," shouldn't be a cause to dismiss a visit to a place, as Rebecca Sperry (@sockedinhikes) shares here about Mount Monadnock in The White Mountains of New Hampshire. With a little (or a lot of) leg work, she discovered all sorts of hidden gems in the park. Have you got a few places you've visited expecting crowds only to be pleasantly surprised when you followed the quieter paths? Jump in the discussion!
In southwestern New Hampshire, Mount Monadnock is, according to its Wikipedia page, the second most hiked mountain in the world. Standing at a not-so-daunting 3,165', what draws people to this peak are the 360-degree views, the ease of accessibility to major metropolitan areas like Boston, and it only takes a few hours to climb. But while the vast majority of individuals (myself included) usually take the White Dot or White Cross Trail to the summit, this spring, I chose to explore some of the other trails this mountain has to offer.
Springtime is not the ideal season for hiking in The Whites. With melting monorails, inconsistent trail conditions, and weather that varies daily, I prefer to stick to the trails further south once they are free of snow. In the past, I've spent most of March and April hiking all of the trails in the Belknap Range. This spring, though, I set a new challenge for myself. Starting in March, I took the thirty-five trails that meander on and around the summit cone and created eight day hikes varying in length from five to nine miles with elevation gains anywhere from 1,000' to 2,700'. Over the next month, I would make the forty-five-minute drive to one of the trailheads that are scattered on all four sides of the mountain and hike.
The trail conditions ranged from dusting snow and some melting monorails near the top to completely dry. The temperatures were anywhere from -17 with the wind to as warm as the mid-60s. Spring truly is the season of polarities, and I was prepared for the varying conditions. What I wasn't prepared for was the incredible beauty and hidden gems that lie off the heavily-beaten trails that lead to the top of Monadnock Mountain.
Monadnock offers a wide variety of different types of trails. If you're looking for a steep, quick summit ascent, then you have the 1.9-mile White Dot Trail. For a more gradual ascent, there's the 4.5-mile-long Pumpelly Trail. Spellman Trail is extremely steep and requires rock scrambling, and Mossy Brook Trail takes you through the forest along the edge of a beautiful series of small water features. In all of my wandering, I discovered that by sticking to the main routes, I was missing out on dozens of beautiful trails and only seeing a fraction of Monadnock State Park.
After completing my goal of hiking all of the trails on and around Mount Monadnock, I realized that the main trails to the summit could use a little break. White Cross and White Dot Trail are heavily eroded from overuse, whereas some of the lesser-traveled trails are covered in a thick carpet of moss and duff, just begging to be explored. It might take a bit more work to navigate, but there are dozens of ways to make routes to the top of this mountain, and I highly recommend that if you're planning on visiting the park, you purchase a map here and make your own way up. Not only does this give you practice with wilderness navigation on well-marked trails, but it makes the hike more unique. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the number of beautiful lookouts on some less-traveled trails, such as Cliff Walk, and how many hidden water features there are. Don't miss the Fairy Spring trail that takes you to a beautiful cascading brook surrounded by bright green moss.
Regardless of what path you take to the summit, be sure to carry the necessary gear (I recommend carrying the Ten Essentials at a minimum), tell someone your plan, and wear proper attire. There is a fee to park at some of the trailheads, so check out the state park's website here before heading out to be sure you're not going to be unable to park.
The more I explore the trails in New Hampshire, the more I want to explore the trails in New Hampshire. When I first started hiking off the beaten paths, it was incredibly daunting and, at the same time, very empowering. I was challenging myself physically as well as mentally. For those that are not quite ready to take on The White Mountains, I highly recommend checking out what the Monadnock State Park has in store. You will not be disappointed!
Rebecca Sperry is an avid hiker who spends the majority of her free time either hiking in New England or writing. In 2020, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and continued to hike throughout an entire year of aggressive treatment. She is a strong proponent for the importance of staying active, especially as a way to alleviate some of the side effects of cancer treatment. You can follow her journey on her instagram or her website: rebeccasperry.com