“A tough but worthwhile loop around Mt. Cardigan State Park, with great views and steep pitches!”
— Simon Pendleton
Birding · Fall Colors · 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.
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!
Rocks, roots, muddy sections, and steep bedrock make this a challenging, but rewarding, excursion.
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).