About This Location
Mount Cardigan, often affectionately referred to as "Old Baldy" due to its largely bare-rock summit, is a remarkable natural landmark located in the towns of Orange and Alexandria in southern New Hampshire. It is the centerpiece of the 5,655-acre Cardigan Mountain State Park. While its elevation stands at 3,155 feet above sea level, the mountain offers a unique experience that makes hikers feel like they are ascending a much taller peak. The summit's vast expanse of bare granite ledges and alpine scrub adds to its distinctive charm.
Despite its somewhat moderate elevation, Mount Cardigan is the second-highest peak in southern New Hampshire, with Mount Monadnock (3,165 feet) being the highest in the region. This mountain is located approximately 100 miles from Boston and offers a panoramic 360-degree view that includes sights of Mount Monadnock, the White Mountains, Camel’s Hump in Vermont, and Pleasant Mountain in Maine. Being just 2 hour away from Boston makes it a popular option for city dwellers seeking some great hiking and views.
One of the notable features of Mount Cardigan is the Cardigan Mountain Fire Tower, which was constructed in 1924. While there may have been an earlier wooden tower dating back to around 1903, the current tower is a beloved landmark of the region. In the fall of 2023, the Division of Forests and Lands initiated a project to replace the aging fire tower cab. A new cab was transported in sections via helicopter and successfully installed by August 31, 2023. This tower is among the 15 fire towers across the state operated by the Division of Forests and Lands, playing a vital role in wildfire detection. Hikers who visit all 15 fire towers can earn a patch through the Fire Lookout Tower Quest program, as promoted by the Division of Forests and Lands.
Mount Cardigan has an additional claim to fame as the site where the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a role in developing the alpine ski trail network during the 1930s. These historic ski trails on the mountain's east side are still in use today.
The Cardigan Lodge, managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) since 1934, is situated at the mountain's eastern base. It serves as an ideal basecamp for day hikes in the region, making it a popular destination for schools from around New England for overnight field trips during the autumn and spring months. The mountain is also a favored spot for Boy Scout troops. The lodge can be rented in its entirety during the spring, fall, and winter seasons, and it is surrounded by a 1,200-acre reservation owned by the AMC.
Hikers have several routes to reach the summit of Mount Cardigan. The most popular option is the Mount Cardigan Loop Trail, which follows the West Ridge Trail and the South Ridge Trail. This 3.1-mile trail includes an elevation gain of just under 1,200 feet, making it moderately challenging. On average, hikers can complete this route in 2 to 2.5 hours. The trail is best used from April through November and is a well-frequented area for hiking and snowshoeing. Dogs are welcome but must be leashed.
Parking for the Cardigan Loop Trail is available at the end of Cardigan Mountain Road, where there is room for approximately 2-3 dozen cars. Additional parking can be found along the road. Keep in mind that the lot fills up quickly on pleasant days. The trailhead is conveniently located at the edge of the parking area. Visitors should check the park's operating hours, as there is a gate at the entrance to Cardigan Mountain Road. Typically, the gate closes at the end of October or in response to weather conditions. When the gate is closed, parking outside the gate is permitted, and it's just a quarter-mile walk into the park. The park is generally open for recreation year-round, except when closed or restricted by posted notices.
Another popular route is the Mount Cardigan via Manning, Clark, and Holt Trail Loop, which starts from the Cardigan Lodge on the east side of the mountain. This trail offers hikers the opportunity to reach two summits in one day, Firescrew Mountain and Mount Cardigan, and passes by Elizabeth Falls. Covering a distance of 5 miles, this loop trail features an elevation gain of 1,880 feet. it is rated as hard.
Mount Cardigan has earned several notable accolades, including a place on the New England Top 50 by Prominence list, the New Hampshire Peaks with 1000 feet of Prominence list, the New Hampshire 52 with a View list, the YMCA Alpine Club List, and the New England Peaks with 1000 feet of Prominence list. This remarkable mountain stands as a testament to the natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities available in New Hampshire's scenic landscapes.