Weekend Backpacker: Boston
Mt. Monadnock State Park
New England's most popular peak, Mt. Monadnock, earns its reputation not by height (3,165 feet) but by beauty and accessibility. Designated a National Natural Landmark (1987), Monadnock offers 5,000 acres of highlands and 40 miles of trails, many leading to the bare rock summit where, on a clear day, a 100-mile view takes in all six New England states.
"Monadnock" is Abnacki for"mountain that stands alone" and has become standard geological lingo for "a singular mountain rising above a surrounding plain." Try Monadnock for an off-peak one or two-day outing. It's best, however, not to think of the mountain as a weekend escape. On weekends, especially in the high season, (a) you will not be alone on the trail, (b) you will find a crowd at the summit, and (c) you will contribute to the overuse of the mountain. Midweek or low season, Monadnock provides one of the best hikes to a substantial peak, with terrific views, within easy reach of Boston. Just over New Hampshire's border, the mountain's spring and fall weather is much warmer than in the White Mountains up north.
Of the many routes to the top, the two most popular begin at the visitor center and are White Dot and White Cross trails, about 2 and 2.25 miles respectively. Both ascents take about 2 hours to complete. These two nearly unrelenting trails basically go straight up the mountain.
To avoid crowds, check in at the visitor center and ask park rangers for longer, less traveled routes looping back to the start. For instance, Spellman Trail (about 3 miles) branches off Cascade Link. It mixes sections of forest and exposed rock, level areas and pitches steep enough to require scrambling on hands and knees. Spellman joins Pumpelly Trail to finish the ascent to the summit. Spellman may be too steep for a comfortable descent if you have vertigo. Red Spot Trail (about 2.75 miles) is easier, with more level sections, gaining altitude more slowly. Good views come later in this hike, but there are several lovely streams to cross.
On most Monadnock trails, total elevation difference, bottom to top, is about 1815 feet.
From Boston head northwest on Rte. 2 to Exit 25; jog northeast on Rte. 2A toward Fitchburg, then continue northwest on Rte. 12 toward Ashburnham and Winchendon, where you go north on Rte. 202, crossing into New Hampshire. At Jaffrey go west on Rte. 124. Just after Jaffrey Center, turn right to Monadnock State Park. Primary entrance, visitor center, and camping are in the southeastern corner of the park. The park can also be accessed from the north, off Rte. 101 near Dublin.
Hiking permits not required. Day use of trails costs $2.50. Children 11 & under are free. Camping costs $12.00 (21 sites, some can be reserved). For reservations, call (603) 271-3628 or email the park.
Maps and Guidebook
AMC Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide (AMC Books), 1999. The book describes all trails on the mountain and includes a new GPS-surveyed trail map.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication