Mount Monadnock: A Hike in Vivid Fall Foliage

mount monadnock hike in vivid fall foliage

Rising out of the rolling hills of the Monadnock Region is Mount Mondadnock, a towering 3,165 ft bare-topped mountain. Stretching from its slopes to the rolling hills the encircle it are thousands of acres of rich, thick forest; who’s leaves in the fall turn to a magnitude of colors and create a landscape of poetic beauty. There is a reason Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains in the world, has a whole region was named after it, and was even featured in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.



lost farm trail fall foliage mount monadnock new hampshire
Colorful foliage on the Lost Farm Trail.


Designated as a National Natural Landmark, almost the entirety of the mountain is encompassed within a collaboration of reserves. There is 40+ miles of trails that crisscross the mountain, with 6 trailheads leading to the summit; the most visited being from the Monadnock State Park. Although not exceptionally tall, the mountain hike is still relatively steep (with some bolder scrambling involved), providing a good workout for hiking experts and the less experienced alike. Once at the top the view overlooks dense forest, snaking rivers, and sparkling ponds, and on a clear day you can see as far as the Boston skyline to the southeast and Mount Washington in the north.


My Experience


I have been living in New England now for 2 months and, except for some short walks in the parks, have yet to get out on a real hike into nature. It was time. And one of the best times to get out and about in New England is during the fall. During the fall, the leaves begin to change color, turning the trees and the forest into kaleidoscope of colorful yellows, orange, and reds.



For this first hike, we choose to go Mount Monadnock in the southeast of New Hampshire. The hour drive north would be well worth it, but I wasn’t sure at the time. I knew hiking would be fun, and seeing the changing colors of the leaves would be beautiful, but I had also heard that Mount Monadnock was more of a trudge up a steep mountain with some rock scrambling at the top. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that type of commitment to a hike.



summit mount monadnock new hampshire
View of the summit from Bald Rock.


The drive through the rolling hills of the Monadnock region was beautiful; with its evergreen pine lined roads ever so often interspersed with patches of multicolored trees or a small town. As we pulled up to the state park entrance, it was easy to tell that we were far from the only people that had chosen to hike that day. We had heard that the trail can get busy, especially during leaf season, and that it was highly recommended to reserve a parking spot in advance. The day we hiked had actually been our second choice, the day before having already sold out of parking spots. Arriving at just before 11am, a bit later than we had planned, the main parking lot was already full and the secondary lot was reaching that point too.



white dot cross trail junction sign mount monadnock new hampshire
The junction sign for White Dot and White Cross Trail.


The most popular trek for Mount Monadnock is hiking up the White Dot Trail and then descending down the White Cross Trail; a trail that detours from the White Dot Trail slightly below the summit and reconnects slightly before the trailhead. Having arrived later than planned, we decided to do just that. So, grabbing our packs out of the car, we headed to the trailhead to start our ascent.



visitor center mount monadnock new hampshire
The visitor center at the state park trailhead


At the trailhead there was a surprising number of people milling around. The trailhead has an informative visitor center with a 3D map of the mountain and information about the art, literary, and historic history of the mountain. There is also a gift shop and nice restrooms with the last water fountain before you return.



rock stairs white dot trail mount monadnock new hampshire
Rock stairs on the White Dot Trail


The beginning of the trail was steep and tiring. The first half of the trail was a combination of dirt trail and rock stairs; leaning more towards the later as we progressed. And although it was hard and tiring, it was also very beautiful. The trail was strewn with rocks and lined with trees having already turned yellow for the fall; sprinkling crunchy leaves across the forest floor.



The trail was busy with people. Lots of groups and families had come out to make the hike to the top. As we progressed, it was easy enough to pass by slower hikers, but as we reached the midway point the trail narrowed to scramble up the boulders. From this point on the hike was slower, more technical, but it seemed much easier and less tiring.



rock scrambling white dot trail mount monadnock new hampshire
Rock scrambling on the White Dot Trail.


As we hopped from rock to rock, clambered over boulders, and shimmied our way up channels in the rock we made our way higher and higher up the mountain. At the upper junction of the White Dot and White Cross Trails there was a park ranger hanging out to answer questions and to help out hikers. While there he stated that this past weekend, Indigenous People’s Day Weekend, was the parks busiest weekend of the year. A holiday, the changing of the leaves, and such a beautiful place, it was easy to see why.



white dot trail markers mount monadnock new hampshire
Markers on the White Dot Trail to show the route


As we got closer to the top, the trees began to become sparse and the first viewpoints of the hillside far below should have begun. Unfortunately, the cloud cover had also begun, so the view from this point until our descent from the summit was limited to the white wall of the mist. The trail at this point becomes a bit less discernible at times as well. Fortunately, the park has painted white dots on the rocks to mark the route you are supposed to follow. This is the case for all of the trails in the park, except they use symbol for which the trail is named for; white dots, white arrows, red dots, etc.



people summit mount monadnock new hampshire
Many people hanging out on the summit.


The summit was cold and windy, but it is like that every day. We had brought warmer accessories in our packs, so we threw them on to stay warm. There were about 40 – 50 people at the summit when we arrived, huddled in small groups in whatever crevasses they could find to stay out of the wind. Walking a bit further than the summit we found our own spot to hunker down for lunch. The mist was still thick at this point, obstructing the any chance for a view of the valley below. This is not usually the case though, and after about 30 minutes into our descent, the clouds had parted way and revealed the amazing views they had been hiding.




white arrow trail marker mount monadnock new hampshire
White Arrow Trail sign showing the start of the trail from the summit.


Our climb had not taken as long as we had thought and we were well fed from lunch. The last push up the rocks had energized us a bit, so we opted to take a different path down the mountain than what we had originally planned. Instead of taking the popular White Cross Trail, we decided to take a series of trails that would add an extra 1.2 miles to the trip. For this, we would leave the summit via the White Arrow Trail, turn left onto the Amphitheatre Trail to connect with the Cliff Walk Trail. We would follow this for a bit until it junctioned with the Lost Farm Trail. The Lost Farm Trail would eventually dead-end into the Parker Trail, which we would turn left on and follow to the park entrance.



mists clearing view mount monadnock new hampshire
Mists clearing from the view on the White Arrow Trail.


The initial descent from the summit was rocky and technical and we needed to take time to climb down the rocks. We could see that the clouds were starting to pass as we made our way down the White Arrow Trail. Patches of beautiful multicolored trees would come into view for an instant and then drift away again with the clouds. It wasn’t until we started to turn onto the Cliff Walk Trail that the clouds really started to pass.



view bald rock mount monadnock new hampshire
View from Bald Rock.


As we made our way onto Bald Rock, we could see vast expanses of the landscape coming into view. Evergreen pines covered the hills in the valley below, dotted ever so often with clusters of trees covered in yellow and orange leaves. Looking up at the mountain above, we could see that the view for those still on the summit had cleared. I wondered what amazing views were being had for those that had decided to wait.



fairy spring cliff walk mount monadnock new hampshire
A tiny forest of green under a giant forest of orange.


The Cliff Walk Trail had a bit of clambering down rocks as we went along and a few places that were under water; causing us to jump and skip our way from rock to rock, least we fall into the cold waters. Towards the bottom portion of the Cliff Walk Trail, the trail began to level out a bit and fell back under the cover of the pine trees. The trail here was beautiful. Pine needles covered the grown, bogs had formed, and green moss covered the rocks. At times I felt like I might be in the Shire or visiting a fairy’s spring.




thoreau seat mount monadnock new hampshire
View from Thoreau's Seat.


As we turned off on the Lost Farm Trail, we saw a little out-crop of cliff rocks just outside the trees. This turned out to be Thoreau’s seat, a place where Thoreau once came to think about the poems he would later wright. The view from here was amazing. From the rock you could see the vast expanse of the southern Monadnock region. The hills rolled on forever, covered in a melody of fall colors and spotted with sparkling ponds and old houses.



colorful foliage lost farm trailmount monadnock new hampshire
Colorful foliage on the Lost Farm Trail.


The Old Farm Trail stayed under the tree cover, but this time it was of the colorful trees we all had come to see. The upper section of the Old Farm Trail was even more beautiful than the rest of the trails combined. We walked along under a canopy of brightly colored trees, each intermingled with the next in a tango of color. The trail was bathed in the fallen leaves of the trees which seemed to brighten the whole area in a glow of light.



rock wall lost farm trail mount monadnock new hampshire
Old rock wall on the Lost Farm Trail.


As the trail turned to the south, it became darker. The trail was back in a thicker forest and followed the old crumbling rock wall of the farm. Ever so often you would hear the thumb of large acorns as they hit the logs of old fallen trees. The trail had evened out and was mostly dirt by now and become a stroll through the old woods.



As we passed through a hole in the old rock wall, the Parker Trail took us back towards the park entrance. It was a short easy trail that passed over a small brook and past the reservoir back to the park entrance. Once back, we stopped by the visitor center to have a look inside, read some of the history, and plan our next hike up the majestic Mount Monadnock.



Monadnock State Park Trailheads

Monadnock State Park services 3 of the trailheads to summit Mount Monadnock; White Dot (Park Headquarters), Old Toll Road, and Gilson Pond.



state park trail map mount monadnock new hampshire
State Park trail map.


Price

Parking Day Pass Fee: $15 + $1 transaction fee (includes up to 6 people in the vehicle)

        ~ America the Beautiful Pass covers the entrance fee.



It is highly recommended to reserve a parking pass in advance, especially during leaf season. Parking can fill up days in advance. Although reservations are not necessary to enter the park, parking is at a first come first served basses for those that do not have a reservation.



White Dot Trailhead (Southeast)

The White Dot/White Cross Trail is the most popular of all of the summit trails. To the top, the White Dot trail is 1.9 miles one-way. Most people will opt to descend via the White Cross Trail; a trail that detours slightly below the summit and reconnects slightly before the trailhead.

Roundtrip: 3.8 miles and takes about 3-4 hours.



Old Toll Road Trailhead (South)

The Old Toll Road Trailhead is the second most popular and still see quite a few people hiking; especially during holidays and leaf season. This trail head also gives you the option for many more detour trails to choose from, as there are many trails that crisscross through this area. The trail you will follow directly to the summit is called the Old Halfway House Trail, which then turns into The White Arrow Trail halfway up the mountain.

Roundtrip: 4.4 miles and takes 3-4 hours.



Gilson Pond Trailhead (East)

The Gilson Pond Trailhead is usually an overflow for those that don’t get a reservation for one of the other two trailheads. This is a much longer trail than the other too. From this trailhead you will access the summit via the Birchtoft Trail that will then turn into the Red Dot Trail after a junction.

Roundtrip: 7 miles and takes about 5-6 hours.



Other Trailheads


trailhead trails mount monadnock new hampshire
6 trails that lead to the summit

There are 3 other trailheads for Mount Monadnock around the perimeter of the reserve that allow easier access from the towns nearby.

Price

These other trailheads. located outside of the State Park, are free to access. They have free parking, although limited and is first come first served (Pumpelly Trailhead has very limited parking).



Marlboro Trailhead (Southwest)

To reach the summit from this trail head you will follow the Morlboro Trail until it ends at the junction with the Dublin Trail (almost at the top), you will then follow the Dublin Trail the rest of the way up. The trail can be fairly steep and has some bolder scrambling and rock climbing necessary, especially towards the top.

Roundtrip: 3.9 miles and takes about 4-5 hours.



Dublin Trailhead (Northwest)

This trail is the most popular of the free trailheads, but still has far less foot traffic than the White Dot Trail. Due to this, the parking lot can fill up quick. The Dublin Trail that leaves this trailhead continues all the way to the top. Like all of the trails, the trail is steep in some areas with some boulder scrambling.

Roundtrip: 4.5 miles and takes about 3-4 hours.



Pumpelly Trailhead (Northeast)

The Pumpbelly Trailhead, having no parking lot, has the least amount of available parking (you will have to park along the edge of the road). The Pumpelly Trail that leaves this trailhead continues all the way to the top. It is by far the longest trail, but is slightly easier than the rest.

Roundtrip: 9 miles and takes about 5-6 hours.



What was your favorite thing about Mount Monadnock?



mount monadnock hike in vivid fall foliage



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