Cardigan State Park – June 7, 2011
If you’re looking for a quick hike with a big reward then Cardigan State Park is for you. The 3,155-foot Mount Cardigan summit is a tree-less granite mountain scape with views that stretch across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. A healthy network of trails, maintained by the Cardigan Highlanders, offers various routes to the Mount Cardigan summit as well as beyond to the summits of Firescrew Mountain and Mount Gilman.
My day began at the West Ridge trailhead parking lot, where an overhead shelter with picnic tables and nearby pit toilets mark the entrance of the West Ridge Trail. This trail climbs 1,200 vertical feet in one and a half miles and is the most direct route to the summit. Making use of log staircases and wooden bridges, the West Ridge trail snakes up through a classic northern hardwood forest made up of a mix of sugar maple, American beech and yellow birch trees.
About a half-mile up the West Ridge trail intersects with the start of the South Ridge Trail and offers a slightly longer route to the summit via the south summit. Climbing this second stretch of trail the northern hardwood forest gives way to a scrubby boreal forest of red spruce and balsam firs. Sweeping views to the south and east began to open up with valleys and ponds speckled in-between the surrounding mountaintops.
After reaching the south summit I found myself at the old Forester’s Cabin where the terrain transformed from wooded trail to a rock-hard granite mountainside. Following the Cairns, which are the helpful rock piles stacked to mark the trail, I made a short, but steep scramble up to the spectacular Mount Cardigan Summit.
The barren summit is a result of devastating forest fire in 1855. Now more than a century later, still devoid of nearly all vegetation, the views from the top of Mt. Cardigan are literally 360 degrees. Although ecologically disastrous, the past fire left a unique summit that has the feeling of much higher alpine peaks.
The granite ledges at the summit make the perfect impromptu picnic tables, and the breezes are a welcome relief after the final climb to the top. I settled in around the fire tower to enjoy my own lunch.
On my descent I chose to make a loop, using the West Ridge Trail to take me back down to the parking area. From the summit the West Ridge Trail is marked with some really neat Cairns every 25 to 50 feet until you re-enter the forest. Moving along a small brook the West Ridge trail makes for a quick descent back to the parking area.