Mount Monadnock, situated in Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, is widely considered to be the world’s second most hiked mountain. Taking into consideration that Mount Monadnock only rises 3,165 feet (not quite an illustrious 4,000 footer) and that it sits rather on its own, not really surrounded by anything but Amherst and Milton, NH, this is both surprising and impressive. No hikers are looking to bag bragging rights and since Monadnock State Park charges a visitor fee and does not allow dogs, casual hill-climbers can easily find other hikes. Yet Monadnock remains in the world’s most climbed list every year. Today I set out to discover the appeal and investigate its popularity for myself.
Driving to Monadnock State Park is easy and scenic; Its located off of NH Rt. 202, off of NH Rt. 101, all well marked and accessible. I’m delighted to find quite a few roadside, hometown, general store type places along the way. I stop at one along Rt. 101 for a late breakfast and am greeted with hospitality and a delicious muffin coffee combo. Back on the road, I pass through the summertime forest roads and notice that there are several turn-offs for other natural areas and hikes. I’m tempted, but Monadnock is the goal for today. Pulling into the parking lot there is already a line of cars on this Monday mid-morning and I’m silently thankful I’m not here to see the weekend crowd.
The Ranger on duty provides me with a free map and some local advice, “Now you probably wanna take the White Dot Trail up; most direct and most hiked trail. And you probably wanna take the White Cross Trail Down; kind of a loop you see…” I say “I see” and draw out the map myself. The White Dot Trail appears to rise directly from base to summit; it looks steep, but the allure of hiking the most hiked trail on the second most hiked mountain is too strong. Soon I’m heading past the park’s store where hikers can purchase food and drinks, and the flush toilets at the base area and am striding toward the trailhead.
Mount Monadnock’s White Dot Trail is very clearly marked right from the beginning of its trail. Posted with a sign and a warning to those who aren’t physically equipped, the trail begins as a gradual incline of brown earth. I’m beginning to notice after maybe 100 feet the sudden steepness and after another 100 feet, the sudden introduction of boulders. 200 or so feet into the hike and I’m crawling over huge, tall boulders. This trail is rising with intense steepness and the rocks are not making it easy to maneuver. Still, I see kids as young as 7 and 8 crawling among the giant rocks as we all make the ascent in a crowd.
The thing about Mount Monadnock (besides its steep trails) seems to be, obviously, its popularity. I have never seen so many people – parents and their children, leadership groups, seniors, and couples – hiking a small mountain in the middle of New Hampshire just before noon on a summer Monday. I’m alone on this hike, however, and don’t mind the company. Everyone is friendly and I feel quite at home creeping up to the treeline with this hiking family of sorts.
Just as I reach the treeline the trail flattens out a bit, only to rise steeply again in 30 feet or so for the final climb. Puffing up the last part of the ascent, I am realizing that this “little” mountain is not so easy. Its made hard by all of the boulder-climbing, steep ascents, and especially, its deceptive title of “small.” I am summiting however, when I notice how many older people and children must be in better shape than myself, because they have all climbed Mount Monadnock successfully and are now happily having lunch at the top. The top, by the way, is absolutely breathtaking. Despite the straight, steep hike, the view from the summit makes it worth it. I overhear someone telling his kids that “on a clear day you can see Boston from here” and I believe him. The day today is clear and perfect, just a light breeze with little wisps of clouds on the horizon and I can see every lake and valley for miles. As I noticed earlier, Mount Monadnock stands rather alone in comparison to many other New Hampshire mountains, and I’m now excited by this fact as I look down on every small town I drove through on the way to the trailhead.
I have never wanted to leave a summit less than today, but after my lunch is all gone and I’ve sat up top for at least an hour (the weather is just wonderful) I decide the time must come.
Choosing the White Cross Trail for the descent, as suggested by the Mount Monadnock State Park Ranger, I descend as I came up and then find the split for my trail around treeline. The White Cross Trail is labeled as “least steep descent” and I hope its true. Quickly I discover that this trail has much nicer overlook areas than the White Dot, which just shot right up. I stop several times to admire more views of New Hampshire lakes and forests and continue on the rocky descent. This trail is definitely less steep than my route up the mountain, but it is still noticeably downhill. Overall, its well-marked and I have no complaints.
It takes me just about the same amount of time to hike down as up, indicating that the White Cross Trail is indeed longer than the White Dot but it is also more scenic and more personally enjoyable by comparison. Finding my car and my way out of the park I decide the Mount Monadnock trails were a good hike. It’s a little bit touristy and something of a hiking-picnic-park hybrid, but it’s a good feeling to have hiked the world’s runner-up, right here in our beautiful state of New Hampshire!
by Jillian Jason
Photos by Jillian Jason
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