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Atop Mount Kearsarge. Courtesy photo.




Tougher treks
Local hikes for those who want a challenge

06/09/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 You won’t find the same kinds of challenges in Southern New Hampshire that you’ll find in the White Mountains -- for example, the highest peak in Merrimack County is Mount Kearsarge at 2,936 feet, which is teeny compared to the 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains. But these smaller mountains still offer some great views and rugged terrain, and unlike the Whites, they’re not a long car ride away.

 
Pack Monadnock
Park at Miller State Park, 13 Miller Park Road, Peterborough, 924-3672, nhstateparks.org
Length: 2.8 miles
Features: The hike follows the Marion Davis Trail (1.4 miles) up to the summit — the more challenging of the three trails leading to the peak — and the Wapack Trail (1.4 miles) down. It’s the highest peak in Hillsborough County.
At the top of Pack Monadnock (2,290 feet), you can see Mount Washington, Mount Kearsarge, Mount Cardigan, Mount Monadnock, Crotched Mountain, Pitcher Mountain, among other peaks — maybe even the Boston skyline if it’s a clear day. There’s also a 27-foot fire tower, an observatory for viewing birds and a shelter for day use (though no overnight camping), plus water and a dog bowl for leashed pets.
Why you should go: It’s probably one of the most accessible peaks to hike in New Hampshire because although it can be quite challenging, there’s also the option of making it easier. In addition to the dirt-packed Marion Davis and Wapack Trails, there’s also an auto road that travels from the foot to the summit.
“A lot of school groups come, people with young children, and the elderly. We have seniors who come every morning for therapy. They walk their dogs, going up and down the auto road every morning. If a school group comes who has a child who’s physically challenged — say he broke his leg — if he still wants to participate, we can drive him up to the summit so he can still experience the view,” said Miller State Park rep Norma Reppucci via phone.
Miller State Park is also New Hampshire’s first state park, according to nhstateparks.org, and is a common site for weddings. If you’re feeling super adventurous, there’s an option to expand your hike — if you keep following the Wapack Trail for 2.3 more miles, you’ll eventually arrive at North Pack Monadnock (2,275 feet high), for a 7.4-mile total out and back.
 
Mount Kearsarge
Park at Winslow State Park, 475 Kearsarge Mountain Road, Wilmot, 526-6168, nhstateparks.org
Length: 2.8 miles 
Features: On the Winslow State Park side, you’ll want to go up the 1.1-mile Winslow Trail, the more rugged option, which travels to the summit of Mount Kearsarge (2,937 feet), where there’s a fire tower and bald face offering 360-degree views. Most days at the top of Mount Kearsarge — the highest peak in Merrimack County — you can see Sunapee, Ragged and Cardigan mountains and, a little farther away, Mount Monadnock and Ascutney. On very clear days, you may even see more of the White Mountains, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Atlantic Ocean or the Boston skyline. On the way down, the best option is the Barlow Trail, which is 1.7 miles and more gradual. 
Why you should go: “The views at the top are breathtaking. With 360 degrees around, it’s considered one of the best bangs for your buck. You can literally see Mount Washington and the whole Presidential Range in that direction on a very clear day,” said Pamela Seddon, assistant park manager at Rollins State Park, which is on the south side of the mountain. 
There’s a lot of history to Mount Kearsarge — Warner resident Larry Sullivan wrote a whole book about the mountain’s history, called Mount Kearsarge: Histories, Stories, Legends and Folktales — and after you’re through hiking, on the Winslow side, you can check out the park’s picnic area and playground for kids. If you come in on the Rollins State Park side, there’s the option to drive up via a 3.5-mile auto road.
 
Mount Major
Park at the parking area on Route 11, 4.2 miles north of Alton Bay, 2.4 miles south of the Route 11 and Route 11A junction, belknaprangetrails.org
Length: 3.1 miles 
Features: The 1.5 miles up from the parking area to the summit of Mount Major (1,785 feet) via the Mount Major Trail are fairly steep but manageable. At the top, there’s what looks like the remains of a fortress. These are actually the remnants of a hut George Phippen built in 1925, which he intended to be a place where hikers could seek shelter from harsh weather or spend the night. That first winter, the roof blew off, and after another was installed, it too was destroyed a couple years later. The rock walls are still intact and protective against fierce winds at the top of the mountain. On the way down, you can take the Boulder Loop trail, which offers gentle declines and passes by (and also through) large boulders. 
Why you should go: It’s a popular hike that many people of all ages can complete, but the reward at the top is comparable to that of a 4,000-footer, with 360-degree unobscured views, plus a great look at Lake Winnipesaukee.
 
Mount Klem, Mount Mack
From Route 11A in Gilford, take Bickford Road, and then in .2 miles, turn left on Wood Road, which leads to a gravel parking area, belknaprangetrails.org
Length: About 5 miles
Features: From the lot, the hike goes up Fire Road (or East Gilford Fire Road) and meets with the Round Pond Trail. Hikers will pass Round Pond, then head up to the peak of Mount Klem (2,001) and then Mount Mack (1,945). The trail follows a loop and then will trace back to Round Pond, then back to Fire Road and the parking lot.
Why should you go: Herb Kingsbury, hiking leader for the New Hampshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, said via phone it’s one of the lesser-known hikes in southern New Hampshire, right near Mount Major but with fewer crowds. (He said he rarely sees people when he does the loop.)
“Everyone does Mount Major. And so this is a nice hike to get away from crowds of people and enjoy the scenery,” Kingsbury said. 
Around this time of year, lots of the plants — ferns, greens, wildflowers — are blooming. It’s a fairly easy, gradual hike with great views and scenery, Kingsbury said.
“There are views from the top of Mack and Klem. And the pond is pretty by itself. You get some nice views over the Belknaps, both east and west,” he said. 





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