After a heart-pumping hike up one of southern New Hampshire’s many mountains, an amazing view is the perfect reward.
“People love views because it’s just the feeling of being above the world and being able to see out over the country,” said Steve Smith, co-editor of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide. “It’s exhilarating after physical exertion. That’s your reward.”
The mountains of the south don’t reach the great heights that the White Mountains do; there aren’t any 4,000-footers. Nonetheless, there’s no shortage of breathtaking views.
Many southern mountains are monadnocks, or isolated peaks that aren’t part of a range (yes, it’s the name of the state’s most-climbed mountain, but other peaks are “monadnocks,” too). From these peaks, even at elevations of 2,000 feet or less, the views are expansive.
“A thousand feet isn't high, but the views are just as wonderful,” said Dan Szczesny, author of The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie (and, full disclosure, Hippo associate publisher). Szczesny and his daughter took on the Over the Hill Hiker’s list of 52 With a View, a list of family-friendly mountains with amazing views.
“The more interesting thing about southern New Hampshire is, even though the mountains are lower, they seem higher because they are individuals. You can see great distances because no other mountains are in your way,” Szczesny said.
Mount Kearsarge is a perfect example. At 2,100 feet, it’s not a tall peak, but the bare, rocky summit topped with a fire tower provides one of the widest panoramic views in the south. On a clear day there’s a nearly 100-mile view. Hikers experience a panorama that includes the White Mountains to the north, Mount Monadnock to the west, Mount Sunapee to the southwest and Mount Scutney in Vermont to the northwest.
At one point, an inn was built on the summit, but in 1909, after the structure was twice destroyed by storms, it was re-purposed as a lookout for the New Hampshire Forestry Commission. Now the view is extended even farther by the fire tower lookout. It there’s an observer present, hikers can get up to the top of the lookout; if not they can climb to the upper levels of the stairs.
“Any mountain with a fire tower is going to have a good view, because that’s why it’s there,” Smith said.
A 2.7-mile loop via the Winslow and Barlow trails means hikers discover new terrain and don’t have to retrace their steps.
“People love loops,” Smith said. “I prefer to go up the steeper trail [Winslow] and down the gentler descent [Barlow] rather than other way around, but everybody has their own preferences.”
Neither trail is particularly strenuous, so they are great for kids and even dogs, which are allowed on this mountain. And with a hike time of about two hours, the route can fit into even busy schedules.
If you’re looking for seclusion, though, Mt. Kearsarge isn’t necessarily the peak for you. With a view so mesmerizing, it’s one of the most popular mountains in the state.
“On nice days in the summertime I’ve been up there when there’s been 150 people,” Szczesny said. “We went up mid November and there were still two dozen people up there. It’s very popular, and rightly so. It’s earned its reputation.”
Despite the crowds, the sprawling summit means even on busy days there will always be a spot to park a picnic blanket, and there are more secluded views along the Barlow trail.
South Mountain at Pawtuckaway
Heading east, Pawtuckaway State Park’s South Mountain provides one of the most spectacular overlooks in the region. South Mountain is part of a three-peak connection that was formed from an ancient volcanic ring dike.
With more than 8 miles of trails connecting to the summit, you can cater your hike to your fancy. Because the park is so large, it gives hikers a true backwoodsy experience, Smith said.
The most popular route is the 2.3-mile loop that starts from Tower Road and follows the Tower Trail Connector, Mountain Trail, South Ridge Train and South Ridge Connector. Still, you won’t likely be finding Kearsarge-sized crowds here.
To get the full effect of the dramatic, 190-degree directional view at the top, hikers need to climb the mountain’s fire tower. Looking out from there, the landscape is sprawling and flatter than that of other parts of the state.
“Surprisingly, there’s little evidence of civilization on the foreground looking to south and east, because of the rolling hills,” Smith said. “But on a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Washington.”
The flatter landscape is speckled, though, with views of Monadnock, Pack Monadnock and the Uncanoonucs, and on the clearest days Boston’s Hancock Building is visible. There's a southside ledge on the summit that offers spectacular views too.
The trails don’t offer a lot of challenges, so they are perfect for all ages and abilities. And since they’re situated in Pawtuckaway State Park, after the climb, hikers can end the day with a cool-off dip in the lake.