mount cardigan

Mount Cardigan – My Favorite Mountain


If there’s a perfect mountain for a whole Scout troop, it’s Mount Cardigan, in Alexandria, New Hampshire. In many ways, I grew up on that mountain. I had climbed Mount Monadnock previously, but it was on Cardigan that I truly found my love for the mountains. It’s challenged and rewarded me more than I can say. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve climbed it, which says something, considering the fact that I’ve never lived within two hours of it. I got engaged to my wife on that mountain because I wanted to bring the best girl in the world to my favorite spot in the world.


This isn’t me – but this gentleman has made the best video of a Mount Cardigan climb that I’ve seen.

Why is Mount Cardigan Great for Troops?

The final ascent to the Cardigan Summit. Photo by ragesoss

Because more than any other mountain I’ve done, it gives you options. So you can take your 11-year-old new crossover, and your 15-year-old Life Scout to the same mountain – and they’ll both be challenged.

Both groups of your scouts will start from the campsites, and head towards the Holt Trail. At the junction with the Manning Trail, you’ll take a left. You’ll then follow the Holt Trail until you come to the “Grand Junction.”

It’s here that your two groups will go their separate ways.  Your younger scouts should go left, via the Holt-Clark Cutoff (or “Cathedral Forest”) Trail. This trail makes Cardigan a great starter mountain. Every scout, if they are physically able, should climb at least one mountain during their career. It will challenge them, but it won’t break them. They’ll need to work to keep going.

Your older scouts should go right, to the Holt Trail. This will provide a challenging climb for your older, more experienced scouts. It’s a steep 4.9-mile scramble to the Mount Cardigan summit. At one point you’ll gain 1000 feet of elevation in under a mile. There are steel hand-holds at a few points. It’s the sort of climb that will get them ready for more difficult trails in the future.

But the reason this is an extraordinary mountain for troops is that both your beginners and your more experienced scouts should get to the summit at about the same time, give or take half an hour. Both trails culminate in a fun race to the summit. Once you get past the treeline, you’ll be hiking on exposed granite, with spectacular views all around you.

There’s nothing like a summit to give you a feeling of accomplishment.

One of the elective requirements for Camping Merit Badge is to “Hike up a mountain where, at some point, you are at least 1,000 feet higher in elevation from where you started.”

When I was a counselor for Camping, I used to make the Cardigan trek the last requirement for the badge. When they got to the summit, I’d hand them their completed blue card, and congratulate them on having completed the badge.

There’s also a small pond by the lodge that is available for swimming (no lifeguards provided) in the summer months.


Winter Adventure at Cardigan

Cardigan is challenging all-year round – but if you really want a life-changing experience, try climbing it in the winter – when it’s zero degrees out, and covered in deep snow. The Troop I grew up in, Troop 25 in Putnam, Connecticut, used to take the older scouts in the troop to climb Cardigan every year in January or February. One year, we estimated wind chill at the summit to be 96 degrees… below zero. At one point, the wind sent one of the metal fasteners on my backpack into my face so quickly, and with such force that it left a bruise.

It would take us around three hours to climb the mountain via the Cathedral Forest Trail. Stay away from the Holt Trail during the winter.

… And about 20 minutes to get down, using the ski trail, sledding on the rolled-up sleds that one of our scoutmasters had made from sheets of hard plastic. You can get similar ones on Amazon now for next to nothing.

This is not a trip for beginners. We used to restrict it to First Class Scouts who were 13 years or older. You’ll want to make sure they have the proper gear, the right boots, and an appropriate level of maturity for the trip.

But once their ready, they’ll have an absolute blast. And it’s the kind of thing that they’ll tell their teachers and friends in class on Monday that will result in disbelieving stares.

The nice feature for Cardigan in terms of extreme winter camping is that it has the lodge right there in case of emergencies.

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Getting There

There are two main dropoff points to get to Cardigan – from the East and the West. The Eastern side is better for overnight trips, as that’s where the campsites are, so you’ll want to make sure you put the Cardigan Lodge in your GPS, to make sure you wind up in the right place.

It takes about two hours to get there from Boston. It’s a little over three hours from where I live in Connecticut. For more information, or to reserve a campsite, you can visit the AMC website’s Cardigan Lodge page. There is a lodge, in addition to some great campsites. There’s also the High Cabin on the mountain, which includes 12 bunks.



This is my favorite mountain for Boy Scouts. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by ragesoss

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