Does this sound familiar to you? It is a sunny New England weekend and you decide to go hiking. You don’t want to drive to far and you need to be home at a reasonable hour, so the hike will need to be shorter, but you still want that epic wilderness experience. So you head for Mount Greylock or Mount Monadnock. You get to the trail head to find a full parking lot and a trail that is a continuous line of hikers. Despite the crowds, the views are great and the hike is fun but you did not get the wilderness experience you came for.
Mount Greylock and Mount Monadnock are some of New England’s most popular hiking destinations for good reason. Many of these hikes take you to amazing views with diverse trail options and are easily accessed from major highways. Thankfully New England has an abundance of beautiful hikes that are just as convenient and less congested. Below are two classic New England hikes that will give you a wilderness experience that you don’t need to share with quite as many people.
Mount Holyoke via the Black Rock Trail
- Where: Skinner State Park, Hadley/ Amherst MA
- Distance/ Difficulty: 5ish miles/ Moderate
Mount Holyoke is no stranger to crowds. In fact it was once one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United Sates. The mountain is less than 1000 feet but it provides panoramic views of Western Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley, CT and even NH on clear days. All of this is only a few minutes from Interstate 91 and the vibrant culture of Northampton MA. which explains why it is a crowd magnet.
All of the crowds are driving or taking the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail to the summit. The Black Rock Trail is an equally scenic, slightly longer, and substantially less traveled route to the summit. This route starts at the same trail head for the M+M trail, but there is a fork only a few hundred feet from the trail head where you will head straight onto the Dry Brook Trail, while the masses turn left to follow the M+M Trail.
The Dry Brook trail follows an abandoned carriage path in a wooded canyon next to a gently flowing stream which feels amazingly remote. After about a mile, you will come to trail junction and turn right onto the Lithia Springs Trail where the first gentle climbing begins.
Take a left onto the Black Rock Trail at the next junction. The trail begins a series of moderate ascents that lead to a breathtaking view overlooking the Lithia Springs Reservoir. This is one of the best views in the park and almost no one ever sees it.
From there the Black Rock trail leads you around some rock formations as it climbs to meet the M+M Trail in the middle of the Seven Sisters. Turn left to follow the M+M Trail over Mount Holyoke and back to your car.
If you do this hike be sure to print a trail map from the Skinner State Park website. They have a numbered trail system that makes it easy to stay on your route.
Little Monadnock Mountain
- Where: Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam NH
- Distance/ Difficulty: 4 Miles/ Easy
I have not climbed this peak since my Boy Scout days. It may be relatively popular but it certainly provides a less crowded alternative to Mount Monadnock. This sub 2000 foot summit doesn’t have much to look at but you will be treated to 180 degree views as you approach and descend the mountain. Rhododendron State Park also has a 0.6 mile trail that circles a 16 acre grove of beautiful Rhododendrons. Do this hike in late July to take in the full beauty of these plants.
I recommend hiking Little Mount Monadnock as a loop hike. I found the following loop details on Frank Bequaert’s website for Bequaert Old Books; a bookstore in Fitzwilliam, NH.
Once you enter the park, follow the very established trail to a trail junction that marks the start of the climb to Little Monadnock. From here follow the orange blazed trail as you gently climb through abandoned fields that lead to an open ledge at 1.2 miles in. This is a great place to take in wonderful views of Mount Monadnock; it is also where the trail meets the M+M trail.
Turn left and follow the white blazes for 0.2 miles to get to the summit of Little Mount Monadnock. Continue following the M+M Trail over the summit as the trail steeply descends to the right. You will be treated to another open ledge at 1.5 miles as the descent becomes a bit steeper.
You will see the Old Troy Road at 2.5 miles. Turn left and follow the road to the junction with Rhododendron road at 3.0 miles. Turn left and follow this back to Rhododendron State Park for a pleasant 4.3 mile loop.
These are two of the many New England hikes that lie in the shadow of better known routes. Give them a shot next time you are short on time but want the wilderness experience all to yourself.
What are some of your favorite “hidden gem” hikes in New England? Please leave a comment.
Grant Ritter is a born and bred New Englander who always seeks new challenges and prefers cold days with lots of snow. On any given weekend you might find him hiking in the White Mountains, whitewater kayaking, skiing, or trail running. He has completed the Hartford Marathon, several Seven Sisters Trail Races, the Green Mountain Relay and the Westfield River Race. However his favorite accomplishment has been climbing 47 of NH’s 48 4,000 footers with just Owl’s Head left. He seeks to inspire others through his blog at www.newenglandoutside.com.
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