Backpacking the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway – A Trip Plan

Backpacking the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway (MSG) is a white-blazed hiking trail in southwestern New Hampshire. It is 48 miles in length from the peak of Mount Monadnock to the peak of Mount Sunapee and can be done from south to north or in reverse. It’s important to understand that the trail runs from peak to peak, so the actual distance you hike will be closer to 53 miles, depending on which trail you take to and from the summits. The description here is from south to north.

The MSG is a great option for New England backpackers looking for a multi-day trip with less traffic than usually found at popular destinations in New Hampshire’s White Mountains or on Vermont’s Long Trail. Due to its latitude, it’s snow-free earlier than more northern locations with higher elevations.

There is some road walking on the MSG, but most are on gravel roads. Some sections of the trail are old farm roads. There are numerous opportunities along the trail to see beautiful wetlands and remote ponds, as well as old farmhouse foundations and stone walls.

Much of the trail crosses over private land, so it’s important for hikers to obey trail regulations to assure the continued existence of the trail. Camping is only allowed in designated areas and no fires are allowed. Five of the six campsites have three-sided Adirondack style shelters. All campsites and shelters are free and are first-come, first-served.

Rating/Difficulty

****/3 of 5

Recommended Duration

3-5 days

Season

May-October

Permits Required

None.

Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway

Maps and Regulations

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway Trail Club oversees and maintains the trail. A map and guidebook are available for sale on their website and at The Mountain Wanderer Bookstore in Lincoln, NH. The club is very responsive to email queries should you have questions about the trail and campsites. When you see all of the signage and work done on shelters, you will feel good that you supported this club by purchasing a map and guidebook.

The trail also passes through Monadnock State Park and Pillsbury State Park. You can check www.nhstateparks.org for specific regulations in those parks. Note that DOGS are NOT allowed in Monadnock State Park.

Parking and Trailhead Directions

Parking is available at the south end of the trail at Monadnock State Park headquarters. There is a fee for parking there. The Park HQ is located at 116 Poole Rd, Jaffrey, NH. A map of the park and its access roads is available on the park website.

Parking is available at the north end of the trail at the Mount Sunapee Ski Area. You must either register in person at their office or call their office in advance and give them your contact information as well as information on the vehicle(s) being left there. There address is 1398 Route 103, Newbury, NH 03255. Directions to the ski area are available on their website.

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway Trail Club map and guide book can help you determine where to park and what trailheads you might want to use to access the summits at each end.

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances to each view or landmark from the summit of Mount Monadnock heading north towards Mount Sunapee. Actual cumulative mileage will be slightly greater, depending on the route taken to climb Mount Monadnock (3165’) and descend from Mt Sunapee (2743′)

  • 6.3 miles – Howe Reservoir
  • 12.6 miles – Nelson Center
  • 21.8 miles – Pitcher Mountain (2153’)
  • 25.5 miles – Jackson Hill (2061’)
  • 28.7 miles – Adventist Church
  • 30.0 miles – Oak Hill (1950’)
  • 31.7 miles – Washington Center
  • 35.8 miles – Lovewell Mountain (2473’)
  • 43.8 miles – Lucia’s Lookout (2500’)
  • 46.1 miles – Sunapee Ridge (2680’, spur path to excellent view)
  • 46.8 miles – Lake Solitude (2510’)
  • 47.0 miles – White Ledges (2700’)
  • 48.0 miles – Mount Sunapee (2743’)
Crider Shelter
Crider Shelter

Camping and Shelter Options

Many of the MSG’s shelters and campsites are on private land, so please respect that camping is only allowed in designated areas. All shelters and campsites on the MSG are free and maintained by volunteers. All have pit toilets, though most are open-air and have no roof. All sites have access to water, although it is important to read the guidebook ahead of time/as you approach a site for the night, as some of the water sources are a few minutes’ walk from the site.

  • Spiltoir Shelter – 4-5 people plus a few tents
  • Crider Shelter – 4-5 people plus a few tents
  • Fox Brook Tent Platform – 4-5 people in tents
  • General Washington Shelter – 4-5 people
  • Max Israel Shelter – 4-5 people plus a few tents
  • Steve Galpin Shelter – 4-5 people plus a few tents

Water

There are numerous water sources along the route and multiple sources are usually be available each day. However, water source quality varies considerably along the MSG, from large ponds to small backwoods streams. All water should be treated or filtered.

A helpful resource for water availability and quality is the Monadnock Sunapee Map and Guide in Guthook’s New England Hiker GPS-enabled App ($5). It helps you know when to pass on less attractive sources when a more reliable brook might be a short distance away, or when to grab the water as there was nothing else for miles. Just invaluable!

On the Trail

Often cited as one of the most climbed mountains in the world, Mount Monadnock (3165’) can be a very busy place. There are many options to climb Monadnock to start the MSG. A common choice is to climb via the very popular White Dot or White Cross trails from the park headquarters south of the summit. There is ample parking there for a fee. Another good choice is the lesser-used Dublin Trail which climbs 1700’ over 2.2 miles to the summit from the north side of the mountain. An added bonus is that the Dublin Trail is also on the MSG heading north from the summit. So if you park here, you can leave some gear in your car while you climb the mountain.

Markings for the Dublin Trail
Markings for the Dublin Trail

No matter where you start, you will begin the MSG by descending the Dublin Trail and heading north from the summit of Monadnock. The grades are fairly gentle north from the Dublin Trailhead. At 5.2 miles you will reach a major road crossing of route 101(limited parking on the south side). Continue on woods roads and trails another .9 miles to Spiltoir Shelter. The shelter can sleep 4-5 people and there is space nearby for a few tents. There is plentiful water .1 mile further along the trail at the Howe Reservoir.

From Spiltoir Shelter, climb steeply for a short distance, coming out onto gravel Brown Road at 6.8 miles (room for a couple of cars to park here). The trail continues along trails and gravel roads and crosses the paved Nelson-Harrisville Road at 9.6 miles (limited parking on the road shoulder). Eventually, the MSG will emerge onto the paved Nelson-Harrisville Road again and continue along it into the small village of Nelson at 12.6 miles. This is a picturesque little town where you can spend a few minutes relaxing on benches outside their library in the town center. There was even a spigot outside the library that allowed us to have nice clean water with our lunch. There are no stores in Nelson village.

One of the many beaver ponds
One of the many beaver ponds

Continue out of town and eventually make a long descent down to busy route 9 at 15.0 miles (there is a parking lot here on the south side of Route 9 near the state highway garage). Fortunately, there is a walkway along a box culvert under the highway, so no need to dodge cars and trucks to get to the other side.

Camping courtesy of SPNHF (Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests)
Camping courtesy of SPNHF (Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests)

Continue along gravel roads, passing the Audubon Society of New Hampshire’s Nye Meadow Sanctuary. At 17.9 miles, you reach a gravel road junction which leads west to Crider Shelter in .2 miles. The Crider Shelter and camping area is set on the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests’ James & Eleanor Crider Forest. The shelter can house 4-5 people and has enough space for a few tents. There was a timber harvest on the property near the shelter in the fall of 2016 with a goal of encouraging Eastern White Pine regeneration and removing trees that posed a danger to the shelter and camping area. Water is available .1 miles away at a stream.

Old cellar hole covered with ground vinca, evidence that families once farmed here
Old cellar hole covered with ground vinca, evidence that families once farmed here

Continue up to 2153’ Pitcher Mountain at 21.8 miles (featuring a fire tower that is occasionally staffed) and enjoy the views which can include Mount Monadnock to the south, Lovewell Mountain to the north, as well as the Green Mountains of Vermont and Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. As you continue along Hubbard Hill (24.1 miles, 1896’), be careful to stay on the trail and avoid side trails made by blueberry pickers.

Views south while climbing Pitcher Mountain
Views south while climbing Pitcher Mountain

At 24.7 miles you will reach the Fox Brook Campsite. There is one platform here that can accommodate 4-5 people. This is the only MSG campsite without a shelter. There were a couple of spots near the platform where you might be able to set up a small tent. The water source is small and could be empty in dry years. Generally, it is not as pleasant as most of the other sites but serves its purpose. From there, continue up to the open summit of Jackson Hill (2061’) at 25.5 miles. Continue through a re-routed section of trail and come out onto gravel King Street. Follow this past the picturesque Adventist Church at about 28.7 miles. This church is the birthplace of the Seventh Day Adventists. Past here, the MSG turns right off the road and heads up to Oak Hill (1950’) with some lookout points and limited views of the surrounding area at 30.0 miles.

Seventh Day Adventist Church, town of Washington, NH
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, town of Washington, NH

Descending from Oak Hill, the next point of interest is the General Washington Shelter at 31.3 miles. The shelter can sleep 4-5 people, has a pit toilet and water is available at the nearby home of the property owners. This shelter is very close to Washington Center and busy paved roads. There is no space for tents here. Continue on to the Washington General Store less than a half-mile away. Here you can take a welcome break and pick up snacks and sandwiches to eat there or take to go.

Walking through the town of Washington, NH
Walking through the town of Washington, NH

After walking through the lovely town center, continue along the gravel Halfmoon Pond Road and past the Halfmoon Pond boat access at 33.0 miles (limited parking for a couple of cars). This is a good place to spot a car if doing a shorter trip on the northern section of the trail. At 33.6 miles you will turn off onto Lovewell Mountain Road. Eventually, leave this old road and begin the ascent of Lovewell Mountain. On the ascent, there is a side path to a spring on the left. You will reach the summit of Lovewell Mountain (2473’) at 35.8 miles. There are some great views to the north and northeast toward Mount Sunapee, Mount Kearsarge and the White Mountains. Descend from Lovewell to a spur path for the Max Israel Shelter at 37.3 miles. At the bottom of the descent from Lovewell about 0.2 miles before the shelter is a small brook that is the water supply. The Max Israel Shelter sits in a nice stand of Red Spruce trees with an open understory. The shelter will hold 4-5 people and there is plenty of space for several tents. An argument could easily be made that this is the nicest shelter location on the trail.

Views from along the ridges near Lovewell
Views from along the ridges near Lovewell

From Max Israel, continue through lovely hardwood stands in Pillsbury State Park to the pleasant Steve Galpin Shelter (room for 4-5) at 42.5 miles. There is space for several tents here as well and the pit toilet has a roof (but no door). Water should be available at a small stream just prior to and just past the shelter. However, in dry spells, you may need to search upstream to find a deep spot among the rocks where water might pool enough for you to scoop and filter.

Proceed up to Lucia’s Lookout (2500’) at 43.8 miles. Take a break here and enjoy some fine views to the south and west. From here, the trail continues along Sunapee Ridge reaching some open ledges where, at about 46.1 miles a short spur trail leads to a cliff with amazing, sweeping views eastward. Be sure to check it out.

Filtering water at one of the better:robust water sources
Filtering water at one of the better water sources

The trail continues along the ridge then descends to Lake Solitude which (at 46.8 miles) is the last chance to get water before heading up Mount Sunapee. From here one can descend the Lake Solitude Trail or continue toward the summit to the trail terminus. The trail ascends White Ledges with east and south views over Lake Solitude while passing a junction for Newbury Trail. The trail continues to where it enters a downhill ski trail. The blue-blazed Goshen Trail is to the left at 47.6 miles. The MSG continues up the ski slope to the summit lodge (2743’) and the end of the MSG. Be sure to select the correct trail from the summit so that you end up where you left your car. To descend from the summit to the ski area, take the 2.1-mile red-blazed Summit Trail which begins slightly south of the lodge and is also labeled as part of the SRKG Sunapee Ragged Kearsarge Greenway. (As you descend, you will be heading northerly, and just to the west of the ski slopes.)

Grabbing water at Lake Solitude.
Grabbing water at Lake Solitude.

The MSG is highly recommended as a place to experience some solitude despite there being a few road walks, road crossings, and town centers along the way. It’s sort of like a mini Appalachian Trail. If you only have a couple of days, we recommend spending it on the northern section. A nice, 1 night/2 day trip with minimal road walking and maximum views can be had by traveling between Mount Sunapee and the boat launch parking area by Halfmoon Pond in Washington. You would have options to camp at either Steve Galpin or Max Israel Shelters.

About the authors

Beth Zimmer is an expert backpacker who's backpacked all over New England and Eastern Canada, with a long list of hiking accomplishments to her name. She's section hiked the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, climbed the New England Hundred Highest and the New Hampshire 500 highest (mostly bushwhacks), redlined the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles), and climbed the White Mountain 4000 footers several times over. Beth also teaches GPS and off-trail navigation classes as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club and is co-chair of the New Hampshire Excursions Committee, which oversees all volunteer hiking and leadership training activities. When she's not hiking and backpacking, Beth resides in New Hampshire where she can usually be found sipping coffee and planning her next adventure.
Wanda Rice has been backpacking since the late 1980’s. She has climbed the New Hampshire 48, the New Hampshire 48 in winter, the New England 67 and is working on the New England Hundred Highest and the Four-Season 48. Wanda also teaches for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Mountain Leadership School, the AMC New Hampshire Chapter Spring and Winter Schools as well as the AMC NH Winter Hiking Series. She leads day and overnight trips for AMC NH year-round and loves mentoring new leaders. She is a gear junkie, a self-proclaimed Queen of Gear Hacks and loves sharing her tips and tricks with others. Wanda lives in southern NH and is looking forward to moving closer to the mountains in the next few years.

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11 comments

  1. this seems like a great alternative to the overcrowded Whites. the MSG can also be linked to the M-M trail to provide a longer trip or variations thereof. thanks for this trail suggestion.
    Happy Trails

  2. I spent 2 nights on the MSG last year and can confirm it is a great little trail and a wonderful area to explore. The town of Washington was a highlight for me. It had a “land that time forgot” feel to it, with it’s Colonial buildings, lack of cell phone signal, quaint library and most of all General store. This is place not to be missed. Hot breakfast and lunch cooked to order, beer served with your meal if you want, good company and decent resupply choices. A full thru of this trail is definitely on my list.

  3. Hmmm, this looks like an awesome fall hike!

  4. I’ve hiked it. Definitely worth every step.
    Bring extra socks ;-)

  5. I just started backpacking last summer and I did a portion of the M-S-G. I’ve hiked from Washington to Mount Sunapee and I also did Mount Monadnock. I hope to finish it this year. The only issue I ran into was a severe lack of water when I did it the third week of September. Most of the water sources were dried up so that is something to keep in mind on a dry year. This trail very close to where I live so it makes getting rides to spot my car easy for me.

  6. HI,

    I’m planning on hiking the entire trail in early September. With the threat of COVID 19 everywhere I wasn’t planning on staying in any of the shelters. I was planning on bring a tent or a camping hammock, and would like to kn know if there is room for me to set up near the shelters? Also can I camp along the trail or a 100 yards into the woods?

    • I suggest you contact the MSG organization and direct your question there. Much of the trail crosses private property and they could give you the most accurate advice about regulations.

  7. Looking to hike the MSGT north to south next summer. Can’t find a planning tool online. Can anyone point me to a link? If you’ve done it, how did you go, where did you camp? Thanks!

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