Veteran White Mountain peakbaggers will tell you that the best views and ass-kicking climbs often come from mountains under 4000′ in height, rather than the 4000-footers. That’s certainly the case on Iron Mountain, a 52-with-a-View peak. While there is a great all-in-one view of Mt Washington, Pinkham Notch, and Carter Notch from a side trail on the mountain’s north face, the views from Iron’s southern ledges are far more extensive and even better.
If you are working on the 52-with-a-View list, I encourage you to hike past the Iron Mountain summit and down the trails on the south side of the mountain to see the open ledges of the South Cliffs and the mines. There’s also an old path that descends below the mines to a massive waterfall (it was dry when I visited), but the way is poorly marked by cairns and requires a massive 1200′ climb back uphill, so it’s purely optional.
The Iron Mountain Trail starts of Green Hill Road, a gravel-topped forest road that’s closed in winter, so you best get up there now if you want to hike it this year. Green Hill Road leaves from Rt 16 in Jackson New Hampshire, so it’s easy to access if you’re on the eastern half of the White Mountains near Mt Washington or Pinkham Notch. You’ll know you’re own the right road when you pass this tiny cabin on the road (for sale at $39,000/half-acre lot). My wife was not amused when I expressed an interest in it.
There’s a pull-off to the north, shortly past the cabin where you can park when you climb Iron Mountain, which is situated on private land so the trail signage and maintenance are not quite up to the par of the other trails in the area maintained by the Forest Service and its associated trail maintenance organizations. Still, you should have no problem finding and following the trail up the mountain or down the south side by following the signs and rock cairns that mark the route.
The summit is crowned with the remains of an old fire tower and you can still see the telegraph wire on the ground that the fire ranger would have used to reports forest fires.
The summit only has obstructed views however, so you should continue down the back side, about 300 feet of descent, to the southern ledges. Follow the rock cairns to vast expanse of exposured ledges, that provide views of the Rocky Branch River Valley leading up to Mt Washington, Mt Carrigan, and the Pemigewasset Peaks.
These open ledges are one of the finest viewpoints in the White Mountains and a must-visit when you climb Iron Mountain. You can really spend hours exploring this vast area of open rock, soak up the sun and warmth of the rocks, and pick out peaks in the distance.
Descending further, the trail splits left and reaches an open-pit mine, which I assume was used to mine iron ore from the mountain. In addition to a small rock quarry, partially filled with water, there are piles of the tailings scattered nearby.
There is an old cairn-ed trail that descends below the mined rock pile shown above, but I don’t believe it is still officially maintained. Many of the cairns have been toppled and the path down is hard to discern in autumn when leaves cover it. I followed it down to 1500′ at the base of a dry waterfall, but lost the trail on the climb back up and had to bushwhack back up the hill until I came across a landmark that I recognized. If hiking off-trail is not your cup of tea, I’d advise you to stop of the first open quarry, before hiking back up the trail to the summit and back down the north side to your car.
Total distance 3.2 miles RT w/1150 ‘ of elevation.