The first time someone told me that you can see the Boston skyline from the summit of Mount Monadnock, I wasn’t sure whether to believe it. Was it true, or was this supposed to be a joke? I responded with a noncommittal grunt that conveyed, I hoped, that if it was a joke, I wasn’t fooled, and if it was true, I already knew anyway.
Before long, I found out for myself, when I reached the summit on a clear day, looked to the southeast, and spotted the Boston skyline. Although I’ve seen it a number of times since then, it still seems impressive to get a view of buildings in Boston from the top of a mountain in southwestern New Hampshire.
It’s said that Monadnock is the third-most-climbed mountain in the world, and on a sunny summer day, you might feel like you’re in Boston, not just looking at it in the distance. (Also note that dogs aren’t allowed anywhere on the mountain.)
But the great views are only one of the many reasons to brave the crowds at Mount Monadnock and spend some time running there. There are few places in the Northeast with such easy access to long stretches of exposed rock, which also explains those crowds. It’s also a great place to get in a fun mix of steep scrambling and scenic singletrack.
There are any number of possible ways to go up, over, and around the mountain (there’s a link to a map below), but here’s one route I like to take to cover a variety of terrain. Avoid the largest crowds by parking at the Old Toll Road trailhead on Route 124 in Jaffrey, N.H. (map below). Note that there’s a $5 entry fee both here and at the state park headquarters.
From the trailhead, you have a choice: you can spend the first mile on a gradually ascending dirt road, or take the Old Halfway House Trail. The two routes meet up about 1.2 miles from the trailhead, where they both intersect with the White Arrow Trail. From the intersection, it’s about 1.1 miles up the White Arrow Trail to the summit.
The White Arrow Trail climbs, gradually at first and then more steeply. Before long the trail opens up and gets above the trees, and you climb the rest of the way out in the open, making for great views and a really fun scramble to the summit.
From the summit, you can see a long ridgeline descending to the northeast. Take the Pumpelly Trail to follow that ridgeline. At 4.4 miles, the Pumpelly Trail is the longest and most gradual way to approach Monadnock, and from the summit it descends along a series of open, rocky ridges that, on a dry day, are a lot of fun to run.
About 1.4 miles from the summit, turn right at an intersection to take the Cascade Link. This trail starts with a fairly steep descent over large rocks, but it soon levels off. It’s about 1.4 miles on the Cascade Link Trail to the intersection with the White Dot Trail. Turn left on White Dot and spend another 0.7 miles running down a fun, fast trail to the state park headquarters. Note that the White Dot Trail and White Cross Trail (which intersects the White Dot Trail near the end of Cascade Link) are the most traveled routes on the mountain, so you’re likely to have company on the descent.
Once you reach the parking lot, bear right and follow the signs for the Parker Trail, passing a small store on your left and a reservoir on your right. Re-enter the woods on the Parker Trail, which ascends gradually for about a half mile before leveling off. The trail, which is about 1.5 miles long, is made up of beautiful, runnable singletrack. After 1.5 miles, reach the dirt road that connects to the Old Toll Road trailhead. Turn left to head back down to the parking lot, or turn right to climb for about a half mile back to the intersection with Old Halfway House Trail. If you have the time and energy, it’s worth making the trip back up the dirt road, as running down the Old Halfway House Trail is a really fun way to end the run.
Distances along this loop
Trailhead to the White Arrow Trail: 1.2 miles
White Arrow Trail to the summit: 1.1 miles
Pumpelly Trail to Cascade Link: 1.4 miles
Cascade Link to the White Dot Trail: 1.4 miles
White Dot to state park headquarters: 0.7 miles
Parker Trail to Old Toll Road: 1.5 miles
Old Toll Road to the intersection with Old Halfway House Trail: 0.5 miles
Old Halfway House Trail to the parking lot: 1.2 miles.
Total: 9 miles
Here are a few other options for extending the run from the Old Toll Road trailhead:
1. After reaching the summit, descend all the way down the Pumpelly Trail. It’s about 4.4 miles from the summit to the trailhead, and it’s the most gradual and runnable way to get to the summit of Monadnock. Turn around at the bottom and head back the way you came for a total run of about 13 miles.
2. After taking the Pumpelly Trail to Cascade Link, ascend Monadnock a second time by turning right at the intersection with the White Dot Trail. From the summit, descend on the White Cross Trail to state park headquarters, and the continue on the Parker Trail back to the Old Toll Road and the parking lot. Total distance: 11.5 miles
3. Add a second loop. After you’ve made it back to the Old Toll Road from the state park headquarters, head back up the dirt road to the White Arrow Trail and throw in a second loop of the whole route.
Finally, if you really want to try to avoid the crowds, take the Pumpelly Trail all the way to the top. You’ll still see lots of people near the summit, but the way there should be far less crowded than the trails from the state park or the Old Toll Road trailhead.
Old Toll Road trailhead
Pumpelly Trail trailhead. The trailhead is a little hard to find, but it’s located on Lake Road, about 0.4 miles off of Route 101. There is no obvious parking spot, but you can pull off and park on the east side of Lake Road. There’s a sign marking the start of the trail.