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Off the Beaten Path in Southern New Hampshire

photo courtesy Ruggles Mine
photo courtesy Ruggles Mine

Local mom, Kristen Laine shares some great ideas for exploring the Appalachian Mountains of southern New Hampshire like a local.

I live on the slopes of Mt. Cardigan, at 3,155 feet the second-tallest mountain in southern New Hampshire. It’s no secret that Cardigan’s broad granite summit, which is topped by a fire tower, offers one of the best views-for-the-effort of foliage season anywhere in the Northeast. I say no secret, because I’ve seen more than a hundred people on the summit on a clear fall afternoon.
But here’s what’s less well known: Most of the people on Mt. Cardigan’s summit hike up its eastern slopes, on trails that run about 2-1/2 miles from trailhead to summit. But if you’re looking for a family-friendly hike that is one mile shorter each way, hike the West Ridge trail from the state park on the western side of the mountain. You’ll still have plenty of company on the trail, but your hiking companions are more likely to be locals —families from neighboring towns, the volunteers who keep the trails in working order, Dartmouth students from Hanover, the college town 20 miles west of the peak. You might even run into the local couple who hike the mountain almost daily or the burly ex-Marine who uses its trails to train for the greater ranges. Or me, a middle-aged mom with children.

Once you’ve taken in the 360-degree views, your locals’ options can continue with the following:

Visit Ruggles Mine. Ruggles Mine was a major source of mica for stoves and lamps in the 1800s; garnet, amethyst, feldspar, uraninite, and 150 other minerals have also been mined there. What makes Ruggles Mine really special is that it’s one of the rare mines that allows prospecting by visitors — as much as you can carry out in two trips! The mine rents rock hammers and buckets to visitors, but locals know to bring their own.

Take in a Dartmouth football game. Fans of the Big Green won’t tell you this willingly, but there’s plenty of room in the bleachers at Dartmouth home games. This means that you can decide at the last minute to take in an Ivy League football game on a glorious fall Saturday. Also not widely advertised: To make the games more family-friendly, the college has installed a “kids’ fun zone” in one of the end zones.

The Details — Mt. Cardigan
To get to Mt. Cardigan State Park, take NH 118 a short distance (about 0.5 mile) north out of Canaan. Turn right at a large Cardigan State Park sign and follow Cardigan Road uphill. After a while, you enter my town, Orange. At 3.4 miles from 118, bear left and drive 0.7 miles to a parking area with picnic tables and restrooms.
One of the best lodging options in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee area on a fall weekend is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s lodge on the east side of Mt. Cardigan. You do not need to be a member to stay at the lodge, although the rates are slightly higher for non-members. http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/cardigan/index.cfm

The Details — Ruggles Mine
Ruggles Mine is located on Isinglass Mountain in Grafton, New Hampshire, about 5 miles south of Mt. Cardigan on NH Route 4. Look for the brown and neon orange signs directing you off Route 4. The mine is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day until the season ends on October 17. Prices: adults $23, children 4 to 11, $13. Museum, store, and small cafe. http://www.rugglesmine.com/

The Details — Dartmouth Football
Dartmouth football games are played at Memorial Field, only two blocks out of downtown Hanover, New Hampshire. Hanover is a town of about 10,000 along the Connecticut River. Check http://dartmouthsports.com/  for the 2009 home-game schedule. Tickets at the gate are $10 for adults, $5 for kids (slightly higher for homecoming against Columbia on October 24).

Kristen Laine writes the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog at http://amcoutdoorskids.blogspot.com/

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