Short climb, grand view: Mt. Kearsarge via Rollins State Park

My last visit to Mt. Kearsarge in Warner, New Hampshire was a few years ago, as the fire tower was being rebuilt. I recently decided to go back for my first uphill walk since the virus-in-the-news laid me low earlier this year. From the upper end of the auto road in Rollins State Park, which is a treat in itself, I hiked the half-mile-long Rollins trail to the Kearsarge summit.

fire tower on Mount Kearsarge in Warner, New Hampshire, accessible from Rollins and Winslow State Parks. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Mt. Kearsarge fire tower, Warner NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

It was a splendid morning at the end of August. A muggy summer heat wave had just broken, giving way to clear dry air and brisk breezes. As self-imposed rehab assignments go, this hike was unbeatable.

Summit cairn, Mt. Kearsarge. Ellen Kolb photo. Twin hills in far distance at left are the Uncanoonucs in Goffstown NH.

The hills and trails of southern New Hampshire spell home to me. I looked south from Kearsarge’s summit cairn and scanned the horizon: the Uncanoonucs in Goffstown, Joe English hill in New Boston, a view of the Wapack Range from the north – is that Crotched Mountain ski area nearby? – and aloof and stately Monadnock.

The ledgy summit features a 360 degree view, in case someone finds the view of the southern hills unsatisfactory. My advice is to soak it all in.

At $4, park admission is a bargain. See nhstateparks.org for up-to-date information on fees and maps for this and other state parks. Kearsarge is home to two of those parks. Rollins from the south features the auto road and a short hike; Winslow from the north offers longer trails. The Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway makes its way over the summit as well.

The auto road closes to motor-vehicle traffic in November and usually re-opens on Memorial Day weekend. I enjoy walking on the auto road in the off-season when the weather allows, sharing the road with other walkers and ambitious bicyclists. The summit is out of reach for the likes of me until the snow and ice are gone, but there are a few vistas along the auto road that make an uphill walk worthwhile.

Mt. Kearsarge, late summer

Students from Northeast Catholic College in Warner welcomed me as I tagged along for their morning prayer service on Mt. Kearsarge. Bishop Libasci was among us as well, leading the service in the Rollins State Park picnic area before we trooped up the last half-mile to the summit. Good fellowship on a beautiful day!

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, NH at far right, with students from Northeast Catholic College.

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, NH at far right, with students from Northeast Catholic College.

A foggy morning gave way to sunshine in time for our summit visit.

A foggy morning gave way to sunshine in time for our summit visit.

A tantalizing view from partway up the trail.

A tantalizing view from partway up the trail.

Bonus: a new historical marker in Warner. I've photographed more than a hundred markers statewide, aiming to capture them all.

Bonus: a new historical marker in Warner. I’ve photographed more than a hundred markers statewide, aiming to capture them all.

Mt. Kearsarge via Rollins auto road

The auto road up Mt. Kearsarge in Rollins State Park in Warner, New Hampshire, is gated shut and will probably stay that way until the weekend of May 18. See the Rollins page on the New Hampshire State Parks web site for updated information.  That doesn’t block pedestrians and bicyclists, though. If you’re ready for a four-mile uphill walk on pavement, followed by a half-mile on a ledgy trail (total elevation gain roughly 1700′), this is the place.  Yesterday, armed with plenty of sunscreen, I took the walk and reaped the views.

Pack bug repellent. I didn’t. A week ago, that would have made sense.

Conditions: auto road is clear of all obstructions, possibly to benefit the fire warden who is staffing the peak’s fire tower. Very buggy at the lower end of the road and in the shade. Pit toilets available. Full sun yesterday made me glad I had sunscreen; for a plodder like me, the route took nearly two hours each way. That doesn’t count the time at the summit, which is broad bare ledge. $4 per person admission fee will be charged once the gate is open.

While there were eight other cars parked outside the gate when I arrived, I encountered other people on the road only occasionally. I was passed by an ambitious bicyclist twice (!). At one of the pullouts about halfway up the road, I stopped to watch some turkey vultures gliding aloft – quite beautiful when in flight, however homely they are in closeup – and savored the quiet. No sound except for a breeze through the trees and a rustle of leaves from some  nearby critter. I haven’t been anyplace so peaceful since my last trip to Second Connecticut Lake.

Note: This Mt. Kearsarge is not to be confused with another one  farther north in New Hampshire, which is far more remote. Also, the state’s web site says the auto road is three and a half miles long. My GPS device indicated four.

Getting to Rollins: Take I-89 to exit 8; follow signs to NH 103 toward Warner. In town, turn onto Kearsarge Mountain Road; look for brown signs pointing to Rollins State Park. After several miles, the town road ends at the Rollins gate.