Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
Distance: 3.6 miles out and back (2.9 miles if you do a loop with the Winslow Trail)
When to Climb: 4-season hike (need snowshoes/microspikes in winter)
Mt. Kearsarge is one of the most popular hikes in New Hampshire because it’s fairly easy, provides good views from the summit, and is a much shorter ride from the Boston area than the hikes in the White Mountains. To be clear, we’re talking about the Mt. Kearsarge located in Wilmot/Warner, New Hampshire. There is another Kearsarge (Kearsarge North) located near North Conway. There are three primary routes to the summit: Barlow Trail, Winslow Trail, and Rollins Trail. Rollins begins at the Rollins State Park picnic area, while Winslow and Barlow begin together at the Winslow State Park picnic area. There is a large parking area at the end of Winslow House Road (there is a small fee to enter Winslow State Park) and the trail heads are right next to the parking area. Barlow splits off to the left immediately.
Although it is the longest route to the summit (1.8 miles) Barlow is also more gradual than Winslow, making it easier on the knees for descent. Given that the trail is so short and gradual, there really isn’t much to describe. The trail is mostly covered with roots and rocks and is below the trees for nearly the entire ascent before the final approach to the summit where there are a few scenic overlooks. The trail is also part of the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway, a 75-mile loop of hiking trails in central NH.
The rocky summit of Mt. Kersarge has been treeless since a fire engulfed the mountain back in 1796. The lack of tree cover provides 360-degree views which only improve when you climb Kearsarge’s well-known fire tower. On a clear day you’ll have views of the White Mountains, and on a very clear day it is sometimes possible to see the Boston skyline from the top of the fire tower. Given the popularity of this hike, you should be prepared to share the summit with crowds of fellow hikers, especially on a nice day in the summer. Regardless, Kearsarge is a perfect hike for anyone who doesn’t want to spend the whole day driving to the White Mountains and then undertaking a strenuous climb, but still wants some exercise and some nice views.
Looking for other great hikes in the Sunapee area? Try Lake Solitude.