Monadnock Sunapee Greenway
A true hidden gem, the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway provides backpackers and hikers with a wonderful sampler of New England’s best scenes, showcasing granite peaks, lush evergreen forests, charming small towns, and colonial carriage roads. I hiked the trail north-to-south from the summit of Mt. Sunapee to Mt. Monadnock with my friend Pete, covering 51 miles and around 10,000 feet of elevation gain.
The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway is an end-to-end hike, necessitating a shuttle or two vehicles. Parking is available for free at the northern terminus in the Mt. Sunapee lot without a permit, but you should call the ski resort and provide your details and dates. At the southern terminus in Mount Monadnock State Park, I needed to reserve a “hiking slot” for the first day my car was parked there; the staff were friendly and helpful in explaining the logistics there, so I recommend a phonecall to them as well.
I highly recommend both the MSG’s official trail guide and map, which I purchased at the shop at Monadnock State Park. The guide covers the history of the trail and surrounding area, and adds some nice flair to the hiking experience. I also used Guthook’s fantastic MSG map via the Guthook App, which I purchased as part of the White Mountains & New England Trails bundle.
Further information is available at the MSG’s highly informative website.
Day 1 - Mt. Sunapee to Steve Galpin Shelter at Moose Lookout - 7.2 miles
Tired from six hours of driving and eager to begin our trek, Pete and I peered up the dry ski runs of Mount Sunapee for signs of the trailhead. As it’s namesake mountains would suggest, the MSG starts and ends at two summits – so hiking either way starts with a climb. October, out of season for skiing, meant the parking lot was quiet save for a few leaf-peepers. We began our 1500′ climb up the deserted slopes.
At the top of Mount Sunapee, the southbound trek began in earnest. Starting at a high elevation granted us with spectacular views of the trail ahead of us. Meandering through mountaintop evergreens and granite vistas, we passed along the edge of Lake Solitude and atop Lucia’s lookout.
Lucia’s Lookout is a wonderful granite outcropping that the MSG traverses, standing 400′ above its surroundings, with Monadnock visible 50 miles due South. We would have spent more time enjoying the view if it weren’t for the rapidly dropping autumn sun.
The Steve Galpin shelter is well appointed, clean, and has a few tent spots nearby. We arrived right as the sun dropped, introduced ourselves to the two northbound hikers there, made camp, and had a quick sub sandwich dinner before turning in for the night.
Day 2 - Steve Galpin Shelter to General Washington Shelter - 10.7 miles
Up early and ready to begin our first full day, Pete and I knocked down my breakfast special – chocolate chip cookies overloaded with chopped nuts and with instant coffee baked in – and began marching south. One quirk of the Steve Galpin shelter is its open air latrine, a rarity in this area. I guess there are worse ways to experience the New England forests!
Pete and I skipped the nearby Max Israel shelter, located just five miles past Moose Ledge. The main feature of day two was Lovewell Mountain, a 2473′ summit coated in red spruce and other northern conifers, offering panoramic views of the Sunapee ridge. The climb up was viridescent, with lush moss covering each and every rock.
The summit of Lovewell has a convenient small spring located just off the MSG. We passed through old cairns and rock walls, signs of the area’s colonial farming and pastoral history.
Coming down off Lovewell, we encountered the first of many logging roads and centuries-old carriage paths that the MSG uses. While some hikers dislike roadwalks (I definitely don’t like highways), the carriage roads on this particular trail added a lot to its charm; you can envision farmers and loggers using these same paths 150 years ago. These days, it’s more likely to see day hikers and dirtbikers zipping by.
As we approached the town of Washington, the carriage road yielded into a local dirt road, and the forest fell away to farmland and historic homes.
Washington, NH is a charming New England town, the first in the country named after General Washington. More importantly, it has a critical feature for MSG hikers: a full service general store with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having made great time so far, we stopped for a few beers and late afternoon snacks.
With sunset about an hour away, Pete and I made our way out of town to the clean & spacious General Washington shelter, only a third of a mile from the general store. Already at the shelter was a pair of Girl-Scouting mothers & daughters heading north on the trail, who were kind enough to yield the small table for us to prepare and enjoy dinner. After the sun set, we had a great chat about Scouting, backpacking, and the joys of rural living before making camp and heading to bed.
Day 3 - General Washington Shelter to Crider Forest Shelter- 13.5 miles
Day three began with sunny weather and cold brew coffee. Knowing we had upwards of 15 miles ahead of us, we filled our water bottles at the nearby stream and got an early start.
The trail south of Washington is a blend of rocky bluffs, logging tracts, and dirt roads. We made good time heading up and over Oak Hill, with a scraggly, steep descent. Afterwards, the trail abruptly turned to a long road walk followed by a re-route through the privately owned and beautifully managed Andorra Forest.
Past the forest lay two hills: Jackson Hill and Hubbard Hill. We stopped for a few minutes on Jackson Hill to enjoy the sunny day and take lunch. A mile and a half later, we passed by the halfway point of the MSG – a welcome sign!
Soon after the midway point, we reached Pitcher Mountain, which had one of the few crowds we saw on this trip. Tons of locals had made the day hike to the top to visit the firetower and catch views of the autumn foliage. Mount Monadnock was clearly visible from the summit.
Below Pitcher Mountain we crossed NH 123 and began trekking up an upland meadow known for its wild blueberries, unfortunately out of season. After crossing a small carriage road, we passed over the Robinson Brook Cascades and the trail transitioned into a roadwalk along Center Pond Road.
One of my favorite aspects of the MSG was how friendly and generous the locals were. All throughout our hike we were greeted with kind waves and tons of trail magic, and traveled along driveways and private rights-of-way opened up by locals for the trail. Along Center Pond we passed the Center Pond Chapel, which had fresh water available to hikers. We gladly indulged and continued towards the nearby shelter.
Pete and I arrived at the Crider Forest Shelter with about an hour of daylight to spare, and took our time making camp and snacking. Nestled in a small hollow on the edge of a well-managed forest, the shelter was quiet and clean.
Day 4 - Crider Forest Shelter to Spiltoir Shelter- 11.6 miles
With only 11 miles ahead of us and many flat carriage roads, we eased into day four with a late start, crossing Route 9 heading south towards the small town of Nelson.
Nelson itself is an unassuming colonial town bisected by the MSG. There are no shops or resupply options, but do take note of the iconic mailbox row.
After Nelson, the trail turned to mixed asphalt and dirt roadwalks for several miles. Unfortunately, the weather also soured, turning from the crisp clean blue we’d been enjoying into the patchy grey rain that would follow us for the rest of our time on the trail. We stopped briefly to don our raingear and picked up our pace, passing dammed lakes and old growth copses.
Just before reaching the shelter we crossed the Eliza Adams Gorge, with a rushing cascade running over the Howe Reservoir’s dam and beneath our feet. We made it to the Spiltoir shelter in the early afternoon and settled in for an early dinner, listening to the quiet hum of rain on the roof.
Day 5 - Spiltoir Shelter to Mount Monadnock - 7.8 miles
We awoke on our final day to a steady drum of rain on our shelter and campsite. With our toughest climb – Monadnock – ahead of us, we didn’t waste any time in the morning and made great time reaching the base of the mountain at the Dublin Trail Parking area.
Because of the pouring rain, my camera was stowed securely in my waterproof chest pack, and I unfortunately didn’t catch any pictures of the climb. This was shame since the climb up Monadnock was the most dynamic and thrilling part of the trip, with 40mph winds, pouring rain, and near-freezing weather. We made it up and over the summit, carefully tracing the white markers on the slick granite, and motioning to one another for direction since our voices were lost in the wind.
On the leeward side of the mountain, Pete managed to snap one shot of me using my cheap 35mm film camera, the only record of our journey over Monadnock.
After we returned to the Monadnock State Park parking area, we shuttled back north to the Mt. Sunapee Ski area and headed to Keene, where we had booked a stay for the night. I highly recommend the town as a great spot to unwind, enjoy some pub food, and recap the trip over a few pints.
I’d highly recommend the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway as an off-the-beaten-path, highly representative slice of New England. In the autumn, the entire experience is ablaze with orange and red foliage, although I’m sure it’s a great experience in the spring and summer as well. Go hike it!