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Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor Adventures: What’s on that mountain?

Just shy of the Cardigan Mountain summit in Orange, the Cardigan High Cabin gives hikers a leg up on sunrises and sunsets. Laura Hurley/Appalachian Mountain Club photo.

Just shy of the Cardigan Mountain summit in Orange, the Cardigan High Cabin gives hikers a leg up on sunrises and sunsets. Laura Hurley/Appalachian Mountain Club photo.

Mountaintops are special places. Wide-ranging views, towers, cabins and more attract visitors to New England’s lofty peaks.

Summits are spectacular no matter the season. Depending on the weather, they can be as moody as a teenager or as angelic as a baby’s smile. Hikers climb mountains, but that’s not always the only way to get there. Drive to a handful. Maybe take a lift to others.

Talk about a heart-pumping bang for the buck. Not only does Talcott Mountain in central Connecticut serve up a vista including Hartford, the Farmington Valley, the Berkshires, Mount Monadnock and Long Island Sound, but the 30-minute or so hike up the 1.2-mile Tower Trail reveals the handsome and historic Heublein Tower.

“We see the elderly, the young, people who use it every day,” Simbury’s Talcott Mountain State Park supervisor Vincent Messino said. “We figure we get roughly over 100,000 visitors a year, with the heaviest use during foliage.”

Wachusett is everyone’s mountain. The 2,006-foot Princeton, Mass., peak in the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation has a seasonal paved 5-mile long summit road, a summit lodge and pond, picnic tables, contains about 17 miles of hiking trails and is home to a ski area. The summit can be a foggy place, but views extend to the Boston skyline, Berkshires and beyond. The annual fall hawk migration makes the mountain popular with birders. Hardcore cyclists pedal up the road.

Killington, Vermont’s second highest peak, can be a busy place. Hikers have a handful of options to reach the summit, including Killington’s own hiking network of narrow trails with signs identifying plants, and wide ski trails. There’s even a fire tower, and a long wooden walkway. The new 15,000-square foot Peak Lodge is powered by electricity converted from cow manure. At 4,100 feet, the lodge replaces one built in the late 1960s.

Mount Cardigan’s popular. There’s a fire tower atop its bald granite summit and an incredible panorama of the Connecticut River Valley, White Mountains and more. Though outdoor lovers are drawn to Cardigan Mountain State Park in Alexandria for its hiking trails, those wanting to get a jump on the spectacular sunrises and sunsets might stay about a half mile from the top of 3,121-foot Old Baldy at the Appalachian Mountain’s Club Cardigan High Cabin. It’s a moderate two miles along the Holt, Cathedral Forest and Clark trails to the rustic 12-person digs built in 1931 and renovated in 2004.

“AMC’s High Cabin provides a great overnight venue high on the mountain, and is well-suited to a small group seeking a self-service backcountry experience,” AMC public affairs director Rob Burbank said.

The last remaining fire tower lookout in the White Mountain National Forest is found a short way from North Conway’s shops. With a convenient trailhead on Hurricane Mountain Road, the 3-mile trek to the top of 3,268-foot Kearsarge North is no easy undertaking. But the outstanding panorama from New Hampshire into Maine makes the hike worthwhile as the Moats, Mount Washington and Moose Pond all come into view. The Kearsarge North Trail leads to the exposed crown and the fine enclosed tower listed on the National Historic Fire Lookout Register. The tower got some TLC in 2012 and is a welcome respite from the winds that often howl across the crest.

Sabattus Mountain in western Maine has the best seats in the house. The lovely little Lovell peak contains memorial benches on its ledgy summit offering a serene look to the White Mountains, Kezar Lake and the rolling Oxford Hills area. There’s also the remains of fire tower built in 1939, another memorial attached to a stanchion. The relatively easy nearly 1.5-mile loop trek through the pines, hemlocks and birches is readily reached from Route 5 not far from the general store.

Okay, it might be a stretch to call Jockey Cap a mountain, but it certainly is one mountainous rock. The lovable bump in Fryeburg, Maine, off Route 302 by the Jockey Cap Motel and Country Store holds a commanding summit stage with a horizon loaded with the rippling White Mountains, waterways and hills. Reached via a short, kid-friendly .4-mile path, the summit contains a monument honoring explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary, who once lived in Fryeburg. The column identifies nearby natural landmarks in Maine and New Hampshire, a delightful place to fall in love with mountaintops and see others to explore.

(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)

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