Alpha Guide: Mount Monadnock's White Dot & White Cross Trails

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No American mountain has been climbed by more people than this southern New Hampshire classic, and for good reason. 

Mount Monadnock has many distinctions. It’s the second-most climbed mountain in the world, it’s one of only 13 mountains on the list of National Natural Landmarks, and its summit is the only place where it’s possible to see all six New England states at once. On this miraculous mountain, the most popular route is the four-mile loop via the White Dot and White Cross trails. This absolute classic is a must-do trip for every New Englander.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $5/person, and $2 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free.
Contact: https://www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/monadnock-state-park.aspx

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Turn-By-Turn

People coming to Mount Monadnock from the Boston area will want to follow Route 2 West to its connection with Route 140 North (exit 24B). After roughly nine miles, Route 140 becomes MA 12 North. Continue on MA 12 until its intersection with US 202, and then, follow US 202 over the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line through the town of Rindge and eventually into the quaint town center of Jaffrey. In Jaffrey center, take a left onto Route 124 West. Follow 124 West for about two miles, before taking a right onto Dublin Road. From here, simply follow the signs to the parking lot.

People coming to Monadnock by way of Interstates 93 or 95 can simply exit onto US 101 West and take it to US 202 West, and then, use the directions from above. The only difference will be taking a right turn onto Route 124 West instead of a left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Mount Monadnock via the White Dot and White Cross trails is quite straightforward. Leave the parking lot in the direction of the Park Store, and continue past the store toward the restrooms. If nature calls, it’s worth taking the opportunity to go here, as the trail can be busy, and privacy may be hard to come by from here on out. Just past the restroom is the well-marked trailhead (42.845619, -72.088699).

The trail starts off wide, allowing enough room for hiking shoulder to shoulder. And, on busy weekends, it gives hikers the chance to disperse before the terrain gets more technical. Although this section is neither wide nor steep, the trail is littered with chunky rocks and roots, so watch your step.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Choices

After roughly a half-mile, hikers will come to the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross trails (42.851715, -72.091652). Although hikers may do the hike in either direction, the preferred and most common way is to hike up the White Dot Trail and descend via the White Cross Trail, as White Dot’s steep, slabby terrain is easier to negotiate going uphill.

To continue on the White Dot Trail, just follow the painted white dots straight ahead. Soon, the trail begins to steepen, and the day’s first challenge, a series of steep, slick ledges, comes into view. Finding traction here requires careful footwork, however. Over the years, many people have climbed this exact route, leaving the stone polished and smooth in places. Concerned about the slabs? Take an extra moment to evaluate where you are going, and often, an easy path will present itself.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A short while later, you’ll come across the Cascade Link junction (42.853878, -72.092758). Stay straight. From here, the trail weaves through the forest and scrambles up short sections of steep rock slabs. As the slabs open up, make sure to turn around and take in the view. Here, the Wapack Range is quite prominent.

As you get above treeline, the trail stops ascending and begins corkscrewing around the mountain, and you’ll wonder if you’re staring at the summit. You’re not. It’s a false summit, and you’ve still got a little farther to go. Here, you’ll encounter a series of open ledges, which can be a great place to have a snack if your group is so inclined.

After this, there’s some more slab climbing, until you come to a large sign that marks the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). You’re not done yet, so continue upward.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

After the junction, the trail steepens, and you’ll be traveling entirely on rock up to the summit. At this point, you’ve surpassed the trail’s most difficult sections, but don’t let your guard down when the summit comes in sight. You’ve still got to get through a few spots requiring fancy footwork. On windy days, it is also a good idea to layer up for this section.

As you work upward, the trail remains well-marked and easy to follow. It does, however, bear sharply right at one point. Fortunately, there’s a large sign (42.860313, -72.107361) there that’s pretty hard to miss.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Sine it’s the tallest peak for miles and unprotected, the winds often rip across Monadnock’s summit (42.861385, -72.108063). Luckily, natural windbreaks abound, offering great places to take a break, pull on a puffy, and have a snack. Once refreshed, stand up and take in the fantastic 360-degree view. In the distance to the north, look for the White Mountains. Much closer to the east is the Wapack Range. To the south, you can see Mount Wachusett. And, Vermont’s ski mountains are visible to the west. While you’re admiring the view, try to identify landmarks in all six New England states.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

From the summit, retrace your steps on the White Dot Trail. Below the summit proper, you’ll encounter a few smooth, slabby sections, so watch your footing.

As you descend, look for the sign that indicates the White Dot Trail will take a sharp turn. This time, however, you’ll be turning left. Soon thereafter, you’ll be at the well-marked junction for the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). Since the footing on the latter is a little easier and the incline more moderate, start following the white crosses down. Before you do so, though, make sure to look back uphill to get one last look at the summit.

From the junction, the White Cross Trail meanders below treeline, working through some easy slabby sections and then into the woods. The trail is pleasant and quite moderate as it approaches the White Dot-White Cross junction (42.851715, -72.091652). At the junction, turn right (downhill) onto the White Dot Trail, and you’ll be in the parking lot in no time.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Diversions

Mount Monadnock is forever linked with the great transcendentalist writers and philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Because of this, many spots are marked to note their connection with the mountain. A diversion from the White Cross Trail takes you across the Smith Connector Trail to the Cliff Walk Trail, where you will find “Emerson’s Seat” and “Thoreau’s Seat” at around 2,350 feet. Both “seats” offer fantastic views and perhaps will inspire you as it did them.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Much of the White Cross and White Dot trails are on exposed rock that has been made smooth and slick by the boots of hundreds of thousands of hikers. With traction a necessity, consider a pair of trail runners, like the Brooks Cascadia 12 (Men’s/Women’s), or hiking shoes, such as the Oboz Sawtooth (Men’s/Women’s).
  • These trails can get especially slippery. If you’re unsure of your footwork, don’t want to roll an ankle, or simply hope to stay upright, pack a pair of trekking poles, such as the Black Diamond Trail Back poles (Men’s/Women’s) for added stability and confidence. Need some convincing? We’ve covered all the benefits of trekking poles here.
  • Loosely translated, “monadnock” is an old Abenaki word meaning “mountain standing alone,” and you’ll definitely notice the isolation with the ridgeline winds. Even on nice summer days, bring a windshirt, like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi (Men’s/Women’s), for blocking the breeze.
  • Pick up the Mount Monadnock Trail Map before you go to get psyched, bring it along just in case you make a wrong turn, and consult it after to start planning your next trip. Pumpelly Trail, perhaps?
  • Although Mount Monadnock is near a lot of places to grab a bite to eat or a beer after your hike, it’s not really close to any of them. Instead, pack a picnic in the Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube, and après at your leisure. Add a lightweight and packable Helinox Camp Chair for a better seat than you’ll find in any restaurant.
  • As you might suspect, the most popular trail on the world’s second-most climbed mountain can be a busy place. Beat the crowds and get an early start by hitting the trail before sunrise with the Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp.

Cairn-with-summit

Tips

  • Before heading up the mountain, stop in the Ranger Station to get the latest on everything from weather to trail conditions.
  • To get excited before your climb, follow the Franklin Pierce University Mount Monadnock webcam.
  • Stay the night at Gilson Pond Campground. With its 35 campsites, plus five remote hike-in sites, why rush home?
  • No dogs are allowed in the park. So, if you were planning on bringing your pooch, you’ll have to make other plans.
  • If you worked up an appetite on the trails, treat yourself to a mountain of ice cream—their portions are best described as “generous”—from Kimball Farm in Jaffrey on your way home.
  • If you’re interested in exploring more of Southwestern New Hampshire, make the short drive to the Peterborough EMS Store and get some local knowledge on Monadnock’s lesser-known trails. Before heading home, stop for a pint at Harlow’s—the unofficial pub of Eastern Mountain Sports.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Monadnock recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!