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Hiking Cannon Mountain

I had last Friday off from work on account of Independence Day weekend, so I decided to spend the day hiking one of New Hampshire's most famous 4000-footers. Cannon Mountain is part of the Kinsman Ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and made for a challenging but rewarding day hike.

A photo of Joseph Petitti on the summit of Cannon Mountain

Cannon Mountain was well known as the site of the Old Man of the Mountain, a rock formation that looked like the profile of a face until its collapse in 2003. The Old Man is featured on New Hampshire's state quarter and state route markers, and was a big tourist attraction.

The Old Man of the Mountain in 2003

The mountain is also home to North America's first aerial tramway, built in 1938 to take skiiers to the summit. This original tramway is still standing, along with a second one built in 1930. Cannon was a popular destination for alpine skiing in the northeast, and the New England Ski Museum stands at the mountain's base.

The route

Although you can just take a ski lift to the summit, the views are always more satisfying if you had to climb for them. Starting from the aerial tramway parking lot, just off of exit 34B on I-93, the Kinsman Ridge Trail leads straight to the summit. It's a steep trail, gaining 2,100 feet of elevation in only two miles.

Unfortunately the noise pollution from nearby Interstate 93 spoils the natural serenity of the forest for the first mile or so, but eventually it fades into the distance and you can enjoy the sounds of nature.

The trail is heavily eroded, and for most of the two miles it's a scramble over slippery rocks. Fortunately it is will marked with blue blazes, so it was never hard to follow. And despite being a holiday weekend it wasn't crowded at all—I only saw a handful of other hikers and a few dogs all day.

The route passes through a few scenic overlooks along the way, which make nice places to stop for a break and get some pictures.

A view from the east face of Cannon Mountain, showing I-93 cutting through the White Mountains
Interstate 93, visible from the east face

On the summit

The summit, at 4,080 feet above sea level, features an observation tower with benches. I stopped here for lunch after the strenuous ascending hike. The summit is frequently covered in clouds, but when they clear you can get great panoramic views.

The observation tower on the summit of Cannon Mountain
An amateur radio repeater stands on top of the tower
A view from the summit of Cannon Mountain

Also on the summit is the end of the aerial tramways. Both were closed due to the ongoing pandemic and shrouded in fog.

The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, shrouded by fog

The descent

Kinsman Ridge Trail continues south to Lonesome Lake and Kinsman Mountain, but I just returned down the same trail back to the parking lot. The descent is much easier than climbing uphill, but the steep, slippery rocks are still a bit difficult to navigate. Climbing down steep rocks is also very rough on your knees and ankles, and mine were pretty sore the day after.

At a slow pace it took me about three hours to ascend and one hour to return, making Cannon Mountain a nice little day hike. With a round trip of 4.2 miles and 2,100 feet of elevation gain (and loss), I'd recommend Cannon Mountain to anyone looking for a short but moderately challenging hike with great views.

A figure hikes toward the top of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, obscured by fog