Mt. Cardigan and Firescrew and Meteor Showers

Destinations:  Mt. Cardigan (3155'), Firescrew (3064'), Hanging Rock, Cilley's Cave (2450')
Trails:  West Ridge Trail, Mowglis Trail
Region:  NH - Central West  
Cardigan State Park
Location:  Orange, NH
Rating:  Moderate  
Features:  Summits, views, meteor showers, fire tower
Distance:  7.0 miles  
Elevation Gain:  2200 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 4:35  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 7:15  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  08/13/1999 (Friday) (2 days)  
Last Updated:  01/20/2008  
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

Take West Ridge Trail to Cardigan's summit, then Mowglis Trail to Firescrew's summit, then continue on Mowglis Trail to Elwell Junction (Cilleyís Cave), then turn around and return via the same route.

  • From the parking lot, follow the orange-blazed West Ridge Trail all the way to the summit of Mt. Cardigan.
  • After 0.5 mile veer left to stay on West Ridge Trail (South Ridge Trail goes to the right).
  • Walk for about another 0.6 mile then bear left to avoid a right-hand turn to the Skyland Trail.
  • Veer left again after 0.1 mile to avoid the Ranger-Cabin Trail.
  • Keep ascending West Ridge Trail. On the open rock it is marked by a combination of cairns, paint on rocks, and blaze boards.
  • You will reach the obvious summit of Mt. Cardigan which has a fire tower.
  • Next continue down Mowglis Trail following white blazes and cairns. Be sure to avoid the other trails also descending from Cardigan's summit.
  • After 0.6 mile you will reach the summit of Firescrew (avoid Manning Trail which goes to the right just below Firescrew's peak).
  • Then continue along Mowglis Trail for a mile and there will be spur path on the right leading to Hanging Rocks.
  • After checking out Hanging Rocks, continue on Mowglis Trail for another 0.3 mile to a spur path leading to Cilley's Cave.
  • There is a small "square" formed by Mowglis Trail, Elwell Trail, and their respective spur paths leading to Cilley's Cave. First to reach Cilley's Cave follow the spur from Mowglis Trail all the way to its end. Then retrace just a bit and take a right onto another spur which leads to Elwell Trail. Then turn left on Elwell Trail. It will soon meet up with Mowglis Trail. At this point you should turn left again and you'll be heading in the correct direction to retrace your steps all the way back to your vehicle.
  • Follow the white-blazed Mowglis Trail all the way back over Firescrew and up to Mt. Cardigan.
  • Then descend Mt. Cardigan on the orange-blazed West Ridge Trail which is marked by cairns and blaze boards when it first leaves the summit.

Place         Split
West Ridge Trailhead (1930') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Mt. Cardigan summit (3155') 1.5 1.5 1:00 1:00
Firescrew summit (3064') 0.6 2.1
Junction Mowglis Trail/Elwell Trail (2450') 1.4 3.5
West Ridge Trailhead (1930') 3.5 7.0

Sunrise from the summit of Mount Cardigan

  Trail Guide   

This was a hike split up over two days (sort of). I started out late on Friday evening to ascend Mt. Cardigan in order to watch the Perseids meteor showers. The following morning I continued down the other side of Cardigan and up to the summit of Firescrew. Then I went down the other side of Firescrew to explore Hanging Rocks and Cilley's Cave.

Since this is a long report, I've split it into two sections:

Mt. Cardigan and the Perseids Meteor Showers
Firescrew, Hanging Rocks, and Cilley's Cave

Mt. Cardigan and the Perseids Meteor Showers   

This was my first experience watching meteor showers. The Perseids occur annually and are supposed to be the best with 50-100 meteors per hour during peak times. The darker the sky and more unobstructed the view, the more meteors you would see. So I got this brainstorm to hike up Mt. Cardigan and watch from there - the summit is completely open with 360-degree views.

The peak this year was to occur Friday morning in the wee hours before dawn. So Thursday night, around 10 p.m., I left home and headed up to Orange, NH. I saw several meteors on my drive up despite the fact that it was before midnight (when any meteor watching is supposed to be poor because the rotation of the earth is outrunning the debris) and my view of the sky was limited.

I got to the Mt. Cardigan parking area for the West Side Trail at midnight and saw several more meteors while I was getting my gear together. During the day, this trail is considered remarkably well-marked; but in the darkness it presents a challenge to follow at times, especially since there was no moon.

When I left the car, the weather was clear, warm and humid. It was weird to be hiking in the depth of darkness in a lightweight shirt but still be feeling the heat and humidity. It wasnít too overbearing and in fact I was grateful for the heat because I knew that would mean I would freeze less when at the summit which was totally exposed and windy.

Once the trail left the woods and came upon the open rock, I encountered constant, refreshing breezes. Luckily the trail was blazed in orange paint - white blazes are often hard to discern, even in daylight and especially on this trail where there was lots of white markings naturally occurring, mixed in with the gray rocks. It looks like wide white stripes (6-12") have been painted haphazardly over the gray stone. The white is just a different colored rock, fused together with the gray rock. The whole upper part of this mountain is just one big rock of this kind. Very bumpy, providing great traction. The rocks were also sparkly - both at night under the light of my flashlight; and during the day when the sun was hitting them.

Mt. Cardigan - near the summit (photo by webmaster) I couldnít see the orange rock blazes until I was upon them. Luckily, once the trail opened up, cairns assisted in marking the route. I made it to the top in only an hour - which surprised me because I thought it would take longer in the dark.

When I got to the top a couple said "hello" to me. I couldnít see them and I could barely hear them over the gusting winds but they said that they were the only other ones on the summit and were also there to watch the meteor showers. They sounded really surprised that I had just hiked up and I suspect that they hiked up during the daylight hours of the evening.

I quickly bundled up because the breeze that was refreshing while I walked was fast becoming too cool for comfort. I put on my fleece leggings, turtleneck, fleece sweatshirt, heavy orange jacket, earband, winter hat, gloves, and neck gaitor. I rolled out my sleep mat and bundled up under a thin blanket. I placed my pack next to me so that it served as a little bit of a wind shield.

The meteors were way cool and the sky is way huge. I didnít do a formal count but from 1:00 - 2:30 am, it seemed like there was at least one per minute - I was never bored.

Some were extremely fast, skinny, white streaks in the sky. The Perseids meteors travel at an average speed of 130,000 mph! What a ride that must be!

Others streaked longer and left a trail of white or blue light that lingered slightly longer than the meteor itself. There were a few extra-remarkable ones that left a wide blue trail and had a bright orange head (the head seemed to be in the shape of an "x").

A lot of them must have been sporadics; not originating from the Perseus constellation. There were a bunch directly overhead, low on the horizon in front of me, low on the horizon in back of me, far to my right, and far to my left. Many were viewed out of the corner of my eye as my attention was focused on another meteor occurring in a different part of the sky.

Ironically, at about 2:30 am, when I had read it would peak - it slowed down. Still I think there was probably at least one every five minutes. It was quite cold laying around on the summit (even all bundled up) and I had to get up and move around several times to warm myself. Fortunately at 2:30, the wind died down. It was totally and utterly quiet at this time. NO sounds were audible - no wind, no birds, no animals, no insects, no cars, no planes. It was quite a treat to be laying under the stars like this and it felt immensely peaceful. Even though the meteors were relatively slow at this point, the brilliance and multitude of the stars in the sky was stunning.

I snoozed a little on-and-off. It was too cold to sleep really well. Even though the wind had died down, it actually got colder as the night moved closer to dawn. At 5:00 am, the sky was light but the ground didnít seem light enough to easily follow a trail yet so I waited until almost 6:00 before I started unbundling myself in preparation for a morning of hiking.

I watched the big, round, fiery sun rise up between a pair of mountain peaks. I took a couple photos for keepsakes - itís not often that Iím up early enough to see the sunrise!

Firescrew, Hanging Rocks, and Cilley's Cave   

There was no sign for the Mowglis Trail but there were white blazes headed down from the summit. At one point early on along the Mowglis Trail, there was a misleading white blaze that headed me towards the right and then the blazes seemed to disappear; but shortly before this blaze, when I looked off to the left, I saw a cairn. The cairn ended up being part of the trail while that one white blaze just seemed to be a mistake. Other than that, between the cairns and the blazes the trail is really easy to follow and you can see Firescrew the whole way. (Perhaps the "errant" blaze marked the way to Grotto Cave - a spur path that I meant to explore but forgot all about because I inadvertently left my trail maps in the car. Although this spur is said to be signed, I donít remember seeing a sign for it; but since I forgot about it, I wasnít looking for it either.)

View of Mount Cardigan seen from Firescrew (photo by webmaster) There were lots of neat little birds chattering about in the small groves of short trees between Cardigan and Firescrew. From the summit of Firescrew is a fantastic view of Mt. Cardigan. It looks like just one massive dome-shaped rock.

Hanging Rocks: This provided a small outlook. I think it was actually looking over to where Cilleyís Cave is. When this spur trail branched, I took the right-hand spur which led to the upper part of Hanging Rock so you donít really get a sense of a hanging rock because youíre sitting on top of it and itís mostly in the trees and covered with dirt so itís not like a cliff ledge where you can sit and dangle your feet over the edge. I tried following the left-hand branch which was supposed to lead to the underneath part of the hanging rock but the trail was faint and overgrown so I gave it up because I wasnít in the mood for it.

Cilleyís Cave: This was another disappointment. I walked the "square" formed by Mowglis Trail, Elwell Trail, and their respective spur paths. I never came upon an actual cave. There were some rock walls beneath the trail. I descended what kind of looked like another spur path to get to the same level of the rocks and they still just seemed like a rock wall rather than a cave. I didnít pursue it all along the wall though. It is said that a hermit once lived in this location.


NH - Central West

  Driving Directions   

  • From I-89, take exit 17 (Rt. 4).
  • Follow Rt. 4 east for 12 miles.
  • Bear left to get onto Rt. 118.
  • Turn right at a Cardigan State Park sign and follow the signs to the summit. (Bear right 2.7 miles from Rt. 118; at 3.4 miles bear left; at 4.1 miles you'll be in the parking area.)


There are outhouses at the end of the parking area farthest from the entrance road.

More Mt. Cardigan Trail Reports   


Website by Logo

© 1998-2023
Page copy-protected against website content infringement by Copyscape
The information on this site may freely be used for personal purposes but may not be replicated on other websites or publications. If you want to reference some content on this site, please link to us.