Hiking Trails on Mt. Monadnock--Marlboro
Distance from trail head to summit: about two miles.
Ascending time: About two hours.
Descending time: About one hour.
Trail marker: White "M", occasionally a white dot or rock cairns.
Shaker Road itself is found along NH Rt. 124 west of Jaffrey Center and about 11 km--7 miles--from the State Park sign. If heading to the west, you will pass by the parking area for the Halfway House Trail. As you continue along, you will enter the town of Troy, cross a causeway over a swampy area with a spectacular view of the Mt. Monadnock to the right, then enter Marlboro, all in a span of less than half a mile. The turn to Shaker Road comes up within another half mile and is on the right. Follow Shaker Road about three-fifths of a mile and watch for the trail head on the right, with a parking area on the left. If you decide the road is too rocky, you can easily walk to the trailhead from anywhere along the road. The trailhead is obvious, so don't feel that you have to have a keen eye for some obscure path heading into the woods.>
An alternate access route to Shaker Road is from Old Dublin Road, but I'm not familiar with that route.
The Marlboro Trail is probably a little shorter than two miles long, with an elevation change of about 1850 feet, making it similar statistically to the White Dot or
White Cross Trails that originate at the State Park.There are important differences, though.
For one thing, the trail is considerably drier than the trails on the south side of the mountain.
There's no equivalent of the Falcon Spring (though there is a spring you may miss and which may be dry in summer), so you will need to be sure you carry enough water.
The foot of the trail is slower getting started, too, so you have a somewhat gentler beginning that lasts longer than on the White Dot trail.
After that foot, which extends about three-fifths of a mile, you go straight into the
steepest part of the trail.
Perhaps the biggest difference is lack of people. The Marlboro Trail is out of the way, unknown to many of the park's visitors, and thus not crowded. That's not to say you won't see a few people along it, but you may go half an hour between sightings. With fewer people, the trail itself is much narrower, even more so than the Spellman Trail. Frequently, the hiker is brushed on both sides by the branches of the surrounding trees and bushes.
This section is a credible competitor with the Spellman Trail for steepness and challenge, though the Spellman wins out in the end. This trail tends to have shorter stretches of relatively smooth rock faces, but it still gets you to altitude pretty quickly. I haven't measured it yet, but my sense is that the Marlboro Trail gets you to both clear rock faces and good views faster than the south face trails do. The difficulty is somewhat countered by the stronger breeze you are likely to encounter on this western face of the mountain.
Almost before you know it, you have risen over the trees and find a rocky viewpoint out to the west. This rockface extends for one hundred feet or so, so you can find the most comfortable location and just sit back and rest for a few minutes.
The next few hundred yards of the trail are exposed to the sky. The Monte Rosa off to the right and the summit ahead are visible from several spots along this stretch, and the summit looks deceptively close. You're perhaps halfway to the top here.
Now, on the southern face, the trails have a tendency to be "inefficient," at least in terms of their use of topography. They have a number of turns to them; they have sections where you level out or even go down hill. The Marlboro Trail isn't like that. It goes quite straight, except for a sharp turn along the topmost ridge. And other than a very short section of very gentle downhill near the beginning, it only goes up. There is no respite from the climb until you reach the top of the mountain.
I like it that way--it's frustrating to climb 800 feet or so then go back down fifty only to have to climb it again. On the other hand, you may feel a little better if the trail eases up once in a while. Just be aware that you don't have that luxury on this trail. If you want some ease, you have to give it to yourself.
Before much longer, you will reach the intersection with the Marian Trail, which branches to the right. One of its branches goes to Monte Rosa, and you can go to the summit from there, if you want. We'll stick with the Marlboro Trail for this discussion.
The trail eventually goes back into the trees, and seems to stay in the trees for quite a while, nonetheless, your footing is mostly over rocks. The trail slowly drifts over to the north side of the peak. The wind is likely to increase as the trees thin out and you become more exposed. The west and northwest is the direction of the prevailing breeze on the mountain. There are some views to the north, the trees pretty much disappear, and you suddenly meet up with the Dublin Trail. Joining it and turning to the right, the trail continues to the summit.
The character of the trail here is quite different than the other trails that approach the summit. Almost surreal, the trail wends mostly along a dirt base between truck-sized boulders embedded deeply in the soil. The shapes seem much more mysterious than what you see on the south face trails or the Pumpelly Trail. You could play hide-and-seek among them, or use them as backdrops for a pose or a stage for a play or dance (as some people do with certain formations just to the east of the summit). The approach to the summit is less intense and demanding than it is from the other trails. You have an almost gentle climb, and the summit seems to just flow out of the trail, rather than stand above it and dominating the trail as it does to the other ones. Somehow, that seems appropriate after the steady climb and the steady wind and the intriguing rocks.
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Last update and copyright © 31 July 1998 by Wayne Brink, email: