Marlboro Trail(Trailhead coordinates: 42.85975 N, 72.13833 W)
This is a direct route to the summit.Pets are not allowed on the mountain.
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Gap Mountain and Perkins Pond as seen from the Marlboro Trail.
- Distance from trailhead to summit:
- 2.15 miles/3.48 km (Determined by surveyor's wheel).
- Ascending time:
- Two hours or more.
- Descending time:
- About one hour 15 minutes.
- Difficulty rating/rank:
- Crowd Factor:
- 2–3 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being near-continuous contact with others.) You won't be isolated, but there will be long stretches when you won't meet anyone else.
- South Shaker Farm Road, off NH Route 124.
- Trail marker:
- A mix of and rock cairns, white "Ms", white dots, and rarely, vertical white bars.
- Average Grade:
- 17%, steepest 660 yards: 25%
|Location||Time (ascending, approx.)||Distance (ascending, approx.)||Altitude (approx.)|
|Trailhead||–||–||1350 ft. (411 m)|
|End of the "foot"||25 minutes||0.88 miles (1.42 km)||1960 ft. (594 m)|
|First clearing||35 minutes||0.98 miles (1.58 km)||2158 ft. (654 m)|
|Marian Trail Junction||50 minutes||1.27 miles (2.05 km)||2398 ft. (731 m)|
|Dublin Trail Junction||1 hour 20 minutes||1.9 miles (3.08 km)||3003 ft. (915 m)|
|Summit||1 hour 30 minutes||2.15 miles (3.48 km)||3165 ft. (965 m) (official)|
(The information here has been updated in part from report graciously provided by Jim Johnson who maintains the Marlboro Trail.)
Access to this trail is from outside Monadnock State Park. The trailhead is located on South Shaker Farm Road in Marlboro, NH, a gravel road that can be a little treacherous in places in the spring time, though it is improved sufficiently that most vehicles should be able to get to the trailhead most of the time (just take your time!). It is not maintained in winter.
South Shaker Farm 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 at Perkins Pond with a spectacular view of Mt. Monadnock to the right, then enter Marlboro, all in a span of less than half a mile. The turn to Shaker Farm Road comes up within another half mile and is on the right.
From the west, follow NH Rt. 124 east toward Jaffrey. From the intersection of Rt. 124 and Rt. 101 in Marlboro, travel about 5.2 miles (8.4 km) to Shaker Farm Road, on your left. (After about 3.5 miles on Rt. 124—7.3 km—you will pass Old Dublin Road on your left, which can bring you to the Dublin Trail Head.)
Follow Shaker Farm Road about three-fifths of a mile (1 km) and watch for the trail head on the right, with a large parking area on the left. The road continues, unimproved, ahead of you. If you decide the road from the highway is too rough, you can easily walk to the trailhead from anywhere along the road. The trailhead is obvious, with large map boards etc., so don't feel that you need a keen eye for some obscure path heading into the woods. (However, please respect private property by being sure you have found the trail before traipsing along someone's driveway. If you're not sure, you are probably not on the trail.)
On some maps, an alternate access route to Shaker Farm Road seems to be from Old Dublin Road and Old Troy Road, but Shaker Farm Road here is not maintained and it is full of rocks, ruts, deep mud, etc. I don't recommend this approach, and especially recommend against it if you do not have a high, four-wheel drive vehicle.
The Marlboro Trail is just over two miles (3.2 km) long (about 2.15 miles/3.48km according to Jim Johnson), 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 could be a spring you may miss and which may be dry in summer—or extinct), so you will need to be sure you carry enough water. The foot of the trail is slower getting started, too, with a somewhat gentler beginning that lasts much longer than on the White Dot trail. After that foot, you go straight into the steepest part of the trail. To illustrate, in the first 0.88 mile (1.4 km), the trail rises about 590 feet (180 m). In the next 220 yards (200 m), it rises about another 200 feet (60 m). Much of the trail is over more continuous or fissured rock faces, rather than the broken or faceted rock on the other trails.
While the Park personnel don't like to rate trails, many agree that this trail is perhaps the third most difficult on the mountain.
Perhaps the biggest difference from the White Dot and the White Cross 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 15 to 20 minutes between sightings even during peak times. There are more hikers since the road has been improved and the parking area expanded, but it is still less traveled than other trails. With fewer people, the trail itself is much narrower. Jim Johnson has done some excellent work along the trail, cutting back much of the underbrush and marking the trail clearly.
The foot of the trail extends about 0.88 mile—about 1.4 km, generally sloping slightly uphill with occasional, brief steeper sections. Just after the trailhead, you go down a shallow dip of about 110 yards before turning back uphill. The trail in this whole section is on well-compressed soil. Note that in wet periods there may be a stretch of more than 100 feet along the foot of the trail, almost three-quarters of a mile in, that is part of a running stream. Jim Johnson has provided a series of stepping stones in this section that will help keep you out of the muck. Shortly after that, the steep section of the trail begins. You know you've reached it when you take a very shallow and brief dip and then turn about 60 degrees to the left to cross the stone wall that has been parallel to the trail. In front of you is a sharply steeper section over moderately sized rocks. As you continue to climb, the rocks gradually become bedrock and the soil disappears from the trail.
About 220 yards (200 m) past the start of this steep section you'll reach the first clearing. You climb about 200 feet (60 m) in this stretch, which 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 than the Spellman, but it still gets you to altitude pretty quickly.I haven't done a measured comparison yet, but my sense is that the Marlboro Trail gets you to both clear rock faces and good views faster, time-wise, than the south face trails do. The long foot allows you to move fairly quickly over a long section of trail before you hit the very steep sections. (It takes about 25 minutes to reach the end of the foot. It might take 10 minutes more to reach the first clearing.) Almost before you know it, you have risen over the trees and find a rocky viewpoint facing to the west. This rock face 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. In 2003, I used a GPS to measure the trail and found that this first, open view is almost exactly halfway (in terms of distance, not time) along the trail.
The next few hundred yards of the trail are exposed to the sky, though the trees encroach a bit. As you can see in the photos, you are crossing over bare rock. 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. It's about 0.75 miles (1.2 km) from you, as the crow flies.
Before much farther, you will reach the intersection with the Marian Trail, which branches to the right taking you to Monte Rosa, from where you will have other ways to reach the summit. In terms of time, you are now about halfway to the top. It's about 0.3 miles (0.5 km) from the beginning of the steep section, and you've climbed roughly 450 feet (135 m) in that distance.
The trail eventually goes back into the trees, and stays in the trees for quite a while; nonetheless, your footing is mostly over rocks. At about 1 mile (1.62 km) into the hike, the trail actually levles off for about 110 yards (100 m), the only real respite until you reach the Dublin Trail. The trail slowly drifts over toward the north side of the peak, as you draw an arc around the summit, continuing upward while not actually getting much closer to the peak. The wind is likely to increase as the trees thin out and you become more exposed, since the prevailing breezes on the mountain blow from the west and northwest. 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, about 10 minutes and 350 yards (320 m) away.
The character of the trail here is quite different from that of the other trails that approach the summit. Almost surreal, the trail wends mostly along a dirt base between dump 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 similar 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.
Descending via the Marlboro Trail is challenging. Being very steep and rocky, climbers are often forced to look for handholds and footholds. While experienced climbers can probably descend quite quickly, those less experienced may find descending the upper reaches of the trail almost as slow going as it is ascending the trail. And, reasonably enough, the halfway point (time-wise) going down is just about the same location as the halfway point going up: Near the Marian Trail junction.
If you have ascended the Marlboro Trail, there are no reasonable alternative routes to descending by the same path, at least for the bottom part of the trail. The Marlboro Trail is the only trail that extends to the base of the mountain on the west side. The Marian Trail links it to other trails to the east (Smith Summit, Amphitheater, etc.), though it adds considerable length to the hike; there are no links to the west.