Wide-ranging views, towers, cabins, and more attract visitors to New England’s lofty peaks no matter the season. Hikers climb the mountains, but you can drive to a few and even take a lift to others.
■ Talcott Mountain in Simsbury in central Connecticut serves up a vista including Hartford, the Farmington Valley, the Berkshires, New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock, and Long Island Sound. The 30-minute hike up Talcott Mountain State Park’s 1.2-mile Tower Trail reveals the handsome Heublein Tower built in 1914. The 165-foot tower was the summer home of Gilbert F. Heublein, the German food and liquor distributor, and is open seasonally.
“We see the elderly, the young, people who use it every day,” said park supervisor Vincent Messino. “We figure we get roughly 100,000 visitors a year with the heaviest use during foliage.”
When the tower is open, climb the 10 flights to get above the treetops. www.ct.gov/deep
■ Wachusett Mountain, the 2,8006-foot peak in Wachusett Mountain State Reservation in Princeton, has a seasonal (Memorial Day through the last weekend in October), paved 5-mile summit road, a summit lodge and pond, picnic tables, about 17 miles of hiking trails, and is home to a ski area. There is also an 80-foot-tall tower with an observation deck that opened in 2012, replacing one constructed in 1966. The summit can be a foggy place but views extend to the Boston skyline, the Berkshires, and beyond. The annual fall hawk migration makes the mountain popular with birders. Hikers might enjoy passing by gravity-defying Balance Rock during a 3.2-mile round-trip trek using Balance Rock and Old Indian trails. Hard-core cyclists pedal up the road. ww.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks
■ Killington Peak, Vermont’s second-highest, can be a busy place. Skiers and snowboarders cruise groomed boulevards in winter while mountain bikers plummet down trails at other times. Hikers’ options include a network of narrow trails with signs identifying plants, and wide ski trails. There’s even a fire tower and a long wooden walkway.
The K-1 gondola serves the rocky top with its outstanding Green Mountain and beyond vistas and the new 15,000-square-foot Peak Lodge. At 4,100 feet, the lodge replaces one built in the late 1960s and dismantled in 2011. It’s open year round.
■ Northern Vermont’s Sterling Pond is a little gem set in the stunning jewelry called Smugglers’ Notch. Situated on a forested saddle between Madonna Mountain and Spruce Peak, the serene pond is reached from Route 108 via the often-steep Sterling Pond and Long trails to a neighborhood of expansive views.
“Sterling is a high-elevation pond surrounded by a spruce and fir forest with a beautiful view of Mount Mansfield across Smugglers’ Notch,” said Dave Hardy, Green Mountain Club director of trail programs. “The pond is on the Long Trail, stocked with trout, and only about a mile of hiking from the notch.”
A winter climb demands effort, but access is made easier by Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Jeffersonville. It has a lift-served weekly (weather-permitting) candle-lighted snowshoe Top of the Notch Adventure Dinner that includes a pre-meal trek to the pond. The GMC maintains a shelter. Bring a fishing rod in season. www.greenmountainclub.org, www.smuggs.com
■ Popular Mount Cardigan in Alexandria, N.H., has a fire tower atop its bald granite summit and an incredible panorama of the Connecticut River Valley, White Mountains, and more. Though outdoor lovers are drawn to Cardigan Mountain State Park for its hiking and backcountry ski trails, those wanting to get a jump on the spectacular sunrises and sunsets might stay about a half mile from the top of 3,121-foot Old Baldy at the Appalachian Mountain’s Club Cardigan High Cabin. It’s a moderate 2 miles along the Holt, Cathedral Forest, and Clark trails to the rustic 12-person digs built in 1931 and renovated in 2004.
“AMC’s High Cabin provides a great overnight venue high on the mountain, and is well suited to a small group seeking a self-service backcountry experience,” said Rob Burbank, AMC public affairs director. In winter, you carry the firewood up. www.outdoors.org, www.nhstateparks.org
■ The last remaining fire tower lookout in the White Mountain National Forest is found a short way from North Conway’s shops. With a convenient trailhead on Hurricane Mountain Road, the 3-mile trek to the top of 3,268-foot Kearsarge North is no easy undertaking . But the outstanding panorama from New Hampshire into Maine makes the hike worthwhile as the Moats, Mount Washington, and Moose Pond all come into view. The Kearsarge North Trail leads to the exposed crown and the fine enclosed tower listed on the National Historic Fire Lookout Register. The tower, rehabbed in 2012, is a welcome respite from the wind. www.fs.fed.us
■ At Sabattus Mountain in western Maine, the lovely little Lovell peak contains memorial benches on its ledgy summit offering a serene look to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, finger-shaped Kezar Lake, and the rolling Oxford Hills area. There are also the remains of a fire tower built in 1939. The relatively easy nearly 1.5-mile loop through the pines, hemlocks, and birches is readily reached from Route 5, not far from the general store, by taking Sabattus Road and bearing right on Sabattus Trail Road to the trailhead. www.nrcm.org/LMF_SabattusMountain.asp
■ It might be a stretch to call Jockey Cap a mountain, but it certainly is one mountainous rock. The lovable bump in Fryeburg, Maine, off Route 302 by the Jockey Cap Motel and Country Store, holds a commanding summit stage with a horizon loaded with the rippling White Mountains, waterways, and hills. Reached via a short, kid-friendly path, the hike goes by a cave said to be used for shelter by Molly Lockett, the last of the Pequawket Indians. The summit contains a monument honoring explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary, who once lived in Fryeburg. The column identifies nearby natural landmarks in Maine and New Hampshire. Compact Jockey Cap was once a ski area with the state’s first rope tow. www.franklinsites.com/hikephotos/Maine/jockeycap.php
Marty Basch can be reached at email@example.com.