Mount Monadnock might be the best day hike ever created. Its 3,165-foot peak is the perfect size to satisfy those looking for a challenge, while not overtaxing those looking simply for a view. And the fact that no other nearby mountain comes close in height draws hikers from all around southern New Hampshire  and eastern Massachusetts  to scale its sides. (It’s claimed that Monadnock is the second-most-climbed mountain in the world after Mount Fuji.)
The mountain is within the borders of Mount Monadnock State Park (Rte. 124, Jaffrey, 603/532-8862, www.nhstateparks.org/monadnock.html , office hours 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily Nov.–May; 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily May–Oct., $4 adults, $2 children 6–11, free children under 6 and seniors); the state produces a good trail map showing the various approaches to the summit.
Adding to the appeal of the climb, several grades of trail offer challenges for hikers of any skill level. The two most popular approaches to the summit are the White Dot and White Cross Trails; both leave from the ranger’s station at the main parking lot and offer a moderate climb up through forested mountainside before ending up with a short steep climb up the ridge to Monadnock’s exposed quartz and schist summit. In fact, for variety, many hikers choose to go up one trail and down the other. An easier, but more roundabout, route to the summit is the Red Dot Trail, which wends its way through a less-steep grade on the southeast side of the mountain.
By far the most difficult trail is the Spellman Trail, a breathtakingly steep climb to the summit that should only be attempted by experienced hikers. Lastly, several trails also climb to the peak from alternate locations, offering an escape from the crowds that mob the mountain, especially in July and August. For example, the Marlboro Trail climbs the west side of the mountain from its trailhead on Shaker Hill Road off Route 124. In difficulty, it’s slightly harder than the White Dot Trail.