You don’t have to be a hard-core mountaineer to enjoy breathtaking views from the Northeast’s mountains, as they come in all sizes. In the shadow of famous peaks such as Washington, Katahdin, and Greylock are lower summits with outstanding views of their better-known neighbors. These little mountains offer relatively short and less-traveled trails that are ideal for hikers of all ages (though hikers should be prepared for moderately steep and occasionally rocky sections).
Baxter State Park, Maine
At a mere 1,843 feet, Sentinel Mountain is one of the lowest of the 46 peaks in Baxter State Park, which protects more than 200,000 acres of the Longfellow Mountain Range. However, it is well-placed amidst the scenic ponds in the park’s southwest corner to offer fine views of the west side of the Katahdin massif, as well as distinctive Doubletop Mountain and the valley of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. From the trailhead at Kidney Pond, follow the trail along the shore for 1 mile to Sentinel Landing on the south shore. From the junction, the trail continues southwesterly at a moderate grade, crossing two brooks. It forks into a loop near the summit, where ledges offer views north to Katahdin and the other mountains. The round-trip is 6.2 miles with 900 feet of elevation gain. Cabins and canoes are available for rent at Kidney Pond.
Directions: From Millinocket (reached via Interstate 95 Exit 244), drive approximately 20 miles to the park’s Togue Pond gate, then continue along the dirt Tote Road for 10.75 miles to the marked road to Kidney Pond.
Info: Maine Mountain Guide, 10th ed. (AMC Books); Baxter State Park Authority
Twin Mountain, N.H.
The twin summits of Sugarloaf Mountain offer some of the best views for the effort in the White Mountains. In addition to a striking perspective of the west slopes of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, there are panoramic views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mount Hale, the Zealand and Ammonoosuc valleys, and Twin Mountain. From the trailhead on Zealand Road at the Zealand River bridge, follow the yellow-blazed path along the river, then make an easy ascent to a cluster of glacial boulders that children will enjoy exploring. The trail becomes steeper before reaching the gap between the summits at 0.7 miles, where one-way paths branch to both peaks. The one-way route to the 2,310-foot North Summit is slightly shorter and easier, while the path to the 2,359-foot Middle Summit involves a steeper climb that includes a ladder. The round-trip to both summits is 3.4 miles with 1,100 feet gain.
Directions: From the junction of Route 302 and Zealand Road (6.5 miles west of AMC’s Highland Center), follow Zealand Road for 1 mile to the trailhead at the bridge. In winter, you can park at a nearby lot on Route 302 and walk or ski up Zealand Road to the trailhead.
Info: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed. (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide Online
Named for the distinctive saddle that divides its three summits, Gap Mountain rises just 3 miles south of the familiar profile of Mount Monadnock, one of the world’s most-climbed peaks. The panoramic views from the north and middle summits include a close-up of Monadnock’s south slopes, the Wapack and Green Mountains, and the hills of central Massachusetts. The south summit, which at 1,900 feet is the highest point, is forested with no views. From the trailhead, a yellow-blazed connecting path offers an easy 0.4-mile walk to the junction with the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail at a stream crossing. Turn right and begin the ascent on the white-blazed M-M Trail, which follows a mostly easy to moderate grade up the west slopes. After a brief steep section, the trail reaches the 1,840-foot middle summit (the best viewpoint) at 1.3 miles. The slightly lower north summit is a short walk farther north. Backtrack to the connecting path and parking area.
Directions: From the junction of Routes 12 and 119 in Fitzwilliam, follow Route 12 north for 2.4 miles to a right on Gap Mountain Road (ignore the first Gap Mountain Road 0.5 miles from the intersection). Continue 0.8 miles to a left at a sign for the reservation and enter the parking lot on the left.
Info: Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); Gap Mountain Reservation – SPNHF
Savoy Mountain State Forest, Mass.
From the crest of the Hoosac Mountain Range in the highlands of the fabled Mohawk Trail corridor, the 2,566-foot summit of Spruce Hill offers sweeping views of the Berkshire, Taconic, and Green mountains, including nearby Mount Greylock across the Hoosic River Valley. In the heart of the mountain, 1,700 feet beneath the lookout, is the 4.75-mile Hoosac Tunnel, a landmark of American railroad history. The tunnel opened a crucial line to western markets but at the cost of nearly 200 lives of workers who died during its construction. From the pullout adjacent to Tower Swamp near the Savoy Mountain State Forest headquarters, the blue-blazed Busby Trail follows an old woods road at an easy grade for 1 mile to the site of the former Sherman Farm, marked by stone walls and an old barn foundation. Beyond the farm, the trail becomes narrower and steeper before forking into a short loop below the summit; the path on the right offers an easier scramble to the lookout. Backtrack for a 2.6-mile round-trip with 700 feet elevation gain.
Directions: From Route 2 in Florida east of the North Adams town line, turn south on Central Shaft Road and continue 2.9 miles to the headquarters; the trailhead is 0.1 miles farther ahead at a pullout on the right.
Info: Massachusetts Trail Guide, 9th ed. (AMC Books); Savoy Mountain State Forest website (Mass. DCR)
Located roughly 3 miles south of Bear Mountain, Connecticut’s highest peak, Lion’s Head offers similar views for a fraction of the effort. From the 1,738-foot summit, the views include the pastoral Litchfield Hills, the Twin Lakes and town of Salisbury, and southern Berkshire hills. The nearby north summit offers another fine view along the ridge of the Taconic Mountains to Bear Mountain, mounts Everett and Race in Massachusetts, and the distant profile of Mount Greylock. From the Route 41 parking area, follow the Appalachian Trail north on a moderately steep climb through the forest. After the junction with the Lion’s Head Trail at 2.5 miles, continue on both trails on a steep but short ascent to the summit ledges. The north summit viewpoint is just 0.1 miles farther along. The hike gains roughly 1,000 feet.
Directions: From the junction of Routes 44 and 41 in Salisbury, follow Route 41 north for 0.8 miles to the Appalachian Trail parking lot on the west side of the highway.
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)
Adirondack Park, N.Y.
In the High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains, Mount Jo offers outstanding panoramic views that belie its 2,876-foot elevation, including of Algonquin Peak, the Macintyre Range, and nearby Mount Marcy, the state’s highest peak. Mount Jo rises 700 above Heart Lake and the Adirondack Loj, where lodging and food are available. From the trailhead opposite the Mount Marcy Trail, continue 0.3 miles to the loop trail. Here the gentler Long Trail (0.7 miles), recommended for families and winter hikers, branches to the left, while the steeper, rocky Short Trail (0.4 miles) forks to the right. From their upper junction, the summit is 0.2 miles farther along.
Directions: From NY Route 73, 3 miles east of Lake Placid center (accessible from Interstate 87 Exit 30), turn south on Adirondack Loj Road and continue 5 miles to the entrance ($9 fee).
Info: Discover the Adirondacks (AMC Books)