Big Rock Cave and Mt. Mexico

Destinations:  Big Rock Cave (1700'), Mt. Mexico (2020')
Trails:  Big Rock Cave Trail, Whitin Brook Trail, Cabin Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Sandwich Range Wilderness
Location:  Tamworth, NH
Rating:  Moderate  
Features:  Summit, slab caves, brook, loop hike
Distance:  5.6 miles  
Elevation Gain:  1390 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 2:21   Typical: 3:30  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 5:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  07/23/2000 (Sunday)  
Last Updated:  09/18/2009  
Weather:  About 60-70 degrees
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

Big Rock Cave is a set of slab/boulder caves that are fun to explore. This loop hike takes you over the viewless summit of Mount Mexico and to Big Rock Cave, then makes a wide loop around back to the start, visiting Whitin Brook en route.

  • Start on Cabin Trail by following a private driveway for 60 yards, and then bearing right onto another driveway which will lead to the trail after 120 yards.
  • Follow Cabin Trail for 0.3 mile, then at a junction, bear right to follow Big Rock Cave Trail (we will be coming back via the other leg of this junction).
  • After 1.1 miles on Big Rock Cave Trail, you will traverse the flat, wooded summit of Mount Mexico.
  • Continue walking and 0.5 mile later, Big Rock Cave will appear on the right.
  • After exploring the huge boulders, continue walking on Big Rock Cave for 0.1 mile which will end upon meeting Whitin Brook Trail.
  • Turn left on Whitin Brook Trail and follow it for 1.4 miles until it ends at a T-junction with Cabin Trail.
  • Turn left and follow Cabin Trail for 1.9 miles which will return you to the junction with Big Rock Cave Trail.
  • Keep going straight on Cabin Trail for another 0.3 mile which will bring you back to Route 113A.

Place         Split
Cabin Trailhead on Rt. 113A (1060') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Jct. Cabin Trail / Big Rock Cave Trail (1200') 0.3 0.3 0:07 0:07
Mt. Mexico summit (2020') 1.1 1.4    
Big Rock Cave (1700') 0.5 1.9 0:42 0:49
Jct. Big Rock Cave Trail / Whitin Brook Trail (1650') 0.1 2.0 0:05 0:54
Jct. Whitin Brook Trail / Cabin Trail (2150') 1.4 3.4 0:37 1:31
Cabin Trailhead on Rt. 113A (1060') 2.2 5.6 0:50 2:21


Trail map of hike route to Mt. Mexico and Big Rock Cave (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

This was mostly pleasant, woodsy trail that felt pretty easy. The main attractions were Big Rock Cave and the pretty Whitin Brook.

Cabin Trail begins by following a private driveway. At the first fork, bear right (there is a small arrow and "trail" sign that can be easily missed). Shortly after this, you'll walk by a house and then the "driveway" section ends.

Here I met up with a group of friendly locals who were hiking out with chain saws to take care of some blowdown. The woman I talked to lives right next door in a log cabin. She has lived all over the world and says she likes living there the best. She and her relatives have adopted a section of the trail and they see to it that it stays in good shape. Many thanks to them and all the other people that maintain the trails and make our fun possible!

At the next fork, where Big Rock Cave Trail begins, I veered right to follow that path, while the trail crew went left to continue up Cabin Trail. Shortly after this fork, the trail went from a wide woods road to a narrow path. The climb was moderate and wended its way through beech groves. There was a sprinkling of trees here and there that seemed to be old growth forest – really fat trunks, splitting off into thick, major branches.

After 1.4 miles, I reached the summit of Mount. Mexico. It is a wooded summit, so it's not really obvious you're there, other than the fact that the trail flattens out. From there, I proceeded down a short, steep pitch through a hemlock forest with ample bluebead lilies (Clintonia borealis) showing off their striking blue fruit.

Big Rock Cave (photo by Sal Silvestre)
Big Rock Cave (photo by Sal Silvestre)

At the base of the descent, I was greeted by several rock monoliths surging almost as high as the hemlocks. The first one was a towering, free-standing boulder whose crown sported a thin covering of soil that managed to support its own forest. Just beyond that, several monstrous slabs leaned against each other to form a lofty overhang, along with a couple tunnels that allowed passage to the other side of the monoliths.

After exploring all the colossal rocks, I descended a bit more to reach Whitin Brook, a pretty, boulder-strewn waterway, which required crossing. On the other side of the stream, I took a left to leave Big Rock Cave Trail and follow Whitin Brook Trail.

The first half mile of Whitin Brook Trail was a slight uphill walk and the brook had to be crossed three more times. I encountered blooming partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) which is a low growing evergreen herb with white tubular flowers. I also saw some artist's fungus growing out the side of a log. It was semi-circular in shape with a radius of about five inches. Most of it was milk chocolate in color, with a ring of dark chocolate outside of that along the curved edges, then finally a ring of white chocolate on the outer perimeter (is it obvious that I've recently given up chocolate?).

At the first brook crossing was a small, picturesque cascade. At the next crossing, there was a small boulder staircase leading down to the stream. There were several quiet pools of water just upstream from the crossing. The pools rested between mini gravel sand bars – it was a very peaceful spot. The last crossing had a log over the water that served as a good railing while hopping from rock to rock. Looking across the stream, the path wasn't evident because it was overgrown on just the short section of trail that it takes to climb back up the embankment.

After the last crossing, the path veers away from the stream and continues along at easy grades for another half mile. The final half mile of the Whitin Brook Trail involved a steep section that climbed up amongst unattractive, half-dead conifers. Right before reaching the height of land, the cliffs of Mount Paugus could be spied through the trees.

SDH on the trail (photo by Sal Silvestre)
SDH on the trail (photo by Sal Silvestre)

At the top of this pitch is the junction with Cabin Trail. Nearby was a downed tree across the trail, lodged at such a height, that it served as a convenient seat where one could catch their breath upon completing the challenging stretch. At this point, I took a left to follow Cabin Trail back to Route 113A.

From there, it was all downhill, starting out with moderate grades and soon becoming more gradual with only dry stream beds to step across. I sauntered through deciduous woods and passed by much shining club moss, tree club moss (which looks like mini pine trees), and burned ground moss (whose spore cases extended above the green mat much like a periscope extends above a submarine).

I was able to capture several glimpses of views through the trees throughout this hike and think this would be a great trail to do in the winter, given its relatively easy terrain, its low elevation and the lure of beautiful views.


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

The Cabin Trailhead is located in Tamworth, New Hampshire on Route 113A.

From I-93:
  • From I-93, take Exit 24 for Ashland.
  • From the exit ramp, pick up the combined Routes 3 South and 25 East.
  • In Holderness pick up Rt. 113 and head northeasterly.
  • In North Sandwich, get on Rt. 113A.
  • Follow Rt. 113A for about 6.8 miles.
  • Cabin Trail will be on the left side of the road, but you should park on the right side opposite the trailhead. Do not park in or block any driveways. The trailhead is about 0.3 mile east of Wonalancet and Ferncroft Road (which are located at the last right-angle turn on Rt. 113A).

From Rt. 16:
  • From Rt. 16, take Rt. 113 West in Chocurua.
  • Follow Rt. 113 West for about 3 miles until meeting Rt. 113A in Tamworth.
  • Turn right and follow Rt. 113A for about 5.3 miles.
  • Cabin Trail will be on the right side of the road, but you should park on the left side opposite the trailhead. Do not park in or block any driveways.

More Big Rock Cave and Mt. Mexico Trail Reports   


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