Big Rock Cave and Mt. Mexico

Destinations:  Big Rock Cave (1700'), Mt. Mexico (2020')
Trails:  Cabin Trail, Whitin Brook Trail, Big Rock Cave 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:  1800 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 4:30   Typical: 3:45  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 5:00   Typical: 5:15  
Season:  Spring
Hike Date:  05/24/2009 (Sunday)  
Last Updated:  09/18/2009  
Weather:  Cloudy and rainy, then sunny, 60-70's
Author:  Bill Mahony
Companions:  Wife: Elizabeth, Children: Shaina, Chava, Jehoshua, Yaakov, Friends: Whitney, Julia, Dog: Hunter

On a boulder (photo by Bill Mahony)
On a boulder (photo by Bill Mahony)
Route Summary   

Big Rock Cave is a set of slab/boulder caves that are fun to explore. This loop hike takes you along Whitin Brook, to Big Rock Cave, and then over the viewless summit Mount Mexico.

  • 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 with Big Rock Cave Trail, keep straight on Cabin Trail (we will be coming back via the other leg of this junction).
  • Walk uphill for 1.9 miles until reaching a junction with Whitin Brook Trail.
  • Turn right on Whitin Brook Trail and head downhill.
  • Follow Whitin Brook Trail for 1.4 miles until reaching a junction with Big Rock Cave Trail.
  • Turn right on Big Rock Cave Trail.
  • After 0.1 mile, Big Rock Cave will appear on the left.
  • After exploring the huge boulders, continue walking on Big Rock Cave Trail.
  • After 0.5 mile you will traverse the flat, wooded summit of Mount Mexico.
  • Continue on Big Rock Cave Trail for another 1.1 miles until it ends upon returning to the junction with Cabin Trail.
  • Turn left onto Cabin Trail and walk for 0.3 mile which will bring you back to Route 113A.

Place         Split
Cabin Trailhead on Rt. 113A (1060') 0.0 0.0
Jct. Cabin Trail / Big Rock Cave Trail (1200') 0.3 0.3
Jct. Cabin Trail / Whitin Brook Trail (2150') 1.9 2.2
Jct. Whitin Brook Trail / Big Rock Cave Trail (1650') 1.4 3.6
Big Rock Cave (1700') 0.1 3.7
Mt. Mexico summit (2020') 0.5 4.2
Jct. Cabin Trail / Big Rock Cave Trail (1200') 1.1 5.3
Cabin Trailhead on Rt. 113A (1060') 0.3 5.6



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

Trail Guide   

I was looking for a route that would be interesting for a group of reluctant hikers (teenagers) and others who I hoped would do some future hiking with me (my wife and younger boys). Weather and distance was keeping me from anything too high and exposed, but this would need to be good to make everyone "happy" (one never expects teens to be happy... just complaining less). Using the AMC Maps and Guidebook I figured that I could make a loop out of Big Rock Cave Trail with the caves planned for the last half of the trip. The extra portion along Whitin Brook would also be good to have some water play along the hike.

Whitin Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)
Whitin Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)
We started promptly at 10:00 a.m., which is somewhat of a miracle for my family who never seem to be able to get ready in an orderly fashion. I packed raingear and food by myself into my pack (big) and two smaller packs with water and other desirable items. The temperature was reading 53 degrees when we stepped out of the car, but we warmed up quickly as we started walking. There had been some rain on the trip to the trailhead but nothing major.

Right from the start, mosquitoes were swarming. We moved along quickly with the girls and my youngest son moving out in front. No one wanted to stop for fear of getting carried away like Toto by the "Flying Monkeys" in the Wizard of Oz. The trail moved uphill gently and I hoped that the mosquitoes would go away soon (I didn't care how).

The first half of Cabin Trail was nice, but not fascinating and as we climbed a bit the mosquitoes did lessen a bit. The woods turned into beech trees, which were fully bloomed and then we entered what we all described as the forest where they could film "Lord of the Rings"-type movies. The pine trees were growing tall over and on rocks that were covered in thick green moss. You could see quite far along the ground here and the moss growth made the forest quiet – except for that roaring sound – which I confidently said was wind.

I was right of course, but the wind was followed closely by rain. Fortunately I had packed some sort of rain cover for everyone, although some was better than others. I was nice and dry, but everyone in sneakers and cotton pants – everyone except me – got a little wet. Fortunately it was still warm and now the mosquitoes were gone.

The hike was going well despite the rain and we stopped at the intersection with Whitin Brook Trail to have a snack and arrange gear better to stay drier. The Whitin Brook Trail (from the Cabin Trail) takes you from 2,150 feet down to 1,650 feet where we would turn. The pine stand that you descend through is very surreal and Elizabeth and I were enjoying the quiet hike down as the kids ran farther up ahead.

The path was somewhat slippery for sneakers, but everyone made the journey without much difficulty. As the trail levels out it joins and crosses Whitin Brook a few times and we had fun trying (and failing) to keep the boys from getting wet. The cascades along the trail close to Big Rock Cave Trail were impressive and fun to climb even though everyone (except me and Elizabeth) got wet. The dog led the way flopping in every pool to cool off. The kids followed by trying to scramble over wet rocks in wet sneakers. We had some fun here until Elizabeth got tired of telling everyone to be careful.

Boulders at Big Rock Cave (photo by Bill Mahony)
Boulders at Big Rock Cave (photo by Bill Mahony)
One last crossing of the brook led to a steep climb up to Big Rock Cave. In just 0.1 mile from the junction of Whitin Brook and Big Rock Cave Trail we were there and ready for lunch (even though it was 1:00 p.m.). The caves provided a nice overhang and a spot to sit in the dry and take off wet gear. Lunch was not a sit down affair since the kids wanted to wander the cave and climb on the rocks.

Shortly, the rain stopped and the sun came out, which was perfect timing. We spent some more time climbing and taking some pictures. You could just see Mount Chocorua from the tops of the rocks and I told them that that was the next trip (you can hear the groans now). The trail climbed again steeply from the caves up to the barely noticeable summit of Mount Mexico. The trail was nice here and once we started going downhill, very pleasant. On the way down we met a couple who were hiking up to Paugus Mountain with their dog (and camping there). The remainder of the hike was quiet since the kids basically ran back to the car and Elizabeth and I enjoyed the stroll back down to the road.

Overall, this was a beautiful set of trails and a great loop hike. The terrain was not difficult, but with enough steepness to get some workout. I also got to see who will be hiking with me in the future. Elizabeth had a very nice time and despite wet feet was in great spirits and would like to get some better gear to make more rugged trips. The boys and Chava also seemed to enjoy the family time and with better gear and maybe a moose sighting or two, they might even claim to have fun.

Gear Notes: My raincoat (Stearns) seemed to be only mildly waterproof. It got wet after a good soaking (not heavy rain though). My Columbia Ski Shells (on the girls) seemed to work about the same. Shaina used my poncho which seems to be truly waterproof. I brought one water bladder, but needed more water for the large group; it would probably be good to get a CamelBak Pack for one of the kids. The pack rain cover seems to be truly waterproof now that I put it on right side up. My pack stayed quite dry. Boots were bone dry despite stepping in water all the way to the top of the boot. Without much weight my pack felt light and comfortable despite having hiked quite far and heavy only two days prior.

View (photo by Bill Mahony)
View (photo by Bill Mahony)

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   

At Whitin Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)
At Whitin Brook (photo by Bill Mahony) At Whitin Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)


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