Distance: 5.6 miles round-trip (2.8 miles one way to the summit)
Difficulty: moderate elevation gain (1600 feet)
When seen from above, the ridgeline that includes Cardigan Mountain forms a parabola, with Little Sugarloaf (near Newfound Lake) at the northern end point, Brown Mountain (near Alexandria Four Corners) at the southern end point, and Cardigan in the middle. On the southern leg of this ridge is Orange Mountain — formerly called Mount Gilman — and from the open ledges of the summit of this peak are some impressive views of Cardigan for not much effort.
An easy way up Orange Mountain is via the Vistamont Trail, cut in the mid-1940s. One end of the trail is reachable from the AMC Cardigan Lodge via the Holt Trail to Grand Junction, and just a short bit of the Cathedral Forest Trail (Holt-Clark Cutoff). The Vistamont Trail breaks off to the left (south) from the Cathedral Forest Trail (Holt-Clark Cutoff).
After climbing a bit, it winds through some pretty hardwoods and hobblebush.
It's definitely fall, with vibernum and sugar maple changing color.
The trail continues south through a wide corridor...
...crosses a depression (often boggy)...
...past more stands of hobblebush (one of the only shrubs I've seen that in the fall changes all red, all yellow, or both)...
...and after 0.6 miles, intersects the Clark Trail.
Past this intersection, the Vistamont Trail continues south toward the ridgeline...
...before dropping down to cross a feeder stream for Clark Brook.
It climbs through more hardwoods, and past this glacial erratic.
About a half of a mile past the Clark Trail, the Vistamont trail makes a sharp turn west, toward the summit of Orange Mountain. This is a dividing point in the forest, and from here on the trail climbs through softwoods (hemlocks, pines) only, broken by some steep pitches over granite ledges.
About 0.2 miles from the beginning of the softwood forest, the trail levels out onto the open ridge (to the right is a shoulder of Orange Mountain).
This is a view south, looking at the ridgeline that eventually connects with Orange Mountain (the Skyland Trail runs across this ridge, from Alexandria Four Corners):
The trail alternates between open ledges, marked by small cairns, and short pitches in pine and hemlock.
Another view of the ridgeline, south, with Crane Mountain at center:
Looking north, the first views of Cardigan:
Along the side of the trail, big red peat moss (sphagnum magellanicum) turns an even brighter shade of red in the fall:
Fall colors of low sweet blueberry bush, nestled near lichen:
Open sideslope ledges, just below the summit of Orange Mountain:
The intersection with the Skyland Trail, which will traverse the final 80 yards to the summit:
From the open ledges just below the summit, looking north at Cardigan Mountain and Firescrew (on the right):
And, to the east, toward the ridgeline on the other side of the "ridgeline parabola":
Finally, the summit of Orange Mountain.
Another view of Cardigan, from the summit: