Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mount Willard in the Crawford Notch

One of my favorite locations in the White Mountains is the Crawford Notch. Whenever we make our way down US-RT 302, we’re usually headed westbound from Jackson, NH to our hiking destination for the day. This notch seems surreal to me at times, surrounded by mountains, both big and small, rivers, waterfalls, railway trestles, etc. It seems to have a little bit of everything that makes the White Mountains so special.

Mount Willard, as seen looking north while on NH-Route 302, westbound

One memorable sight that I recall from my very first drive through the Crawford Notch is a wall of ledge that comes into view around the Historical Willey House Site heading west. This cliff wasn’t the tallest peak around us by any means, but certainly dictated prominence over many of the 4,000-footers that surrounded it. Of course, the rock face I’m talking about is Mount Willard.

We’ve hiked Mount Willard in the past. It’s an easy hike up a gentle carriage road and gives you a spectacular view down the notch to the south. It also has a lot of history. Like many mountains in the Whites, at one time there was a lot of activity to its summit by means of both a carriage road and an auto road. There was also a small trail network on the mountain, which brought hikers to surrounding destinations such as the Hitchcock Flume, Devil’s Den and Rotten Gully.

Old map showing an auto road, carriage road and multiple (now abandoned trails) to features around Mount Willard - Photo courtesy of username NHAndy posted on a Facebook hiking forum

We started our hike at the Crawford Depot on the Avalon Trail, although we weren’t on it for long. Just 0.1 miles in, the Mount Willard Trail breaks left and heads south, but soon turns west again. The terrain is a bit rocky but the grades are gentle enough that my 3 and 6 year old children had no problem with the trail at all. At 0.5 miles we were able to take a break at Centennial Pool.

After our break, the trail turned south again and climbed a bit more steeply for about another half mile before it joined up with the remnants of the old carriage road. The old carriage road was very smooth and nearly flat. Every 100 feet or so, you came to old, concrete drainage pipes that were becoming unearthed beneath the carriage road due to erosion. The kids had a fun time looking for them and always trying to find “the next one”!

 View of the Mount Willard Trail (old carriage road)

One of many old drainage pipes coming to the surface of the trail

Near the top, about 0.1 miles from the summit on the east side of the trail, there’s an unmarked and hard to spot spur trail. This trail leads down to the Hitchcock Flume. Unfortunately, either due to safety or due to resources, this spur trail is no longer maintained. One day, when I’m not with the kids, I plan on exploring the Hitchcock Flume via this trail.

When we finally reached the summit at approximately 1.8 miles, the view was superb. As previously mentioned, to the south you can see down the Crawford Notch, both the highway and train tracks look like small squiggly lines. You can see the train trestles below Mount Field (I think), Willey Pond and the Saco. On the east side of the ledges, the Presidentials can be viewed from Jackson to Washington and to the west, Willey and Field. I think one of the most impressive views Willard offers are the closeups of the Webster Cliffs.

View of Mount Willey 

View down the Crawford Notch, NH Rt-302 in the center, train tracks to the right 

 Mount Webster

Whether you’re up for a relaxing hike or something that’s kid friendly, you can’t lose when choosing Mount Willard. For a small effort, the rewards are huge. We’ve been lucky as we’ve always hit the summit early and have never run into any large crowds. But I have heard it does get pretty busy. If you hike New Hampshire mountains, Mount Willard is a “must hike” mountain. And the cherry on top is, if you are a peak-bagger, you can check this one off your 52 With A View list!

Below are some links that may be of helpful if you’re doing research on Mount Willard and planning a hike:

http://hikenewengland.com/WillardHitchcockFlumeNH090905.php - An old hiking report I wrote years ago after my first trip up Willard


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Gondola at The Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co.

We stay up in the north country at least once a year for a few nights. When we do, it's typical that we stay in the Jackson, NH or Conway, NH area. Since it's an annual trip, it's not surprising that we have a few local favorites that we like to visit. One of which is the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. Their great beverage selection along with their ability to cook a phenomenal, well-done burger without burning it, always makes this venue one of our first meal stops during our trip. It's also very kid friendly which is must for us.

Outside the brewery right next to the walkway is a really cool, antique ski gondola. The gondola is covered in stickers, all of which I assume were placed there by loyal customers. It's very cool lawn art! Every year we go there, I think to myself, "I wish I brought a Live Free and Hike NH sticker to stick on there"...but I always forget. This year, however, Jill reminded to bring one up and I finally got my sticker on the gondola!!!

I found a place to stick it right next to a running club's sticker that I also belong as a member, although I'm not too active in, The Winner's Circle Running Club. So, if you make your way to Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., check out my sticker on your way in!


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Piper Mountain in the Belknap Range

We recently hiked up Piper Mountain, which is part of the Belknap Mountain Range just south of Belknap Mountain. Piper Mountain has two peaks in close proximity, both a south and north, the south being the prominent one at 2,044 feet. There’s a ton of info regarding the trail network for this mountain as well as others in the Belknap Range at belknaprangetrails.org/. On this site you can find detailed trail descriptions and a great 11x17 pdf map of the range.

View from Piper Mountain's North Peak

We hiked the mountain starting from the Belknap Mountain Carriage Road upper parking area. From here, we hiked a short distance down the carriage road about 0.2 miles until the White Trail entered the woods to the south (just after the bridge). This trail descends gently over nicely groomed trails for a short distance into the col between Piper and Belknap. Here, it splits at a junction with the Old Piper Trail.

 Walk down the Carriage Road. The trailhead for the White Trail is just over the bridge on the left.

White Trail Trailhead

The Old Piper Trail veers to the right and continues with orange blazes through mostly hardwood. The trail, like much of the Beklnap Range trail network, is nicely groomed and maintained. The forest slowly gives way to shorter trees and ledge footing with some decent views to the northeast.

Soon, the trail turns to open ledges with great views to the east at the north peak. This location is also the end of the Old Piper Trail and beginning of the Piper-Whiteface Link Trail. We continued over the ledges, through blueberry scrub to the true summit at the south peak. The views were better on the north peak so we back tracked there for lunch.

View from the first set of ledges

The north peak had a great view of Belknap Mountain with the cell tower and fire tower in visible. There were also nice views of Mount Suncook, Mount Klem and Mount Mack. Also, there was a body of water poking out from behind some peaks. I think it was Round Pond, but may have been portions of Alton Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. There was also a great view of a mountain to the West, but I did not have a map that had terrain that far enough out to identify it.

 Open Ledges

Stone Thrown that has been on the north peak for many years

Belknap Mountain, cell tower and fire tower visible although didn't show up in this photo

Zoom in of fire tower on Belknap

Close up of either Round Pond or portions of Alton Bay

View to the west

 Zoom in of a mountain to the northwest, not sure which one...maybe Cardigan???

Zoom in of what I believe to be Mount Kearsarge to the west

We headed back down the same way ascended making the round trip about 2.4 miles. This was a great, short hike with rewarding views. I highly recommend it as family friendly, especially for small kids.

GPS vs. Map

 Signage from the trek

More Signage


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The McLane Center Audubon Society Trail Network - Concord, NH

A few days ago, I decided to check out the nearby Concord NH Audubon Society trail network located at the McLane Center off from 84 Silk Farm Road. The trailhead for this network begins at a kiosk located on the backside of the parking lot. The trails are well blazed and loop into each other allowing hikers to create a trek that can range from fractions of a mile to multiple miles. My route was taking Wendy’s Loop counterclockwise (red trail) to the Great Turkey Pond Trail, again counterclockwise (yellow trail) and back onto Wendy’s Loop. This compound loop hike was approximately 1.2 miles, brings you through some nice terrain ranging from hardwood to pine groves, was flat and gives you nice vistas of Turkey Pond where I’m assuming wildlife viewing is prevalent. It was overcast and rainy when I visited so I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife. Below are some pictures from this hike. It’s a great place to spend a lunch break or bring kids to enjoy nature!

McLane Center Trail Map: Here

McLane Center Website: Here

Trail network was well blazed and maintained 

View over old stonewall into adjacent meadow from trail 

Old barbed wire meadow fencing grown into an old oak tree 

View of Turkey Pond 

View of Turkey Pond

Boulders on the Trail

Man made features on the trail which are great for kids to explore

Map vs. GPS

Signage for this Trek


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Great Bay Discovery Center and Sandy Point

Last week, I was home with my wife and son…and it was beautiful out. Since we only had a little time to spare due to other errands we had to run, we decided to check out the close by Great Bay Discovery Center in Greenland, NH (I thought this was in Stratham but it says Greenland online). This Discovery Center is located at 89 Depot Road (the very end of the street) and has a large facility with an exhibit room which is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Unfortunately for us, we went on a Tuesday so it wasn’t open.

There’s a small trail network behind the center that hugs the banks of Great Bay. The trailhead is located behind the main building and heads west. It quickly turns into the Boardwalk Trail and is about 1,700 feet in length. It brings you down to the banks of Great Bay to a location known as Sandy Point. The boardwalk is level and has signs setup along the way teaching travelers about the different wildlife that make up the ecosystem within Sandy Point. There are also sets of wildlife footprints painted on the boardwalk that match up with the wildlife signs close by. My 2-year-old loved following them. At the end of the boardwalk, there is a view finder that looked to the east toward an osprey nest which was very cool.

The Boardwalk Trail 

Looking Northeast at Sandy Point

Guide signs along the trail and footprints on the boardwalk 

Osprey Nest and Viewer

On the short hike back, near the beginning of the boardwalk, we took a right at an intersection and headed further west on the Woodland Walk Trail. This trail immediately brought you to a mock Western Abenaki camp dwelling with a tee-pee like structure and some informational signage. Past this, the Woodland Walk Trail drove deeper west, but became very muddy. We made it to the end but could not get out to the bank of the bay due to the wet trail. So, we turned around and headed back to the Discovery Center parking area.

Western Abenaki Camp Dwelling

Woodland Walk Trail

This trail network is about 1 mile in length, round trip. It's a fantastic little hike for little ones since it was mostly made up of a boardwalk, had some great visual teaching signs and was overall short. The GBNERR (Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve) also has a great little passport for kids to check off where they’ve been and learn about the bay. A link to this, and all the maps associated with Great Bay can be found here.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jerry Hill and the Marjory Swope Park in Concord, NH

Penacook Reservoir with Mount Chocorua, Mount Belknap and Gunstock Mountain in the background

I found another great, little hike in the Concord area the other day which brought me to the top of Jerry Hill on the western side of Concord, NH. Jerry Hill is approximately 712 feet at the summit and has some cool features ranging from an older lookout or fire tower site to nice mountain vistas. The easiest access to Jerry Hill is at the Marjory Swope Park trailhead. There’s also a map for this area on Concord’s facilities site and can be accessed here.

From the parking area, I headed left from the trailhead and found the trail split quickly into the “blue” loop. I took another left approaching the loop in a clockwise direction. The trail climbed gently and right away, I could tell the trail network was very well maintained and visibly blazed.

Wildlife encounters included two garter snakes and one small toad 

Some wildflower encounters

Near the southern point of the blue loop, I came to a trail junction where the yellow trail (on the right) ascended to the summit of Jerry Hill. At this point, I split away from the blue trail and hiked up the yellow trail. After a short time, I made it to another intersection and a trail sign. Continuing straight would bring me over the summit and going left (west onto the orange trail) would bring me by Gilfillan Rock and a “Mountain Vista”.

At this point, I decided to take a detour from my initial route to explore the Gilfillan Rock and the Mountain Vista. I found the Gilfillan Rock maybe a hundred feet down the orange trail on the right. It was basically a large, short ledge ran parallel to the trail. It is named after a carving “Gilfillan” which is carved in its side. It’s believed to represent a young boy who passed away in the 1890s since Jerry Hill was a favorite destination of the school kids back then. On the top of the rock, there are many other carvings of surnames as well, but none as prominent as “Gilfillan”. There’s a small memorial and explanation on a post in front of Gilfillan Rock.

Gilfillan Rock

The Gilfillan Rock Story

Just past Gilfillan Rock is a small clearing with a bench and a view finder image. There are nice views out to the west and Crotched Mountain is easily seen. Mount Monadnock is also easy to make out on a clear day but it was too hazy to find while I was there. After exploring for a bit, I backtracked the orange trail back to the yellow trail and continued on my planned loop.

Views to the west, Crotched Mountain to the left, Pat's Peak on the right

Back on the yellow trail, I passed what I considered to be the high point on the mountain and then quickly came to the old lookout tower location. All that’s left from the tower are the four foundation blocks that were near flush with the ground. It’s not known if it was ever used for a fire observation tower or not. It has been placed on the “official” excel spreadsheet as a “footnote” or a tower location that needs more info to determine if it should be officially added or not. The spreadsheet can be found here.

Lookout Tower Foundation Blocks. Note the yellow trail crosses right through it's location. 

Tower foundation block, not as tall as a a traditional fire tower foundation block.

After passing the tower location, the trail descended quickly and I came to a viewpoint to the northwest. The side of the hill had been cleared so that you could easily see Mount Kearsarge. After taking in the views for a few minutes, I continued down the yellow trail where it ended at the blue trail on the north point of the blue loop.

Mount Kearsarge to the northwest

Heading clockwise on the blue loop brought me to the best viewpoint of the day. It was a large clearing with a panoramic sized view that swept from the northwest to the northeast skyline. You could see the whole Penacook Reservoir with Chocorua, Belknap and Gunstock in the background. The blue trail then lead me back to my starting point at the Marjory Swope Park trailhead and parking area.

Penacook Reservoir with Mount Chocorua, Mount Belknap and Gunstock Mountain in the background

Mount Belknap (right) with Gunstock peaking over it's western shoulder

Left: from Concord's trail maps
Right: My Strava GPS

This lunchtime trek was roughly 1.5 miles in all. It provided a loop hike option (which I love loop hikes), multiple viewpoints and lots of historical features to explore. I was impressed by how well the trails were maintained and blazed which made it easy to move swiftly in the short time I had at lunch. I would highly recommend anyone in the area to check this park and trail system out!

Trail Signage