The wild, wetland-rich basin between Carr Mountain and Mount Kineo in the southwestern Whites has long been one of my favorite backcountry haunts. It is best known for the scenic Three Ponds: Lower, Middle and Upper. I hadn't been in here in a couple of years, partly due to ongoing snowmobile trail construction, so it was time for a return visit to the ponds, and to see what trail changes had been wrought. The trailhead for the wonderful 5+ mile loop around the Three Ponds Trail, Donkey Hill Cutoff and Mount Kineo Trail is on Stinson Lake Road, a long way in from the major highways.
Fair warning: snowmobile trail and bridge construction involves heavy equipment, which can really muck up the hiking trails.
This big old lightning-scarred maple is a longtime guardian of the lower part of Three Ponds Trail.
I always like to make the short bushwhack down to this scenic beaver meadow on Sucker Brook, with Carr Mountain in the background.
One of many wetland scenes along the Three Ponds Trail.
A nice corridor through the forest.
The trail follows Sucker Brook up the valley.
At 2.0 miles a rather desolate construction site marks the start of a new snowmobile trail that cuts across to the Mount Kineo Trail. Snowmobiles will no longer be riding north across the ponds.
I knew these trails were being built, but was surprised at how wide and raw they were.
I went up a short way on the new trail and made a very short bushwhack to the edge of a shrubby bog bordering the Lower Pond.
Back on the Three Ponds Trail, I continued to the Middle Pond, one of the most peaceful spots in the mountains.
On the hillside above the pond, the Three Ponds Shelter was clean and in pretty good shape.
An inviting rest spot along the shore - where I stopped for lunch.
Looking southwest to Carr Mountain.
I went 5 for 7 on finding geocaches along the loop. These don't get found very often.
The junction where the usual loop hike turns right on Donkey Hill Cutoff. First I wanted to have a look at Upper Pond.
Just past the junction Three Ponds Trail makes a precarious beaver dam crossing.
Then you pass by the NE corner of Middle Pond, with a lovely long view to Carr.
Hobblebush assault on Three Ponds Trail, which is notoriously obscure north of the ponds.
A side path leads to a terrific sitting rock on the shore of Upper Pond.
The dark crest of Mount Kineo looms in the distance.
Summertime, and the livin' is easy...
After a sojourn at Upper Pond, I bushwhacked through mostly hardwoods to a small cliff to the west.
The tiny perch offered a fine bird's eye view of Upper Pond, with the east ridge of Kineo beyond.
A bear had also been up here enjoying the vista.
A good profile on Mount Kineo.
Side view of the little cliff. A spruce had toppled off, opening up the view.
On the way back to the trail I passed by the north end of Middle Pond.
Typical terrain along the wild Donkey Hill Cutoff.
One of my favorite spots in the area is this viewpoint looking across the Brown Brook Marshes to Mount Kineo, reached by a short spur path off Donkey Hill Cutoff.
Steep headwall at the Kineo-Whitcher Hill col.
This new industrial strength snowmobile bridge spans Brown Brook at the Donkey Hill Cutoff/Mount Kineo Trail junction.
I was disappointed to see that the Mount Kineo Trail, which through here was a wild, lightly-used footpath, had been bulldozed into a snowmobile superhighway. I'm all for snowmobiling, but the reshaping of hiking trails in this area has been pretty heavy-handed.
A northern spur of Carr Mountain seen across the Brown Brook Marshes.
A beautiful maple glade at an old logging camp site.
Logging camp artifact. This was in the same spot back in 2010.
After checking out two more snowmobile trail junctions, I bushwhacked up to a low spur of Mount Kineo in search of a viewpoint over the Brown Brook Marshes I'd found in 2009. I was a little rushed and couldn't find the spot, but did gain a partial view. This wetland complex is more than a mile long.
This is the more open vista of the marshes that I discovered in 2009.
The high crest of Carr Mountain (3453 ft.).
A profile of Carr's long ridge.
Back down along the Mount Kineo combined snowmobile/hiking trail, a look down into a gorgeous bottomland maple forest.
I followed a now-abandoned 0.3 mile section of the Mount Kineo Trail along the marshes rather than the wide, up-and-down 0.4 mile snowmobile section that is replacing it.
The scenic highlight as you complete the usual loop on the Mount Kineo Trail is this cascade on Brown Brook. There is much to see in the Three Ponds area.