PAWTUCKAWAY RAMBLE: 6/8/09
Pawtuckaway State Park is one of the gems of the NH state park system, with a tremendous variety of scenery contained within its 5,500 acres. It's the best wild area in the whole SE part of the state. I'd only been there once before, and it was many years ago. Some trails needed checking for the AMC Southern NH Guide, and a visit was long overdue.
On this fine sunny morning I drove into the main park entrance on the south side, paid my four bucks, and got some trail beta from park manager Tara Mayo. Then I drove a little farther to the start of the Mountain Trail beside Mountain Pond and got a late morning start for a very long loop. As expected, I was soon met by a large and enthusiastic six-legged greeting committee. But the mosquitoes, though fairly bothersome, were not as bad as expected - they were worse on Rob Brook Road in the Whites a couple of weeks earlier - and the Ben's kept them mostly at bay. At some resting spots they weren't even present. And nary a black fly or deerfly was seen all day.
In a few yards I turned right on the Woronoco Trail, a relatively new trail winding through a remote part of the park. It was built by the New England Mt. Biking Association a few years ago but is also popular for hiking.
This 2.5 mile trail was a very enjoyable ramble. "Woronoco" is apparently an Indian word for "wandering," and true to its name it makes many twists and turns through open hardwood and hemlock forest. The trail had good footing throughout.
At 0.9 mile there was a short side path to the left....
....with a fine view across an open swamp to the ledgy south face of South Pawtuckaway Mountain. I saw a hiker up on one of the outcrops and hoped I could also stand there before the end of the day.
The Woronoco wandered through some beautiful hemlock glades.
A mountain biker's bridge.
At the end of Woronoco I turned left onto a wide woods road known as the Fundy Trail.
This led past a view over the vast Burnham Marsh. Great blue herons here.
Another vista looked over the NW part of the marsh.
I went a little past the Shaw Trail junction to catch this view of Fundy Cove on Pawtuckaway Lake.
Back to the Shaw Trail, which technically is unmaintained but was easy to follow. No sign here, only a number keyed to an intersection on the state park trail map handout.
This end of the Shaw Trail was flooded a few years ago, but it's now easily passable and was surprisingly dry. It leads past one large swamp.
Farther along it wraps around a cattail swamp.
There was one confusing spot where a relocation is underway - two mountain bikers were also befuddled here - but eventually I reached the junction with the South Ridge Trail, where I had a chat with a fellow hiker.
This fine trail dropped down to the shore of Round Pond. This turned out to be a spectacular pond with ledges around its shores. It reminded me of ponds in the Pharoah Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks. There is a rough dirt road to one corner, but it still has a pristine feel.
I crossed the end of the road and proceeded onto the scenic Boulder Trail, which led past many interesting rock formations. This one is called the Lower Slab.
The trail skirts a marsh with a view across to Middle Mountain.
A neat boulder passage.
By the junction with the North Mountain Trail is the famous Pawtuckaway boulder field. Very impressive chunks of rock strewn amidst the hemlocks.
The North Mountain Trail was another gem, leading up past cliffs and more boulders. I love the gnarled old maple in this scene.
It climbed steeply past a cave known as the Devil's Den (blurry photo, unfortunately).
This cliff face reminded me of the Square Ledge Trail in the Sandwich Range.
After a fairly rugged climb the trail leveled off on a neat oak-clad ridgecrest.
Another pitch up through hemlocks led to the upper ridge.
A side path by a giant PSNH microwave reflector led to a ledge with a restricted view towards Middle Mountain. Note the old cedar tree.
The 995-foot summit had a ledge but no view.
On the way down the SW ridge there was a more open view towards Middle Mountain from a big ledge a few yards to the left of the trail.
Another weathered cedar.
It was getting late in the evening, and I knew they closed the gate at 9:00 pm. But I really wanted to see that ledge outcrop on South Mountain. So after finishing the descent (rather steep for a while) of North Mountain Trail, I followed a snowmobile trail back along the opposite side of Reservation Road, then did the only 0.1 mile of road walking in this 14-mile loop, up Tower Road to the Mountain Trail. I made a quick side trip left up the South Ridge Trail, which seemed like a pretty steep 400-foot climb at the end of a long day. Shortly before the summit I followed an orange-blazed side path to the right and was soon on that outlook ledge. Definitely one of the best spots in the park - the view south, though flat, is surprisingly wild.
To the SE is Pawtuckaway Lake. The swamp from which I looked up at this ledge in the morning (along the Woronoco Trail) is in the center. I sat here for 15 precious minutes, listening to the sounds from the swamps and forest below: tree frogs squawking, a barred owl hooting, the ringing cry of a pileated woodpecker, the haunting strains of a hermit thrush.
Before departing, I found a vista west to the Pack Monadnocks (L) and Mt. Monadnock (R) beyond the Uncanoonucs.
It was 7:50 when I left the ledge and I had 2 1/2 miles to go. No time to visit the firetower at the summit. I raced (for me) back down South Ridge Trail and along the wide Mountain Trail and made it back to my car at 8:40 - phew! I wouldn't be locked in. A most enjoyable ramble.