Saturday, July 4, 2009


Another long and interesting day exploring some of the natural treasures of southeastern New Hampshire. I spent most of the day in Bear Brook State Park, a 9,300-acre tract east of Concord. Along with Pawtuckaway and Pisgah, it's one of the "big three" of the southern NH state parks in terms of acreage and trail networks. I'd only done one hike in Bear Brook before, many years ago, and was looking forward to rambling around its 40-mile web of trails. (A trail map is available at

After getting the latest trail information from Park Manager Greg Preville at the park office, I set off from Deerfield Road by the park tollbooth on the One Mile Road, an old gravel road that provides access to the popular trails in the NW part of the park. First up was the short climb to Catamount Hill, one of only three named "peaks" in the park. Although at a mere 721 ft. it's the lowest of this humble trio, it's the only one that offers any views.

A quick 0.7 mile jaunt brought me to the first of two ledge outlooks, this one looking east. Unfortunately, this was a murky, foggy day throughout, so even at this low elevation the views were mostly obscured.

As I made my way across the Catamount Hill and Cascade Trails towards the cascades on Catamount Brook, I was pleased by the attractive woods walking found on the Bear Brook trails.

A slippery-looking log bridge spanned Catamount Brook.

The Cascade Trail led through hemlock forest past a chain of small cascades - a lovely stretch of path.

Next I turned right on the Carr Ridge Trail, which provided a mile of rambling upland walking.
Towards the end of this trail I met the first of three pairs of mountain bikers I would encounter through the day. Bear Brook is immensely popular with mountain bikers, and you can expect to see them on just about any trail in the park.

Next I turned right on the Hayes Farm Trail. I love this kind of network, where you can wander around on many different interconnected trails. It's sort of like the RMC system on the lower slopes of the Northern Presidentials, but much easier.

The outer goal of this 7-mile loop was a water body called Hayes Marsh, maintained as a waterfowl area by New Hampshire Fish & Game. What a beautiful spot!

On the far side of a small causeway I followed a path out to a sitting rock overlooking the desolate, stump-dotted west side of the marsh. This was a great place for a lunch break, after whacking a couple of buzzing deerflies.

Heading back along the Hayes Farm Trail, I passed an old cellar hole.

A little farther on was a pretty meadow called Little Hayes Field.

I headed back towards the car on a quiet road called the Lane Trail.

Halfway along I made a short side trip on the Bear Brook Trail to see the park's namesake stream.

Completing this rewarding loop, I returned to my car and regrouped, then drove about three miles to a spot where the Broken Boulder Trail crosses Podunk Road. The goal was to see a pond that was, perhaps, named for a pioneering distant relative.

Smith Pond, reached by an easy half-mile walk through pine forest, is surely one of the most peaceful spots in the park.

The water is surrounded by a bog/swamp with a forest of bony old snags.

It was here that I had my one brief spot of sun for the day.

The park staff had recently put in a bench on the bank above the pond. It was hard to leave this place...

Just above the bench is a lean-to, available for day use only.

The piney Broken Boulder Trail reminded me of trails in Nickerson State Park on the Cape.

After checking a few more trails out briefly, I made a LONG drive around to the Hall Mountain trailhead near Candia on the SE edge of the park. At 941 ft. this is the highest point in the park, and its slightly lower NW knob sports a blueberry barren (kept open with prescribed burns) and some nice quartz ledges. Alas, the views that once graced this place have long since departed. A neat spot, though.

Racing against the clock to maximize coverage, I drove north to Route 4 and then east to Northwood Meadows State Park, one of the newest parks in the system. Trails have been under development here in recent years, and I found a map produced by the Northwood Area Land Management Collaborative at Among the trails built here is a wheelchair accessible route down to the shore of Meadow Pond.

A half-mile walk along a gravel road led to the beautiful pond. A graveled wheelchair-friendly path parallels part of the road and rejoins it near the pond.

A smooth path leads along the west shore to three accessible viewing platforms on a small peninsula. Nice!

As the evening fog settled down, I went down to the south end of the pond.

From here I followed a white-blazed trail to a a dirt road called Old Mountain Road, from which there was a misty view of the "Betty Meadows."

The NALMC map and other sources note a vista from a snowmobile trail on the north ridge of Saddleback Mountain, which rises just south of the meadows. On the map the climb to the outlook appeared to be about a half-mile. By measuring wheel, in gathering darkness, the wet and rough trail turned out to be almost twice that long before it reached the ledge. Maybe there's a decent view here on a clear day, but not at 8:30 pm on a foggy night.

After decending back to the Old Mountain Road, I followed a wide gravel road a mile north - no need for a headlamp here. Then, with headlamp on, I followed a path down to the east shore of Meadow Pond. I turned off the light and lingered a while by the foggy shore as fireflies flickered around me. An easy mile's walk led back to the car at 10 pm. I had certainly extended the trip, but it was worth it to sample this small gem of a park.

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