Sunday, June 19, 2011


Low but surprisingly rugged Mount Paugus is mostly overlooked by hikers, perhaps because the glamorous Mount Chocorua rises on one side of it and on the other side are several 4,000-footers. I am part of a relatively small contingent of Paugus devotees who enjoy its wild aura, interesting trails, and excellent views from the ledges just below its 3,100-ft. south summit. The 19th century naturalist Frank Bolles was perhaps the mountain's biggest fan, affectionately calling it "Old Shag" and writing about it extensively in his 1893 classic, At the North of Bearcamp Water.

The photo of Paugus (named for the Pequawket sachem who was killed at the battle of Lovewell's Pond near Fryeburg, ME in 1725) seen below was taken from a viewpoint along the Walden Trail on Wonalancet Hedgehog.

The Lawrence Trail approach to Paugus from the west was built in 1906 under the direction of AMC member Roswell Lawrence, and was long known as one of the most challenging and scenic routes in the Sandwich Range, especially where it struggled up through precipitous gravelly gullies in the area known as The Overhang. However, this trail had become badly eroded over the years, to the point of becoming dangerous due to unstable rocks. So in 2006 the Wonalancet Out Door Club (WODC) and Forest Service teamed up to make a major relocation of the trail via a well-graded footway that passes under The Overhang.

In 2008 the same treatment was applied to another steep, terribly eroded stretch on the west flank of Mount Paugus. A series of switchbacks were put in, making the ascent more enjoyable and the trail much more sustainable.

I had walked the 2006 relocation a couple of times, but hadn't yet seen the work from 2008. A visit to the Lawrence Trail was overdue. The day's plan called for a loop from Rt. 113A in Wonlancet: up the Cabin and Lawrence Trails, down the Old Paugus and Big Rock Cave Trails. It was already warm when I set off mid-morning on the Cabin Trail.

This path climbed at a gentle, painless grade up the flank of Whitin Ridge. There was some fine mature hardwood forest in here, but the mosquitoes were swarming and I didn't stop much.

At 1.7 mi. the trail entered the Sandwich Range Wilderness.

Higher up the woods became sprucey and wild, and the 'skeeters went away.

Shortly after passing the junction with the Whitin Brook Trail, I took a break at a spot with a dramatic framed view of the huge ledges and rust-colored slides on the SW face of Mt. Paugus. It's similar to the almost desert-like scenery in the Mount Resolution area.

In this section the Cabin Trail clings to a steep slope on a narrow sidehill.

I turned R on the Lawrence Trail, bound for Paugus.

The trail descended into an area of dense, brushy hardwoods. This area was hit hard by the 1998 ice storm.

The 2006 relocation is a nice route under The Overhang.

A glimpse of more slabs on Mount Paugus. This mountain has quite an assortment of cliffs and ledges on its SW and eastern slopes.

Across the saddle that divides The Overhang from Mount Paugus, the 2008 relocation began. Ahead I could see the steep, eroded old route of the trail, well-brushed in.

In a series of well-cut, graded switchbacks, the new route of the trail made fairly easy work of several hundred feet of elevation.

The gravelly surface on an upper switchback.

At one corner I stood on a rock and looked out at Mt. Whiteface.

A short distance above the highest switchback, the trail abruptly eased off and meandered up through the red spruce forest that cloaks the upper slopes of Paugus.

The Lawrence Trail ended on a large ledge atop the south peak of Paugus.

The views were restricted here, and some hikers might wonder what the big deal is about Paugus. To get the real view, one must descend about 50 yards to the SW, towards Mt. Israel, passing to the R of the broken boulders seen in this photo. Beyond there, you push another few yards along an overgrown path through a belt of scrub.

The payoff is a vast granite slab - you could fit fifty hikers here, not that you'd want to - with a wonderful view westward along the Sandwich Range. Most prominent are Mt. Passaconaway on the R, with its two great SE spurs, Nanamocomuck Peak and Wonalancet Hedgehog, on the L, and Mt. Whiteface beyond. The Overhang is down below in front.

A closer look at Passaconaway, with the impressive cliff of Square Ledge below.

Sandwich Dome is to the L of Whiteface in the distance, with Mt. Wonalancet and Hibbard Mtn. down in front.

Looking SW over the Whitin Brook valley, Whitin Ridge and the Lakes Region. Skies were midsummer hazy this day.

Down lower this slab was exfoliating; there were several spots where it sounded hollow.

This is one fine hangout ledge. As usual, there was no one else around. In fact, I saw no other hikers on the entire 8-mile loop, on a sunny summer-like day. The black flies swarmed when the light breeze let up, but I still managed to get a summit snooze in.

I headed down from the south summit on the Old Paugus Trail. This was the original route up Paugus, cut by WODC in 1898. A rough and wild trail with several ledge scrambles, it is now maintained by the Chocorua Mountain Club.

Just down from the top, a short side path led to a nice view of Mt. Chocorua.

After the first short, steep drop, I made a side trip to the former site of Old Shag Shelter. A few yards from the site is a high-elevation bog, perhaps once a pond. The densely wooded true summit of Paugus - a miserable 0.3 mi. bushwhack each way from what I've heard - could be seen to the north.

Beyond the shelter site the trail crossed a neat spruce-wooded plateau. Partway down from here I bushwhacked off to the east in search of a view ledge I had found on a previous trip some years ago.

It took some poking around, but eventually I found the outlook. It was as good, or even better, than I remembered - a great open granite perch with a wide view revealing the hidden western ridges and valleys of Chocorua.

I especially liked the long view up the "Bee Line" valley.

Wild-looking cliffs spotted the ridge descending below to the Paugus Brook valley.

Looking over Chocorua's NW shoulder to the Moats and Kearsarge North.

Farther down the trail was this nasty wet, steep slab. I used boots, hands and butt to get down.

Just below the slab was a fine southerly outlook right beside the trail. Ossipee Range in the distance.

A steep drop below the outlook.

On a southern shoulder, a recent windstorm had wreaked havoc with the spruces.

After a steep drop, the trail edged along the bottom of this cliff face.

Then there was a very steep drop down a rocky, gravelly gully - tough footing for descending.

Where the trail eased off, I made a short whack to a one-acre area that was burned in a 2001 forest fire. Vigorous new growth was springing up amidst the fallen and blackened trees.

Farther down I turned right on the Big Rock Cave Trail and followed it down to Whitin Brook.

I took a break by the cool waters of the brook, freshening up for the 400-ft. climb up past Big Rock Cave and over Mt. Mexico.

Big Rock Cave is always a cool place to visit. The main boulder cave is big enough to walk through without ducking. This is a worthy destination on its own for a shorter hike. Great place for kids.

I admired this sheer boulder wall next to the main cave, then finished the climb to flat-topped Mt. Mexico and eased back down to the lower Cabin Trail and the trailhead.


  1. Nice one Steve! The Chocorua views were especially nice! And, one of your photos which highlights Square Ledge brought back some terrific memories of the whack that you & I did awhile ago to a ledge that looked Square Ledge "squarely" in the face!


  2. Thanks, John! Those were some neat views of Square Ledge we had that day. Perhaps only the peregrines get a better look at it.


  3. Big Rock cave will go on the short list of hikes with the kids! Also, the pictures of the recent relocations are impressive. It sure does look more sustainable that the old, eroded route!

  4. Hi Jason,

    The old Lawrence route sure was exciting, scenic and a little bit scary. But it was wasting away, and apparently there was one large rock coming loose that could have stranded a hiker if it gave way. The new route will last a lot longer.


  5. Sounds like a nice hike Steve. I'm thinking of doing this Thurs or Friday. Do you think hiking it counter-clockwise might be easier for the slightly 'knee-challenged' hiker like myself?

  6. Hi Ed,

    I think counterclockwise would be easier, since you would be going up the steep, rocky sections on Old Paugus Trail rather than down. The gravelly switchbacks on Lawrence Trail will be much kinder to knees for descending. It's a great hike with a lot of variety - enjoy!


  7. Steve, Thanks again for your detailed postings. The is the second of your trips this year I have done after your posting. I did the Paugus loop Thurs. It was a lot of fun and definitely had variety as you noted. Thanks to your posting and recommendation, I did the loop counter clockwise which work out excellently for my knees. I did lose the trail while attempting to go up the steep wet area. I must have followed some herd path of others trying to get around it and did some unintentional bush-wacking up to the trail for about 15 minutes (I sure wasn't going back down). Either the trail is not well marked in this area or I was just not paying attention. I've hiked the WMNF and area around 200 times and this was only the 2nd time I lost a trail. It did add some extra excitement to the trip.

  8. Glad you enjoyed the hike, Ed! Was the place you mention the nasty wet ledge above the southern outlook on the Old Paugus Trail? That is a tricky spot.


  9. Sounds like the spot you are referring to Steve. I started scrabling up and around large wet boulders for a few minutes and then into a continued very steep area of downed spruces and then lost the trail. I think it was just below the bee line trail and looks like your picture above with the caption "On a southern shoulder, a recent windstorm had wreaked havoc with the spruces." This loop was both fun and quite challenging considering it is a smaller mountain. Surprisingly almost on par with the hike up and over the Wildcats I did a couple weeks ago.

  10. What are your thoughts about Paugus for a winter hike? Is the trail well marked? - Hiker Steve

    1. Hi Steve,

      A friend and I did Paugus in winter back in 2006, via the Bolles Trail, Bee Line Cutoff, Bee Line Trail, and Old Paugus Trail. The trails are not well-marked but we didn't have trouble following them. Some pretty steep climbing on this route. Parking is limited since the road is not plowed to the summer trailhead. You park at the end of plowing next to a house and walk a half mile to the trailhead. Now that the Lawrence Trail has been relocated off the Overhang, it might be easier to go from Ferncroft (good parking) via Old Mast Road and Lawrence Trail. The downside of this route is there's a few hundred feet of climbing on the way back. By either route there may be a lot of trail-breaking required. Good luck!


  11. Is there any good place to put a tent up near the summit of Mt. Paugus?

    1. There is a spot at the former site of Old Shag Shelter in the col on the east side of the south peak (the peak with the view ledge). A short side path leads to it.

  12. Steve, do you know anything about the slab northeast of Paugus? (,-71.3096241,1970m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en) It didn't look like there was a well established trail to it but perhaps a climber's path somewhere? It looks interesting ( I was thinking Bolles Trail from the Champney Falls parking lot, following the western fork of Twin Brook. Curious if you've explored over here before. Feel free to e-mail me directly as well.

    1. Hi Jeffrey,
      I've been to the top of those slabs several times. They have a great closeup view of Chocorua. Didn't know they were a climbing destination. I usually approach them by following the Bolles Trail to the height-of-land and bushwhacking back across the ridgecrest.I've not seen any kind of herd path on that route. Have fun exploring!