When my family and I moved to the Lakes Region in 1977 I gave little thought to hiking locally. I was drawn north to the White Mountains to hike the many trails located in the National Forest. It wasn't until a few years ago that I became acquainted with the mountain range located almost in my back yard. A hiking friend asked me if I wanted to attend a meeting of the BRATTS (Belknap Range Trail Tenders), a group of volunteers who maintain many of the trails located in the Belknap Range. I agreed to attend and signed on as a trail maintainer with my hiking partner Steve Zimmer. From that point forward I became enamored of not only the trail system, but the history and geography of the region known as the Belknap Mountain Range.
The Belknap Mountain Range is a prominent mountainous ridge that runs west of Lake Winnipesaukee in the towns of Gilford, Gilmanton, and Alton, N.H. It is comprised of several prominent peaks including Piper (2,044 feet), Gunstock (2,250), Belknap (2,382) and Major (1,786). A fire tower on Belknap and the cleared summit of Gunstock, as well as numerous scattered ledges on all the peaks, provide fine views of Lake Winnipesaukee, the Ossipee and Sandwich Range, and Mt. Washington. The range was named for Jeremy Belknap (1744-1796) who in 1784 published the first volume of the History of New Hampshire and in 1792 completed the work. The Belknap Range is part of a volcanic complex that surrounds Lake Winnipesaukee and includes Red Hill, the Belknap Range, the Ossipee Mountains and Merrymeeting Mountain. They were created during the Mesozoic Era and the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent. If you are interested in more information on the formation of the Belknap Range read "Stepping-Stones Across New Hampshire: A Geological Story of the Belknap Mountains." by Jay Long, 2005.
Several trails are ideal for the beginner hiker or a family with small children and serve as a wonderful introduction to the Belknaps. I would recommend the Mt. Major trail, the Piper Trail or the Gunstock Mountain Trail. One of my favorite trails is a section of the Fire Road/Round Pond Trail. It can be accessed from Bickford Road, which runs off of Rt. 11A. There is a small parking area at the end of the road and the trail starts immediately from the parking lot. It climbs gradually on a recently reconstructed fire road, with some fine viewing areas toward Belknap Mountain. At about one mile the fire road merges with the Round Pond Trail which starts at the Gunstock Mountain Ski Area parking lot. This trail is marked with red blazes. Continue on the Round Pond Trail, until it merges with the Piper Link Trail blazed in lime green. Stay to the left, continuing to climb gradually to the height of land. The trial then leads down to Round Pond and around its northern and eastern shore line. Round Pond is a beautiful mountain pond occupied by a very active beaver colony. The trail had to be relocated last year and moved to higher ground due to beavers building an extensive dam at the far end of the pond.
The trail continues along the eastern side of the pond to a clearing at the southern end of the pond. This area has been used often for camping and picnicking. The Daniel Webster Boy Scout Council owns much of the land near and around the pond and uses it for numerous activities in the summer. Here is a great spot for a rest in the sun, a snack and if you are brave, a dip in the pond. When you are ready to head back to the parking lot simply reverse direction and follow the trail back.
If you have the energy, the time and an adventurous spirit you can choose to climb Mt. Clem and Mt. Mack, as both mountains are accessible off the Round Pond trail. Watch for the BRT sign (Belknap Range Trail) that will take you up to the summits of both mountains. Since there are a number of other trails in the area you should have the Belknap Range Trail map with you, along with a compass (and the ability to use the compass) to ensure that you can return to the Round Pond Trail. Trail maps are available at the libraries in Gilford, Gilmanton, Laconia, Barnstead, Meredith, Center Tuftonboro and Sanbornton. You also can download or print the 11″ X 17″ map at http://belknaprangetrails.org/belknap-range-trail-map/.
I hope you take the opportunity to get to know the Belknap Range, just as I have done over the past several years. The range is a jewel in our "backyard" and provide wonderful opportunities for numerous days of hiking pleasure. You can learn more about the trails by going to www.belknaprangetrails.org
Gordon DuBois has hiked extensively in Northern New England and the Adirondacks of New York State. In 2011 he completed the Appalachian Trail (2,285 miles) hiking north from North Adams, Mass. to Mt Katahdin, Maine in 2007 and in 2011 hiking south from Mass. to Springer Mt. in Georgia. He has also hiked the Long Trail in Vt., The International AT in Quebec, Canada and the John Muir Trail in California. Gordon has summited the New Hampshire Hundred Highest peaks, and the New England Hundred Highest, 98 of these in winter. He spends many days hiking locally and in the White Mountains with his dog Reuben. He especially enjoys hiking in the Lakes Region due to the proximity to his home in New Hampton. He is also a trail maintainer for the BRATTS (Belknap Range Trail Tenders) and can be found often exploring the many hiking trails in the area.
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