With the warming weather, extended daylight, the coming of summer and the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions it’s time to strap on the hiking boots, drench yourself with bug juice and take to the trails, while practicing social distancing. The Lakes Region of New Hampshire offers a multitude of hiking opportunities for families, from state parks, conservation lands, to town forests. The recreational opportunities abound in the area around the lakes of Central New Hampshire, especially on lands conserved by community, regional and state conservation organizations. The trails listed below are perfect for a family wanting to get away for a day of hiking in some of the most magnificent conservation lands in the state.
Sugarloaf Ridge-Goose Pond Conservation Area, Alexandria
The SR-GPCA, conserved by the The Lakes Region Conservation Trust and the Newfound Lakes Region Association, is located on the west side of Newfound Lake, adjacent to Wellington Beach State Park on West Shore Road. The Elwell Trail follows a ridgeline to Little Sugarloaf and Big Sugar Loaf Mountains where you’ll find magnificent views of Newfound lake.
A one mile hike to Weldon falls on a hot summer day via the Lower Manning Trail would be ideal for a family with small children. The trail is part of an extensive system of trails in the Preserve owned and managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The trail follows the Fowler River to an impressive water falls. Beyond the waterfalls, lower down on the trail, are pools for children to cool their weary feet. The trailhead is adjacent to the Cardigan Mountain Lodge, an AMC facility which is now closed for the season.
Page Pond Conservation Area, Meredith
This 567 acre town forest, under the stewardship of the Meredith Conservation Commission, holds not only Page Pond, but a number of other interesting features that include Page Brook, an abandoned quarry, a colonial era mill dam, settlers‘ cellar holes, and the family cemetery of an early Meredith settler. The area has several well marked trails that wind through the property. The trailhead can be reached by taking Route 25 in Meredith to Moulton Farm. Continue past the farm until you reach the parking lot.
Kelley-Drake Conservation Area, New Hampton
This 240 acre conservation area, managed by the New Hampton Conservation Commission, is easily reached by turning off Route 104 onto Sinclair Hill Road and then taking a left onto Kelly Pond Road. The property was settled in the 1780s by Samuel Kelley and his family. The well marked trails will take you past an extensive cellar hole complex, a well, the Drake family cemetery and through an old stand of giant hemlock and white pine trees. One trail ends at the shores of Pemegwassett Lake where you can have a picnic and observe song birds darting in and about the wetlands.
Pine Mountain and the Evelyn H. & Albert D. Morse, Sr. Preserve, Alton
If you are looking for an outstanding view of the “Big Lake” and don’t want to battle the crowds and noise found on Mount Major, then head to Pine Mountain and the Evelyn and Albert Morse Preserve. The Morse family farmed the land for many years, until they donated it to the NH Forest Society. The trail to the summit of Pine Mountain winds along a farm road, passing foundations and stone walls that were once a part of this working farm known for its production of blueberries. Once you reach the summit you’ll be amazed by the view of the “Big Lake” and the Ossipee Mountain Range and you’ll be relieved that you aren’t battling the crowds on Mount Major. The trailhead is reached by taking Route 11 into Alton Bay, turn right onto Alton Mountain Road and then left onto Avery Hill Road. Look for the parking lot on the right.
Eagle Cliff and the Merriman Forest, Sandwich
The trailhead to Eagle Cliff and the Merriman Forest can be found on the Bean Road, just north of the Moultonborough/Sandwich town line. There is no parking lot, but plenty of room to pull off on the shoulder. The trail climbs steeply to Eagle Cliff. Children will love the challenge of the rock climbs, and adults will appreciate the trail by-pass around the rock ledges. The view from here is unmatched: Squam Lake, the Sandwich Mountain Range and the Squam Range. This short hike can be extended by trekking another two miles to the summit of Red Hill and its classic fire tower.
South Straightback Mountain, Alton
Plan to hike South Straightback Mountain in mid-July when the blueberries are busting out. Here blueberries grow in abundance and what better way for a family to spend a day than hiking in the Belknap Mountain Range, picking blueberries and then returning home to feast on a freshly made blueberry pie. The hike also offers outstanding views of the Belknap Range and the hills off to the west and south. The hike can be extended by intersecting with the Belknap Range Trail and hiking to Mounts Anna, Clem and Mack. To reach the trailhead take Route 11 to Jesus Valley Road Trail, then follow the Blueberry Meadow Trail, which will take you into the elysian fields of blueberries.
Homestead Forest Conservation Area, Ashland
This 604 acre property, managed by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, was once a thriving farming community of four or five farms. Stone walls, cellar holes, barbed wire fencing and abandoned pastures dot the area. From the kiosk located at the parking lot, the trail of about three miles will take you to viewpoints, wetlands, cliff bands, mix hardwood-coniferous forests and even caves, referred to as “Devil’s Den.” The Homestead Forest can be accessed from Winona Road in Ashland and turning left onto Lambert Road.
Mount Katherine, Wonalancet
A spider web of trails, maintained by the Wonalancet Outdoor Club, wind through Wonalancet and the Sandwich Range Wilderness. Mount Katherine was named for the venerable Kate Sleeper Walden, founder of the Wonalancet Outdoor club and a leader in the conservation movement. The mountain is overshadowed by its better known neighbors to the north: Mounts Passaconaway, Whiteface, Paugus and Chocorua. The 1.2 mile hike on the Red Trail will take you to the summit where you’ll be greeted by a sweeping view of the Wonalancet Valley and Mount Chocorua. The trailhead is reached by taking Rt. 113A to the Ferncroft parking lot. There is a myriad of other trails accessed from Ferncroft, so you can easily extend your day of hiking.
The Brook Trail, Wonalancet
This short, out and back trail, is not to be confused with the challenging trail of the same name that leads to the summit of Mount Chocorua. The Brook Trail is a nugget of fun and adventure for the whole family. The trailhead is located at a small parking lot off Route 113A, across from the better known Big Rock Cave and Cabin trailhead. The trail follows the course of the Wonalancet River for about a mile, where it reaches a road crossing and continues to Sanborn Brook. Along the trail, as is hugs the river bank, are pools of crystalline waters for wading and swimming. The boulder strewn river also hosts numerous rapids and a significant waterfall that should not be missed as the river plunges over a breeched wooden dam that once served to provide electricity to the surrounding homes. Care must be given when hiking with small children where the trail crosses the river on a wood bridge and then dips down to the base of the falls. Plan to hike this trail on a hot summer day and take advantage of the cool waters of this wilderness stream.
If you would like to read more about hikes in the Lakes Region you can purchase Gordon’s book, Paths Less Travelled, at Innisfree Bookstore in Meredith, Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord or The Mountain Wanderer Bookstore in Lincoln.
For questions or comments contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org