A late-summer visit to Winant Park in Concord brought me the sight of tall summer wildflowers blooming cheerfully by the parking lot. Once I passed the information kiosk where the trails begin, there wasn’t a blossom in sight. Instead, mushrooms were all over the place. I don’t know what’s what when it comes to fungi, so I was reduced to simple wonder at the variety of colors and sizes. A hazy day made the usual Winant vista unremarkable, but the colorful forest floor made up for that.
A summer Saturday, great weather, and no schedule to keep: this is as good as July gets.
I’ve never managed to get to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, NH during peak bloom time, which is supposed to be mid-July, give-or-take. Even so, I’ve never had a disappointing trip there. The rhododendron grove is shady and cool, with or without blooms.
I skipped the trail leading from the grove to Little Monadnock Mountain. Instead, after a walk around the grove, I left the park via Rockwood Road to connect with the Cheshire Rail Trail at Rockwood Pond a little over a mile away.
Rockwood Road is unpaved but well-maintained, at least in midsummer. I walked the first half-mile with only a barred owl and a few tiger swallowtails for company, which suited me. Beyond that, as I approached the pond, I passed a few houses and was passed by a few very polite drivers.
Last time I saw Rockwood Pond was on a foggy autumn weekday without another soul in sight. This time, there were picnickers at the shore and canoeists on the water. Not much traffic on the rail trail, though. In fact, the only other pedestrians I saw were in the grove at the park. Grove, road, and trail together made a great walking route for me. Bug repellent was useful.
A map of the area suggests to me a longer loop hike for some other day: from the trailhead in Rhododendron State Park, go uphill to Little Monadnock; follow the Metacomet-Monadnock trail northward into Troy; turn south on the Cheshire Rail Trail; then turn right (south-southwest) on Rockwood Road to return to the park.
But no long hike for me today. Instead, after my walk I drove to discover a couple of places that were new to me (even though they’re apparently very well known by the rest of the world).
- I am now a very big fan of Monadnock Berries in Troy, where I picked about three pounds of scrumptious blueberries while enjoying a prime view of Mount Monadnock.
- The Kimball Farm ice cream stand in Jaffrey was crowded, and I could have done without the smell of fried seafood being served a few windows over. But those are just quibbles. My ice cream cone, allegedly a “mini” portion (but don’t you believe it), was perfect.
My state is having its annual heat wave. My car’s thermometer registered 104° today. It’s hot enough to make me forget for a few days that icy driveways are only a few months away. It’s even hot enough to make an indoor treadmill look appealing. But I found a good place for a half-hour walk today: a rail trail under a nice shady canopy of trees.
The Goffstown rail trail was my destination today. You might have a shady refuge just like it near you. Packed sand underfoot, trees overhead, river nearby. Restful and cool, until the trail crossed a power line cut and the shade disappeared for a hundred yards or so.
From the trail’s bridge over the Piscataquog River, I could see a couple of kayakers who were no doubt in for a whopping case of sunburn. Still, the river was their refuge from the heat, so good for them.
As I turned around at the bridge to return to my car, a smiling bicyclist flew past me. She called back to me over her shoulder, “isn’t this a glorious day?”
Yes, it was.
More ideas: Five years ago, I made a list of five of my favorite southern New Hampshire hot-weather hikes.
The blueberries were gone along Crotched Mountain’s Gregg Trail on this July afternoon, but the Queen Anne’s Lace was in full bloom. A fair trade-off. Besides, there were still some raspberries left.
A waterfall, good company, and a Bette Davis plaque: welcome to Coppermine Brook and Bridal Veil Falls in Franconia, New Hampshire.
The plaque’s been documented elsewhere, but in brief: in the 1930s, actress Bette Davis was married to Arthur Farnsworth from nearby Sugar Hill, who died in a tragic accident. Someone, reputedly Davis, later mounted a memorial plaque on a boulder in Coppermine Brook, with an affectionate inscription to “the keeper of stray ladies.”
The Coppermine Brook trailhead is just off NH Route 116. Our trip was a few days after heavy rains and flash flooding had left significant road and property damage in the area, and between I-93 and 116, we passed two work crews repairing washed-out edges of roads. The trail itself, alongside the brook, was a bit gullied but otherwise intact.
The trail rises about 1100 feet in two and a half miles to its terminus at Bridal Veil Falls. If you want a shorter hike, the plaque is only a mile or so from the trailhead – but you have to want to find it. No directional signs will help you. It’s on a boulder in the brook, accessible via a clearing that you’ll see between the trail and the brook. The plaque faces downstream.
On the way home, we stopped in Franconia Notch State Park to visit the Old Man of the Mountain profile plaza, memorializing the rock profile that became a New Hampshire icon. The rock formation collapsed 16 years ago, but the symbol remains well-loved.
That’s my third visit to the state park in the past year, and I haven’t seen the same part of it twice. Worth a stop, even if you’re just passing through Franconia Notch to get from the state’s southern tier to the north country.
Hot day, feeling sluggish, mulling over a list of places to go: I finally just got in the car and started driving. Cue George Harrison’s Any Road.
Zipping through Rt. 111 in Hudson enroute to yet another Forest Society property (I’ll get that patch if it kills me), I realized that I was near Benson Park. I hadn’t been on the property in years – since it was Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, in fact. I made a quick detour, found the park, and walked a good three miles on its trails and paths. The trails I chose weren’t crowded, even with a couple of Pokémon Go groups intent on doing whatever it is they do.
Download a trail map before you go. I settled for taking a photo of the map at a kiosk on site. Kids, don’t try this at home; batteries are fickle friends.
The history of the property is available on the Town of Hudson web site. Indulge me as I recount a grossly oversimplified version: once upon a time in the town of Hudson, New Hampshire, there was an amusement park called Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. We Of A Certain Age can recall bringing our families there once a year for the annual Sanders company outing, back when Hudson seemed to me way-the-heck-out-there.
(I have since walked to the Canadian border, where I adjusted my notions of what in New Hampshire constitutes way-the-heck-out-there.)
The Finer Minds at the state capital decided that a Circumferential Highway would ease all of Nashua’s traffic problems. (I hear you tittering over there in the back.) The Benson’s property was bought up by the state to mitigate the expected loss of wetlands for the highway project. Years passed, and the Circumferential Highway project quietly expired, leaving only exit 2 off the Everett Turnpike to remember it by. Eventually, the Finer Minds released the Benson’s property to the town of Hudson.
More years passed, many people put enormous efforts into rehabilitating the property, and Benson’s Park is now a Hudson jewel with a playground, dog park, memorials, and a trail network. The longest single trail, Haselton Farm, is about two and a half miles long; many shorter ones allow for extended hikes.
On the Haselton Farm trail, some of the pavement remains from the Wild Animal Farm days, and the occasional sewer-access cover along the way serves as a reminder that this used to be a more developed area. On this 90-degree summer day, the trail was wonderfully shady, and a light breeze made bug repellent unnecessary.
This was the best spur-of-the-moment stop I’ve made in a long time. It’s great fun to find a place like this fairly close to home. I’ll be back.
I left Benson’s and stopped at the Bockes Memorial Forest just a few miles away before hunting down a pair of historical markers in Salem and Hampstead. Only short walks at each of these stops.
Last stop was at an old friend of a place, the rail trail near Lake Massabesic in Manchester and Auburn, where I found everything I needed: shade and breeze and views of the lake.
May you enjoy some shady hikes of your own this summer!