Take time for Oak Hill when you’re passing through New Hampshire’s capital city. Concord has many fine parks and trails, but only one includes a fire tower. The tower on Oak Hill was rebuilt not long ago, so it’s as shiny-and-new as you’ll ever find it. A hard frost or two has smacked down the local insects. Autumn colors are muted now, more gold-and-bronze than scarlet-and-yellow. Trees are losing their leaves, and so views are opening up. Wear something that’s blaze-orange; ’tis the season.
Oak Hill is exactly that: a hill covered with oak trees. It’s all a walk in the woods except for the fire tower and a couple of vistas (conveniently marked on the trail map). Follow the Tower Trail’s yellow blazes from the parking area on Shaker Road. Once at the tower, a climb to the landing just below the cab will reward you with a 360 degree view.
Some of my favorite short after-work hikes have been in Concord, New Hampshire, not far from the State House to which I used to travel for business. The trails on Oak Hill and in Winant Park stand out. Now there’s a new one – new to me, anyway – on the north side of town, where I recently walked for a fine hour and a half.
The two-and-a-half-mile long trail is a segment of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail (CLSRT). This long-abandoned old rail line will someday be an uninterrupted upgraded rail trail once again linking Concord and Lake Sunapee. For now, it’s a disjointed thing, with a little piece open for use in Warner, another in Bradford, and now another in Concord.
I was there on an overcast, comfortably cool day. I overshot the lot by just a bit as I drove north on U.S. 3; turning around was no problem in a nearby business’s lot. Mine was the only car in the parking lot at the trailhead, at 25 Fisherville Road (U.S. 3). I found there an information kiosk and a bike-service stand.
The first section of trail had a surface of smooth well-packed stone dust. The trail was flanked by businesses on one side and a wide open field on the other.
Before long, the trail entered the woods, becoming a little rougher but still wide and well-defined. Most of the more-vividly-colored leaves had dropped. What was left created a glowing golden tunnel. Granite markers recalled the days of the old active line, when C stood for Concord and CJ stood for Claremont Junction.
The trail stayed close to U.S. 3 before veering west to parallel Bog Road. Traffic noise was not intrusive. One dog’s barking certainly was; more about that later. The noisiest moment I had was when I flushed what must have been a grouse concealed in the leaves just off the trail. The bird’s explosive takeoff startled me half out of my wits.
What’s now a formal piece of rail trail has apparently served as a snowmobile trail, or so I conclude based on one well-signed junction. For the most part, though, I was on a path freshly improved for walkers and bikers alike. Runners, too. I was passed by a few who were probably delighted not to have to get their miles in on the nearby roads.
The trail passes through a residential area, with trees providing some buffer. Many properties were posted with customary small “no trespassing” signs. One owner adopted a more aggressive approach: a huge sign for the owner’s favored presidential candidate, including some profanity for emphasis; a fence alongside the trail with a disproportionate number of signs to discourage wandering trail users – seriously, one would have done the job; and a noisy bulldog to underscore the whole message.
In what may or may not be related news, the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail website mentions a land-ownership dispute with a nearby resident on the Concord section. At the time I was there, the trail had no detours.
Grouse and bulldog aside, I had a refreshing five-mile round trip walk. I owe that to amazing work by many volunteers and donors who built up this section. Together, they have created another fine trail in Concord.
Five hundred miles. The app on my phone assures me that’s how far I’ve walked and hiked this year. Not far by comparison with many (most?) other hikers, I know. Still, I covered some fine southern New Hampshire places. Thirty-three towns, according to my trail notes, plus a probably-once-in-a-lifetime visit to a place way beyond the border. Not a bad year at all.
August in Winant Park, Concord: mushrooms, not blossoms, bedeck the trails.
Nashua’s Mine Falls might be my favorite city park, but Concord’s Winant Park was a contender this year. I frequently have business in Concord, with Winant only a short drive away. All by itself it justified keeping a pair of trail shoes in the car for spur-of-the-moment hikes.
I visited Miller State Park one late-spring day just before sunset, and had the usually-busy Pack Monadnock summit and fire tower to myself. In thirty years of hikes there, I’d never been on the summit at dusk.
Mt. Monadnock at dusk, seen from Pack Monadnock
Of all the trails new to me this year, the ones in Moose Mountain reservation are the ones most likely to draw me back. I enjoyed an early-fall lunch on Phebe’s Nable. And then there’s Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch: one of the most heavily-trafficked trails in the Whites, but new and delightful to me. What a view!
Crawford Notch seen from Mt. Willard. Take that trail early in the day to avoid crowds.
Each year brings surprises. This year’s was a trip to Italy. I packed walking shoes, of course, and with my husband explored Rome on foot. Despite the exhausting summer heat, I was exhilarated. I’m more at home on trails, but what’s not to love about being a Granite State Walker on vacation?
Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, seen from Janiculum (Gianicolo) Hill in Rome, Italy.
And next year, who knows? Maybe 500 miles, maybe far more. I’m thinking local: redline nearby spots like Horse Hill, Beaver Brook, and the Uncanoonuc trails. See them afresh. Walk on more rail trails, or rather more miles on the trails already familiar to me. Take better photos. Make a point of hiking with the friends who have offered to share their own favorite trails with me.
I’ll turn 60 in the coming year. Perhaps a landmark hike is in order.
I hope you can look back with satisfaction on your own hikes from the past year. Even more, I hope you’re looking forward to next year’s adventures. See you out there.
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.
Not a pair of rocks, but a mushroom tucked against a stepping-stone size rock.
This one reminded me of a kind of coral.
With my shoe (at left) for scale, this was a ground-hugging mushroom that blended in very well with the forest floor.
I love these little discoveries that leave me wondering how did I not find this place sooner: this week, it was Winant Park in Concord, near St. Paul’s School. I’d seen it listed on the city’s map of area trails, but had never managed to find time for a visit until recently.
My first attempt at a visit ended quickly due to ice on the trail, as seen in the photo below. A few spring-like February days later, I returned and enjoyed 45 good minutes in the woods.
Winant Park trailhead in Concord on an icy day. The bridge deck was clear just a few days later, after a February thaw.
Piles of snow edged the parking lot and some stretches of trail, but a warm week had melted a great deal of snow and left the trails muddy. There were a few other cars in the trailhead parking lot, which is easy to find on Fisk Road just off Pleasant Street.
The park is wooded, with a pair of vistas I enjoyed: a view featuring the State House dome (a view obviously preserved with diligent tree-trimming) and a view of the hills and low mountains to the south and southwest. A kiosk at the trailhead and informational signs along the trails offer information about the park’s history. The trail network is simple and well-marked.
View from a hill in Winant Park (l-r): the Lyndeborough hills, Crotched Mountain, and Monadnock peeking out from behind Crotched’s ski area.
This is an urban park, with “urban” being relative; we’re talking Concord here, not Boston. It’s not a destination park like Monadnock or Pawtuckaway. It’s an easy stop for anyone in or near Concord, though, and it’s a fine place for a quiet walk in the woods. Make a point of finding that southwestern vista, which might not be so visible once the trees leaf out.
In kindness to the trails and their maintainers, I’ll wait until mud season is over before I pay another visit here. But I will be back.
Over the ten years I’ve been keeping this blog, there’s one unassuming little post that keeps getting hits every single month: my walk to the Oak Hill fire tower where Concord meets Loudon, New Hampshire. Is it the “fire tower” phrase that keeps the search engines happy, or does Concord have a lot of enthusiastic local walkers?
The only blossoms in sight on a spring day were on the ground cover at the edge of the trail. Photos by Ellen Kolb.
Either way, the Oak Hill trails deserve the attention. They’re pleasant, easy, varied, and only a few minutes away from downtown Concord. I headed there after some work at the State House recently, knowing that I could only spare a half hour or so.
Junctions are well-marked, but this little “new vista” sign helped keep me on the right path.
I followed the signs to “vista,” only about a 12-minute walk from the parking area, and was treated to a good view of Mt. Kearsarge. I had thought that the fire tower was the only place on the hill with such a vista. My quick visit was well-rewarded. Bonus: a walk in the woods after a few hours in a hearing room is a good idea.
Mt. Kearsarge to the west. Trees conceal the Merrimack River, flowing south past the industrial building at right.