Coos’s “Continental Silence”

I’m a southern New Hampshire hiker, but I head upstate now and then. Another Cohos Trail trip is on my dream list, if I can somehow carve out a week or ten days from my schedule next year. Until then,  I can turn to the fine guidebook for the trail, because it’s fun to read and it has good information as well. It’s one of my favorite trail guides. The book’s credited author is “The Cohos Trail Association,” but the man who did the writing is the trail’s founder, Kim Nilsen.

Here’s one paragraph that always brings me back to my 2009 hike on the northern third of the trail. Makes me want to head back sooner rather than later.

Continental Silence (by Kim Nilsen, from The Cohos Trail guidebook, 3rd ed.)

Coos County still harbors the sound of blood in your temples, rushing wind in close-packed red spruce needles, the burbling of countless rivulets of water, and the maniacal laugh of the loon. I’ve seen snowmobilers turn off their engines on a bald wintry summit and sit and listen to the grand silence. It is the sound of the great continent before the year 1600. The all-silence has been killed off like the eastern mountain lion, and now it reigns in only a tiny fraction of its former range.

The Cohos Trail runs through the very heart of Coos County, right along its central spine. Nowhere on the trail do folks set foot in a town of more than a few hundred people, even though the trail is over 160 miles long.Because of this, the trail ought to attract to Coos County the sort of people who will give a damn about just how special a place this great northern forested county really is.

If you know how to get by in remote country when it’s too dark to walk outside, and there isn’t a McDonald’s for 60 miles, then welcome. If you carry your trash out with you and know how to dig a pit toilet, then welcome. If you can eat well without a fire, then welcome. If you can stay dry an warm in a raging sleet storm at 4,000 feet, then welcome. If you don’t have the urge to vandalize logging equipment or smash a window of a car at a trailhead, then welcome.

You’ve come to the right place. Leave your business suit in the dooryard (northern New Hampshire talk for “front yard”), and come along to experience some of the finest wilderness you’ll ever want to see in the Eastern United States!

Many New Hampshire booksellers carry the guidebook or can order it for you, or you can order it from the Cohos Trail Association web site.

featured photo: Deer Mountain state park, northernmost camping area on the Cohos Trail. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

3 Favorite New Hampshire Trail Guides

Afew favorites from my bookshelf. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

A few favorites from my bookshelf. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

I collect as much information as I can about New Hampshire’s parks and trails. From a thick binder filled with loose maps to my Randolph Trails book with its still-intact spine, I think I have the state covered. I have three books in particular to which I keep returning. Let me tell you about them, and I hope you’ll comment about your own favorite guides.

Hiking the Monadnock Region by Joe Adamowicz, second edition. There’s at least one newer edition in print, but there’s no way I’ll give up the one I’ve got. My scribbling fills the margins, with my remarks about conditions as I found them supplementing the author’s own excellent text. The 30 hikes described in the book have taken me from Hinsdale to Amherst over the years. The longest hike, rated at about three and a half hours, is Marlboro Trail on Mount Monadnock. There are plenty of shorter and flatter excursions listed, and it’s great to see so many Forest Society and NH Audubon properties highlighted. The black-and-white maps in the book can be unclear, especially where contour lines are close together. Supplementing them with maps from another source is a good idea. I’ve done some of these hikes a dozen times; they’re like old friends I keep going back to visit. (New England Cartographics, ISBN 1-889787-07-8)

50 Hikes North of the White Mountains by Kim Nilsen. This one’s practically hot off the presses, just published last year. It brings into one place information about a number of hikes I’d like to take someday. I met the author, Kim Nilsen, about five years ago as I began to investigate the Cohos Trail. He’s spent the last three decades developing that trail and sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm about the North Country with anyone who’s interested. With this book, he puts it together. He has a distinctive voice, and he writes with tremendous affection for northern New Hampshire. I’ve taken a few of these hikes, but most are on my “someday” list. This is a book that lends itself to daydreams and plans. (The Countryman Press, ISBN 978-0-88150-972-4)

New Hampshire Rail Trails by Charles F. Martin. This is an encyclopedic guide. Nothing else comes close to compiling so much information about recreational rail trails in this area. Photographs are plentiful, and the reference maps are useful (but should be supplemented in the field). I like the brief history he includes with each trail description. I have found his ratings of scenery and trail surfaces to be accurate. He mentions the agencies that maintain each line, so if I want updated information about a particular trail, I know where to start making inquiries. (Branch Line Press, ISBN 978-0-942147-10-0)

I should mention that I bought all of these at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford. I’m sure they’re available online as well, but throw some business to your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby.

Let me know where you get your own trail information. You might give me some good ideas.

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Cohos Trail founder coming to Weeks State Park this week

Kim Nilsen (photo by Ellen Kolb)

Kim Nilsen (photo by Ellen Kolb)

If you’re anywhere near Lancaster, New Hampshire, you might want to consider a drive up the auto road of Weeks State Park this Thursday evening, July 11. As part of the Weeks State Park Association’s summer programs, Kim Nilsen will give a talk on “Hikes North of the White Mountains.” The free program begins at 7 p.m. at the Summit Lodge.

Kim came up with the idea for New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail over thirty years ago. It exists now thanks to care and interest from many people, but it all began with Kim’s imagination and tenacity. He knows New Hampshire’s North Country, and he’s always looking for ways to share his enthusiasm. He recently wrote 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, part of Countryman Press’s successful 50 Hikes series.

While I’m based in southern New Hampshire, readers of Granite State Walker blog know I love my forays into the North Country. Kim’s the best living resource I know for information about the area’s trails.

There’s a link on the Weeks State Park site to a PDF with the entire schedule for the summer series of programs. There’s a fine variety of speakers and topics, all related to New Hampshire’s natural history or outdoor recreation. I wish I lived closer so I could sit in on Thursday evenings!

Here’s a press release about this week’s program, taken from the Friends of the Cohos Trail Facebook page:

Kim Nilsen will present a slide talk at Weeks State Park on “Hikes North of the White Mountains” on Thursday, July 11, at 7 p.m. The Great North Woods north of the White Mountains offers more than 200 miles of underutilized hiking trails winding through breath-taking terrain. This slide talk describes these trails through this largely undiscovered, pristine region. Nilsen has authored books on this subject and will have his books available for sale and signing. Kim lived in Coos County while employed by the Coos County Democrat. He has bushwhacked most of the county’s mountainous backcountry and has now realized a dream that a through trail, The Cohos Trail, could be built that highlights features away from the White Mountain ranges. Kim today lives in Spofford,where he works with severely handicapped young people. He writes essays, articles and books.
This free program will be in the Great Room of the Summit Lodge of Weeks State Park. Come early and bring a picnic supper or climb the fire tower for one of the best views north of the notches. Weeks State Park is on the east side of Route 3, approximately two miles south of Lancaster. The Evening Program Series is sponsored by the Weeks State Park Association, N.H. Division of Parks, and UNH Cooperative Extension. All programs are free and the public is invited.

New NH North Country Trail Book

I interrupt this southern New Hampshire trail blog for a brief northern foray. I’m happy to announce the publication of 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, written by New Hampshire’s own Kim Nilsen. Finally, Coos County is getting its due in print. Hikers & campers will love this, of course. I recommend it to anyone who lives in New Hampshire but hasn’t yet discovered all the beautiful land north of U.S. 2. If you’re already a Coos County fan, you might find some new ideas for your next visit as you browse through this book. Kim’s writing is worth reading in any case.

50 Hikes includes a map with each trail description, along with black-and-white photographs. (I’m flattered that Kim chose one of my own photos to illustrate the Prospect Mountain hike.)
A chart in the opening pages shows at a glance the distance and relative difficulty of the fifty hikes, along with notes about suitability for kids and availability of campsites.

Kim came up with the idea for the Cohos Trail extending from Crawford Notch north to Canada, and he wrote the original guide to the trail. Now the Cohos Trail Association ( is going strong maintaining the CT’s 160+ miles. 50 Hikes includes many segments of the CT as dayhikes, and hike #50 is the full Cohos Trail in all its backpacking glory. The rest of Coos County is not neglected, however, with featured hikes for the Randolph area, the Dead Diamond district, Indian Stream, and Mt. Success.

From my own experience, I can give a few recommendations. The Falls in the River trail (#46 in the book) goes south from the Second Connecticut Lake dam on U.S. 3 in northern Pittsburg. It’s a fairly level woods walk that leads to a beautiful flume of the Connecticut River, complete with ledges for a picnic stop. Mount Magalloway (#40) features the northernmost fire tower in New Hampshire, with correspondingly awesome views. The Pondicherry wildlife refuge in Jefferson gets its due in hikes #2 & #3.

Kim is generous with his time for anyone seeking information about New Hampshire’s north country, as I learned as I was preparing for a backpacking trip on the CT a few years ago. All that generosity and love for the land comes through in his new book. Find it at your local bookstore (I picked it up at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford), or online at Countryman Press or

Celebrating An International Trail

Celebrating An International Trail(Pictured above, celebrating the CT’s connection with the trails of Sentiers Frontaliers: Kim Nilsen of the CT Association, Gloriane Blais of SF, and Richard Andersen of the International Appalachian Trail.)

I saw a magnificently starry night last evening through the mesh of my tent. Awesome, in the original sense. It occurred to me this is the first time on the trip I’ve seen such a clear night sky. I’ve fallen asleep too early most nights, & it’s been cloudy on some others. I’ll treasure the memory of last night’s view, with so many more stars than I can ever see at home. I started identifying constellations, but quickly decided to forget that. I just stared up at the sky like a kid, with a silly grin on my face. I couldn’t even articulate a prayer of thanks beyond “…this is soooooo cool.”

Pete & Lainie picked me up at 8:25 this morning, accompanied by Kim Nilsen, who first came up with the whole idea of a Cohos Trail. Today’s official celebration of the joining of the CT with a Canadian trail is something he’s wanted to see for a long time.

The press conference turned out to be quite an event, with a wonderfully festive tone. About 70 people were there. Half were hikers, there to begin a 6-day hike arranged & sponsored by Sentiers Frontaliers. Of course, every Canadian there was bilingual, while we few Americans were trapped in English. There were no NH or US VIPs, but our hosts welcomed a mayor & a prefect & provincial deputies. So now we have an international trail! It was a happy morning.

I have taken my trip during the year’s first official heat wave. Here at Robie’s Cabins, back in the land of satellite TV, channel 9 is reporting that Nashua hit 96 today. I know I had two mighty hot days on US 3 yesterday & the day before. Today, I’ve been driven everywhere, so the temperature hasn’t affected me much.

Here in Pittsburg village, I’m in a comfortable little unit here on Main Street.  I’m catching up on news & sports & weather. There’s a DVD player & a selection of discs, and I’ve picked one out for the evening. I’ll be able to call home tonight. I’ve hand-washed the bulk of my laundry, & pieces are draped here & there to dry. I shipped off the tent & assorted gear at the post office down the street. This has been a pretty productive afternoon.

Channel 9 forecasts storms tonight and maybe early tomorrow. That should break the heat for now. Unless we’re in for all-day rain, I plan to put in however many miles it takes to get all the way back to Sportsman’s. I’ll get a good breakfast at the diner up the street, and then I’ll be off. I’ve already called Roger at the lodge to tell him I’m coming in a day early. I’m eager to get going. As my husband would say, I can smell the barn.