Short climb, grand view: Mt. Kearsarge via Rollins State Park

My last visit to Mt. Kearsarge in Warner, New Hampshire was a few years ago, as the fire tower was being rebuilt. I recently decided to go back for my first uphill walk since the virus-in-the-news laid me low earlier this year. From the upper end of the auto road in Rollins State Park, which is a treat in itself, I hiked the half-mile-long Rollins trail to the Kearsarge summit.

fire tower on Mount Kearsarge in Warner, New Hampshire, accessible from Rollins and Winslow State Parks. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Mt. Kearsarge fire tower, Warner NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

It was a splendid morning at the end of August. A muggy summer heat wave had just broken, giving way to clear dry air and brisk breezes. As self-imposed rehab assignments go, this hike was unbeatable.

Summit cairn, Mt. Kearsarge. Ellen Kolb photo. Twin hills in far distance at left are the Uncanoonucs in Goffstown NH.

The hills and trails of southern New Hampshire spell home to me. I looked south from Kearsarge’s summit cairn and scanned the horizon: the Uncanoonucs in Goffstown, Joe English hill in New Boston, a view of the Wapack Range from the north – is that Crotched Mountain ski area nearby? – and aloof and stately Monadnock.

The ledgy summit features a 360 degree view, in case someone finds the view of the southern hills unsatisfactory. My advice is to soak it all in.

At $4, park admission is a bargain. See nhstateparks.org for up-to-date information on fees and maps for this and other state parks. Kearsarge is home to two of those parks. Rollins from the south features the auto road and a short hike; Winslow from the north offers longer trails. The Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway makes its way over the summit as well.

The auto road closes to motor-vehicle traffic in November and usually re-opens on Memorial Day weekend. I enjoy walking on the auto road in the off-season when the weather allows, sharing the road with other walkers and ambitious bicyclists. The summit is out of reach for the likes of me until the snow and ice are gone, but there are a few vistas along the auto road that make an uphill walk worthwhile.

Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond.

Mt. Kearsarge, Rollins State Park, Warner

The fire tower on Kearsarge was getting a serious makeover this summer, with heavy mats laid over the trail from Rollins State Park to accommodate construction vehicles. Hikers were still welcome, though. The broad ledgy summit offered its usual fine views.

Mt. Kearsarge summit, NH

view from Mt. Kearsarge summit, Warner NH

Mt. Kearsarge NH fire tower

Mt. Kearsarge fire tower gets a makeover, summer 2019

While I was there in July, a group of kids from a Boys and Girls Club arrived on the summit with their chaperones, having hiked up from the state park on the other side of the mountain. One boy, maybe ten years old, bounded around like a puppy. “Dude! I’ve never been to the top of a mountain before!” I suspect he’ll go in search of more.

North Country trip

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

Cherry Pond, Jefferson NH

Cherry Pond, Jefferson NH. looking toward Pliny Range.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

New Boston rail trail

What a difference since my last visit about five years ago. I found the shady New Boston rail trail south of Lang Station upgraded significantly since my last visit. Trail volunteers, take a bow.

New Boston NH rail trail

New Boston rail trail, NH

I walked for the first time north of Lang Station on the trail to the Goffstown line. Very different up that way: a work in progress, or maybe just in the planning stage. I found blowdowns, mud, and at the Goffstown line, an overgrown swath separating the trail from Route 114.

Someday, if a whole lot of things work out just right, the New Boston trail will connect with the Goffstown rail trail, which already connects to the Piscataquog trail in Manchester.

Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam

rhododendron bloom

Blooming in July at Rhododendron State Park

I think I missed peak bloom at Rhododendron State Park in July, but there were enough blossoms to make the drive to Fitzwilliam worthwhile. The loop trail through the rhododendron grove is shady and not too long.

Actually, this quiet little state park has more to offer than a few weeks of rhododendron blooms. A trail branches off the grove loop, heading up Little Monadnock mountain with its view toward Monadnock. A mile’s walk on a quiet road just outside the park entrance leads to Rockwood Pond and the Cheshire Rail Trail. ┬áThis summer, though, I was there for the flowers. I wasn’t disappointed.

Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon: life-list material

My husband and I spent nine too-short days in Utah and Arizona in early September, where I got my first-and-maybe-last look at some of the gems of the national park system:

Zion, where temps in the low hundreds did nothing to dull the scenery…

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon, land of the hoodoos, where even a half-moon can’t blot out the stars at night…

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park

and Grand Canyon’s North Rim, far from South Rim’s crowds, where the sheer scale of the canyon left me speechless.

Grand Canyon

View of Grand Canyon from North Rim, Arizona

Along the way – it takes a lot of driving to see all three parks in only a few days – we found some beautiful lesser-known recreational areas: Cedar Breaks and Red Canyon in Utah, and portions of Dixie National Forest in Arizona.

As our return flight descended over the Monadnocks on the way into Manchester, I was happy to see our familiar green hills. This is home. Still, I treasure the awesome sights and beautiful places we saw out west.

Back to Oak Hill

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?

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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.

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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.

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Mt. Kearsarge to the west. Trees conceal the Merrimack River, flowing south past the industrial building at right.

Mt. Kearsarge, late summer

Students from Northeast Catholic College in Warner welcomed me as I tagged along for their morning prayer service on Mt. Kearsarge. Bishop Libasci was among us as well, leading the service in the Rollins State Park picnic area before we trooped up the last half-mile to the summit. Good fellowship on a beautiful day!

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, NH at far right, with students from Northeast Catholic College.

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, NH at far right, with students from Northeast Catholic College.

A foggy morning gave way to sunshine in time for our summit visit.

A foggy morning gave way to sunshine in time for our summit visit.

A tantalizing view from partway up the trail.

A tantalizing view from partway up the trail.

Bonus: a new historical marker in Warner. I've photographed more than a hundred markers statewide, aiming to capture them all.

Bonus: a new historical marker in Warner. I’ve photographed more than a hundred markers statewide, aiming to capture them all.