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.
I needed a hill climb as a mental palate-cleanser the other day. Not a big hill, just one with a view. Brookline (the New Hampshire version) is not-too-terribly far away, so I scooted down Route 13 to the Andres Institute of Art with its hilltop view of the Wapack Range.
It’s been awhile since my last visit, I guess. I pulled into what had been the driveway, and found out it’s not the public driveway anymore. Go back to the visitor center at 106 Rt. 13, said the sign. Visitor center? And which way was #106? My phone’s GPS was slow as molasses to give me the answer: a stone’s throw north.
Once I got there, I was oriented. Even first-timers will have no trouble following the signs into the AIA’s property.
The property was once a tiny ski area (rope tows, not gondolas) on a little hill in Brookline. The ski area is long gone. The current owner is a patron of the arts with a passion for sculpture created by artists from all over the world who come to New Hampshire to work in granite. Their work adorns a network of trails winding around the hill.
At the summit is the payoff: a view of the Wapack Range, complete with seating. A striking sculpture entitled Phoenix is in the foreground of the vista. For a short walk uphill (a generous half-mile or so), it’s a pleasant experience.
Late-day haze dulled the view a bit. The silhouette of the range was clear enough, though, and I even caught a glimpse of Mount Monadnock playing peek-a-boo behind Kidder Mountain.
On the October day I was there, the paths had a golden glow. Beech and aspen leaves are turning. Flashes of crimson from maples are hinting at the peak foliage that will be on display on a couple of weeks.
The AIA trails can be very popular, but my late-day midweek autumn visit was delightfully quiet. A mental palate cleanser, indeed.
After a COVID-influenced year of curtailing my activities, I’m keeping some appointments that don’t involve videoconferencing. One benefit to out-of-town drives is that I’ve been able to check out new trails. On one day I had just enough spare time to sample the Winnipesaukee River Trail in Tilton. Another day, during a Seacoast trip, I enjoyed a tripleheader of varied paths. A more routine errand to the Manchester Airport gave me an excuse to see how the Londonderry Trail looks in spring.
Winnipesaukee River Trail
This is not to be confused with the Winni Trail, where the “Winni” stands for “Winnisquam.” The Winnipesaukee River Trail may someday connect with Winni, though, if several links are developed. Like Winni, the Tilton segment is rail-with-trail.
The Winnipesaukee River Trail goes from Franklin to Tilton via Northfield, with a little bit of road walking included. I recently visited the easternmost mile. Parallel and very close to U.S. 3, the path is surprisingly quiet, shielded by a row of buildings from some of the traffic noise. The river was pretty but quiet due to lack of rainfall; a depth indicator painted on a bridge abutment was well above the current water level.
A lengthier visit extending to Franklin would have been more rewarding, but my time was limited. I enjoyed a peaceful half-hour along the river. My turnaround point was startling, after the quiet walk: the commercial cluster by exit 20 on I-93. Had I wanted a snack, that would have been a place to consider, with the trail’s terminus flanked by fast-food places. My starting point had some options as well, with U.S. 3 serving as Tilton’s Main Street.
The Winnipesaukee River joins the Pemigewasset River in Franklin to form the Merrimack, the waterway that defines south-central New Hampshire.
Rochester and Dover
I rarely get to Strafford County. When I did earlier this month, I visited three very different trails.
The Farmington Rail Trail extends from the town of Farmington to the city of Rochester near Spaulding High School, roughly paralleling NH Route 11. I had been warned that it was sandy enough to leave even fat-tire bicyclists in despair. Being a walker, I dismissed that concern. Silly me. It was like walking on a beach, giving my legs more of a workout than I’d bargained for. I probably needed that anyway.
Next stop: the Lilac City Greenway, short and sweet. The northern portion of it runs along Rochester’s main drag, serving as a sidewalk. It’s paved, nicely landscaped for spring, and adorned with abstract sculptures. I benefited from a combination of Charles Martin’s guidebook and Google Maps, which warned me that the municipal parking lot close to the greenway is accessible only to northbound traffic on Route 125.
Then, south to Dover. Without realizing it, I’d saved the best for last. The Dover Community Trail, developed relatively recently, was wide and quietly scenic. I parked at the western end, at the Watson Road trailhead. The fairly large parking lot (room for about 20 cars) was nearly full when I arrived at midday on a workday. Even so, there was no sense of crowding on the wide, well-packed trail that extends about three miles to the center of Dover.
The Cocheco River flowed alongside the trail, and several anglers in hip waders were trying their luck. I was passed by a few lunch-hour runners, and in turn I passed a few easygoing dog walkers. My map told me that offices for county government and a large insurance company were nearby, but they were completely out of sight and sound, built on higher ground.
I’m sure the downtown end of the trail has a much livelier character. I wasn’t looking for lively that day. The Watson Road trailhead was the right place for me to start my walk.
Here’s a familiar destination for me: Londonderry Rail Trail from the Harvey Road/Airport trailhead. What did it look like on a drizzly spring morning? Delightful. A film of pollen glazed portions of Cohas Brook reservoir, but the trees in flower looked so good that I didn’t mind all the allergens floating around.
There are plenty of “destination” trails in New Hampshire worth a full day’s exploration, but I value quick trail stops, too. They can give a busy day a special kind of spark.
[Update, 2021: please note that this particular membership promotion has ended. I hope you’ll check out the NHRTC website to see what’s current.]
My appreciation for New Hampshire’s rail trails is expressed all over this blog, as many readers have found. Now, the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition is offering a deal that I hope will win the trails some new fans.
Until December 15, 2020, you can join the NHRTC ($20 for a one-year membership for individuals, $35 for organizations) and receive a copy of Charles Martin’s guidebook New Hampshire Rail Trails, 2nd edition at no additional charge. There’s no better guide to the trails around the state, with more than 100 maps along with photographs and trail descriptions.
Want to take a crack the the Rail Trails Challenge? Martin’s book and the Challenge’s Facebook page (private, but anyone may request access) will be your new best friends. Meet the Challenge, earn a patch. Even if you don’t travel on all the rail trails in the state – and as someone who does a lot more walking than biking, I know the Challenge can be a slow process – you’ll have memories and experiences that are way more valuable than a patch, even a pretty one like this.
If you already have Martin’s book, maybe there’s a Granite State walker in your life who would love to receive a copy as a gift. Another gift idea: separately from membership, the Coalition also offers a hat for $20 (shipping included).
Full disclosure: I’m on the NHRTC board, but I get no personal benefit from this promotion except the pleasure of knowing that it will encourage more people to value a New Hampshire recreational resource.
I drove down Depot Road in East Candia a little slowly, wondering if I’d be able to find the parking lot where the Rockingham Rail Trail crosses the street. I needn’t have worried; the nearly-full lot was impossible to miss. That’s nearly full. I tucked my car into one of the few open spots.
The lot was a busy place. Couples and singles and families were taking bikes off racks or putting them back on. Hikers were setting out, many sporting seasonal blaze orange vests. It was as warm a day as November ever brings, and everyone wanted to take advantage.
Pick a direction: should I go east into Raymond, or west through Candia? Seeing several parties setting off to the east, I wished them well, and then turned my back to them to walk west.
The Rockingham Rail Trail between Manchester and Newfields is more than 20 miles long. It’s a piece-at-a-time endeavor for a walker. I picked a winner of a day to amble out-and-back on a three-mile segment in Candia.
Temp in the 60s: what kind of November is this? Sunshine, few clouds, air as dry as could be.
There were more bicyclists than walkers on the trail. That didn’t mean walkers were overwhelmed; traffic was light to moderate. The few walkers kept their cheerful distance as we passed each other with smiles and nods – you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine, we seemed to be saying.
Where houses were visible as I approached Main Street, the sounds and smells of a sunny late-autumn weekend took over: raking, leaf-blowing, the last round of mowing for the season, a carefully-tended fire to burn the clippings.
My turnaround point was Route 43, or more precisely the tunnel under the ramp linking 43 with Route 101. The parking lot in East Candia was nearly deserted when I returned. I decided to spend a little time walking toward Raymond, but I was racing the sunset: after half a mile, I returned to my car.
I think I saw the trail at its most inviting for walkers. Once the snow flies and piles up, the Rockingham Rail Trail will become a snowmobile corridor. Until then, all you need there is your bike or your walking shoes.
I needed a walk with no cars in sight. I headed to Mine Falls Park in Nashua. I found leaves over patchy ice over mud: not my favorite trail surface, but that’s what the end of October is dishing up in my area.
A scant inch of snow fell yesterday along with the leaves. Everything froze overnight, and then the sun came up and promptly warmed things up to about forty degrees. That left me with the layered trail. It wasn’t too bad, and it was certainly better than pavement. The bridges over canal and river were still a bit slippery from the snow.
The park was quiet. Weekends are usually busier. Even adjacent Lincoln Park, where I left my car, was nearly empty. No complaints. I was a bit out of sorts, and solitude suited me.
I usually see mallards in the canal. This day, I saw them in the Nashua River instead. About three dozen were together midstream. The river was sluggish, and the ducks paddled upstream effortlessly. That left the cove for about 20 Canada geese, most of them napping in the late afternoon.
I needed my sunglasses as I returned to my car, with the sun low in the western sky. That reminded me that I was walking during the last day of Daylight Savings Time. November will bring the sense of dislocation I feel every fall until I mentally reconcile what the clock says with what the sun does.