With no formal vacation in sight, I can improvise. Just give me 24 hours and a car. Good hiking territory is essential, but so is a pleasant drive. Earlier this week, that meant heading up I-93 to Coos County.
Third Connecticut Lake area
This trip was actually inspired by a planned work project on the Cohos Trail, cutting a spur to the summit of Deer Mountain in the town of Pittsburg near the Canadian border. Unfavorable weather forced postponement of the trail work, leaving me free to wander familiar trails alone for a few hours. Very quiet overcast morning: no logging in the area this week, only two campsites occupied at Deer Mountain State Park, only one other hiker in sight. No hills on this trip, given my limited time in the area. U.S. Rt. 3 was nearly deserted. Snowmobile trail #5, on which the Cohos Trail piggybacks in this area, had a few mud puddles, but nothing dramatic. I enjoyed miles of walking the highway and the trail.
When I hiked through this area on a backpacking trip in ’09, the segment of trail now shared with the snowmobile trail was not yet on line. I was on pavement in 90 degree weather from Happy Corner to the Canadian border. I loved that trip, but I can tell you that cool drizzle is fine, too.
OK, I’m cheating here: I didn’t hike in Stark. I broke up the long drive to Pittsburg by stopping for a night at the Stark Village Inn, owned and operated by a member of the Cohos Trail Association board. The inn is homey and affordable, and I would recommend it to anyone heading up that way who wants a comfortable place to stay without breaking the bank. Nancy, the owner, is the soul of hospitality. She can tell you about trails in the area, and she’s been known to provide shuttle service to local trailheads.
If I did decide to hike here, I’d probably head up the Nash Stream Road from NH Rt. 110. Or maybe I’d head south of 110 toward the Kilkenney Ridge trail. Maybe I’d just walk along 110 and enjoy the sound and sight of the Upper Ammonoosuc River. I’d turn off my cell phone, too. North of Lancaster, cell service ranges from spotty to nonexistent. That sort of enforces a vacation state of mind.
I like Colebrook. It’s bustling, but it’s a tiny town nonetheless. Here, U.S. 3 meets NH 26, which leads to Dixville Notch. Another day, I would have gone to the Notch for a short but lung-busting climb to Table Rock. No time on this trip, though. “Later,” I promised silently as I drove past NH 26, not weakening even when I drove past Le Rendez-Vous. That’s a bakery with amazing stuff, including a chocolate croissant that will fortify any hiker.
On NH 145 northeast of the center of town – a fun road, by the way – is Beaver Brook wayside area. Even if you’re driving past on your way to another trail, stop here. It’s a feast for the eyes. There are short trails near the falls, especially nice in the summer when the spray from the falls is soothing on hot days. Pack a picnic.
I stopped in Columbia on my way home, just south of Colebrook, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace. It doesn’t take long to walk the grounds. There are days when the shrine is thronged with pilgrims & tourists. I was there a few years ago during the Blessing of the Motorcycles (coming up this year on June 22), with hundreds of cheerful bilingual bikers. This week, I was alone. Different feeling altogether. For me, it was a place of prayer.
(Update: the Shrine closed in 2014. Part of the property has become the Tillotson Center, a community heritage, visual, and performing arts center.)
The ride back to southern New Hampshire on U.S. 3 goes past some of my favorite hiking spots, including Weeks State Park. There was that pesky clock ticking, though. I had some fun getting off U.S. 3 and I-93 in some areas to enjoy the back roads. I carry a DeLorme atlas (old school, I know, in these days of GPS) to give me inspiration when I’m all Interstated-out.
Of course, once I was halfway home, the sun came out and the temperature went up 15 degrees. If I couldn’t have that weather for hiking, it was at least nice to have it for driving. No complaints, though. Those were twenty-four pretty good hours.