A trip on the northern section of the Cohos Trail can include stops at three New Hampshire state parks, all of them well off the path of the typical visitor to the state. Even most New Hampshire residents don’t see them. I’ve enjoyed camping and day visits at these little gems. Find more information about these and other New Hampshire state parks at nhstateparks.org.
Coleman State Park, Stewartstown
The northbound Cohos Trail enters Coleman State Park at campsite 11, so be nice to the people you have to walk past on your way to the visitor center. I’ve haven’t yet stayed overnight here, but I’ve made brief pleasant stops on hot summer days. A few rowboats and canoes are available for rental on Little Diamond Pond. The tiny visitor center has running water, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers. There are a few pit toilets in the camping area.
I had a fine conversation one day with the park attendant, a gentleman named Gary, who had worked at the park for years. At one point as he was telling me about the history of the park, he reached into a drawer and pulled out photos of the area from the early 1900s. It was amazing to see how much of this heavily-forested land had been cleared for farmland a century ago. The trees have long since reclaimed the once-cultivated fields.
Lake Francis State Park, Pittsburg
Never mind the forty sites suitable for RVs. If you’re hiking in to Lake Francis State Park, snag yourself one of the tent platforms in the woods near the lakeshore. After a very trying day on the Cohos Trail – rain, mud, blisters – this park was heavenly. First, I got an ice cream bar at the small store. Then a shower (coin-operated): amazing what five minutes of running water can do after a muddy day on a trail. A single washing machine is available for campers, and you can bet I used it. There’s a pay phone, for this is not cell-coverage territory. My lullaby as I fell asleep was the sound of the Connecticut River rushing into the lake, with an occasional loon call for good measure. I woke up completely refreshed and ready for anything.
Deer Mountain State Park, Pittsburg
Five miles from Canada, no utilities, on U.S. 3 yet so remote it seems like the middle of nowhere: welcome to Deer Mountain State Park. A cloudless night sky is spectacular here, with no ambient light to hide the stars. There’s a spring for water, and that’s it for creature comforts unless you pack in some of your own. This wonderful place is the essence of New Hampshire’s north country. There’s a caretaker/ranger at the park in the summertime, and in the winter, the caretaker’s cabin is taken over by the local snowmobile club for use as a warming hut. The Connecticut River is tiny here except where it backs up behind the little dam near the Moose Flowage tent site pictured above. Most of the campsites are wooded, and bug repellent is essential.
In some years, nearby logging might interrupt the peaceful surroundings at 6 in the morning (it happened to me on my first visit), but avoiding sites 4 through 8 will take care of that.
I walked from the park north on U.S. 3 to the Canadian border, with stops at Third Connecticut Lake and little Fourth Lake at the border. Since my 2009 visit, the Cohos Trail has seen dramatic improvements in this section, eliminating the need for road walking north of the park. Even better, the trail association has cut a trail to an old fire tower site on nearby Deer Mountain. The dream is to construct an observation tower there someday. Tough project, in view of the permissions required. Then again, the entire Cohos Trail was once a dream, and look at it now.