On My Small Scale, a Good Year

Five hundred miles. The app on my phone assures me that’s how far I’ve walked and hiked this year. Not far by comparison with many (most?) other hikers, I know. Still, I covered some fine southern New Hampshire places. Thirty-three towns, according to my trail notes, plus a probably-once-in-a-lifetime visit to a place way beyond the border. Not a bad year at all.


August in Winant Park, Concord: mushrooms, not blossoms, bedeck the trails.

Nashua’s Mine Falls might be my favorite city park, but Concord’s Winant Park was a contender this year. I frequently have business in Concord, with Winant only a short drive away. All by itself it justified keeping a pair of trail shoes in the car for spur-of-the-moment hikes.

I visited Miller State Park one late-spring day just before sunset, and had the usually-busy Pack Monadnock summit and fire tower to myself. In thirty years of hikes there, I’d never been on the summit at dusk.

Monadnock at dusk

Mt. Monadnock at dusk, seen from Pack Monadnock


Of all the trails new to me this year, the ones in Moose Mountain reservation are the ones most likely to draw me back. I enjoyed an early-fall lunch on Phebe’s Nable. And then there’s Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch: one of the most heavily-trafficked trails in the Whites, but new and delightful to me. What a view!

Crawford Notch from Mt Willard

Crawford Notch seen from Mt. Willard. Take that trail early in the day to avoid crowds.

Each year brings surprises. This year’s was a trip to Italy. I packed walking shoes, of course, and with my husband explored Rome on foot. Despite the exhausting summer heat, I was exhilarated. I’m more at home on trails, but what’s not to love about being a Granite State Walker on vacation?

St. Peter's Dome from

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, seen from Janiculum (Gianicolo) Hill in Rome, Italy.

And next year, who knows? Maybe 500 miles, maybe far more. I’m thinking local: redline nearby spots like Horse Hill, Beaver Brook, and the Uncanoonuc trails. See them afresh. Walk on more rail trails, or rather more miles on the trails already familiar to me.  Take better photos. Make a point of hiking with the friends who have offered to share their own favorite trails with me.

I’ll turn 60 in the coming year. Perhaps a landmark hike is in order.

I hope you can look back with satisfaction on your own hikes from the past year. Even more, I hope you’re looking forward to next year’s adventures. See you out there.

Mushroom season

A late-summer visit to Winant Park in Concord brought me the sight of tall summer wildflowers blooming cheerfully by the parking lot. Once I passed the information kiosk where the trails begin, there wasn’t a blossom in sight. Instead, mushrooms were all over the place. I don’t know what’s what when it comes to fungi, so I was reduced to simple wonder at the variety of colors and sizes. A hazy day made the usual Winant vista unremarkable, but the colorful forest floor made up for that.

A short stop at Winant Park, Concord

I love these little discoveries that leave me wondering how did I not find this place sooner: this week, it was Winant Park in Concord, near St. Paul’s School. I’d seen it listed on the city’s map of area trails, but had never managed to find time for a visit until recently.

My first attempt at a visit ended quickly due to ice on the trail, as seen in the photo below. A few spring-like February days later, I returned and enjoyed 45 good minutes in the woods.


Winant Park trailhead in Concord on an icy day. The bridge deck was clear just a few days later, after a February thaw.

Piles of snow edged the parking lot and some stretches of trail, but a warm week had melted a great deal of snow and left the trails muddy. There were a few other cars in the trailhead parking lot, which is easy to find on Fisk Road just off Pleasant Street.

The park is wooded, with a pair of vistas I enjoyed: a view featuring the State House dome (a view obviously preserved with diligent tree-trimming) and a view of the hills and low mountains to the south and southwest. A kiosk at the trailhead and informational signs along the trails offer information about the park’s history. The trail network is simple and well-marked.

Winant Park SSW overlook

View from a hill in Winant Park (l-r): the Lyndeborough hills, Crotched Mountain, and Monadnock peeking out from behind Crotched’s ski area.

This is an urban park, with “urban” being relative; we’re talking Concord here, not Boston. It’s not a destination park like Monadnock or Pawtuckaway. It’s an easy stop for anyone in or near Concord, though, and it’s a fine place for a quiet walk in the woods. Make a point of finding that southwestern vista, which might not be so visible once the trees leaf out.

In kindness to the trails and their maintainers, I’ll wait until mud season is over before I pay another visit here. But I will be back.

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?


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.


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.


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

Forest Society HQ in Concord

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests headquarters is in Concord, about a ten-minute ride from the State House off of exit 16. Follow signs for “conservation center”, and you’ll find the headquarters on Portsmouth Street. Stop in the foyer at the main building to pick up a map with the title Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area, then drive another quarter mile down Portsmouth Street to a parking area and trailhead on the left. Don’t expect the map box at the trailhead to be stocked.

The Forest Society trail network at this property runs along the Merrimack River (photo shows view upstream to I-93) and includes a pine plantation, a silver maple forest (forming the natural archway in the photo above), floodplain, and a river cove with a canoe landing. The traffic sounds from nearby I-93 are easy to ignore. In this drought, the river is quiet, but the sharply-cut banks indicate how high the Merrimack can run in a rainy season.

I stayed here longer today than I had intended, stretching a quick lunchtime walk into an hour. The trail is flat & sandy; no boots required. The bugs are out, so bring your insect repellent. This is an undramatic, peaceful spot for a walk, and it’s open from dawn to dusk.

Easy hike to Oak Hill fire tower

City of Concord NH hiking trails

One of my favorite little guidebooks is “A Field Guide to New Hampshire Firetowers” (privately published, 2005 edition), but sometimes the notes on access to the towers are out of date or otherwise unhelpful. So it is with the book’s directions to Loudon’s Oak Hill, which direct me to an Oak Hill Road trailhead with no parking. The city of Concord and its conservation commission provide a useful alternative: the Tower Trail, with a 10-vehicle parking area on Shaker Road about 2.4 miles from Rt. 132 in northeastern Concord. Look for the sign for Oak Hill city forest. This trail approaches the fire tower from the west.

Stop at the city’s web site (link above) to see descriptions of this trail and over a dozen others within the city limits.  Print out a map of your chosen trail from the web. Tower Trail is part of a network on Oak Hill, and while the trail itself is well-blazed and easy to follow, having a map at hand is always a good idea.

All intersections are signed, and the trail is free of obstructions. The few bridges are intact. Oak Hill is still snowless, and the trail itself is ice-free except for a few small areas in the last few hundred yards leading to the tower. The frozen ground is covered with leaves that can be a bit slippery, and the surface is a bit uneven with rocks and roots. (In other words, this is a typical woods walk.) Some of the side trails lead to vistas, according to the map, but I stayed on Tower Trail, where the views are all of the surrounding forest. Not a bad view at that.

The last quarter-mile or so follows a power line straight to the fire tower, which is dwarfed by a pair of cell towers. The cab is unstaffed this time of year, of course, and locked up for the season. I was able to climb to the platform just below the cab, stopping at each landing to wonder just what the fire warden was supposed to survey. I had to get to the platform before the view and the breeze really opened up.  Warner’s Mt. Kearsarge dominated the view to the west-northwest. There are hills in all directions, none of them snowcapped yet, though my view was limited by distant haze.

It’s about 500 feet of vertical rise from the trailhead to the tower, with a gentle grade.  The hike took me 50 minutes each way, and a more fit walker could undoubtedly cut that time considerably.  The full trail network on the hill covers about 7 miles, so a hiker could easily spend a day exploring the area. There are no facilities at the trailhead.

The trailhead is less than 15 minutes’ drive from the State House, and the trail is in great shape. I’ll be back.