Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Winter Walk in Gonic Trails

Isinglass River Waterfall

What a long winter it's been!  It's almost too much to take!  In order to escape the winter blues, I've been taking advantage of the deep power and sunny, cold days to get out and enjoy it.  My favorite little walk is located only a few miles from my house on the Isinglass River in Rochester, New Hampshire.  Trails are maintained and owned by Waste Management (sounds weird - but they're great), and are a perfect after work walk.  See below to recreate this easy trail walk.

Adventure: Gonic Trails, Rochester, NH

Getting There:  From Route 125, take Rochester Neck Road in Gonic/Rochester. The trail head is located in a large parking lot on the right about 1 mile down the road after a private home.

Trail sign in parking lot includes map.

Yellow trail headed down to river.
Trail: There are three separate trails that leave from this trail head.  All are well marked by color -
Red, Yellow, and Blue.  My favorite loop is to take the Yellow at first.  This trail leaves on the right side of the parking lot.  It soon veers left, and travels at a slight grade down hill through hemlock forest.  Continue straight until you reach the river.  An overlook allows you to see the Isinglass river. From here, the trail veers left to travel along the river.  You head downhill and can see the waterfall on the right.  Take a moment to enjoy the view.  Sometimes, otters are seen playing in the water.  Continue along the Yellow trail as it parallels the river.  After a bend, you will reach the junction to the Red trail.  The Red trail is a loop trail and this is where it turns around.  Take either path and you will go up a semi-steep incline for about 5 minutes before the trail flattens out again.  The Red trail is flat and unwinding, passing through pine and hardwood forest, until reaching the parking lot where you started.

Medallion identifying Barrington Woods
Difficulty: Easy - perfect for a casual walk or a family hike.

Distance: ~ 2-3 miles


- A large map/trail sign is located in the parking lot.  Take a photo with your phone before leaving to have access to a trail map.

- Dogs are common on the trail.  Be aware that some are off leash.  If hiking with your dog, be sure to remove waste.  There is a trash bin at the parking lot.

- There are no bathroom facilities along the walk.

- Parking is free.

Isinglass River.  Gonic, NH

I've enjoyed this trail all winter - it is the perfect way to escape my cabin fever and get a little exercise.  I can't wait to explore it in Spring!

Please leave comments and questions below...

Summit and Sadie love hiking the Gonic Trails!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Knife Edge Crossing

Kelly crosses the Knife Edge Trail on Mt. Katahdin, ME
Last year, I hiked Mt. Katahdin in Maine over Columbus Day weekend.  For my first ascent, my friend Sarah and I took the steep Abol trail up and the long Hunt Trail (AT) down.  This year, I decided to tackle it again - this time taking a stab at the infamous Knife Edge Trail to the summit.  This narrow and exposed ridge line has a reputation for one of the most challenging hikes in the Northeast, and was on my bucket list as a "must- try". My sister, Kelly, agreed to conquer the mountain with me.  It was an amazing adventure.

Here is a peek at our adventure...

Driving into Baxter State Park
Abol Campground, Baxter State Park
Permits - Baxter State Park requires visitors to have a permit to enter, stay, and camp in the park. Maine residents get dibs on early reservations.  Read your reservation carefully.  Day reservations must be claimed by 7 am on the day or they are given away.  Camping reservations ensure your spot for the day as well as a parking spot.
 Reservations can (and should) be made ahead of time.  Even trying one month ahead, we did not get our first choices on campgrounds.  Try MULTIPLE months prior to ensure you get your site.  Rules and cost about reservations can be found HERE or by calling park headquarters at (207) 723-5140.

Lil' Abol Falls near Abol Campground
Camping - We arrived at Baxter State Park on Saturday mid-day.  It was about a 5 hour drive from southern New Hampshire.  I had made reservations to spend our first night at Abol Campground.  We arrived at Abol, set up camp, and took a few small hikes around the park - Lil' Abol Falls and Elbow Pond.  These were pleasant short hikes with awesome views.  The second night, we spent at Roaring Brook Campground.  This is where we hiked to-and-from our Katahdin climb.

Both Abol and Roaring Brook Campgrounds had roomy, nature sites with fire pits.  There is no running water available.  Campers can treat river water or drive in their own. Firewood can be purchased from the camp ranger.  Outhouse/Privy toilets are available as well.  We stayed in a tent site at Abol and a lean-to site at Roaring Brook.  Both were spacious and comfortable.  I highly recommend the campgrounds.

On the Summit of Mt. Katahdin

Route - The goal of our trip was to tackle Mt. Katahdin from the Knife Edge trail.  This notorious trail is a highly exposed 1 mile stretch of ridge between Pamola Peak and Baxter Peak (highest point on the mountain).  This ascent should only be attempted under fair and dry weather conditions.  During October, while it felt like fall at the base, it was winter above, so adequate cold-weather gear was an additional necessity besides water, food, map, compass and first aid.

Kelly and I got up at 5 am, packed up at Abol campground and drove to the other side of the mountain.  We arrived at Roaring Brook Campground, in the dark, at 6 am.  After securing our packs, and signing into the ranger station, we were on the trail by 6:30 am - just as a sun was rising.

Cold summit of Mt. Katahdin
We took the Helon Taylor Trail up.  The trail was rocky and moderate as it ascended through the woods.  At 2 miles we passed the treeline and were rewarded with amazing views of the fall foliage below.  Rocky slab made for a tiring but still-moderate climb.  At 3.3 miles we summited Pamola Peak (4,902 ft).  This peak gives views of the Knife's Edge all the way to Baxter Peak.

The Knife Edge begins by steeply descending onto the base of the "Chimney" - a rocky point along the relatively smooth ridge-line.  From here, the climb just gets harder.  And it is...A CLIMB!  All extremities were needed to then climb up and then back down the steep outcrop.  In addition to the technical climbing (no ropes or anchors available), the exposure makes the experience that much more harrowing.  I'll be honest - I was terrified during the chimney portion on the climb.  After the first half mile, the trail becomes less steep but still very exposed.  Although scary, this trail awards its climbers with the most amazing views on the mountain and peaks.  From Pamola Peak, the Knife Edge is 1.1 miles to Baxter Peak - the summit of Mt. Katahdin (5,269 ft).

Looking over the Knife's Edge, Mt. Katahdin
It was a relief to reach the summit. The peak was crowded with hikers.  We took a photo at the iconic Mt. Katahdin sign and ate a quick lunch.  The cold weather, crisp wind, and sweaty clothes made us both cold, and it was uncomfortable sitting for long.  The year prior, I had worn a light sweatshirt and spent over an hour on the summit on the same weekend.  Now, ice and frost covered the rocks and alpine plants.  Its was a harsh place.

From the summit, we continued onto the Saddle Trail.  This 2.2 mile section took us to Chimney Pond junction.  The trail started with a gradual descent across a plateau.  Afterwards, a steep 0.2 mile section took hikers down what essentially is a slide.  Although less-technical than Knife's Edge, this section was still challenging and strenuous.  Watch for falling rocks.  After the slide, the trail became moderate once again, eventually leading us to the Chimney Pond and camp.

"Easy" part of the Saddle Trail
The Chimney Pond trail took us the last 3.3 miles back to Roaring Brook.  This easy- moderate trail
travels through Maine woods wilderness.  We hoped to see a moose, but alas, they stayed in hiding.

We returned to Roaring Brook Campground at 3 pm.  In total, our 9.9 mile hike took us nine hours.  It was great to get back, set up camp, eat some dinner and crash for the evening.

The next morning, sore and happy, we packed up and returned to New Hampshire.  We had achieved our goal.

Katahdin Views
Advice -

- Book your reservations WAY in advance!   We originally wanted to spend the night at Chimney
Lake near entrance of Baxter State Park
Pond Campsite, but a month in advance was not enough to get a spot - even on a cold fall weekend.  

- Know the rules about parking and permits.  Last year, I lost my reservation because I entered the park after 7:30 and my permit had been given away.  Check the website and rules!

- Be prepared for all kinds of weather. Last year I wore a light shirt and summer hiking pants.  This year I was donned in full ski gear.  Bring multiple layers of clothing and remember - Cotton Kills!

- Bring plenty of water or a way to treat water in the park.  The water source is the local streams and rivers and should be treated to prevent water-born illnesses.

- Don't count on Millinocket meeting all your shopping needs.  It is a small town and does not have many amenities.  You can only buy firewood in the campgrounds ($3).  

- Watch the weather.  Knife Edge can result in a deadly climb if attempted at bad weather.  Check in with the Rangers for up-to-date trail conditions before you climb.  

- Explore other parts of the park.  The lakes, waterfalls, and hardwood forest is incredibly pristine and beautiful!

A great hike up Mt. Katahdin
Please leave comments and questions below...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Guest Post: Mt. Pemigewasset Fall Hike

Mt. Pemigewasset Summit Views.  Photo by Bruce Hansen.

Trail Sign for Mt. Pemi
It may be hard to pronounce, but this hike is a must-do for people who love amazing views and are capable of making the moderate 3-mile round-trip trek.

From the summit, hikers are rewarded with vast scenic vistas of the White Mountain National Forest located near the high peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges.

On this hike, expect a varied trail leading under Highway 93, up a pleasant, flat path and ending with steepish bowling-ball to beach-ball sized rocks covered with tangled tree-roots.  Along the trail hikers can also expect some charming creek crossings and forest views.
After a rain, there could be mud in places.
Follow the Blue Blaze

Along with the view on top, hikers will find a genuine New Hampshire granite drop-off with no safety fences.  This is a wild and beautiful place.

Busloads of tourists come for the flume gorge hike, but walk right past the trailhead for this wonderful view-hike.  If you drive to Franconia Notch State Park, you'll have access to free parking and flush toilets as well as trail advice from park rangers.

It's best to park in the highest of the three lots and head towards the bike trail.  Quickly the footpath to Mt. Pemiewasset will be clearly marked with painted ablue blazes along the wooded trail all the way to the top.

Photos of fall colors on Mt. Pemigewasset hike
We saw people hiking with shorts and sneakers, but suggest Nordic walking sticks, ankle-supporting hiking boots and other standard hiking safety equipment, water and snacks.  It seems no one forgets to take a camera on this hike.  Afterwards you can tell your friends that you hiked to the top of Indian Head since only locals can pronounce Mt. Pemigewasset 
  1. Golden Rd, Millinocket, ME 04462

Contact info:
Franconia Notch State Park
Flume Gorge
Daniel Webster Hwy
Lincoln, NH 03251
(603) 745-8391

Bruce Hansen
Meet the Expert : Bruce Hansen
Bruce Hansen is a world traveler and writer.  He is a frequent contributer to travel magazines including Rider and Canoe and Kayak.  His experience as a freelance motorcycle journalist has taking him on adventures around the world including long rides through New England.  His book Motorcycle Journeys Through the Pacific Northwest is available from Amazon and White Horse Press in Conway, NH.  

White Mountain Fall colors

Please leave comments and questions below...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Perfect Fall Foliage Hike

Chocorua Lake with Mount Chocorua in background
If you are looking for beautiful fall foliage, lake and mountain views, and a moderate hike, than Mount Chocorua is for you!  This peak has multiple ascents, but after a fresh rain the night before, I chose to adventure up the Champney Falls trail where I could get a view of the falls on the way.

Adventure:  Mount Chocorua via the Champney Brook Trail
Hiking on Mount Chocura

Getting there:  The trailhead is located on the south side of the Kancamangus Highway.  From southern New Hampshire, take Rt. 16 North, and turn left onto 112/Kancamangus Highway.  The trailhead parking lot is located 11 miles down on the left.  There is a small dirt lot.

Trail:  The Champney Falls trail started out with a small river crossing.  We continued up on an easy trail through colorful hardwood forest.  The trees were yellow, red, and orange.  After about 1.5 miles, we reached Champney Falls.  We took a break and explored the area, ate a snack, and rested.

Trail head to Champney Brook Trail
Continuing up, the trail turns into a steep set of stairs.  This leg burner continues for about a half mile and eventually returns to an easy-moderate grade.  At 3.3 miles, we reached the Piper trail/Champney Falls trail junction and continued up to the open rocky peak.  Follow the blazes and cairns over a moderate-difficult slab to reach the summit of Mount Chocura (3500 feet) at 4 miles.  There are amazing view from everywhere on the uninterrupted summit.  We enjoyed lunch on a small ledge that protected us from the wind and gave us a colorful view of the changing leaves below.  After lunch, we continued down the same way we came.  Watch the signs closely or consult your wouldn't want to head down the wrong trail!

Some slab climbing required at the summit of Chocura.
Difficulty: The trail ranges from easy to moderate.  The hardest part is the summit's rocky slab which
has some difficult steps.  Take care...under wet or windy conditions. It could be very dangerous.

Distance:  4 miles one way.  8 miles out-and-back.

Fall leaves along trail

Champney Falls

- This is a popular hike.  To guarantee a parking spot and avoid the crowds, arrive early.

- If coming from the south, make a stop at Chocura lake - I enjoyed early morning light on the beautiful lake and views of the peak.  Along the Kancamangus Highway, I enjoyed stopping at the Covered Bridge campground and also at Rocky Gorge along the Swift River.

- There are no bathrooms at the trail head.

- You need a White Mountain National Forest parking permit to park at the trail head.  The cost at the trail head is $3 per vehicle per day.  Bring exact change.

Covered Bridge along the Kancamangus Highway
Fall colors at Chocura Lake
For more fall foliage hike ideas...

Summit perched at summit

Please leave comments and questions below...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post: Best of the Best - Portland, Maine

As fall begins, consider squeezing in a visit to tourist-friendly Portland, Maine. Planning a trip after Labor Day ensures you beat the crowds. Here are the places you need to know for the best day experience.

Eastern "Prom" - Portland, Maine
Walk: Portland Trails*: Back Cove Trail

Distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Parking: Free at lot across from Hannaford on Preble Street Extension

The Back Cove Trail is a loop trail (3.5 miles) which boasts beautiful views of the Portland skyline, the occasional marsh wildlife such as Great Blue Herons, and perfect for walking, running, and biking. The terrain is with mostly flat except along a stretch that parallels I-295. There are benches and water fountains (seasonal) along the trail.

*A network of trails in greater Portland, free for public access. Full map here:

Hilltop Superette Counter
Lunch with a View: Hilltop Superette @ 135 Congress St.
Fare: Deli style sandwiches, pizza ($1.79 slices), and hamburgers

The 80-year-old store has been recently raised back from the ashes as it was nearly destroyed by arson last year (previously Colucci’s). Now the local market (opened July 2014) is bustling in the Munjoy Hilll neighborhood. The menu boasts local produce and breads from Borealis Breads. I highly recommend the Italians, especially the Spicy Superette if you like a little kick. Grab a bag of chips to share, drinks, and walk down the street towards the Eastern Promenade for a picnic style lunch with a view of Casco Bay and surrounding islands.

Infinity Beer Barrels
Beer: Bunker Brewing Company @ 122 Anderson St.
Summer Hours: Thurs & Fri 5-8pm, Sat 12-5    Call before stopping by

This microbrewery was established in 2011 and has quickly made a name for itself. Nestled off Anderson St. in a 1920s era brick garage in the developing neighborhood of East Bayside. You will experience a small artisan brewery that founders Chresten Sorensen and Jay Villani believe to be the future of beer. If you appreciate a good pilsener try their Machine Czech Pils (flagship brew). The Peninsula Pale Ale is a local favorite. Feed your competitive edge and challenge your party (or locals) to a game of corn hole just outside the garage.

Dinner: Corner Room @ 110 Exchange St.
Fare: Italian Kitchen & Bar
Happy Hour: Mon-Thurs  4-6pm (complimentary tapas to pair with drinks)
Late Night Menu: Thurs-Sat ‘Til 11pm
Corner Room Restuarant

An open kitchen restaurant invokes a warm and cozy atmosphere with house-made pastas, pizzas, antipasti, and artisanal breads made from local ingredients. Small patio available for dining. The Corner Room is one of the four “Rooms” restaurants owned by chef Harding Lee Smith.

Dessert: Bar of Chocolate @ 38 Wharf St.
Fare: Wine, Dessert, and Espresso Bar
Hours: 4pm-12am everyday

Walk down Exchange St. to Wharf St. and the Bar of Chocolate after dinner at the Corner Room. This the perfect place to visit after a nice meal and its hidden in plain sight! Wharf Street is in the absolute heart of the old port and is one of the few historic cobble stone streets remaining. The Bar of Chocolate is small and cozy and always has excellent locally made treats stocked in the dessert case ranging from flour-less chocolate cake to blueberry pie. Pair your desert with your favorite wine, cocktail, or tea/espresso for a wonderful cap to your day.

MEET THE EXPERT:  Jenny Galasso - Portlander
Jenny is a blogger and local to Portland, Maine.  She is an expert on Maine adventures, restaurants, and hidden gems.  View other posts that feature Jenny by clicking keyword "Jenny" on the side bar.