Saturday, June 29, 2019

Pickering Ponds Loop - Easy Nature Trail in Rochester, NH

Pickering Ponds is an easy 1.7 mile loop trail located in Gonic, NH. 
Just down the street from me (literally) is a little trail called Pickering Ponds.  I haven't blogged about it before because like so many, I fall into the trap of whatever's further and more exotic, is better.  Not true at all!  This 1.7 mile easy loop trail is perfect for nature lovers, families, and dog walkers.   On a warm sunny day, I popped my 15 month old in a pack and met another momma, Jen, for a pack walk around the ponds and Cocheco river.  We were treated to sunshine, water views, and wildlife including - great blue heron, turtles, and waterfowl.

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure: Pickering Ponds Loop Trail

Unmarked road to trail head can be tricky to spot.
Getting There:  Pickering Ponds is (not surprisingly) located on Pickering Road in the Gonic area of Rochester, NH.  To get there from Dover, take 6th street toward Rochester.  Once you cross the town line into Rochester the street name changes to Pickering Road.  After you pass England Road (on right) keep a lookout for the pullout on the left.  It is not marked - but is a long paved driveway/road with a chain link fence at the end (see image to the left).  For navigation systems, it is opposite the house at 374 Pickering Road in Gonic.  Park along the "driveway" leading up to the fence. There is a prominent "No Hunting" sign.

Complete trail map available at
Trail: The trail starts by entering through a large chain linked fence at the end of the driveway.  You will immediately get views of the ponds.  Jen and I started by walking north along Beaver Dam Road (see map).  This takes you along two large ponds.  I'm told they were originally planned as waste management ponds but have never been used for that purpose.  As a result, it's a favorite spot for bird lovers and you'll see many wildlife photographers if you frequent the ponds.

At the end of the ponds, we turned left along the fence and headed down into the Cocheco River Loop Trail.  This portion traverses through hardwood forest along the river.  It continues to be a wide and relatively flat trail.  This trail curves along the river and will eventually bring you back out to the ponds where you started.  Total - the wide loop is about 1.7 miles.

Hikers can easily shorted this adventure by just doing the ponds and skipping the river walk.

Jen and son checking out a turtle

Beautiful birch trees along wide flat trail
Difficulty: Easy

Distance:  1.7 mile loop with options for shorter


- Spring and early summer this area can get very buggy.  We used bug spray for us and the kids.

- This trail is great for kids because it's easy.  It's also great for parents because it's relatively flat and wide which means, even though it's not paved, I'd say it is "stroller friendly".

- There are no bathroom facilities at the trail.

- Dogs are allowed but should be leashed.

- Parking is free.

- City of Rochester and Rochester Rec manage this property.  The government link to this trail is HERE.
Moms and kids at Pickering Ponds
Selfie with the kids at Pickering Ponds

We enjoyed our nature walk with our little ones.  I'll continue to try to focus on some local Seacoast gems in addition to "far away" destinations.

You might also enjoy these similar adventures:

- Hanson Pines Nature Walk in Rochester, NH

- Great Bay Discovery Center in Greenland, NH

- Wiland Pond Nature Walk in Dover, NH

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Hanson Pines - A River Walk in Rochester, NH

I first visited Dominicus Hanson Pines Park last summer when my son was taking swimming lessons through the Rochester Rec Department.  I noticed a trailhead in the parking lot, but without knowing anything about the trail, I was tentative to try it with two young children alone.  I reached out to social media to my peers at Hike It Baby Seacoast, but no one responded that they had the tried the trail. I forgot about it...until this spring when I saw a post on social media of a beautiful pedestrian bridge over the Cocheco river and a lovely trail.  Next, I reached out through Facebook to Rochester Rec and they were super accommodating - answering questions about the trail and even offering to hike it with us! I took the kids and discovered it’s a hidden gem of a city park - water views, gentle trail, huge trees, and a loop!  It is now part of our regular rotation of nature walks.

Pedestrian Bride along Hanson Pines Nature Walk

Here’s how to recreate this adventure…

Adventure: Dominicus Hanson Pines Park and Nature Trail

Getting there:  The park and parking lot is located right next to Spaulding High School in Rochester at 4 Yeagley Way.

Trailhead at Hanson Pines

Trail:  The trail is a loop that’s divided by a paved path.  It’s a little misleading since it looks like the trail IS the paved path, but it actually goes around the path.  The unpaved walking trail is a relatively flat, wide trail with a floor of pine needles and leaves. There are some roots and rocks, but it is an easy trail and could be accessible for someone with a jogging stroller.  The trail loop is 0.77 miles round trip. We made it a little longer by incorporating the paved path and making a sort of figure eight shape.

If you start by turning left at the trailhead, you will parallel the Hanson Pines pool and playground.
Trail map.  I highlighted the loop in yellow.
Red marks the paved path/bridge.
Next, it wil curve right down to the river.  There are multiple resting benches along the way. At the river, the trail curves right again and travels parallel to it. You will pass the intersection of the paved path and see the impressive footbridge.  Continue straight. Here, interpretive signs are available using a QR code on your phone. We saw muskrat, turtle, and waterfowl. The large pines were also impressive.

From the river, the trail curves right again and heads into a mixed forest of hardwoods and pines. Soon, you will get glimpses of Spaulding High School through the trees and once more the trail curves, taking you back to the well marked trailhead.

We have now visited this trail multiple times - we saw other families, couples, and dog walkers (leashed) enjoying the trail.  We have also tried it with my son on his balance bike. As a parent, I appreciate the playground as well!

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.77 miles for loop

  • Unless, the Hanson Pines Pool is open, there are no bathrooms at the park
  • Dogs are allowed on the trail but should be leashed
  • Parking is free
  • There are other small trails that weave in and out of the land. I haven't explored these (see map photo).

This is a great little strip of peaceful nature in the heart of an urban center.  It’s perfect for families with small children and/or anyone who’s looking for a short nature walk.

View from the footbridge
Happy hikers

Playground fun during hike

You might also enjoy these similar experiences:

- The Perfect Winter "Hike" with Toddlers 

- Winnie - the - Pooh Trail

- Willand Pond Nature Walk

Seacoast Moms Blog: Family Tent Camping - Top 3 Campgrounds

This month, I wrote about the best three campgrounds for families tenting in New Hampshire.  For those interested in the link - it is HERE.  

Toddler at White Lake State Park
Photo from White Lake State Park - a great place to camp!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Seacoast Moms Blog: For my Family-Focused Readers

Mom and Baby Freelance Adventurer

I've taken on a new writing assignment!  I'm now a monthly contributor to Seacoast Moms Blog.  Although I will write about some things that tie into my lense of outdoor exploration on Freelance Adventurer, I will sometimes share posts here if I think my readers will appreciate it.  

Here is my April Post:  5 Toddler-Friendly Seacoast Nature Walks

And never fear, I'm going to continue to post and write on this blog.  I have a lot of exciting outdoor adventures planned for the spring and summer.  Some involving kids/families and some not!

Please also continue to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.  I appreciate all the support!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Perfect Winter "Hike" with Toddlers - Great Bay Discovery Center Boardwalk Trail

Snowy Boardwalk Trail at Great Bay
I've been really busy.  Full time job, two kids (two and 10 months) and still I try to hike and explore outdoors.  As a result, I've been slacking when it comes to writing.  If I have a spare 30 minutes at the end of the day, I choose Netflix over writing, but that doesn't mean I haven't been hiking!  If you've followed me on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer or Facebook @TheFreelanceAdventurer, you have seen that even with two under three, I've been able to get out.

One of my favorite adventures with my littles has been to the short trails at Great Bay Discovery Center.  In winter, the center is closed but the trails are open and the interactive exhibits along the short trail are perfect to keep the little legs moving.  I started exploring this area with Hike It Baby this summer and have continued going alone or with mom-friends through the winter.

Friends join us for a snowy hike.  

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Boardwalk Trail at  Great Bay Discovery Center

Getting There:  The trail is located at the Great Bay Discovery Center at 89 Depot Rd in Greenland, NH. To get there, I take Hwy 16 to NH-33 and head toward Stratham.  Across from Stratham Hill Park, turn right onto Sandy Point Rd, then right onto Depot Rd.  The parking lot for the Discovery Center is just over the train tracks.  There is plenty of parking, and the lot is plowed in winter. 

Trail: In the parking lot, find the little "milk truck" and "dog house".  My kids love to play on this before the hike.  From there walk towards the main building and the tall sign with all the arrows.  From here, walk down the stairs to the trail.  
Milk Truck in Parking Lot

At this point, turn left. Up ahead is an interactive boat display.  It's the first "stop" on the hike.  Kids can climb on a gundalow, fishing boat, or row boat.  It's hard to pry them away, but I always remind them of things to see ahead.

Continue past the boats.  There will be an interpretive sign on the right that shows the trail map.  After passing a circle of stump seats, you'll start walking on the boardwalk.  At the intersection, I take my kids left to see the Wig Wam - a native American house replica.  You can definitely take the Woodland walk, but we prefer to go back to the board walk and walk the loop.  It heads out into the marsh with a bird viewing station and binoculars at a cleared area.  Even in snow, it's a fine walk!  
Playing at the boats.

We loop back and I coax my kids back to the parking lot by offering more time on the boats.  From the boats, we take the ramp trail up between the two main buildings.  A nature scape playground complete with blocks, see-saw, slide, picnic area and bridge is at the top of the trail and a great end to our visit.  In total, it is probably 0.25-0.5 miles.

Difficulty:  Easy!  My 2 year old has no problem completing this adventure.  Snow adds an extra challenge.  This week we wore snow boats and I put additional traction on my boots since I was carrying the baby. I highly recommend MicroSpikes for winter hiking.  

Wig Wam


- The Discovery Center is open to the public May - September 10am - 4 pm, Wednesdays through Sundays.  The grounds are open year round but there are no bathroom facilitates during this time.  Plan ahead!

- In snow, the trail can be slippery.  See how I prepared under "Difficulty".

- If you take a right on the trail instead of a left to the boats, you actually can head down to a kayak/canoe boat launch onto Great Bay.  In the warmer months, its a great place to splash and explore.
Looking for wildlife on the snowy bay

You might also enjoy these similar experiences:

Don't forget your snowpants!