Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kancamagus Cool Down

Swift River and Albany Covered Bridge
Usually, my activity of choice for the White Mountains is hiking, but on this hot and humid visit, we decided to keep cool.    Joe and Jeanne- friends from Long Island - were renting a house on Conway Lake, in Conway, NH and we had an enjoyable two days of fighting the heat and enjoying the wilderness.  Our adventures included relaxing in the cool waters of the Swift River, hanging with the crowds at Lower Falls, and sitting in the mist of Sabbaday Falls.  If you are looking for a relaxed adventure for a hot day, this is a great way to beat the heat. 

Chillin in the Swift River

Our first stop of the day was to cool down in the Swift River.  We drove to the Albany covered bridge about 6.5 miles down the Kancamagus Highway on the right.  Once you cross the bridge, there's parking for the Boulder Loop Trail.  On this day, we didn't take the trail.  Instead, we parked and walked just upstream of the bridge.  We sat in the cool water, drank a beverage, and enjoyed the scenic New England view of river, bridge, and mountains.  There were a few other people picnicking in the area but plenty of space to find a quiet and secluded spot to ourselves.  There are also a couple picnic tables and pit toilets available.  You need a National Park parking pass to park there ($3 for a day at the lot).

Lower Falls
Crowds beat the heat at Lower Falls

About a mile further down the Kanc, we stopped at Lower Falls parking and picnic area on the right.  This is an ideal stop for those people looking for a place to sun and play in the water.  It's a popular spot so you should be prepared for crowds on a hot summer day.  The area is a beautiful set of cascades, which in the summer months, provides a set of shutes and slides for the adventurous at heart.  There are picnic tables and pit toilets available.  There are also signs posted banning alcohol or glass bottles.  You need a National Park parking pass to park there.

Sabbaday Falls
Sabbaday Falls

We continued down the Kanc about 10 more miles until we came to the Sabbaday Falls parking area on the left.  This spot has a shaded picnic area near the parking lot and a short trail to some beautiful falls.  It's a great spot for a quick view of falls and is handicapped accessible so it's also perfect for small children or the elderly.   We sat near the falls for a while and enjoyed the shade and spray.  Matt and Joe packed in a fly rod and caught a little brook trout in the large pool beneath the falls.  The spot restricts swimming, but it's a beautiful set of waterfalls and a cool spot on a hot day.  You need a National Park parking pass to park there.

Our Kancamagus cool down was a fantastic way to beat the heat and enjoy the White Mountain wilderness.  There's nothing like sitting next to a river on a hot and humid day to let you know that summer has truly begun.  

Fly Fishing at Sabbaday Falls

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kennebunkport By Sea

Goat Island Lighthouse as seen from Cape Porpoise Harbor

This week is my last week as a resident of Kennebunkport, Maine.  It has been a dream come true to live here for the past three years, and I'm desperately going to miss the connivence and happiness I get from walking from my doorstep to the beach, grabbing a lobster roll for lunch, and living everyday in a town that others plan their year around vacationing too.  I've been incredibly lucky, and I'm really going to miss it!  Although I'm just moving an hour south to Exeter, New Hampshire, the next time I visit Kennebunkport I will be just one more of the hundreds of tourists.

Wind in my hair
It seemed fitting that I spend my last day in the 'Port, hanging out with my friend Ross who has spent his whole life here.   Ross has been an awesome mentor and friend.  I think he's made it his goal to show me how to enjoy the Kennebunkport-way-of-life.  I have gone tubing down the Mousam river, been to Prelude tree-lightings, and winter Fire and Ice celebrations with him and his friends.  This week, Ross offered to take me and my friend Matt out on his boat.  

Unlike my other blog posts, this might be a difficult adventure to re-create unless you have an ocean vessel.  
If you have a boat, this is a great little ride to see the beauty the Kennebunk coast has to offer...

Captain Ross
Captain Ross docks his boat at the Arundel Warf in Kennebunkport.  We boarded around 9:30 am and floated down the Kennebunk River to the ocean.  We saw cormorants sunning themselves and an impressive number of personal watercraft.

Once at sea, Ross took the boat full speed straight out and then headed South.  We headed over to the south end of Mother's Beach, hugged the shore a bit then headed to Parson's Beach.  At Parson's Beach, we headed up the Mousam and saw some sea birds, kayakers, and fly fishermen looking for stripers.  

We headed out to sea, and this time, headed north.  Ross drove us up Turbat's Creek, which provided views of buildings on stilts sitting in the river, a channel full of lobster buoys, and more delicate marshland.  It was a very picturesque New England scene.
View from Turbat's Creek
To finish our voyage, we continued further north to see Cape Porpoise, including Goat Island Light.  Cape Porpoise harbor was filled with colorful lobster buoys and tiny islands available for camping and picnicing.  "Watch out,"  said Ross, "Those islands are covered in poison ivy."  Yikes!
Row boat explores the marshes near Cape Porpoise
After exploring the area around Cape Porpoise, we headed back to the Kennebunk River and Ross's slip around noon.  It was an AWESOME day to be on the water and the perfect way to end my three years as a resident of this ideal summer town.  I'm sure I'll continue to include blogs about K-port from time to time, but new adventures await as a Granite Stater!

Goat Island Light and Lobster Buoys

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Advice for hiking in the White Mountains

Hiking in the White Mountains

The year I moved to New Hampshire to work as a hiking guide for the AMC, I had hiked the Grand Canyon in a day, Mt. Saint Helens in a day, and multiple challenging hikes in the Sierras.  At the time I was living at 6,000 feet and my daily runs would take me into 7,000 feet of elevation.  I figured that the White Mountains and it's pitiful little Mt. Washington (6,000 footer) had nothing to offer me in the way of challenge or unique beauty.  I discovered that I was completely wrong and now have converted to a White Mountain worshiper.  I am a devoted New England adventurer and enthusiast.  As a fairly recent convert, I think it's important that White Mountain hikers know the challenges they will face when climbing in the White Mountains.

Here are the 5 things every adventurer should know before tackling the White Mountains...

White Mountain Trails are Rocky
1.  It's Rocky.  Growing up in Oregon, we would hike along trails of trampled pine needles and muddy slop.  The Whites are different.  The first 'hike' I did in the Whites was attempt to jog the 1 mile Lost Pond Loop across from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  It was nearly impossible.  This "flat" trail was like stumbling through a quarry.  I soon discovered that this was the norm for New England.  Recently, my mom came to visit from Oregon and I took her up to Tuckermans Ravine.  She asked, "Are we walking on a dried river bed?"  "No Mom," I replied, "This is hiking in the Whites.

Advice for Rocky Terrain: Wear sturdy, durable footwear.  For long trips or trips with a weighted pack, consider wearing high-top hiking boots and using trekking poles for stability.

White Mountain Trails are Steep
2.  It's Steep.  In true New Hampshire style, the White Mountain Hikes don't beat around the bush.  When you hike, you climb straight up a mountain.  This is contrary to my West Coast days of taking gentle switch backs up a steep mountain.  For example, on the popular hike from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to the Hermit Lake hut (part way up Mt. Washington) you ascend over 1,800 feet in 2.4 miles.  If you were to take the Lion's Head Trail from here, your hike all together would be an elevation gain of 4,250 feet in 4.1 miles!  And don't forget - it's rocky too.

Advice for Steep Trail:  Take your time! Take frequent breaks for water, snack and rest.  Plan ahead by giving yourself plenty of time to tackle the mountains.  Again, I recommend trekking poles and sturdy footwear for mountain climbing - especially on the steep descents.  Don't forget- it might be steep going up, and it's going to be just as steep going down!

White Mountain Trails are Confusing
3.  It's Confusing:  For a newcomer to White Mountain hiking, the multiple criss-crossed trails, colored blazes on trees, and frequent trail signs can be confusing.  Without knowledge of the trail system, maps, and area, it is possible to get confused or lost.  Even experienced hikers (like myself) have become turned around at a trail junctions.

Advice for Confusing Trail Markings:  Appalachian Mountain Club maintains the trails and staff the huts/visitor centers in the White Mountains. They also publish excellent hiking guides and maps with mileage, elevation, etc. Familiarize yourself with The AMC White Mountain Guide and the AMC White Mountain Map Sets.  The cost of the AMC White Mountain Guide is $25 and comes with a set of paper maps.  I also purchase the tyvec maps since they are waterproof.  Know how to read contour maps, and if you are confused, ask a knowledge staff member at one of the visitor centers (Highland Center or Pinkham Notch).  In addition, keep a careful lookout for trail signs, junctions, and river crossings, and finally, know the blaze color you are following.  If you are on the Appalachian Trail for your hike, the trail will always be blazed white.  Surround trails are often in blues and yellows.

4.  It's Crowded:

White Mountain Trails are Crowded
If you are like the typical White Mountain visitor, you will be traveling in July or August.  Summer and fall tourists clog the roads and pack the trails of the White Mountain National Forest.  Because of it's proximity to major cities like Boston, Montreal, New York, and Manchester, AND the over 1,200 miles of hiking trails*, it is one of the most frequented National Forests in the U.S.  This can be less-than-peaceful in the summer along popular hikes such as Mt. Washington, Mt. Lafayette, Diana's Bath, and Mt. Chocura.  Families, camp groups, and beginners take their time and clog the trail, while hard-core-enthusiasts frustratingly try to pass.   It is not always a serene mountain setting.

Advice for Avoiding the Crowds:  If you don't want to be dodging the summer traffic, try hiking in the off seasons.  While the area is definitely a year-round destination, there are times when those congested July hikes are sparse with visitors.  If you aren't comfortable with winter hiking, why not try Mt. Lafayette in early June or early September?  There are fewer people on the trails and the weather is often better.  If you are going hiking in the high-season, take a hike off the beaten path.  Many of my favorite hikes are the ones that don't get much foot traffic, such as Mt. Pierce, Mt. Garfield, Mt. Osceola, and the Moat Mountains.  These all provide stunning views and rewarding hiking-without the crowded trails.

It's worth it!
5.  It's All Worth It!: The challenges of steep, rocky, confusing, and sometimes crowded trails might seem daunting but it is worth the amazing experience of hiking in the White Mountains.  Those who visit are awe-struck by the numerous options for exploring nature and traveling over a land loved by thousands.  There is nothing that compares to the experience of tackling a mountain to gaze down below at it's summit.  My first mountain hike in the White Mountains was up Mt. Bond and it has been my favorite experience ever since.  Yes - I had blisters the size of quarters and a shirt drenched in sweat, but it didn't matter once I saw the beautiful wilderness below me.  I have been a devoted follower and companion to the mountains ever since.

*Wikipedia's White Mountain National Forest page.

Please feel free to leave comments, advice, and questions below!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

5 Best Family Hikes in White Mountains, NH

New Hampshire has great hiking for kids.

Many tourists visit the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and are overwhelmed by the options of hikes, hiking guides, and maps.  Which hike should you choose?
Here is my advice for having a great hike in the Whites.

As a rule, a great family hike will offer...
1. A great view - (mountain top, waterfall, lake, etc)
2. Varying terrain - Many people think short, flat "hikes" are the best for kids, but it's boring to walk down a flat trail for 30 min.  Try a hike that incorporates some challenges.  It's exciting for a child to have a boulder to climb over or a scramble up a steep section.  Just make sure it's not too challenging.
Child enjoys view after a great hike.
3. Limited mileage-  Less than 5 miles round trip is a good rule for the family or less-experienced hiker.

Remember to bring the following:
- Lots of water (1 L or more a person)
- Extra clothing including rain gear, and a warm layer
- Toilet paper and ziplock to carry it out in (DON'T BURY!)
- Snacks and food
- First aid kit including band aids, moleskin for blisters, sunscreen, and bug spray
- AMC Maps

5 Best Hikes for Families in the White Mountains, New Hampshire
All hikes are Easy to Moderate trails.

1. Mt Willard - This is a THE BEST view for a short hike in the whites.  You can access the trail from the US 302 at the Crawford Depot.  I park at the AMC Highland Center that provides access to bathroom facilities, knowledge adventure guides, and lodging.  The hike is 3.2 miles round trip with a 900 ft elevation gain.  Bring a picnic and enjoy the view of Crawford Notch from the "summit".  The trip will take 3-4 hours.
View from Mt. Willard, Crawford Notch

2. Arethusa Falls - Arethusa falls is a wonderful hike and a chance to see the tallest waterfall in New Hampshire!  You can make this a loop hike if you take the Bemis Brook trail to the falls and return on the Arethusa Falls Trail.  Round trip it's about 2.6 miles and includes some steep parts along the Bemis brook section. There is no mountain view on this hike, but you get multiple views of serveral small waterfalls.  Parking can be found off US 302 about 6 miles south of Crawford Depot/AMC Highland Center.  There is usually a small cash fee to park in the lot.  There is no bathroom along this hike.
Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

3. Lonesome Lake - This is a great hike for kids because the terrain (although uphill) is graded and includes some switchbacks.  The view from Lonesome lake of far off mountains and the pristine mountain lake is a great spot for a picnic.  Kids (and parents) can use the restrooms at the AMC Lonesome Lake hut before returning to the parking lot.  This hike is 3.5 miles round trip has a 1,000 ft elevation gain.  You can access this hike from the Lafayette Campground on I-93 in Franconia Notch State Park. Take the Lonesome Lake Trail.
Lonesome Lake, Franconia Notch

4. Zealand Falls - Zealand Falls is a fantastic family friendly hike because it gives views of ponds, waterfalls, and mountains, and all with limited elevation gain although is a little longer then the previous hikes.  This trail is accessed from Zealand Road which is off US 302, about 2.3 miles east of the Twin Mountain intersection. This there-and-back hike is generally "flat" until the last .2 miles when you have a steep assent up to the hut.  Although it's more milage than I recommend for most family hikes, the gentle terrain allows this 5.6 round trip adventure to be the perfect fit for families.  Pit toilets are available at the parking lot and full amenities at the AMC Zealand Hut.
View from Zealand Falls Hut

5.  Square Ledge and Lost Pond - Square Ledge is a short and steep hike across from the popular Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and AMC Joe Dodge Lodge.  This trail is accessed along Rt 16 directly across from the visitor center.  Follow the Lost Pond Trail to the Square Ledge Trail.  Take your time on the rocks and boulders.  The hike is a steep uphill for 0.5 miles to a lookout called "Square Ledge".  Hikers enjoy a view of the notch including a clear view of Mt. Washington.  It's a great "short but sweet" hike if you are short on time or want a view of the "rockpile".  Full amenities are availble at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  If you come down and still want more, try a quiet stroll around "Lost Pond".  This is a 1 mile loop around the pond with views of beaver damns and Mt. Washington.

View from Square Ledge, Pinkham Notch

The White Mountain Nation Forest is a wonderful place to explore and enjoy.  I hope you take a few of these hikes this summer.  They are great for families, but there are also enjoyed by experienced hikers like myself.

Please feel free to add comments or questions.  

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3 Great Spring Hikes in Northern New England!
Mt. Major is a Major Treat
Mt. Manadnock, NH