Saturday, August 29, 2020

Little Harbor Loop Trail - A Portsmouth Treasure

small girl on rock near water

In my pursuit to find all the best Seacoast hikes, I realized I had left out what many would consider the "capital" of the Seacoast - the city of Portsmouth.  I've done many trails near Portsmouth - Great Bay, Peverly Pond, and Fort Constitution , but very few nature walks actually within the city limits.  I did some research and decided to try Little Harbor Loop Hike.  I liked it so much, the next day I went back with the kids!

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure: Little Harbor Loop Trail

Getting there:  Little Harbor Loop trail has three possible parking areas along the trail.  One is at Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion located at the address: 375 Little Harbor Road in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  This historic site and grounds is managed by New Hampshire State Parks and offers free parking and a trailhead to the loop.  The other two parking areas are located on the Creek Farm Reservation Property which is maintained by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Trail sign for little harbor loop in portsmouth new hampshire
The Little Harbor Loop Trial is well signed. 
Follow the yellow blazes!
Trail:  The trailhead to Little Harbor Loop is right in the parking lot to the Wentworth-Coolidge parking lot and marked with a small wooden sign and a gap in the woods.  The important thing to note on this trail is to follow the yellow blazes.  The trail is well marked but there are several unmarked offshoots where a hiker could get off course.  Stay on the yellow trail and you’ll be fine.

The hike begins in the woods.  You will hike over uneven terrain of rocks and roots.  The trail winds through woods, crossing a driveway, passing through two rock walls, and eventually to a trail junction sign that shows you can veer off the loop to the right to visit the “view spur”.  This is definitely worth it.  Take the spur and you will be rewarded with views of the tidal bay, rocky shoreline, and a grassy marsh.  Return the way you came and continue on the yellow-blazed loop.

The trail will cross the road and enter the well signed “Creek Farm Reservation” and second parking lot.  The trail is well signed, but travels along the road - yellow blazes marked on trees on the shoulder until entering the third parking lot for this hike near the Shoals Marine Laboratory and Sagamore Creek Boat Car Top Boat Launch.

The trail continues around the grounds of the impressive building and hugs the shore, curving around an inlet marked on the map as a tidal pool. Continue to follow the yellow blazes (now marked on stones), along the shore with views of Goose Island on your right.  

The trail will cut back inland and travel the road back to the parking lot of Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.

Little Harbor Loop trail on road
Part of the Little Harbor Loop Trail walks along the road. 
Follow the yellow blazes.
Difficulty: Mostly easy with some root/rocky footing in the first half mile.

Distance: 1.5 miles


  • Little Harbor Loop Trail is managed by the New Hampshire state parks and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.  It is open dawn to dusk.

  • A trail map is available on the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion website.

  • Dogs are not allowed on the trail.

  • At low tide visitors can walk out to some of the close islands and tidal pool areas. Be mindful of the tide so you don’t get stuck.

  • The first half mile of the trail from Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion has a series of unmarked offshoot trails.  Stick to the yellow loop so not to impact more areas with unofficial trails- with the exception of the marked viewpoint.

I really enjoyed Little Harbor Loop twice this week. When I brought the kids, we didn't do the full loop - we just went down to the viewpoint and back.  This was the perfect length for my 2 year old.  Afterwards we enjoyed the lawn and waterfront views of the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion who's grounds were open to the public.  I hope you get to enjoy it too!

See more photos and adventure on my INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK!

Little Harbor Loop Trial in Portsmouth New Hampshire
Little Harbor Loop Trial in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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- Cutts Island Trail in Kittery

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Monday, August 10, 2020

Morgan and Percival Loop: Ladders, Caves, and Amazing Views

Morgan Percival Loop has ladders, caves and amazing views

Somehow I'd gone this far being an avid New Hampshire hiker without even hearing about the Mount Morgan and Mount Percival peaks.  Then, thanks to social media, I've been seeing photos of people climbing ladders, pushing packs through narrow rock holes, and enjoying stunning views on these lakes region peaks.  The first chance I got, I wrangled two work friends into joining me and we thrilled at the Morgan and Percival loop hike.  

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure: Mount Morgan and Mount Percival Loop 

Getting there: These lakes region peaks are located near Squam Lake in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire.  To get there from the Seacoast, I took 101 West to 93 North.  From there, take exit 24 onto Route US-3, NH-25 toward Ashland/Holderness.  Follow US-3 for 4.5 miles, then turn left onto NH-113.  The trailhead will be on the left after 5.5 miles. There is an overflow parking lot across the street, however, be warned - this trail has been extremely popular this summer and even on a weekday morning, my friend and I got the last spot open at 10 am.  Weekday hikers should plan for 9 am or earlier and weekend possible earlier!
crawling through caves on mt morgan
After ladders, hikers crawl through cave on Mount Morgan
    Both peaks can be hit in a loop.  It was recommended to travel clockwise - hitting Mount Morgan first.  To do this, from the trailhead, hike about 0.1 mile to the junction where the trails meet.  Veer left on the Mount Morgan trail.  The trail ascends consistently through hardwood forest with moderate terrain.  The trail leads to a set of three ladders that allows you to climb a rock face.  THIS IS OPTIONAL!  My friend Kaley and her dog took the bypass while Danielle and I took the ladders.  Footwork is a little tricky on the third ladder.  Once up the ladders, the trail continues through a short and narrow cave.  Crawl through the rock and you will climb out onto a beautiful ledge with stunning views of the lakes and peaks below.  I really enjoyed this experience but those who are afraid of heights, struggle with mobility, young children, dogs, and large packs should take the bypass.  
    After the ledge, there is a short and somewhat difficult slab with high exposure to get to the near-summit view.  We spent a good half hour on this ledge view where the two trails meet up again.  From there, you will head back into the woods and pass the official summit of Mount Morgan (no view).  Continue onto the Crawford-Ridgepole trail through short, dense forest to Mount Percival.
    Mount Percival's summit has even more expansive views of lakes and peaks below.  The challenging portion of Mount Percival is directly below the summit - where hikers quickly descend into a boulder field followed by caves and rock outcrops.  At one point, we all had to remove our packs (even my small one) to descend a vertical drop into a hole.  I felt like Indiana Jones!  Looking at the map, there is a bypass for this as well, however we didn't take it.  This would be impossible for a large dog that could not be carried, a large pack (like baby carrier), or those with mobility issues.
    After the exciting caves, continue a moderate/steady descent on the Mount Percival Trail.  To get back to the parking lot, take the Morse Trail at the junction (unless you parked at the Percival parking lot), to return to your car.  
Caves and Rocks on Mount Percival
Crawling over boulders and caves on Mount Percival
Difficulty: Moderate with (optional) sections of difficulty - ladders, caves, and rock ledge/boulders

Distance: Entire loop is 5.1 miles
Enjoying the view on Mount Morgan
Enjoying the view on Mount Morgan, New Hampshire

- Take the clockwise loop with Mt Morgan first. This way you will be going with the flow of other hikers and also won't have to go down ladders.

- Parking is limited and fills fast on this popular hike.  Also, we did not have cell service in the parking lot.  Plan ahead and have a back up plan if the parking lot is full.  Street parking is prohibited. 

- There are no bathroom facilities available.

- Dogs are allowed on the trail but it is not advisable to take dogs on ladders and caves.  Take the optional bypass.  

- I do not advise carrying a baby-carrier on this hike.  The cave crawling is narrow and tight.  It would be extremely challenging and possibly unsafe to travel with a baby.

- Weather watch - ladders and caves are dangerous when wet.

- Practice LNT, practice social distancing, and wear a mask.

- Want to see what I packed for this hike? Check it out at my IGTV.

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