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Popular Walks in the New Hampshire Lakes Region

Article submission by Cliff Calderwood

Squam Lakes, New Hampshire

Squam Lakes View from the top of West Rattlesnake Trail (photo by Cliff Calderwood)

The Lakes Region of New Hampshire is a popular destination
for vacationers in the summer and for leaf peepers in the splendid fall foliage months. Lying in the foothills of the White Mountains the hikes and walks in this area provide gentler and easier treks to summits and through woods than their higher and denser cousins to the north.

And the forests of lower New Hampshire have a more open canopy allowing more sunlight to reach the ground and permit a richer mixture of shrubs and vines, and ground cover to mature.

There are over 250 lakes in this region with the most popular being Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lakes, Lake Sunapee, and Newfound Lake. Skirting and overlooking this network of lakes is some of the best walking territory in all of New England. Water and walking are New England to me, and I can’t think of a better way of relaxing on vacation than taking a few hours away from the tourist spots and exploring the lower woods of New Hampshire.

I’ve chosen six of my favorite walks in this region which showcase scenic views on summits and forest walks where nature trails shrubs and water provide the major excitement.

West Rattlesnake Trail - Squam Lakes:

I’ll start with the West Rattlesnake hike because for a short amount of effort you’re afforded one of the most breathtaking views of Squam Lakes you’ll ever see. The only tricky thing about this hike is finding the trail. The trailhead parking lot is on Route 113 between Holderness and Center Sandwich and is sign-posted for the Mount Morgan Trail. Once parked cross Route 113 and walk west 100 feet to the Old Bridle Path and after a 30-45 minute easy hike the view will open out to a panoramic vista of Squam Lakes. The gentle climb will take you though woods of sugar maples, oaks, and birches.

The John Hay Forest Ecology Trail – Lake Sunapee:

It’ll be difficult to find a better setting for a nature walk in New Hampshire than on the shores of beautiful Lake Sunapee. In my view this lake remains one of the “undiscovered gems” in the region, and the surrounding forest is a perfect example of transitional woodlands where hardwoods meet and mix with species of the northern boreal forest, and a thick ground cover of ferns, mosses and wildflowers delight the nature lover. The John Hay Forest ecology trail is part of the Fells a portion of the John Hay Wildlife Refuge managed separately. The Fells includes the one-mile nature trail walk, a memorable selection of Gardens, and John Hay’s mansion. The Fells can be reached from the south by taking I-89 north to Exit 9 (Route 103) and go west to Newbury. Then take 103A north 2.2 miles. The Fells is on your left.

Mount Major Hike – Lake Winnipesaukee:

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest of all New Hampshire’s lakes, and a playground for water activities. Surrounding the lake are the Belknap, Ossipee and Sandwich mountain ranges, and the active towns of Meredith, Weirs Beach, Alton, and Wolfeboro. Meredith and Wolfeboro are also scenic and worth exploring on their own but I’m going to focus on an enjoyable easy hike in the Belknap Range on the western side of the lake. The Mount Major hike is one of the most popular hikes in this region as it’s easy – even young children can negotiate it – fairly quick – allow for a round trip of 90 minutes – and perhaps the best – it has a bare summit that provides stunning views of not only Lake Winnipesaukee but on a clear day north to the White Mountains. The trail begins in a parking lot on Route 11 about 2.4 miles south of the intersection of Routes 11 and 11A in West Alton.

Wellington State Park – Newfound Lake:
If Lake Winnipesaukee holds the title of the largest lake in New Hampshire then Newfound Lake claims to be the most pristine. Deep and clear this is another one of those secluded gems that invites exploration and recreational activities. Wellington State Park is situated on the western shore of the lake and provides access to a peninsula nature trail which takes you through a forest of beech, pine, hemlock, poplar, and maple. This trail also provides entry points to other trails leading to Goose Pond, Bear Mountain, Welton Falls, and the hike up Mount Cardigan. The lake is also a popular bird-watching and fishing location offering up lake and rainbow trout and land-locked salmon as well as bass and perch. The park is located in Bristol and from I-93 take exit 23 onto Route 24 west, then right onto Route 3A. Take left onto West Shore Road and follow signs to Wellington State Park.

Bald Knob Summit – Lake Winnipesaukee:

This is another Lake Winnipesaukee walk but this time located on the eastern side in the Ossipee Mountain Range in Moultonborough. The 1.1-mile Bald Knob Summit trail is one of the most popular in this region and begins at the Moultonboro/Tuftonboro town line on Route 171 – it’ll take you about an hour to hike. You’ll enter the woods on a gravel path and what is private property but the no trespass signs you’ll see are not intended for hikers. The forest walk to the summit takes you though a mixture of beech and hemlock and a rushing nearby stream – take some time out to explore, you won’t be disappointed. Towards the top you’ll pass over a carriage road before making the summit and the spectacular views of Lake Winnipesaukee. The carriage road and the summit are on the property of Castle in the Clouds; a popular attraction for visitors to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and its 5,500 acres includes forty-five miles of trails – enough trails for a few return visits.

Mud Pond Trail – Fox State Park – Hillsborough:

This walk provides a rare opportunity to experience both a virgin white pine forest and a kettle pond. Fox State Park is located south of Lake Sunapee on the southern fringe of the Lakes Region. The Mud Pond Trail is 3.75 miles and you should allow two hours to enjoy an unrushed and isolated walk. The trail starts just a short distance from the park headquarters. A short way into the walk and after a footbridge you’ll enter the tall white pines that are among the longest-living trees in New Hampshire. These trees were once prized as masts for the British Navy and marked with a broad arrow. The trail will eventually bring you to Mud Pond – a kettle pond formed 20,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated and left a sink hole of ice that created this pond. There’s a boardwalk that takes you into the bog where sometimes the noise of the insects and frogs living around the pond can be deafening. Fox State Park is 3 miles north on Route 149 from the center of Hillsborough and a real treat to visit.

Cliff Calderwood is the owner of New England Vacations Guide and you can find more articles about things to do on New Hampshire Vacations and free tour guides at his web site


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