Hiking the Wilds of Northern NH
The Cohos Trail
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The Cohos Trail
The Cohos Trail Association, PO Box 82, Lancaster, NH 03584

165 miles of wilderness hiking from southern Crawford Notch in the White Mountain National Forest through the Great North Woods to the Canadian border at far-flung Pittsburg, NH. Hearty souls can then continue on Sentier Frontalier’s trails to Mount Megantic or Mount Gosford in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. This network is the only international trail system in New Hampshire and the second international pathway in the East. There are many day hike opportunities along the full length of the Cohos Trail and a great deal of remote territory to explore where you may meet more moose than human beings.

The Cohos Trail threads its way through eight distinct geographical regions within New Hampshire’s largest and most remote county, Coos County. Each section has its own unique features that are ripe for exploration on a day hike or a weekend trek.

Distinct Regions of The Cohos Trail System

THE “MONTALBAN WHITES”

The southern terminus of the Cohos Trail begins in the White Mountain National Forest. It takes at least two days of hiking to transit the route from southern Crawford Notch at Notchland to the Mt. Washington Hotel. In between are some of the tallest peaks in the Northeast, including 6,288 foot Mt. Washington. The trail crosses near the headwaters of the Saco River, reaches four waterfalls, and approaches Dry River Shelter and the AMC’s Lake of the Clouds Hut (depending on which of two alternate routes your take).

JEFFERSON DOME

This segment of the trail boasts several dramatic summits, cliff ledges, and the superlative 6,000-acre Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, one of the more critical wildlife habitats in New England. The refuge is a home to or way station for over 200 species of birds. Views from Mt. Martha and Owls Head ledges are among the finest White Mountains, and the view across Cherry Pond in the wildlife refuge is the most dramatic of the Presidential Range that can be had.

THE KILKENNY

The only noncontiguous section of the White Mountain National Forest, the Kilkenny boasts more than 100,000 acres of remote forests and 4,000-foot mountain ranges. The Starr King Trail and Kilkenny Ridge Trail offer 25 miles of wilderness hiking. The trek reaches nine summits, glacial tarns, a large beaver impoundment, the Mt. Cabot cabin, an ice gulch, and a federal recreation area at South Pond. The journey through the Kilkenny takes at least two days. There are views aplenty from remote lookouts throughout the region. Wildlife abounds.

THE NASH STREAM FOREST

A “new” favorite of hikers experiencing the Cohos Trail is the 39,601-acre Nash Stream Forest, New Hampshire’s largest state forest. This section includes the dramatic and steep twin Percy Peaks. North Percy Peak features acres of steep bare rock terrain and a blueberry barren at the summit. The Forest also hides wonderful Pond Brook Falls, the Devil’s Jacuzzi, the first class topknot of 3,701-foot Mt. Sugarloaf, wild Nash Stream, Cathedral Meadow, haunting Gadwah Notch, and the delightful Bulldozer Flat with its panoramic view of very remote terrain. There is a timber-frame shelter on the Arm of Sugarloaf, and an organized campsite on North Percy Peak’s north flank. In the future, other shelters may be developed in the area.

DIXVILLE NOTCH

One of three most dramatic notch environments in New Hampshire, Dixville Notch is the state’s smallest but most rugged and steep. It encompasses famed Table Rock with its dizzying700-foot drop almost straight down to Route 26. This section houses Baldhead Shelter with its 45-mile view and Panorama Shelter 14 miles to the north. Sweeping outlooks from Dixville Peak and Mt. Gloriette can be had, and there is no end to cliff faces and sheer drops. Two waterfalls and a flume top off the adventure here. Best yet, Dixville Notch can be loop hiked in a long afternoon. For those who love green energy, one can occasionally see huge wind turbine towers on ridges to the east.</[>

HARDSCABBLE AND DEADWATER

This section of the Cohos Trail is largely confined to old farm lanes that thread through old or abandoned hill farms. The trek up MacAlester Road to Creampoke and the old Weirs Tree Farm is a family favorite and a welcome change in topography for thru-hikers. Many overnight on Clarksville Pond at Rudy’s Cabins and Campground just half a mile to the west of the footpath route. The north section is a meander along an old logging tote road and a three-mile walk along the shore lane beside 2,000-acre Lake Francis.

THE CONNECTICUT LAKE REGION

At the top of the state of New Hampshire is a string of great lakes, one nearly 3,000 acres large, that form the headwaters of New England’s longest waterway, the Connecticut River. This lake country reveals a string of low summits that offer sweeping vistas of three states and Quebec province. The largest volume waterfall on the trail, Falls in the River, is a must. Stay at Lake Francis Campground or Mountain Bungalow (donations only) right on the trail, or chose to overnight at Ramblewood Cabins and Campground. The longest puncheon span (bog bridge string) in the state bridges a vast spruce bog here. At several points, there are expansive views over thousands of acres of lake water.

THE BOUNDARY MOUNTAINS

From the large water impoundment dam at Second Connecticut Lake to the Canadian border, the Cohos Trail swings through moose country that is boreal forest, full of spruce and fir spires and copious wildlife. New Hampshire’s last primitive campground, Deer Mountain Campground, is a terrific overnight spot, particularly if you can get Site #28 on Moose Flowage backwater, with its 180 degree vista. The campground resides below big Deer Mountain with its newly restored trail up to the old superstructure of an abandoned fire tower. A side visit to the boat landing at Second Connecticut Lake (the gem of New Hampshire) can’t be passed up. The vista is exceptional. Finally, climb steeply up to the very source of the mighty Connecticut River, a tiny two-acre fen in a hollow right on the Canadian border. It’s trail’s end.

ON TO CANADA

The Cohos Trail ends at the Canadian border, but its Quebec-based sister organization, the Sentiers Frontalier, maintains more than 70 miles of dynamic trail on the rim of the boundary peaks that separate the watersheds of the Connecticut and St. Lawrence Rivers. Those who can’t get enough thru-hiking can venture north to Mont Megantic and Canada’s largest astronomical observatory or eastward to Mont Gosford with its fine viewing tower. The Cohos Trail system and the Sentiers Frontalier trails represent the second international trail system created in the East.

 Suggested Day Hikes

 Nash Bog Loop

Just before crossing the big bridge over Nash Stream at Mile 9, pull over and park. Walk toward the bridge, but keep right and follow the stream north into the woods. Meander through beautiful woodlands near Nash Stream Bog, eventually reaching the Nash Stream Road. Turn south on the little used road, and walk three miles back to your, passing small summer camps dotted along the way and views to the east over sprawling Nash Bog.

 Gadwah Notch Trail

At Mile 11 on the Nash Stream Road, come to a parking spot at the Headwaters Gate next to the last camp in the valley. At the split in the road here, stay left and enter the Gadwah Notch Trail. Begin an easy to modestly steep trek uphill to beautiful Cathedral Meadow. Pass it and half a mile later reach Moran Meadow. Turn uphill for another half mile and wander into Muise Bowl. Cross the Bowl and meander uphill continuously on a soft old logging lane turned foot trail and reach ever higher narrow meadows until you reach Bulldozer Flat at nearly 3,000 feet of elevation with its beautiful views to the west. If you have to more miles in you, continue through Gadwah Notch, descending into Sims Stream Valley, then climb 3,097-foot Baldhead Mt. to the Baldhead Shelter and its 40-mile viewpoint. Spend the night in the shelter, or return the way you came.

 Dixville Notch Loop

Some of the most dramatic scenery that can be had in the Northeast resides in Dixville Notch. The mountains and high ridges carry a system of trails that continuously reach cliff faces, pathways including the famed Table Rock Trail, the Three Brothers Trail/Cascade Trail, and the Sanguinary Ridge Trail. Once at the base of the latter pathway, walk down the entrance lane to the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, swing around the inn and trek the hotel service road out to Route 26. Turn west a minute or two and look for the Table Rock Trail on the left. There are several trailheads and parking areas to take advantage of, but the trail loops completely around the notch and will get you back to where you started.

 Falls in the River Trail

One of the most popular trails we have developed in the entire region is the Falls in the River Trail. Begin at Second Connecticut Lake Dam and walk south into the woods. This is an easy woods walk along the wild Connecticut River. It reaches quiet backwaters and chattering streams, but the real prize is a big granite shelf that juts out into the roaring falls in the river above a narrow gorge and turbulent flume of foaming water.

 Deer Mountain Firetower Trail

The Cohos Trail Association has restored a number of trails in Coos County, NH, and this is the latest one. It begins on a spur road off Sophie’s Lane west of Deer Mountain Campground about four miles from the Canadian border. Walk Sophie’s Lane half a mile until a spur lane rises on the left. Walk up it until it ends. The trailhead is on the left (west) in a small turnaround lot. Begin an easy to moderate climb in quiet woods, crossing three stream crossings as you climb higher. In less than an hour reach a high elevation drained bog in boreal forest. Now begin to climb more steeply and reach a narrow waterfall. Crest the summit ridgeline and walk north on the ridge until the steel superstructure of an abandoned firetower comes into view. This is the summit of Deer Mountain, a spot that seems far removed from anywhere.

 Fourth Connecticut Lake Trail

The Cohos Trail system ends on the short but briefly steep Fourth Connecticut Lake Trail, protected by the Nature Conservancy. It reaches the little two-acre fen high on Prospect Hill that is the headwaters source of the mighty Connecticut River. The pathway reaches the little pond in less than half an hour, but the trail makes a complete circuit around the watery environment in true boreal forest.

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