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A Spectacular Fun Fall Foliage Tour In The New Hampton Area

Christine Randall - September 27, 2011

Most of my foliage tours involve areas with ponds, bogs, rivers, and lakes, as colors seem to change more quickly and be more vibrant near water. I decided for this year’s first tour that I would head out along some of the pretty back roads of the New Hampton/Meredith area, a 26-mile route which would allow me to visit two mountain ponds and a small, pristine lake, as well as enjoy some nice scenic mountain views along the way. On a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being the easiest and least nerve-racking in terms of adventurous driving conditions, I would rate this tour as a 3.5 – some easy stretches, and some more challenging!

I headed out of Ashland towards Meredith along Winona Road, a road which is a pretty and relatively quiet alternative to busy Route 3. Winona Road actually passes through portions of several towns, including Ashland, New Hampton, Center Harbour, and Meredith, and a few of  these town lines are pretty close together, so you have to pay attention if you want to know exactly what town you happen to be in.

Winona Road is fairly narrow and winding in most spots, and about six miles from Ashland, the road starts to climb and narrows considerably as you enter a series of sharp S-curves, with the lake becoming visible on the right. This is a spot that you have to be very cautious and really pay attention to the road, since cars coming from the other direction are going downhill and many go a little too fast around the curves. It is also a favorite route for bicyclists, which only adds to the need for caution.

The road comes to a pull-off area along Lake Winona, which serves as a public access point for boats with small motors, as well as canoeists and kayakers. Lake Winona is a quiet lake, measuring about 148 acres. It has an average depth of ten feet, and a maximum depth of about 40 feet.  Jet skis and other personal watercraft are prohibited. Fishermen can hope to land rainbow and brook trout, pickerels, and large and small mouth bass. The foliage around the lake is always spectacular, especially in late September and early October.

Continuing down Winona Road towards Meredith, you soon encounter a railroad underpass, which is situated on an S-curve and which is one lane. You are advised to honk as you pass through the short underpass, as visibility for both sides of traffic is practically non-existent. The need for caution is again, paramount.

Old cemeteries are numerous along Winona Road, most of which are small and well-cared for, and which probably served as a family or small community plot many, many years ago. About one mile from the railroad underpass, Winona Road intersects with Waukewan Road, another scenic road which would take you to Holderness and Route 3 past the Waukewan Golf Club. Just past this intersection, the Old Print Barn, which is open daily, is a great place to stop if you are looking for old prints and original art.

At this point, you can end the tour and continue down Winona Road where it intersects with Route 104 in Meredith, or you can reverse direction and take Straits Road, which I had passed just before the intersection with Waukewan Road, into New Hampton. I decided to go up Straits Road, which eventually intersects with Dana Hill Road and then back to Winona Road near Ashland, making a nice scenic loop.

Straits Road is a narrow back road which alternates with paved sections and gravel sections for about five miles. You drive through old forested areas for the most part, but there are a few sections which offer some nice scenic views of the surrounding countryside. I have to admit, as the road grew narrower and bumpier, I wondered if I might be lost in the middle of nowhere, but I eventually came out to the intersection with Dana Hill Road, much to my relief. Did I already mention that this fall foliage tour is not for the faint-hearted?

At the intersection with Dana Hill Road, you can turn left and connect in short order with Route 104 in New Hampton, or you can turn right and head towards Ashland.  I turned right, and was rewarded with some very nice views of distant mountains and valleys, as well as some great fall color. The road goes past numerous working farms, old cemeteries, and some historical spots, including a meeting house in great shape built in 1800.

I wound my way down Dana Hill Road, and at the junction of Lower Oxbow Road, I took a right, not yet ready to finish my tour. Lower Oxbow Road leads to two mountain ponds, Sky Pond and Jackson Pond, and they are very popular with kayakers, canoeists, and fishermen.

Just past a couple of farms that enjoy wonderful views across the valley, Lower Oxbow Road splits. If you go straight ahead, you follow a dirt road to scenic Sky Pond, a 14-acre body of water which is restricted to car-top access; no motors are allowed on the pond, and fishing is limited to fly-fishing only. The pond, which is stocked with brook trout, is 20 feet deep at its deepest point, and it is a very popular and relaxing spot for anglers and others who enjoy floating around on inflatable rafts and in canoes.

Back at the junction, if you had turned left instead of going straight, you would end up at Jackson Pond, a 39-acre pond which once served as the Town of Ashland’s water supply. The land around the pond is now privately owned but is not restricted, although there is very limited boat access. The pond is 17 feet at its deepest point, and is popular with kayakers and canoeists.  The road goes on for a short distance, but it essentially dead-ends and you have to reverse direction.

Once back on Dana Hill Road, I headed towards the junction of Winona Road and Ashland. The entire trip, which took me through parts of four towns on back roads, took about two hours, and it was thoroughly enjoyable and scenic.

Time to map out yet another fall tour for next week! 

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