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Gentle Hikes

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - September 16, 2013

Wellington State Park

Wellington State Park is a great place to hang out and do some fall hiking.

As fall approaches, I have a hankering to get outdoors and take some walks. I call them gentle hikes — the kind where you have time to stop and look around at the scenery and you aren’t spending the entire afternoon watching your footing or wondering how much further to the top of a mammoth mountain. You can bring your camera along to snap memorable photos and maybe even pack a picnic lunch so you can relax and enjoy a meal in the great outdoors.

I spent my childhood on just such rambles, or “walks” as my mother used to refer to our after-school or Saturday afternoon treks. As an adult, I have found my own special walks worth sharing. These walks offer a lot for a lover of the outdoors who does not wish to spend all day on a difficult trail.

Perhaps my favorite walk is the Wolfeboro Rail Trail, which is 11 miles long and begins at Depot Street in Wolfeboro, ending at Route 16 in Wakefield. I have never done the entire trail but I know many more adventurous types who have. For a gentle hike or walk, it is perfect. It is a four-season trail, great for walking and biking. According to the NH State Parks website, it also is one of only three trails managed by the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development, with the rails intact, allowing recreational use by local rail car clubs.

The trail begins in downtown Wolfeboro, just across the street from Back Bay. I have walked varied lengths of the trail and parking is easy in the Back Bay area or on Center Street in Wolfeboro Falls. The path is very easy to walk: flat and well-kept so you can spend your time looking at the varied scenery.

You will walk past fields, lake areas, and wooded places. The trail’s usable surface ends at Fernald Station, Route 109, in Wolfeboro. My favorite portions of the trail are the two causeways along Lake Wentworth and Crescent Lake. The trail walk can be as long or short as you wish to make it; you can turn around easily and the entire rail trail is well-kept and flat. I must say that my elderly, arthritic dog, Lilly, loved this gentle walk; it was easy on her old joints but she had plenty of places to stop and explore!

Fall is a perfect time to take advantage of New Hampshire’s state parks. I do not mean to go for a dip in late September or October, but just to get out near the water and enjoy the peace and beauty. My two favorite state parks without a doubt are Ellacoya and Wellington.

Ellacoya is located in Gilford and, by fall, there are no lifeguards on duty. Most beach-lovers have headed back to school and, if you park beside Scenic Drive (off Route 11) and walk down to Ellacoya’s beach, you will see some of the most beautiful autumn Lakes Region scenery to be had. It’s a perfect spot on a warm, sunny, fall day, and my children and I picnicked in October right on the beach more than once. You can take a gentle walk up and down the lakefront area and explore the paths that lead to a footbridge and the Ellacoya campground next door. If you picnic at Ellacoya, please take all trash back to your car and be respectful of the gorgeous spot. Experiencing it in the fall, when all is quiet and peaceful, is a treat not to be missed.

Wellington State Park

The view from Wellington State Park’s beach in the fall.

Wellington State Park is located at 614 West Shore Road in Alexandria. It is yet another gem of a state park and is located on Newfound Lake. There is an enclosed pavilion and picnic tables and lots of beach area to walk or spread a blanket on a warm, fall day and just soak in the sun and the views.

Wellington has the added pleasure of a peninsula nature trail with picnic areas, designated fishing areas, plant identification markers, and spectacular views of Newfound Lake and Cliff and Belle Islands. For those who want a more challenging hike, a well-marked hiking trail leads from the park and provides hikers access to Goose Pond, the Sugarloafs, Bear Mountain, Welton Falls, and Mount Cardigan.

I must stress that these parks close for the season by mid-October; should you wish to take a gentle hike at state parks after that date, you should let someone know ahead of time where you are going and come prepared with a cell phone and bottled water, and always wear sneakers or sturdy shoes. These are simple precautions that are only sensible when going off on any hike, but even more important if planning a hike or walk in an area not well-staffed in the off season.

A gentle hike I have always enjoyed with my kids (who are now off to college and don’t take as many walks with me as they did in the past), is the Wetlands Boardwalk at Gunstock on Route 11B in Gilford. In partnership with the Belknap County Conservation District, Gunstock offers the public a wonderful wetlands area that is just a gentle, 1/4-mile walk.

I have fond memories of rambling around the boardwalk area to let my kids get their pent-up energy out after being cooped up in elementary school all day. It was also a great, not-too-lengthy walk to take in the summer when the cries of “I’m bored!” occurred.

The boardwalk is handicapped-accessible and it has benches for resting. The walk is self-guided with informational points along the way. Parking is available off the entrance road, on the right just past the end of the bridge’s guardrail. Please stop in at the Welcome Center for handicap access and directions. In recent years, work has been done to keep the boardwalk in shape for those who love to take a quick yet close-to-nature walk. Don’t be surprised if you see birds or beavers in the wetlands area. For information on the boardwalk, call 603-293-4341.

In the Laconia area, don’t miss a great gentle walk that offers a lot. The WOW Trail name is an acronym comes from three regional lakes, which will be seen from the pathway: Winnisquam, Opechee, and Winnipesaukee. The first phase of the trail, which opened in 2010, is just over a mile long, between downtown Laconia and the community of Lakeport. It offers access to views of Lake Opechee, so be sure to bring a camera.

The WOW Trail starts in the railroad corridor adjacent to Laconia Public Library. From here, the trail follows the railroad corridor for .2 mile, then crosses and follows Messer Street to Bisson Avenue as a widened sidewalk. At Messer Street and Bisson Avenue, the trail re-enters the railroad corridor for .7 mile. The trail ends once it reaches Elm Street. Street parking is available in downtown Laconia and in the Elm Street area.

Last, but certainly not least, one of my favorite gentle hikes is the huge area around Profile Falls in Bristol, off Route 3-A. Maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Profile Falls and Old Hill Village area has plenty of parking and many areas to explore.

You can take a small walk to Profile Falls or choose to walk down the old roadway, which is now closed to vehicular traffic. Ten miles of old roadways and trails are offered and it is a great place to bike, picnic, and walk with pets and family. The old roadway follows the Pemigewasset River and has wonderful views and a step-back-in-time feeling. The area is at its all-time best, I think, in the fall, when the hundreds of trees and deeply forested areas are at their peak foliage viewing. 

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