Outdoor adventures: Moultonborough’s Red Hill a place of landmarks and vistas
The land was filled with autumn’s fading color.
Shimmering blues came courtesy of lakes like Squam and Winnipesaukee. The steady conifers held their green well while denuded birches stood white, tall and perhaps even a bit menacing announcing twig season’s arrival.
Oranges, burnt yellows and browns held on with last gasps as the forest hammered home fall’s message of beauty found in death.
There was even some red to be found, apropos of course, on the little peak called Red Hill showcasing stunning Lakes Region and White Mountains views.
The Moultonborough mountain with its fire tower and appreciated picnic table is one of those endearing summits, a tiny mountain with big views and a bigger heart.
Standing at a scant 2,030 feet, Red Hill along with 18 other area summits enjoys the protection of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust which preserves some 22,496 acres of land including pristine shoreline along waters like the Big Lake, Squam and Bearcamp River.
The tower’s history, thanks to the Moultonborough Historical Society, is well recorded.
Thank Ernest B. Dane for the tower, watchman’s cabin and early phone line. A notable Center Harbor summer resident, he proposed building the tower if the state maintained it. They did and it was constructed in 1927. Dane cut a check to the state for $1,175 for it too.
The original tower stood 27 feet tall and was elevated to 37 feet in 1972. The state shut it in 1981 but it was soon leased to the town of Moultonborough and it’s now manned by the fire department.
Placed on the National Historic Lookout Register in 2003, the tower was instrumental in personnel reporting several fires including one in 1985 that burned 282 acres on the hill, and another in 1988 scorching more than 300.
The hill, originally called Red Mountain, has seen its fair share of noted visitors including early Yale President Timothy Dwight (1795-1817), who made the ascent on horseback in 1817, Henry David Thoreau, who hiked it in 1858, Herman Melville and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Skiers are also attracted to the hill. The Red Hill Outing Club, according to its Facebook page, was founded in 1956 and operates an area with one rope tow, four trails and one lodge on the Sheridan Road side of the hill while the now defunct Red Hill Ski Area was used in the 1950s with three rope tows on the west side.
Red Hill has a handful of trails winding its girth and the Red Hill Trail off Red Hill Road is a fine 3.4 mile up-and-back excursion for those wanting to enjoy a late fall hike. The trail along a wide jeep road in the Red Hill Conservation Area is easy to follow and allows for side by side travel. It also passes by a couple of interpretive signs, including one telling of a rather well-preserved cellar hole from a 19th century homestead.
The hike under the hardwoods has some rocky footing, downed leaves making for some careful going at times.
Though the tower and summit buildings make for a fine outing, it is the views that are truly outstanding with island-loaded Lake Winnipesaukee to the south and dazzling Squam Lake to the west made outstanding after climbing the steps up to the tower, the upper cab shuttered this day.
While gazing at the Big Lake it’s fairly straightforward spotting Belknap Range peaks like Belknap, Gunstock, Klem and Major. Shifting to Squam Lake, the seven-mountain range sharing the name comes into view with peaks like Swam, Percival, Morgan and Webster. The mountains range in elevation from the smallest, Cotton Mountain at 1,210 feet, to the largest, Mount Swam at 2,223 feet.
To the east stand the Ossipee Mountains, known for being what’s left of a volcanic ring dike, including low-lying summits like Larcom Mountain and Mount Whittier, once home to a ski area.
In the north, the White Mountains were on the horizon, but first came its lofty foothills. There, less than a 90-minute or so drive away were some of the state’s tallest peaks in Carrigain, Tripyramid, Whiteface and Passaconaway.
For a little mountain, Red Hill has quite the commanding stage. In winter, the pathway becomes a cross country ski and snowshoe trail, and there are also snowmobile trails in the neighborhood.
It’s no wonder people have been making the trip up there for hundreds of years.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com)