Outdoor Adventures: Ponds to ponder in the snow
Many hikers see winter as a chance to ski and snowboard. Don’t blame them. Taking on towering peaks in the heart of winter is an entirely different skill set than climbing them when it’s hot, rainy and buggy.
Though using a chairlift is a wonderful thing, winter’s also prime for hitting the trails whether by snowshoes or hiking with a traction grip underfoot.
But instead of seeking summits, consider seeking the solace of a frozen mountain pond. Certainly there are ponds, bogs and lakes at higher elevations, but a relatively low-level lake also provides a lovely landscape that often is fairly easy to reach.
One place to find them is in state parks.
“New Hampshire State Parks are always open for recreation,” outreach and information specialist Amy Bassett said. “During the off-season the parks are typically not staffed and comfort stations are not available. Some parks have gates that are closed but people are welcomed to go in anyways.”
But also remember you are responsible for your own safety.
North Conway’s Echo Lake is such a place. Long a summer favorite with its cool waters under the town’s climbing ledges, the 14-acre waterway in Echo Lake State Park contains an easy loop of about a mile along its shores, wonderful in winter.
The benign trail through the pines, hemlock and spruce follows its shores with views of the Moat Range, White Horse Ledge, Cathedral Ledge and a hotel. Though rock climbers aren’t likely to be about, ice climbers usually are. So bring some binoculars to watch them.
The trek to Lonesome Lake near Franconia Notch State Park certainly isn’t easy, but the rewards are outstanding with the snow-choked Franconia Range across the way from the frozen glacial tarn. The 3-mile round-trip hike to the lake at 2,740 feet is winding and often gradual, but there are some stretches where you’ll be using some energy. The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains a year-round hut there, which means the trail is often packed. Standing on the shores and looking across to Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack Mountain, all above 4,000 feet, is a wondrous experience to behold, made even more impressive in winter.
Gorham’s Mascot Pond in the White Mountain National Forest is a pleasant and fairly easy under-the-radar destination. The tiny pond in the mixed hardwood and conifer forest is reached via a 2.6-mile round-trip hike or snowshoe along the Mahooosuc Trail off Route 16. The hike begins rather suspiciously in a well-traveled area, but soon civilization is left behind for something of a remote feel. The small pond is near Leadmine Ledge, a former lead mining area. At the pond, look up to peaks like Mount Madison, Moriah, Imp and North Carter.
Vermont’s 27,000-acre Groton Forest is a popular place for winter enthusiasts. Again, in the off-season visitors can use the park, but there’s no staff or facilities.
“It’s a misconception that Vermont’s state parks are closed in the wintertime, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Vermont State Park’s sales and service manager Rochelle Skinner said. “You’ll see all kinds of activities going on in the parks this time of year: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, sledding, ice skating, ice fishing, birding and even mushing.”
Skinner says the forest, with its extensive trail system, is an amazing place for winter recreation. She likes to steer snowshoers to the groomed trails around Noyes Pond in semi-secret Seyon Lodge State Park, with its year-round lodge offering accommodations and hot chocolate. An easy 1.7-mile loop around the pond goes from the dam, follows the northern shore, crosses two brooks and connects with old logging roads. Another jaunt, but on the moderate side, is the 4.5-mile roundtrip to the Green Mountain State’s largest bog – Peacham Bog.
Skinner says visitors will experience many different habitats and landscapes along the way to the bog.
“Before you visit a park in winter, you should know that there is no staff present this time of year, and restrooms are not open, but we plow out several parking areas and park entry is free,” she said. “You can even camp for free during winter.”
Another added bonus to exploring ponds and lakes in winter.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)