Outdoor Adventures: Establish base camp at Moose Brook State Park
Jigs, reels, or maybe it was hornpipes, wafted from a fiddle played in the next site. Across the large field dotted with tents, children ran around the large apple tree because it’s summer and they can.
Northern mountains tipped up above the treetops. A campfire roared, later the heat source for a delicious steamed salmon topped with Greek salad sans lettuce wrapped in tin foil.
Such was the scene at Gorham’s Moose Brook State Park as a July late afternoon soon faded into dusk and dark.
Gorham often gets overlooked, but there’s much to do in this little northern town that’s both a backdoor entrance to the White Mountains and gateway to the Great North Woods that’s been getting headlines recently for its growing ATV trail network.
Hiking, mountain biking, camping and more can be found smack in the state park, a fine base camp to explore the region.
Heck, you might not even want to leave.
The 87-acre park bordered by nearly 670 acres of state forest is within an easy drive of notable Appalachian Mountain Club hiking trailheads to Mount Washington in Pinkham Notch to the Appalachia trailhead on Route 2 that accesses more of the northern Presidentials. This is Randolph Mountain Club hiking territory, with its bevy of options in and near the park, while paddlers can access the mighty Androscoggin and its Northern Forest Canoe Trail options.
The wooded and storied park is an old one, with pieces of its history still in use. Purchased by the state in 1934, the park with its flowing Moose and Perkins Brooks opened in 1936 due to the many hands of Roosevelt’s tree army, the Civilian Conservation Corps. The original road now sees hikers and mountain bikers, while the administration building still is operational.
Hiking trails, picnic areas, two natural swimming pools and more still stand. The 59 campsites are on both sides of Jimtown Road, with most on the south side. Here’s a tip: If the weather’s foul, try to book the Shelter site on the north side that has a covered shelter and standing chimney with fireplace.
Hikers may enjoy trekking on the Berry Farm Road, CCC Perimeter Trail, CCC Link and Perkins Path, but the park is starting to shine in the mountain bike community for its winding singletrack and growing possibilities outside the park that is easily reached by Jimtown Road and the Presidential Rail Trail, which goes to the wonderful Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge.
Thank the local mountain bikers for that. A few years ago, a bunch of passionate knobby knockers recognized the potential of the park’s trails, many overgrown. So they entered into an agreement with the state and soon began maintaining and eventually creating some new trails, largely singletrack. These manic mountain bikers evolved into the non-profit Coos Cycling Club.
Now there’s an estimated 10 to 12 miles of mountain bike trails in the park available to those who pay the small day-use fee or to campers. Downloading a map online at the park website or asking for a printout at the entrance provides a guide to the numbered singletrack trails playing cat and mouse with the dirt Berry Farm Road that ascends through the park and is located outside the park office.
This is one of those networks where just riding puts on the smiles. It’s kind of a tiered system with entrances and exits up and down Berry Farm Road. There’s a nice flow, good signage and a pleasant array of loop options throughout the park.
What’s also cool is that not too far away, with access from Jimtown Road to the Presidential Rail Trail, is a nearly two-mile singletrack loop on an piece of land called Power Island that could be completed by September.
The club got permission from the landowner, Brookfield Renewable Power, to construct the multi-use trail that for some will also be accessed from a familiar Route 16 railroad trestle used by many hikers.
Of course, that’s outside Moose Brook. Back inside the park, children who swam by day play tag by flashlight. The fires turn to embers and winged creatures of the night begin their nocturnal dances above the field in Moose Brook State Park, a place to park and ride.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com)