Basch: Short and sweet treks offer huge rewards

  • Flat rocks over the summit of Foss Mountain in Eaton. The 1,647-foot mountain is a good example of a short hike with big rewards. MARTY BASCH / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Sunday, August 13, 2017

The panorama could easily have hikers spinning around in a circle. From the White Mountains to Maine in the east, the 360 degree stage was set at a relatively low 1,647 feet – readily accessible with a half-mile hike from an out-of-the-way dirt road.

Though the peak was small, the views were large as is often the case on those shorter hikes that can be billed as family-friendly, a leg stretcher or a just a way to get outside and enjoy the day.

Such was the case on Eaton’s Foss Mountain, a peak often found by word-of-mouth because if it’s in a guidebook I’ve yet to find it.

Eaton, a small picturesque town south of Conway, is a pleasant off-the-beaten path locale.

The ledgy north summit is also known for its copious seasonal blueberries that can be readily picked while gazing out upon the Ossipee, Belknap and Presidential ranges. It’s easy to spot Chocorua’s rocky spire and the ski trails on King Pine. Conway Lake shimmers in the distance.

The Foss Mountain Trail off Foss Mountain Road contains a number of informational panels, stone benches and places where you can and can’t pick those low bush wild berries in season. Hikers will learn the trail they travel was constructed in 2014 at a cost of $30,000 as a previous route straight up the mountain was eroded with drainage issues.

Wildflowers like trillium and columbine may be seen and wildlife like fox and deer might be spotted. A cellar hole is passed as are pastures and fields that have been worked for generations. The well-marked trail continues up to the pleasant summit where picnicking, picking and pondering are all on the agenda.

Another short and sweet hike – though without the berries – can be done to the top of the mammal perched in Crawford Notch. The great stone elephant sits at the top of the mountain pass and is certainly seen by those traveling east along Route 302. It’s a huge gray slab with streaks of white quartz that give it an uncanny resemblance to an elephant with its trunk.

The notch, with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center and the Conway Scenic Railroad depot, is often a busy place, but taking the trail through the hardwoods and evergreens to the top of Elephant Head from the shores of Saco Lake is one that affords fine views. The lake is the source of the Saco River which flows to the Atlantic.

There are some steep pitches up the elephant’s crown and it certainly has its share of ubiquitous rocks and roots too, but once on top there are superb views up and down the notch, often into Vermont on a clear day. It’s surrounded by lofty peaks like Tom, Webster and Avalon.

Plus, the hike is about three-quarters of a mile roundtrip.

Though many travel to Pinkham Notch to scale towering peaks like Mount Washington, Wildcat and Mount Isolation, there are some fine short treks that are effortlessly accessible for the family. That includes the hike along an easy path to 60-foot plus Glen Ellis Falls. Maybe nine miles north of Jackson on Route 16, it’s only a little more than a half-mile round-trip to the cascade.

Spray from the falls envelop the area around it when it plunges hard and heavy. There are staircases to the cascading waters and lots of flat rocks to explore under watchful eyes.

Near the southwest New Hampshire town of Stoddard is the 1-mile roundtrip hike up Pitcher Mountain. A good trek for ambitious ones with little feet, the trek not only yields a fire tower but also berries in season. Those berries can be traced back to a 1941 sawmill fire which cleared some 24,000 acres of forest in three days. The well-blazed pathway from Route 123 winds through the mixed softwoods and hardwoods up the 2,163-foot mountain with views extending into Massachusetts, Vermont and of course the Granite State.

On top, the hills of the Green Mountain State roll out to the west while to the east Concord can be seen along with the ski trails of Pats Peak in Henniker. To the northeast, the White Mountains stand tall with Mount Lafayette holding court from Franconia Notch State Park. To the south, look for Mount Monadnock and the Bay State’s highest, Mount Greylock proving that big surprises are often found on short and sweet treks.