The Exhaust-Free, Self-Propelled Foliage Tour

New Hampshire: Hiking and Biking Sandwich Notch

Sep 18, 2001
Outside Magazine

When the mobs descend on Squam Lake (of On Golden Pond fame) and Lake Winnipesaukee, Granite State locals take refuge in the high country off Sandwich Notch Road, one of the last undeveloped mountain roads in New Hampshire. Narrow, steep, and unpaved, the road runs northwest for 11 miles, from New Hampshire 113 in Center Sandwich to New Hampshire 49 near Waterville Valley. Half of this historic route—in stagecoach days it was a major mountains-to-sea trade route terminating in Portland, Maine—is located smack in White Mountain National Forest.

A half-dozen excellent hiking paths start from trailheads right on the road. Near the southern end, the 2.1-mile Wentworth Trail to the summit of 2,630-foot Mount Israel has a reputation for giving the most foliage bang for your perspiration buck of any spot in the state. On the northern end, you'll find somewhat more demanding terrain on the 4.5-mile Algonquin Trail, with dramatic ledgy overlooks of Waterville Valley on the way to the top of 3,993-foot Sandwich Mountain. If you're looking for a multiday route or prefer to do your rambling by fat tire, consider the rugged 16-mile trip to Flat Mountain Pond, accessed via the Guinea Pond trailhead, 5.7 miles north of Center Sandwich. The hills get steeper and the gullies get nastier as you near the pond, so even mountain bikers should plan on at least a lunch break at Flat Mountain, if not an overnight at its wonderfully secluded shelter (free; first-come, first-served; 603-528-8721). Another nearby mountain-bike option is the Dickey Notch Trail, which starts just off New Hampshire 49 north of Sandwich Notch Road and forms the first leg of a 25-mile loop around Dickey Mountain.
Before heading out, pick up a copy of the Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain Guide ($17, from AMC Books; call 800-262-4455 to order), which has four topo maps as well as detailed information on nearly every trail in the state. For advice on the area's many mountain-bike routes, as well as rentals ($24 per day), stop by the Greasey Wheel in Plymouth (603-536-3655), about 15 miles west of Center Sandwich. For a soft place to bunk, try the Red Hill Inn, atop a witheringly steep hill 20 miles east of Sandwich Notch Road, with 21 lake- and mountain-view rooms spread over 60 acres. A three-night package, including full country breakfasts and one candlelight dinner per couple, starts at $200; call 800-573-3445.