Where To Take an Easy Nature Walk
Easy trails for enjoying the great outdoors
The Silk Farm Sanctuary meadow trail.
Photo courtesy of Dyanna Smith
The leaves flutter gingerly as a gasp of wind passes through the forest. A bird flies by and later sings its native song. Beside a boardwalk path, an interpretive sign tells of the surrounding flora and fauna.
The phenomena of the outdoor world are often closer than we think.
Sure, hiking deep into New Hampshire’s splendid wilderness is a joyous escape from the city, and climbing a high, jagged mountain offers its physical and spiritual rewards. But there are a wealth of nature walks and trails around the state that are family-friendly, low-key and designed to educate those using them. They can be conveniently located near cities or a few hours’ drive away. They’re good for both kids and adults. Photographers, birders, wildlife watchers, hikers and walkers all seek them out.
What they all do is engage people in the great outdoors.
NH Audubon properties, with a mission of protecting the state’s natural environment for wildlife and people, are among those ripe for nature walks.
“There are a lot of opportunities,” says Audubon Director of Land Management Phil Brown. “Our sanctuaries are some of the state’s best-kept secrets. People feel safe on our properties.”
Overseeing 39 properties across 10 counties, Audubon lands range from remote hideaways to centers offering summer camps, birding field trips and interpretive signs.
“Most of our properties are not your typical mountain experience,” says Brown. “We have trails on about two-thirds of our properties and that includes a lot of wetland areas, so the average hiker gets to be more intimate with wildlife because of the interface between water and land.”
In southwest New Hampshire, the nearly 900-acre Deering Wildlife Sanctuary in Deering contains a trio of loop trails and the tranquil Black Fox Pond, a fine spot for serenity and wildlife watching. The Black Fox Pond Trail is a 1.7-mile journey with some shade provided by hemlocks on the southern shore and several spots to view the pond with its marsh and floating bog mats.
In the White Mountains, Scotland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Landaff offers a more remote experience. The 100-plus-acre property has a northern forest feel with its spruce and fir. There’s a little more than two miles of trails, plus chances to look for signs of moose.
If Scotland Brook is out of the way, Concord’s 15-acre Silk Farm Wildlife Sanctuary is all about convenience. A small American chestnut plantation, the sanctuary’s visitor highlights include Great Turkey Pond (complete with viewing platform) and more than three miles of trails. For birders, there’s a list of nearly 200 species that have been spotted on the property.
The splendor of the Lakes Region and foothills of the White Mountains are on display at the Alice Bemis Thompson Sanctuary in Sandwich. It has a recently completed wheelchair-accessible elevated boardwalk in the middle of a marsh that took some three years to construct. The nearly 300-acre preserve with interpretive panels contains habitat to support a variety of wildlife while also serving up views of the Sandwich Range in the north and Ossipee Mountain Range in the south.
Bogs are excellent nature walk spots, but be sure to bring the insect repellent. Sunning turtles, leaping dragonflies and migrating ducks are frequent visitors, as are people traveling boardwalks. The Quincy Bog Natural Area in Rumney, managed by the Pemi-Baker Land Trust, contains a nature center, a 96-foot-long floating bridge and more than 140 species of birds. The mile-long Joe Kent Trail is a loop that goes by birdhouses, along stone walls and past views of Stinson Mountain.
Who could have thought there’s a place in New London that gives you a sense of the Alaskan tundra? Soft, spongy and swampy, the Philbrick-Cricenti Bog is highlighted by its boardwalks. Several loop trails provide pathways to exploration of this kettle hole bog. The Peak Hole Loop contains a wooden post that gives you an idea how deep the murky bog can be as you walk the planks.
The winding Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains contains self-guided nature trails along the way, such as the 1.5-mile Forest Discovery Trail on its west side and moderately challenging Boulder Loop Trail in the east.
“While any hike in the forest is a worthwhile endeavor, the added educational component of a nature trail can help to connect the individual with the surrounding environment,” says White Mountain National Forest Visitor Information Supervisor Joseph Phillips.
The Forest Discovery Trail educates hikers on forest management through 11 numbered stations. The popular 3-mile Boulder Loop with its ledge vantage points and recently revived educational component has 15 signposts that correspond with details about nature, history and geology.
A wonderful northern foray is to the scenic, bird-loaded and often-flat Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge encompassing Jefferson and Whitefield. Part of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, the 6,500-acre wildlife oasis hosts a small trail network that includes sublime views of the Pliny and Presidential ranges across Cherry Pond from a small viewing platform. It’s a 1.5-mile trek to the pond and the collection of trails like Shore Path, a diversion that goes along the edge of the Johns River and hugs the Cherry Pond shoreline for a couple of vantage points, including a bench and stone with a plaque revealing the refuge’s status as registered natural landmark.
So take it easy, take your time and immerse yourself in New Hampshire — naturally.