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23 July 2011

Grafton Notch; Umbagog Lake; Wentworth Location: Cool hikes for hot days!

This past Saturday (23-July) was one of those rare hot days in northern New England.   As a way to beat the heat, my wife and I decided to do a road trip in the comfort of our air conditioned car.   However, to still enjoy the great outdoors , we stopped at various points along the way in order to do a few short hikes that didn't require much in the way of prolonged exertion.

Starting  from our home in Bethlehem, NH, we traveled in a counterclockwise loop by going first to Grafton Notch, then to Umbagog Lake, and finally to the area near Wentworth Location.  The map below shows the top portion of our route.  The bottom part of our loop consisted merely of road-travel along U.S. Rt 2.  The areas where we stopped for short hikes are circled in red. (To enlarge, click on the map.)
Our first stop of the day was at Screw Auger Falls in Grafton Notch.  Like many of our stops on this particular day, this was more of a stroll than it was an actual hike.  Nonetheless, it got us outdoors, and it certainly did not detract from the beauty of this awesome  waterfall.   Also quite remarkable are the huge "potholes"  along the waterfall corridor.  It's my understanding that these were carved out about 12,000 years ago by the swirling action of glacial meltwater that was laden with sand and rock fragments.

One of the more prominent "potholes" can be seen in the lower right side of the next photo shown below.
Besides Screw Auger Falls, we stopped for several other short jaunts at various other points in Grafton Notch.  The next photo is a collage of the signage posted at these spots.   I'll let the wording on the signs tell the story.
The next photo shows Table Rock which is a prominent outcropping on the eastern wall of Grafton Notch.
My wife, like me, enjoys the great outdoors.  However,  she was extremely content to relax in a shady spot and read a novel while I did the short 2.4 mile loop over Table Rock!  The book-time for this loop is 1.75 hours.    At a leisurely pace, I was able to rejoin my wife in less than 1.5 hours.

The hike was done in a counterclockwise fashion by starting on the orange-blazed southern side of the loop.  This segment consists of many long stretches of beautifully constructed stone stair steps, particularly on the lower portion.  One example is shown in the snapshot below.
Things are a little more challenging on the upper portion as you approach the top of Table Rock.  There are some sections with wooden ladders, and some with metal rebar steps embedded in the rock.  Examples of these structures are shown in the next photo.
The ledge at the top of Table Rock is aptly named.  It is indeed flat, like a tabletop!   The next photo shows a prominent vista from here when looking southeasterly down Grafton Notch.  The pointed mountain (with ledges visible near the top) is presumably Sunday River Whitecap.
Directly across the street is Old Speck mountain (4,170 ft elevaton), which is shown in the next photo.
The northwesterly view is shown in the next photo.  It features the cliff known as "The Eyebrow" which can be traversed when hiking up to Old Speck mountain.
To complete the loop, I descended via the blue-blazed northern leg of the loop.  In my opinion, this segment is basically just a "plain-vanilla" trail with no particularly notable features worthy of mentioning.

After rejoining my wife, we jumped in the car and headed northward to Umbagog Lake, which is part of the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and is also a New Hampshire state park.  It lies in the towns of Errol, New Hampshire, and Upton, Maine.  This is one of the most pristine lakes in the State of New Hampshire.  The name Umbagog is said to come from the Abenaki Indian word for "shallow water".

The next photo is a combination of a view we got while strolling along a section of the lake's shoreline, plus a vista taken from a roadside viewpoint near the lake.
Our final stop of the day was at the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge located a few miles north of Errol, NH on Rt. 16, and just east of Wentworth Location, NH. Here we hiked along the Magalloway River Trail.  This trail is only about 0.6 mile round trip.  It's an easy walk that begins on a gated road, and eventually goes through a lovely wooded area which leads to an enclosed observation platform overlooking the backwaters of the Magalloway River.

Although, the platform has great potential for being a good place to view moose, boreal birds and waterfowl, we saw none of those during our brief visit. However, we did enjoy the fabulous natural beauty of this place by gazing upon scenes such as shown in the next photo.

Even though we saw no wildlife at the Umbagog Wildlife Refuge, a bit further down the road, we were treated to the scene of a Loon family (Mama, Papa and chick) as they floated and fished on a still-water section of river.

To sum it up, this trip was a good way to keep cool on a hot day in northern New England and still enjoy the great outdoors .   As a side-benefit, this trip also provided my wife and I with the opportunity to explore some areas that were new to us.


Summerset said...

Nice choices - last week was certainly a hot one here in NH! Between the water and the shorter hikes, it certainly seems better than sweltering in the valleys.

1HappyHiker said...

Summerset: Thanks for taking a moment to post a comment. Fortunately, no matter how hot it gets here in Northern New England, the lakes, ponds and rivers are always refreshingly cool!


Karl said...


Great report and looks like you had a really fun day. This report brings back some good memories for me. My Dad and I used to go up and stay in Upton each year to hunt and snowmobile. We weren't good at either of the activities, but it was fun to get out in the woods in that area. We stayed at a camp right on Lake Umbagog and watched the loons and eagles. We also used to drive up through the Grafton Notch to get there. Thanks for bringing back some good memories!


1HappyHiker said...

Wow! Karl, thank you for posting our comment. You made my day! It might sound sappy, but if something that I’ve written can bring back just one pleasant memory to just one person, then I feel a huge sense of accomplishment!


NeoAkela said...

John - really, really nice! Great choices for a hot summer day!

1HappyHiker said...

NeoAkela: Thanks Chris!

It took a hot summer day to finally get me over to Grafton Notch for the very first time!

Besides keeping cool, the trip had some other collateral fallout, which I guess I'll classify as positive. Now that I've scoped out the highway route to Grafton Notch, I'm more inclined to go back over there to do some more aggressive hikes, such as the trek to Old Speck, etc.

Since you also live in Bethlehem, I think you can appreciate how easy it is to become spoiled in terms of driving time. The drive over there (about 3 hrs round-trip) is a bit longer than what I prefer to do for a hike, but the route is certainly easy and straightforward.