This wasn't my first visit to the former fire tower site on Mt. Bemis. Since I've been there before, and since I used the same route as previous visits, this is at odds with my recent quest to try doing something new and/or different on each of my hikes. However, since it had been nearly 6-years since my last visit, I considered Mt. Bemis to be a "hike-worthy" destination. And besides, I'm not adverse to breaking my own self-imposed rules!
There once was a trail leading to the fire tower, as shown below on the 1950 USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle map. The trail to the Bemis tower is highlighted in green. The Nancy Pond Trail is highlighted in yellow.
1950 USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle map
You'll note that the above map doesn't show the Nancy Pond Trail continuing onward to Nancy and Norcross Ponds. The 1938 hurricane knocked down thousands of trees in the Nancy Brook valley, and as a result, the Nancy Pond Trail (which had just been opened) was closed. It wasn't reopened until 1960!
The route to the tower begins at the trailhead for the Nancy Pond Trail. At about 1.6 miles where the Nancy Pond trail makes the first major crossing of Nancy Brook, an old Fire Warden's trail diverges right. Soon after stepping foot on this abandoned trail, there is signage which warns against maintaining this trail. However, the sign also states that "Public use of these lands is welcome."
USFS Sign posted near beginning of abandoned trail to fire tower on Mt. Bemis
The trail to the old fire tower site is only about 2 miles in length. Overall, it's a relatively gentle, but steady climb. However, since it isn't a maintained trail, there are numerous blowdowns to step over, and in many cases, to crawl under. The majority of this old trail is easy to follow, but there are a few short segments where the trail is so overgrown that it's difficult to locate the pathway, and sometimes you can barely even see your own feet!
Because a few segments of the trail are obscure, it's probably best if you don't attempt this hike if you're unaccustomed to this type of hiking. And if you do attempt it, you should wear long pants because you're going to get scratched up!
The next photo shows two contrasting segments of trail. On the left side is "the good", and on the right is the "the bad and the ugly". Actually, "the bad and ugly" is even more "bad and ugly" in one very small section!
Trail to Mt. Bemis: "the good" (left side); "the bad and the ugly" (right side)
Just before reaching the worst of the "bad and ugly" spots, there is a small opening which provides a nice view looking northward up the Crawford Notch, as seen in the next photo. In the center is Mt. Willard, and the Willey Range is on the left, and Mt. Webster is on the right side.
Crawford Notch as viewed from trail to Mt. Bemis
As you travel further up the trail, you come to a spot at around 3,150 ft where there is a beautiful wide-open meadow filled with low-growing shrubs. The vistas from here are as good as you would experience from a ledge. In my opinion, the views from this meadow are the best part of the entire trek, and would make a worthy destination unto itself.
From this meadow, there is a great vista looking southward. Shown in the next photo is a snippet of this view. Just as a brief overview, Attitash and the Moats are on the left, where an active thunderstorm was taking place! And on the right side of the photo are peaks such as Bartlett Haystack, plus Bear Mountain and Mt. Chocorua can also be seen.
Southward view from "the meadows" on trail to Mt. Bemis
There is also a nice easterly vista from "the meadows". Kearsarge North is the pointed peak that is seen on the horizon in the next photo.
Eastward view from "the meadows" on trail to Mt. Bemis
The next photo is looking northeasterly from "the meadows", where there is a vista that includes a portion of the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness, as well as Mt. Washington (and other Presidential peaks) which are seen resting at the north end of Oakes Gulf.
Northeasterly view from "the meadows" on trail to Mt. Bemis
After hiking about 3.7 miles from the trailhead on US 302, you will arrive at the site of the old fire tower. The tower was actually located on sort of a sub-peak of Mt. Bemis. The true summit is about 400 ft to the west, and it can be seen off to your left as you approach the fire tower site. It's a bushwhack to get there, and on this particular trip, I didn't include it in my itinerary. Been there, done that!
Regarding the Bemis Fire Tower, it was a wooden structure which was 29 ft tall, and was in operation for about 8 years between 1940 to 1948. The next photo shows what the tower looked like when it was still standing.
Bemis Fire Tower when still standing
The next photo shows a portion of the demolished structure as it appears today. There are other pieces of the tower that are strewn about here and there.
Portion of the demolished Bemis Fire Tower
Shown in the next photo is a compilation of just a few of other fire tower "body parts", and a few of the many artifacts associated with the tower when it was operational. And just as a gentle reminder, it is illegal to remove artifacts from the National Forest.
Fire tower "body parts", plus a few of the many artifacts associated with the tower
About the only view from fire tower site is through a narrow opening looking toward the Presidential Range. The next photo shows a zoomed image of that view. And as can be seen, even with this confined vista, there is a fairly encompassing view of the vast Presidential Range Dry River Wilderness. I presume that a major purpose of the old fire tower was to keep watch over that area.
Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness Area as seen from Bemis Fire Tower site
(Date of this hike: 30-July-2012)
ADDENDUM (added 02-Aug-2012): A private e-mail was received from Ben English who took the photo of the Bemis Tower when it was still standing. In part, his communication read as follows:
"Date of my photo of the Bemis Tower is June 25, 1961. Took it with my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye. I was fortunate to have taken that pic. According to Iris Baird*, that is the only known photo of the Bemis Tower."
* Iris Baird and Chris Haartz are the authors of a book entitled: A Field Guide to New Hampshire Firetowers.