Magnificently Easy - 10 Family-Friendly Walks in N.H.
There's no shortage of advice if you want to hike the rugged trails of the White Mountains. But there aren't many guides for those interested in the gentler, family friendly paths that cut through our forests. NHPR's Sean Hurley recently took a walk in the woods with New Hampshire trail expert Steve Smith to compile a list of 10 magnificent - and magnificently easy - wilderness walks.
Even though we're about to head off on a really easy walk on a soft pine needle path, Steve Smith has brought along his titanium walking stick and a well stocked backpack. Old habits, he says before leading me down the Pine Island Trail into Lincoln Woods.
"It's a delightful walk. Very gradual with smooth footing for the most part. It goes along the edge of the east branch so you get beautiful views of the river and you also get views of the mountains up and downstream. As I get older this is more my kind of trail."
An interesting downshift for someone like Smith, one of only 22 known people who've hiked all 1,400 miles of trail listed in the AMC White Mountain Guide.
"The official name is red-lining. There's a patch for it now. A website."
The term comes from an old hiking tradition of marking trails you've hiked on a map with a red pen.
"I did my map with a green magic marker, so I was green-lining."
Smith's hiking hobby - which began in 1978 - has since spilled over into just about every part of his life. He owns The Mountain Wanderer Bookshop in Lincoln and he wrote or helped edit a good number of the books on its shelves, including the most recent edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide.
"Hiking is our biggest thing. We have nature books, natural history. Biking, paddling, fishing."
But as much as Smith loves the store and writing about the mountains, he'd always rather be walking in the woods. He pulls me toward the river and we look along the white bouldered highway of the Pemigewasset.
"Yeah, I love this spot. This is a really nice spot right here. This is about a mile in. I mean you feel like you're a million miles from anywhere right here. No highway noise."
And a good place for Smith to unfold his handwritten list of easy, mostly flat, family friendly walks.
"One of my favorite short walks is the Oliverian Brook Trail off the Kanc Highway. After .6 of a mile you get onto an old railroad bed and really smooth walking. You go by a beaver pond, kind of skirt around the edge of it. And then about a mile in, there's a nice spot you can get down right next to Oliverian Brook."
Another of his favorites - a short walk in the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge in Whitefield and Jefferson.
"That's one of the most scenic places in New Hampshire. It's easy. It's flat. And one of the birding hotspots of New Hampshire. Well over 200 species have been recorded there over the years."
Just outside Bartlett and south of Crawford Notch, Smith recommends Sawyer Pond.
"That's about a mile and a half hike in. It's a gorgeous mountain pond. Mount Tremont and Owl's Cliff rise from the far shore. Very dramatic setting. It's a 100 feet deep, crystal clear water. That might be my favorite pond. It's very serene.
You say that about all the ponds!
I know, I know! It depends on where I've been most recently."
As Smith describes the 10 different walks to be compiled into a list for our online map - it becomes clear that he loves almost everything about the woods.
"If you want to take a real long flat walk, our favorite is 13 Falls, which is 8 miles in and it's railroad grade almost the whole way and it's one of the prettiest spots in the White Mountains."
Wherever Smith goes is his favorite. Whatever he sees, the prettiest. Maybe he likes tossing around superlatives. Maybe he's easy to please. Or maybe he's discovered a way, two or three or times a week, to find himself somewhere, anywhere in the New Hampshire woods, in his favorite spot, in the most beautiful place in the world.
If you have a favorite walk of your own, post it in our comments section and we'll add it to the map.