White Mountains National Forest, near Lincoln, New Hamphsire
Map: USGS 1:24,000-scale quadrangle: Mt Osceola
Access: From the USFS Information Center in Lincoln, head east on the Kancamagus Hwy 5.1 miles, and turn left into the Lincoln Woods parking area just past the bridge crossing the East Branch Pemigewasset River.
Trailhead: Lincoln Woods TH: UTM NAD83 zone 19 292748e 4882210n; 1,178'
Trail: The Lincoln Woods Trail follows an old railroad bed, so it is wide and has a very shallow grade over the first 3 miles. A spur trail just before the bridge over Franconia Brook takes you to Franconia Falls in about 0.4 miles, for a total one way distance of 3.4 miles and just under 300’ elevation gain.
Fees: In the White Mountains the USFS thinks it’s the National Park Service, so just about everything is fee-based, for your enjoyment of “high quality recreation”, which apparently means more paved parking lots and heated latrines. 2009 day pass = $3, week pass=$5 and annual pass=$20. All fees are likely to go up in 2010 as the USFS has proposed rate increases.
Weather: National Weather Service Forecast
October 15, 2009
For our final day of New England fun, we’ve chosen to hike in the White Mountains, which are arguably the choicest spot in the region to enjoy the woods, primarily because there is so much roadless area relative to most of New England (northern Maine, excepted). Mom, Andra and I depart Goffstown on a cloudy and stark morning and head north to Lincoln, where we stop to pay our double tax for using public land here in the White Mountains, where the public has to pay to access lands that the public already owns. If I sound a bit bitter on this point, it’s no accident. Paying a fee to access national forest is like paying someone to enter your own house: you’ve already paid the mortgage, you own it, but someone believes they now have the right to charge you to get in. Perhaps they put down a porch mat that you didn’t ask for, and want to charge you for it. You wouldn’t stand for it were it your house, but because of its behemoth size, the bureaucracy of the USFS gets away with it. They pave a parking lot without anyone actually wanting it done, then charge everyone for this “high quality recreation”. What’s an ordinary citizen to do? Write a letter? I have. Useless. You’d sooner succeed in reversing Niagara Falls. Better to waste your time doing something more productive, like watching yellow leaves fall off trees in the fall. It’s not that $3 is onerous. It’s not. Lattes cost more and I gladly pay it. It’s the principle, man, all about the principle. Logging our great forests is heavily subsidized by the government, in fact, most years the government loses money on public-land logging operations while lumber companies rake in profits. So why, I ask, during an epidemic of obesity, are recreational activities on national forest not only unsubsidized, but expected to be fully funded (twice) by the public while logging companies get their cake for free? Anyway, we pay our fee, grudgingly, and move on down the highway, leaving negative thoughts (which are, in truth, not shared by my co-hikers) behind.
Arriving at the parking lot, it is still overcast and a chilly 40 degrees, however, the air is as still as a museum exhibit hall, so the temperature is hardly noticed. I slip on my boots and jacket, while Mom and Andra do the same, and we leave the car at around 10:45.
The trail forks almost immediately, with branches following both the east and west sides of the East Branch Pemigewasset River. We cross a cable suspension bridge over the foamy current of the river and begin hiking north on the west side, along the Lincoln Woods Trail, which is actually an old logging railroad bed. As such, the trail is fairly straight, very flat and very wide. Many of the old railroad ties are still in situ, providing ample opportunity to trip, so watch your step! The AMC White Mountain guide says that the entire trail was once called the Wilderness Trail, which is what the USGS quad labels it as, but with the designation of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in 1984, the section of the trail outside the wilderness was renamed the Lincoln Woods Trail.
In flying out from Wyoming, we endeavored to hit the forest at peak leaf-color, but by this time most leaves have fallen, and certainly the famous burst of red among the maples is long gone. What leaves remain on the branches are yellow beech and birch leaves, with some oaks mixed in as well. Even at this late hour of the season, the leaf color is vibrant and enjoyable. We walk along the wide trail through a canopy of yellowed leaves and barren branches. Several small streams come and go from view along the trail, and it is interesting to see how the leaves stack up behind every little rock in the current like stacks of pancakes. We encounter several groups of hikers, but there are long stretches where the trail is deserted in both directions as far as we can see, which is typically a quarter mile or more. The trail is mucky in spots, but with leaves covering the path, the mucky spots are not always clearly visible, so boots get pretty muddy. No problem.
Andra keeps her face covered with her neckband, but as long as we keep moving, I feel tolerably warm. A breeze kicks up from the north, very slight, but enough to make the air feel nippy and chilled. After hiking for about 3 miles, we stop at the trail junction with Black Pond and sit on dry rocks to eat a sandwich. Mom wonders if she should have brought Yossel, her cocker spaniel, since the trail is pretty flat and easy. I remind her how muddy it is, and how dirty Yossel would be with his long hair.
Back on the Lincoln Woods Trail, we continue on and shortly we come to a stone wall near the river, which turns out to be the foundation for a vanished railroad bridge. Instead, a narrow wooden foot bridge spans the brook, beyond which lies the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and we all walk out to the middle to watch the swirling current among the silver rocks. Then we walk back to the bank and take the spur trail northwest along Franconia Brook to Franconia Falls. In under half a mile, we come upon the falls, which is not one single waterfall, but a series of about a dozen cascades and waterfalls through fluted granite that spans the river. With a low water level, we’re able to jump out onto the rocks in the middle, and see falls from all sides. Mom informs us that this is a popular and busy swimming spot in the summer. At the moment, with ice forming on sticks around the churning water, it doesn’t look inviting. No other hikers are around. We dally quite a while at the falls, enjoying the many curls and curves in the rocks, before heading back down to the main trail and back towards the car.
The East Branch Pemigewasset River comes into view multiple times from the Lincoln Woods Trail, and we stop to walk out into the river a ways on exposed, silvery-white granite boulders. The clouds thin, and it gets brighter in spots along the trail, but it would be a stretch to say the sun is coming out, at best it remains hidden behind a thin sheen of clouds. We encounter more folks hiking in as we hike out, but the trail is not very busy even then. We continue down the trail through the tunnel of fading trees, back to the bridge and then to the car by about 3:30. Very nice hike.
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