In the heat of summer when a hard climb up to a mountaintop vista is about as appealing as an ice cream sandwich in mid-January, I often find myself forgoing the grunts and groans of a stiff uphill climb in favor of something simpler and less strenuous. Fortunately, the White Mountains offer a variety of trails and footpaths that easily accommodate such desires.
As the available mountain-less trail options are far too numerous to cover in the space allotted here, perhaps it would be best if I narrowed down the choices to one specific category, namely ponds and lakes situated within the White Mountains. Of these there is certainly no shortage, as is well demonstrated in Steven D. Smith’s fine hiking guide, Ponds and Lakes of the White Mountains, which features descriptions to 68 trips throughout the region. Granted some of the hikes described in the guidebook are anything but simple walks in the woods— like the trek to Lakes of the Clouds near Mount Washington’s summit, or remote Harrington Pond at the southeast base of Mount Kinsman near Franconia Notch— but many are very appropriate for these dog days of summer. So let’s take a quick peek at some of my personal favorites located mainly in the central or western White Mountains.
I’ll start the mountain ponds tour close to home, in the Franconia Notch-Mount Moosilauke region, where trampers can choose between some of the busiest ponds in the area, or some of the least visited. Certainly the most popular destination pond in these parts is Lonesome Lake, the 14-acre tarn nestled amongst the spruce, firs, and tamarack at the southeast base of Cannon Mountain. Lonesome Lake (a bit of a misnomer since a hiker is rarely alone on the way to, from, or at the lake) has been attracting hikers to its shores for more than a century and with good reason. From its southern shores (just a few yards down from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lonesome Lake Hut), hikers are treated to an awe-inspiring view towards Mount Lafayette and the peaks of Franconia Ridge, plus a unique vantage of the ledgy southern buttress of Cannon Mountain. Lonesome Lake is accessed by trail from Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. From the floor of the Notch it’s a 1000-foot, 1.6-mile climb, but as the grade is easy to moderate all the way up, even hikers who have trouble handling the summer heat should find the walk up quite tolerable.
Two slightly easier ponds to reach in this area are Elbow Pond in Woodstock and the Tunnel Brook Ponds in Benton. Elbow Pond, which is actually two ponds separated by a narrow, bushy peninsula, is not a well-known hiking destination, but fishing enthusiasts have visited this 56-acre tarn for many years. Up until a decade or so ago, the pond was accessible only by foot or four-wheel drive vehicles. Now you can actually drive your car to within 0.4 miles of its shores via a refurbished dirt road (FR 156) found on the east side of Route 118, 2.5 miles from Route 112 (Lost River Road).
The Tunnel Brook Ponds, reached by trail from the end of Tunnel Brook Road in Easton, are a string of eight beaver ponds stretching for three-quarters of a mile in the slide-scarred notch between Mts. Moosilauke and Clough in the southwestern Whites. Several of the northernmost of these ponds offer excellent trailside views up to Clough, while the southernmost (and largest) pond, known as Mud Pond, rests at the base western base of Moosilauke. As it is an easy 2.2-mile walk to Mud Pond, with just 400-feet of vertical climbing, the hike into Tunnel Brook is ideal for those lazy, hazy days of August or the crisp, clear afternoons of September.
Moving more to the east, into the central White Mountains, two pond walks which I always enjoy undertaking are those to the Sawyer Ponds in Livermore or Black Pond in Lincoln. The Sawyer Ponds, a mile-and-a-half away from the terminus of Sawyer River Road in the abandoned logging community of Livermore, are nestled at the foot of Mount Tremont and Owl’s Cliff, two steep-sided mountains close by to the east. The main pond, some 47 acres in size, is a favorite of backcountry campers, who are frequently found occupying either its shoreline lean-to or one of its five tent platforms. To avoid the crowds, it’s probably best to hike into Sawyer Pond mid-week, or perhaps in the off-season. Little Sawyer Pond, about one-quarter the size of the main pond, lies on a plateau north of Sawyer Pond and is reached via a well-worn herd path leading away from the main pond from behind the lean-to. It’s an easy 1.7-mile walk into Sawyer Pond from Sawyer River Road. Add 0.2 miles for the round-trip walk to little Sawyer Pond.
Black Pond, meanwhile, is a tiny, four-acre pond set amidst the tranquil forests at the southern fringe of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Despite its proximity to the bustling Lincoln Woods Trail and the well-traveled Kancamagus Highway, Black Pond has a distinctly remote feel to it and receives far less visitors than nearby Franconia Falls. The primary reward of the 3.4-mile, one-way hike into Black Pond is the view north into the Pemi Wilderness and up to the remote Bond Range, with the summits of West Bond and Bondcliff the main attractions. To reach Black Pond, follow the Lincoln Woods Trail 2.6 miles from the parking lot off the Kanc Highway to a trail junction on the left. Here, follow the Black Pond Trail 0.8 miles to the pond. Previously published.
Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or co-author of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.