After more than a quarter century of hiking in the western White Mountains, it’s not too often that I find myself tramping on unfamiliar terrain as I’ve pretty much covered all the trails that appear on modern day hiking maps. That being said, recently I found myself hoofing it up a trail that has long been on my radar screen, but one that for some reason I’d successfully managed to skip over time after time in favor of more promising peaks and paths.
The Cobble Hill Trail in Landaff, accessed off Route 112 near the Woodsville Reservoir on the Wild Ammonoosuc River, will never be a magnet for serious hikers because there’s no real reward at the end and no spectacular mountain vistas anywhere along its 2.1-mile course. Truth be told, it’s not really even a hiking path but rather an old woods road that ultimately connects the south end of rural Landaff with its interior sections. The trail does warrant an entry in the venerable AMC White Mountain Guide, and has been included in every edition of the “hiker’s bible” since the early 1960s, but it’s basically an unknown quantity to most trampers, the exception probably being local residents.
Much to my delight, my recent morning walk up Cobble Hill Trail proved far more satisfactory than anticipated as I was captivated throughout the two-and-a-half-hour round-trip journey by the surrounding woods, the mostly gentle grade of the trail, and the numerous remnants left behind from former residents of this isolated pocket on the western fringe of the Whites. What the hike lacked in views and rewards was more than made up for in the overall “walking through the woods” experience that too often is overlooked when one’s primary focus is on the goal and not necessarily the journey.
As far as I’m concerned, the Cobble Hill Trail has all the elements required of a relaxing woods walk. These include the sound of rushing water nearby, a mature mixed forest to walk through, gentle to moderate grades that barely induce one to sweat, and bountiful trailside curiosities. Given that this trail is little used by visitors to the White Mountain National Forest, especially during midweek periods in the off season, the trail also offers up a sense of isolation and serenity that is hard, if not impossible, to obtain on the more frequently used footpaths in this region.
For much of Cobble Hill Trail’s two-mile course, hikers are within sight or sound of Dearth Brook, a pleasant little stream that emanates from the high country between little known Cobble Hill and Moody Ledge to the west. A picturesque cascade along the brook just a hundred yards from the start of the trail (which is actually Forest Road 310) greets hikers almost immediately as you begin ascending the gravel road. Since it had rained the previous day and evening, there was a more-than-ample flow of water, allowing for a quite spectacular scene at the base of the cascade.
As the road climbs and then steers left, the stream mirrors the road’s course, only now it is well below the grade of the trail. As the trail gradually levels out, the road and stream do eventually meet again, at a bridged crossing a little more than a mile from the start. Up to this point, the stream and path have been constant partners and the pleasing sound of the rushing water added to the soothing mix of bird songs and wavering treetops swaying back and forth in a light overhead breeze.
At about the same point that the stream and trail part, local history enters the picture as the footpath is lined for much of its last mile with aging stone walls constructed well over a century ago when hill farms dotted the rough and tumble landscape of South Landaff. Initially there’s a single stone wall spotted in the woods on the right (or east) side of the trail. But eventually walls of fieldstone often coated with a thick layer of spongy, dark green moss line both sides of the trail. And one can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the farmers of four or five generations past to be working these steep and rugged slopes in an environment already greatly challenged by northern New England’s weather extremes. At more than one point along Cobble Hill Trail you also come across well-manipulated piles of stone that at one time probably served as building foundations.
There is nothing especially thrilling about the end of this mountain trail. It officially ends at the height-of-land between wooded Cobble Hill and Moody Ledge, near a well-marked WMNF boundary, while the old road actually continues north another couple miles into Landaff. You know you’ve reached the official end of the Forest Service portion of the trail, however, when you emerge into a small open area where several slabs of open rock allow for a comfortable resting spot. In the nearby woods to the east more impressive stone work is found just a few yards off the trail, though it’s hard to get a good photograph due to encroaching forest growth.
For me, retracing my steps back to Route 112 was sheer delight as I stopped every few minutes to grab extra shots with my digital camera, or to further investigate things seen on my way up the trail. The only disappointments of the day were the fact that the hike was over so quickly, and the realization that I’d waited far too long to visit this unique, hidden locale that’s practically in my own backyard.
Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or coauthor of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.