I have now found the second worst hiking trails in New Hampshire. (Upton Forest Trail on the other side of Stoddard was the worst.) We returned to Stoddard Rocks to finish exploring the trails we had started two weeks ago. There were several trails we hadn’t found, but we knew one yellow blazed trail headed north from the western side of Stoddard Rocks hill.
The yellow blazes followed an old road bed for a bit, but then the blazes turned left and dropped off the road. The unblazed road ahead matched one of the trails on the kiosk map. The blazed trail matched another. The road ahead was similar to the blue flagged road we had followed two weeks ago. This road had just as many downed trees, but even more small beechlings and moss, and no flagging. After an hour of scrambling, I was startled I spotted a pale yellow blaze on a tree. We had stumbled across the next trail junction. Tyson finished GPS’ing the road and then we tried to follow the trail.
The trail had blazes, so that was good, but it had no trail bed. It had moose poop and bear scat, trillium and running cedar, small rock fields and large boulder jumbles, and random zig zags up and down side hills. As for the blazes, when I say light yellow, I mean a light yellow the color of dried beech leaves. The woods were full of beech leaves. Isaac wasn’t sure about this much harder game of spot-the-blazes. He couldn’t win by running ahead. The reason this trail only rates second worst trail is it goes through a mature hardwood forest with relatively little undergrowth. Tyson thinks it would make good glade skiing in the winter. Upton Forest, the worst trail we have hiked, was similarly nothing but scattered blazes, however it struggled through dense undergrowth and briar thickets.
At first, I was willing to forgive the state of the trail because this was a new conservation area. However we grew increasingly suspicious about the age of the blazes. Our suspicions were confirmed when we found two decaying wood signs on the ground — left for “Stoddard Rocks Via Beaver Foliage” and right for “Stoddard Rocks Via Primeval Forest”. The signs faced north, away from Stoddard rocks. Farther north, we found a worn entry sign for the Williams Family Forest. This must have been the old entrance to Stoddard Rocks.
We explored both directions on Forest Road ending up in several backyards and a snowmobile trail. The backyard at the eastern end belonged to an old couple enjoying their off grid cabin. The old man said if we continued up their dirt road, we would get to Dole Schoolhouse road. His granddaughter’s property a little ways up on the right had a lovely trail going south to Carter Hill. Except he hadn’t hiked there in years and a beaver has since filled the valley with a pond. This all matched Tyson’s expectations from open street maps. It’s disappointing that the two trails don’t connect without going through private property. (We had hiked out the wrong way from behind a no trespassing sign.) When we explained we had come from Stoddard Rocks, the old guy reminisced back to his youth when he used to hike all those trails. We chatted a bit more about their off grid cabin and the local wildlife, then we headed back the way we had come.
So these terrible trails have existed for years. Reading between the lines, I suspect they were abandoned because of property rights issues for the rocks. Whatever rough trails had existed before the rocks closure, had since been reclaimed by nature.
The trails were terrible, but the rest of the conservation area was nice. We found two more large boulders to climb. There were lots of trillium leafing out. I found one whose flower was starting to open. We passed a beaver pond which reflected the bright blue sky. Other than the one couple at the cabin, we saw no one. Isaac practiced following a compass bearing to shortcut back from the snowmobile road to the trail. We almost missed the trail because we happened to cross it right at a giant dead fall. At the end of the day, Isaac led us up the side trail to the main Stoddard Rocks for more bouldering.
Stoddard town conservation map here.
Tyson hiked ~1 more mile than Isaac and I because he mapped the road out to the junction with the blue flagged road from last week. The intersection is not visible at all. Tyson also hiked down the eastern trail from Stoddard Rocks while Isaac climbed the rocks.
I looked up the tax maps after we got home. The Washington NH tax maps show that Forest Rd ends about where we found a decrepit house. So the portion of Forest Rd that we hiked was all in private property. Old County Road (at least so named on google maps) coming south from Dole School House Rd shows on the tax map as a road. I don’t know if that map indicates private vs public road. According to the Stoddard tax maps, Old County road continues south where open street maps just shows a trail.