Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area 11/7/10

"This is NH at it's Best!" (pictures)

With an array of weekends that brought Scott and I more work than usual we had not made our way into the White Mountains in some time. And we were itching to get back! Well we didn't quite make it again but boy were we in for a treat! The weather was "iffy" and we again decided to stick close to home. After contemplating on possible candidates for our hike Scott said suddenly "how about Castle in the Clouds?" He has mentioned this over and again all year and I always shrugged it off as probably too crowded and probably not much for trail options or views. WELL, was I WRONG!! We arrived at the access road to find the Castle closed for the season. Hmmmm, now what? The sign pointed to the Castle Springs Road and Castle Springs Park. Sounds like a possible entry point..... Up the road we went and found a hiker parking area and the Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area. 5,380 acres of mountains, ledgy views, farm land, ponds, waterfalls and oh, a castle!

The trail map was iced over and the small one on the side of the kiosk was difficult to read. So we would just be going with the flow, let the trails take us wherever. We began the brisk morning by walking up the road to the castle. What a beauty! And a view to match, fog lifting off Lake Winnipesaukee with mountains beyond and all around us. I saw a large rock knob in the distance towards Mt. Shaw and I really hoped we could find a trail to it!

Back down to the road we took a turn down a logging road marked by white diamonds and a kiosk that read Brook Walk. I thought, eh, just the usual babbling brook, no biggie! The trail follows the road a little distance then breaks off to the brook. A beautiful ledgy cascade greeted us. And so it would be down this entire trail, complete with interpretive signs at each stop. So many cascades, a beautiful 50 foot waterfall and a flume/waterfall 40 ft. high with a boardwalk that brings you close to the foot of this spectacular water feature! It was like being out west in Yellow Stone or in the Amazon. Wonderful!! The trail now crosses the brook and loops back making a steep climb up the banking. Then it meets the Shannon Brook trail. Brook Walk was .4 miles I believe and a bit rough. Certainly not for the unfit tourist! Careful with kids!!

A short ways on Shannon Brook Trail which is another logging road we soon arrived at Bald Knob Cutoff. This got me excited! One mile up this rough, granite covered trail passing over several small partially wooded knobs. You pass a sign at one point noting an unusual and rare rock formation called Columnar Jointing. It was pretty interesting! Especially for the rock lover I am! We then came to Bald Knob Trail which appeared to be a carriage road. A short distance you pass by granite ledge to your left and a slight drop off to your right and views begin to open up. Then you arrive atop the granite knob at 1,801 feet. Views again to Lake Winnipesaukee and the Belknap range. Down to Castle in the Clouds sitting atop Lee Mountain, and views of the conservations mountains including Turtleback directly behind us.

Satisfied with our climb, the weather getting colder and cloudier as the morning rolled by, we called it a day and decided to head back to the parking lot. We returned the way we came, stopping again at the columnar jointing rock to investigate it further. Than down to Shannon Brook trail which we took back to Shannon Pond near the parks entrance, passing first an area with views back up to the castle. It was at the Shannon Brook kiosk that we found a more suitable map of the area. More to add to the to-do list! And believe me, We'll be back!! NH at it's best. Historic structures, cascades and waterfalls, rough trails, granite ledges, lake Winnipesaukee and mountain views and wonderful trails (well marked here might I add)! Total trail mileage round trip was almost 5 miles I believe. (pictures)

The Map

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