Tucked away in a little-visited high mountain valley on the Maine-New Hampshire border, Evans Notch is an outdoor paradise, with many great options for families with kids. From high peaks above treeline, to backcountry swimming holes, to multiple secluded campgrounds and even an AMC family camp, this area is ripe for exploration and adventure. The Blueberry Mountain and Rattlesnake Pool Loop is perhaps the most idyllic short day hike in the area, and ranks as one of our favorite family trips in all of New England. From Fryeburg, Maine, take Route 113 North for 19.4 miles to Stone House Rd. (formerly Shell Pond Road); this will be 0.7 miles north of AMC Cold River Camp. Take a right onto Stone House Road, and follow for 1.1 miles to a locked gate with a small parking area on the right.
The 3.9 mile loop has a little bit of everything—giving it the variety and excitement needed to keep young children engaged in the trip. From a start in the woods, to a short but steep climb, to ridgetop views, picnic spots, and blueberry picking—this hike has it all. And to top it off, on the hike back to the trailhead, there is a short side trail to Rattlesnake Pool; one of the most idyllic, clear, and alluring swimming holes we have ever found. A full afternoon could easily be spent lazing by the side of this emerald green shady pool with good jumping rocks for all ages.
You will want to do this loop hike in a counter-clockwise direction: Stone House Road to White Cairn Trail to Blueberry Ridge Trail to Stone House Trail to Stone House Road. This will put the swimming hole near the end of your trip when you are hot and sweaty and need a good break. And as any parent knows, nothing puts a spring in the step of a 8 year old more than the thought of swimming ahead!
From the small parking area at the gate on Stone House Road, proceed on the dirt road for 0.3 miles to the marked trailhead on the left for the White Cairn Trail. We sometimes bring bikes along on this trip so we can bike that 0.3 miles—you’ll have to do it at the end as well, so it’ll shave some distance off if you have room for the bikes.
Turn left and proceed up the White Cairn Trail, which will go through a small clearing, then climbs steeply up the ridge, over massive rock staircases and ledges with views to the south. The going will be slow with small kids, but they can have fun climbing the big rock staircases, which with a little positive spin can be presented as a giant jungle gym! Near the top of the ridge there are some ledges that make for great picnic spots.
At 1.4 miles you will hit the Blueberry Ridge Trail—leave plenty of time to pick blueberries when they are in season from June through August. Follow the Blueberry Ridge Trail for just 0.2 miles, then turn right on the Stone House Trail, which will lead you back down into the valley. Follow it down for a mile, where you will find the spur trail on your left that brings you a couple hundred yards to Rattlesnake Pool, a classic “Shangri La” New England swimming hole. A steep rocky approach leads to a 10 foot deep, turquoise blue, crystal clear pool. Rocks line the edge of the pool and there are good jumping options for all abilities. On a hot day, this place is heaven.
Continue on down the Stone House Trail and another short spur trail on the left leads you to Rattlesnake Flume, a small but interesting gorge just downstream from the swimming hole. Continue on down the Stone House Trail to Stone House Road, and turn right for 0.5 miles to complete the loop back to the parking area at the gate.
Good lake swimming is available at The Basin, a day-use recreation area on the National Forest, about a mile north of Stone House Road. Camping is available at Cold River Campground near The Basin, and AMC runs a delightful family hiking camp in the area called Cold River Camp. For a great mountain drive back to North Conway, take the Hurricane Mountain Road, a narrow and twisting notch road that brings you up and over into Intervale, N.H. To get to Hurricane Mountain Road, follow 113 south from the Stow Store, then turn right on South Chatham Rd, then left onto Green Hill Rd, then right onto Hurricane Mountain Rd.
The Stow Corner Store, about 5 miles south of Stone House Road on NH 113 (actually just over the border in ME), is a quintessential country store with hand-scooped ice cream, homemade soups and sandwiches, fresh-baked pizza and famous baked goods. North Conway, N.H., and Fryeburg, Maine, have full dining options for any taste.