Old Growth Forest in New Hampshire

March 23, 2012

Few corners of our Northeastern forests have escaped the touch of plow, axe, or storm. However, pockets of old growth forest, scattered throughout the region, remain tucked in areas inhospitable to logging and sheltered from wind. These stands can contain a diverse mix of trees, some centuries old.

Pisgah State Park, in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire, covers 21 square miles. It’s just 100 miles from Boston and 200 from Manhattan, and it’s New England’s second largest state park, behind only Baxter in Maine. It’s also home to several old growth stands. Much of Pisgah’s western half was never cleared for agricultural use, and from here hikers can tour some of the oldest forests in the region.

Start from the parking area on Route 63 between Chesterfield and Hinsdale, N.H., and hike east on the dirt Kilburn Road for about 1 mile. Stay left when the trail forks at Kilburn Pond, and continue east on the Pisgah Mountain Trail. As you climb the western slope of Pisgah Mountain, take a look to your right. Here is one of the park’s old growth stands. Much of it toppled in the Hurricane of 1938, but some old hemlocks survived. Turn right on the Pisgah Ridge Trail to reach the summit. There you can see Mount Monadnock in the distance before continuing along the same trail, looping around the southern flank of the mountain. At the junction, turn left onto the Reservoir Trail and head toward the ridge protecting North Round Pond.

In 1.1 miles you’ll reach a junction with the North Ponds Trail and, just 0.1 mile further, a spur trail that descends to North Round Pond. Explore both paths to see some of Pisgah’s oldest and grandest trees. On the southern face of the ridge, the forest was obliterated by the Hurricane of 1938, but on the northern face and down toward the shore stand stately white pine, beech, red oak, black birch, and hemlock trees. Some of the latter measure 4 feet in diameter and are approximately 350 years old.

Once you’re done exploring, continue north on the Reservoir Trail, then stay left on the Baker Pond Trail, and left again on the Pisgah Ridge Trail to complete the circuit of Pisgah Mountain. Turn right on the Pisgah Mountain Trail to head back to the parking area.

If you’re interested in exploring other old growth forests, check out these recommended hikes.

Distance: 8.5 miles
Info: Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); Friends of Pisgah

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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, writes the trail-running blog Running Wild.