Mt. Prospect via Around the Mountain Trail

Mountain:  Mt. Prospect (2077')
Trails:  Around the Mountain Trail, Heritage Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
Weeks State Park
Location:  Lancaster, NH
Rating:  Easy/Moderate  
Distance:  3.0 miles  
Elevation Gain:  480 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 1:27   Typical: 1:45  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 2:30  
Season:  Fall
Hike Date:  11/16/2002 (Saturday)  
Last Updated:  10/25/2008  
Weather:  20-25 degrees, overcast
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

This is a fairly easy, pleasant woods walk encircling the lower flanks of Mount Propect. Although there is only 220 feet of elevation difference between the high and low points, there are many ups and downs making for a total elevation gain of close to 500 feet.

Start at the Mount Prospect Ski Tow area and walk a loop on Around the Mountain Trail in a counter-clockwise direction.

  • From the parking area, walk past the gate and then turn right onto the combined Around the Mountain Trail and Heritage Trail.
  • After 0.3 mile you will cross the Mount Prospect Auto Road at a point just 0.1 mile up from Route 3.
  • Just 0.1 mile beyond the auto road, Heritage Trail leaves to the right while Around the Mountain Trail goes straight. Stay straight to continue on Around the Mountain Trail.
  • After 0.8 mile you will reach a junction with Davidge Path on the left which leads up to the auto road in 0.2 mile. Stay straight to continue on Around the Mountain Trail.
  • The path for the next 0.1 mile is a bit faint as it passes through a logged area. From the junction walk downhill for 0.1 mile then upon reaching a woods road with a stone wall running alongside it for a short ways, turn left (no sign).
  • After another 0.1 mile will be a small white sign with an arrow indicating that you should bear left.
  • Continue on the undulating trail for 1.2 miles which will bring you to a 4-way intersection with Carriage Path. Just 0.2 mile before reaching this junction you will pass through a sugarbush that borders the trail for about 0.1 mile.
  • Go straight through the intersection to stay on Around the Mountain Trail which once again is combined with Heritage Trail. (Heritage Trail comes in from the right along with the lower segment of Old Carriage Path.)
  • Walk downhill for 0.4 mile which will return you to the starting point of the loop.

Place         Split
Miles
     Total
Miles
     Split
Time
     Total
Time
    
Ski tow parking area on Rt. 3 (1400') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Mount Prospect Auto Road crossing (1480') 0.3 0.3 0:09 0:09
Jct. Around the Mountain Trail/Heritage Trail (1460') 0.1 0.4 0:03 0:12
Jct. Around the Mountain Trail/Davidge Path (1460') 0.8 1.2 0:18 0:30
Jct. Around the Mountain Trail/Old Carriage Path (1540') 1.4 2.6 0:46 1:16
Ski tow parking area on Rt. 3 (1400') 0.4 3.0 0:11 1:27

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Map of hike route on Mount Prospect (map by Webmaster)


Trail Guide   

Rather than climbing Mount Prospect, Around the Mountain Trail, makes a big loop around the base of the mountain. Some people cross-country ski on this loop but a few of the hills were bigger than I'd be comfortable on with skis. I think it would make a fantastic jogging loop and I'd definitely be comfortable skiing parts of it. I started the loop from the Mount Prospect ski area, which is 0.2 mile north of the entrance to Weeks State Park (Weeks State Park contains Mount Prospect and no other mountains).

There are several other options for hooking up to the loop: you can walk 0.1 mile up the entrance road to the park; you can follow Heritage Trail for 0.1 mile from where it crosses Route 3, 0.2 mile south of the entrance road; or you can follow Old Carriage Path / Heritage Trail for 0.3 mile from Reed Road. (Reed Road is 0.5 north of the entrance to the park).

Regardless of where you start, this is an easy but interesting loop. From the parking lot at the ski area, I walked through the gate, and took a little detour by walking straight ahead to the ski area. There are a couple small, caved-in buildings and a big, open field on the slope which has big spotlights along one side, and a solid looking little building part way up the slope. This looks like it would be a great sledding hill; or even fun for the more adventurous cross-country skiers.

Backtracking, I picked up the loop hike about 20 feet away from the gate, and headed in a southerly direction on what is both Around the Mountain Trail and Heritage Trail for a little while. I walked by an old apple orchard and then shortly crossed the paved auto road that leads up to the summit of Mount Prospect. At this time of year the road is gated but the summit is a great place to check out, either via road or trail. There is an estate on top, including a magnificent stone fire tower. From the top of the covered fire tower, there are fantastic views in all directions. There is also a viewing map in the tower so you can figure out what mountains you're looking at.

Anyway, back to the trail. The path climbed, for the most part, gently, up to a high point a little more than half way around; and then it made a slow descent. The trail is wide and easy to follow and only wet in a couple spots. There are nice, wooden walkways over the many drainage ditches - unfortunately some of them were just wet enough to be icy. There was much biodiversity: hemlocks, cedars, white spruce, white pine, oaks, beech, maple, evergreen ferns, and much more. Some of these trees, especially the white pines, looked quite old. I wish you could walk up to a tree and ask it how old it was. No snow - except for scattered dustings. There were many pretty views but I don't think any of them would be visible if the trees were fully leafed out.

At the beginning of the trail, I could hear the traffic from Route 3 but it was easy to mentally block it out. I could also hear many birds. I saw a couple blue jays, and a raptor; and I saw and heard many squirrels.

Just 0.1 mile after crossing the auto road, Heritage Trail diverges off to the right. I stayed straight on Around the Mountain Trail and 0.8 mile later met up with Davidge Path which leads left up to the auto road (in 0.2 mile). If you were to follow this path, and then go uphill on the auto road for 0.1 mile, you'd come to a nice viewpoint area looking out to the west. I stayed on Around the Mountain Trail.

About 2.4 miles into the loop, I came across the most elaborate maple sugaring set-up that I've ever seen on the trail. There were hoses running everywhere. And not just the black hoses that I'm accustomed to seeing; but also blue, clear, and green. I don't know if the colors have any special meaning but I do know that it takes forty gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup - so they need to collect a lot!

Right after this sugarbush, a woods road continues straight, and Around the Mountain Trail, goes to the left. This is indicated by a small white sign with an arrow on it. After the fork, there's an old foundation on the right, and in 0.1 mile, Old Carriage Path crosses the main trail. Taking a left leads down to Reed Road (in 0.3 mile) via Old Carriage Path / Heritage Trail; taking a right leads to Mount Prospect Auto Road (in 0.4 mile) - it comes out about 0.2 mile below the summit. I went straight ahead to complete the loop on what is now also the Heritage Trail, and in 0.4 mile, found myself back at the parking area. I didn't see anyone else on the trail during my hike.
 

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NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

The trailhead is located on the east side of Route 3 in Lancaster, New Hampshire.

From Lancaster:
  • From the junction of Routes 2 and 3 at the east end of downtown Lancaster, take Rt. 3 South.
  • Travel 2.0 miles then turn left uphill into the parking lot for Mount Prospect Ski Tow. This turn is 0.2 mile after a "Scenic Area 1/2 mile" sign.
  • There are two entrances into the lot so if you miss the first one, you can take the second one. Closer to the second entrance is a sign for "Mount Prospect Ski Tow".
  • Park in the large dirt lot. Around the Mountain Trail starts just beyond the gate, running left and right while access to the ski slope is straight ahead.

From Whitefield:
  • From the junction of Routes 3, 116 and 142 in downtown Whitefield, follow Rt. 3 North.
  • Travel 6.2 miles then turn right uphill into the parking lot for Mount Prospect Ski Tow. This turn is 0.2 mile after the well-marked entrance and parking area (on opposite sides of the road) to Weeks State Park.
  • There are two entrances into the ski tow lot so if you miss the first one, you can take the second one. Shortly beyond the first entrance is a sign for "Mount Prospect Ski Tow".
  • Park in the large dirt lot. Around the Mountain Trail starts just beyond the gate, running left and right while access to the ski slope is straight ahead.
 
 
  About Weeks State Park   

The 420-acre Weeks State Park which encompasses Mount Prospect (2077') is located in Lancaster, in northern New Hampshire. It offers several multi-use trails, an auto road (designated as a New Hampshire Scenic Byway) to the summit, a great variety of wildflowers and ferns, mixed woods, and fantastic views from the summit as well as a couple lookout points along the auto road.

At the summit is the John Wingate Weeks Historical Site which includes a manor, carriage house, and a beautiful fieldstone fire tower. Access to the fire tower, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Lookout Towers, is free and open to the public whenever there is a warden on duty; otherwise it is locked. For a tour of the house itself and its exhibits, an admission fee is charged.

During open hours, you can drive up to the summit of Mount Prospect on the paved auto road (no charge). At the top are a few picnic tables, a couple short nature trails, and the stone fire tower.

The fire tower is beautiful just to look at but it is also an active fire-watch station with an enclosed cabin at the top. Just below the glassed-in cabin is a lookout area with open, arched "windows" framed by stone from which to enjoy the panoramas. There is a viewing chart there to help you identify the surrounding mountains which include the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Kilkenny Range, Percy Peaks, and the upper Connecticut River Valley area.

Yellow lady's slipper at Weeks State Park (photo by Webmaster)


During the summer, on Thursday evenings, free programs are held on the second floor of the lodge which is one wide-open room. The topics are typically related to both human history and natural history of the north country of New Hampshire, including slide shows and live-animal demonstrations. The Weeks State Park Association also sponsors several free outings, including a couple guided wildflower walks along the auto road.

The park has about five miles of trails. Around the Mountain Trail encircles the lower part of the mountain and is a multi-use trail open to hikers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. Davidge Path and Old Carriage Path are open to hikers and snowshoers.

Prior to Weeks' ownership (and even before he was born) in 1859, a carriage path was constructed to provide horse-drawn carriage access to a long-gone summit hotel. This route is now covered by the trail called Old Carriage Path.

By hiking Around the Mountain Trail, Old Carriage Path, and just a small portion of the auto road, you can reach the summit of Mount Prospect on foot. A walk up the auto road is also very scenic although you will have cars to contend with during open hours.

A portion of the Heritage Trail also runs through the park, at times concurrently with Around the Mountain Trail and Old Carriage Path. At the summit, near the fire tower is a short nature trail loop and behind the lodge is a short path leading to a lookout deck.

On the lower flank of the northwestern part of the mountain is a tow-rope downhill ski slope that was established in 1938 and is managed by volunteers from the Mount Prospect Ski Club.

View of the Presidentials popping above the clouds - taken from the Eastern viewpoint along the Weeks State Park auto road (photo by Webmaster)


History

Weeks State Park and the John Wingate Weeks Historical Site was once the estate of John Wingate Weeks (1860-1926) who was born in Lancaster, New Hampshire and raised on a local farm. In 1910 Weeks bought several farms on Mount Prospect, including the land at the summit, at a time when unprofitable farms were being abandoned and land preservation was up to private citizens.

Weeks served the state of Massachusetts as both a U.S. representative and senator and was Secretary of War under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Weeks was largely responsible for passing the Appalachian-White Mountains Forest Reservation Bill in 1911 which was also known as the "Weeks Law". This bill authorized the federal government to purchase lands to be "permanently reserved, held and administered as national forest lands" at a time when not only did an eastern national forest system not exist; but the government was not authorized to create one. This legislation spurred the establishment of the White Mountain National Forest which is now over 780,000 acres.

Weeks built his retreat on Mount Prospect in 1912. In 1911, he first built the auto road which replaced an earlier carriageway. He then build the "lodge" (the house), carriage house, and fire tower. The lodge is constructed of fieldstone and stucco and roofed by red terra cotta tiles. Outdoor balconies allow enjoyment of the views. The second floor of the house consists of just one 70 by 30-foot "living room" with large stone fireplaces on either end. The ground floor consists of original rooms as well as renovated space that houses exhibits tracing the history of forestry and conservation in New Hampshire as well as a mounted bird collection. The lodge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Weeks died in 1926 while living at his beloved home atop Mount Prospect. In 1941 Weeks' children donated the entire estate to "the people of New Hampshire".

The "lodge" on the summit of Mount Prospect at Weeks State Park (photo by Webmaster)


Contact

The park is open from late June to Labor Day; and then most weekends until Columbus Day. Please call for details on when the gate is open vs. when the John Wingate Weeks Historical Site at the summit is open: 603.788.4004. Access by trails, or on foot via the auto road, is welcome at any time of the year.

To join the Weeks State Park Association and help support the park's programs, contact:

Weeks State Park Association
PO Box 104
Lancaster, NH 03584-0104
603.788.4004
  Fire tower on the summit of Mount Prospect at Weeks State Park (photo by Webmaster)

The auto road at Weeks State Park (photo by Webmaster)

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