Red squirrel on Mt. Hale summit cairn (photo by Webmaster)

Zealand Pond, Zealand Falls, Mt. Hale

Destinations:  Zealand Pond (2457'), Zealand Falls, Zealand Falls Hut (2630'), Whitewall Brook Outlook (2630'), Mt. Hale (4054')
Trails:  Zealand Trail, Twinway, Appalachian Trail, Lend-A-Hand Trail, Hale Brook Trail, Zealand Road
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Little River Mountains
Location:  Bethlehem, NH
Rating:  Moderate  
Features:  Ponds, summit, views, hut, wetlands, river, cascades, waterfall, brook, loop hike, 4000-footer
Distance:  8.7 miles  
Elevation Gain:  2300 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 6:25   Typical: 5:30  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 9:00   Typical: 8:30  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  08/17/2007 (Friday)  
Last Updated:  11/05/2009  
Weather:  70-75 degrees, humid
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

This is a loop hike which visits Zealand Pond, Zealand Falls, Zealand Falls Hut and Mount Hale. The summit of Hale is ringed by trees so there aren't really any views there but there are good outlooks into Zealand and Carrigain Notches from in front of the hut and the nearby Whitewall Brook ledges.

  • Start at the end of Zealand Road and head up Zealand Trail for 2.5 miles until reaching the end of the trail at Zealand Pond.
    • After hiking up the gentle Zealand Trail for 0.8 mile, you will reach Zealand River where the trail curves to the right and a short spur path leads left to the shoreline of the river.
    • A mile farther along Zealand Trail will bring you to a pretty wetlands area crossed by a sturdy boardwalk.
    • A half-mile after that A-Z Trail goes off to the left; continue straight on Zealand Trail.
    • Just 0.2 mile more of easy walking and you will arrive at Zealand Pond on the right where a few strides off the trail will bring you to the shoreline of the pond at a small opening in the trees.
    • Just beyond this point, Zealand Trail ends as it meets Ethan Pond Trail and Twinway. Twinway is part of the Appalachian Trail.
  • At the junction of Zealand Trail, Ethan Pond Trail, and Twinway/Appalachian Trail, bear right to follow Twinway/Appalachian Trail while Ethan Pond Trail veers off to the left. At this point you are only 0.2 mile away from Zealand Falls Hut. Between here and the hut are two access points to Zealand Falls.
    • The first access spot to the falls is where the main trail veers right and there is an obvious path to the left. Follow the side trail for about 40 feet and you'll be at the tail end of Zealand Falls where there is a series of small cascades.
    • Returning to the main path, the trail climbs steeply up toward the hut via stone steps. About halfway up this pitch, is another spur leading to the left, only about 20 feet long, and it brings you to the main section of Zealand Falls where the water drops straight down a 15-foot high cliff. If you're feeling a bit adventurous, you can work your way down the embankment and then across the stream to the ledgy area directly at the foot of the falls.
  • Back on the main trail, tackle the final portion of the steep climb to arrive at Zealand Falls Hut. Here you may want to make a quick detour, just beyond the hut, to the left of the main trail to Whitewall Brook which slides across slanted open ledges before dropping sharply below. There are good views from these ledges.
  • Beyond the hut, continue on Twinway for barely 0.1 mile to connect with Lend-A-Hand Trail. Go straight/right on Lend-A-Hand Trail while Twinway/Appalachian Trail turns left.
  • Follow Lend-A-Hand Trail for 2.7 miles, encountering no other trail junctions, up to the summit of Mount Hale.
  • Descend Mount Hale via Hale Brook Trail (which leaves the summit in a northeasterly direction), crossing a few streams en route, and reaching the Hale Brook parking area after 2.2 miles. The two main water crossings are both of Hale Brook and are encountered 0.9 and 1.4 miles into the descent.
  • At the end of Hale Brook Trail, turn right and follow Zealand Road for 1.0 mile to return to the parking area for Zealand Trail, completing the loop.

Place         Split
Miles
     Total
Miles
     Split
Time
     Total
Time
Zealand Trail parking area (2000') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Zealand River (2200') 0.8 0.8 0:30 0:30
Beaver swamp zigzag bridge (2400') 1.0 1.8
Jct. Zealand Trail / A-Z Trail (2450') 0.5 2.3
Zealand Pond and Jct. Ethan Pond Trail / Twinway / Zealand Trail (2460') 0.2 2.5
Zealand Falls 0.1 2.6
Zealand Falls Hut (2630') 0.1 2.7 1:43
Jct. Twinway (AT) / Lend-A-Hand Trail (2730') 0.1 2.8 0:03 1:46
Mt. Hale summit (4054') 2.7 5.5 2:25 4:11
Hale Brook Trail parking area (1770') 2.2 7.7 1:46 5:57
Zealand Trail parking area (2000') 1.0 8.7 0:28 6:25

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Paper birches on Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Yellow flowers on Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)



Joe-Pye weed along beaver swamp on Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Beaver swamp along Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Orangey rock of Upper Zealand Falls (photo by Webmaster)

 

Map of Zealand Pond / Mt. Hale Loop (map by Webmaster)


Trail Guide   

This was a beautiful way to spend a sunny, clear day. This loop had many easy grades but also many relatively short but steep sections. Being a loop, it could of course be followed in either direction but I choose the gradual more scenic route up because I figured I'd be doing the tail end of the hike in the dark and I had already hiked the Hale Brook Trail before and figured that would be a good section to do in the dark.

Since this is a long trip report, I've divided it into sections:

Zealand Trail, Pond, Falls, Hut    |    Lend-A-Hand Trail    |    Mount Hale and Beyond


Beaver swamp along Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Zealand Trail, Pond, Falls, Hut   

Zealand Trail is a fairly busy route (but not overcrowded, at least not on the Friday that I hiked it) and the large parking lot was almost full. Not only does this route lead to the popular Zealand Pond, Falls, and Hut, but also provides access to a whole network of trails leading deeper into the backcountry. There were both dayhikers and backpackers peppering the trail.

I started out in the dappled shade of Zealand Trail, parts of which used to be a railroad. It started out nice and smooth but the footway quickly became quite rocky when the trail diverged from the former railroad. Once in a while it went back to smooth footing but it was a mostly rocky trail although the incline was nice and gentle.

The railroad was built in 1885 by logging baron J.E. Henry and it continued to be used until the mid-1890's. In 1886 sparks from the train's engine caused a devastating forest fire throughout Zealand Valley burning 12,000 acres. And again in 1903 was another destructive fire that burned over 10,000 acres of forestland. As you will see, the land recovered remarkably well and the woods are quite beautiful.

Zealand Trail passes through a mixture of hardwoods and conifers with the occasional moss-covered boulder along the edge of the path. There were also many plants and ferns growing fairly close to the ground in woods that otherwise have an open understory.

Zealand River along Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)


After 0.8 mile, the Zealand River became visible on the left, just a few strides from the trail. Where the main trail turns right, there is a little path leading left to the shoreline. The river consists of clear water being tossed over a rocky bed. There are some small cascades and some inviting flat, sunny rocks along the water's far edge.

Continuing along Zealand Trail I went by a section where there were a whole bunch of "miniature" conifer trees growing only one or two feet high. I also passed by many bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) in fruit. These are low-growing plants with a whorl of 6 leaves and a small bunch of bright red berries growing on a stalk above the leaves. And I saw some gone-by trillium: no flower, just the start of a fruit. I eventually came to a smooth path bordered by some lovely towering paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera).

Turtlehead flowers along Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster) At a stream crossing (all the stream crossings on Zealand Trail are by bridge) I saw several turtlehead plants (Chelone glabra) in bloom. If you look closely at these white flowers, you'll understand where their name came from. The flower consists of an upper lip and a lower lip, from which the stamens protrude; much like a turtle would stick its head out from between its upper and lower shells. There was some goldenrod in bloom as well as other flowers whose names I don't know.

At 1.8 miles, I arrived at a lovely open beaver swamp area. There is a neat elevated boardwalk crossing the water that gives you the feel of standing in the middle of a beaver pond. Since this is an active beaver area, the water configurations often change with some spots reverting to meadow and other places becoming newly submerged. Joe-Pye weed as well as other brightly colored flowers were in bloom. Alders and other shrubs crowded a large area to one side of the bridge. And above it all, the long, straight line of Zealand Ridge was visible.

Beaver swamp boardwalk along Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster) Beyond the boardwalk the swamp area continued. Stop often and check out the views both far and near. It's a beautiful area and is a popular spot for birders too. Farther along you will see tall grasses invading the water.

Shortly after the last beaver meadow, you'll come to the junction of the A-Z Trail on the left at 2.3 miles; keep going straight on Zealand Trail. The 4-acre Zealand Pond is shortly after this junction; be looking for it on the right, close to the trail but largely obscured by trees. Look for a short path (about 5 feet long) leading to its shore where there is a small spot and a couple rocks for standing/sitting on in order to get a nice view of the pond.

Zealand Ridge (a long straight line going gradually uphill to the left, and ending in a knob) towers over the pond when standing on the shoreline and looking towards the left. When looking to the opposite shore, but a bit to the left, if you have good eyes, you'll be able to spot the open ledges down which Whitewall Brook tumbles. This area is practically right next to Zealand Falls Hut but the hut is not visible; you'll get to see all this up close a bit later on this loop hike.

Zealand Pond with Zealand Ridge in the background (photo by Webmaster) Zealand Pond is located at the height-of-land and is in the unusual position of having an outlet on both ends of the pond. The northern outlet flows into the Ammonoosuc drainage and eventually to the Connecticut River and then the ocean; while the southern outlet flows into the Pemigewasset drainage and eventually to the Merrimack River and then to the ocean.

Leaving the outlook to the pond, you will very quickly reach the end of the Zealand Trail and the start of Ethan Pond Trail and Twinway. Ethan Pond Trail goes straight ahead; you want to turn right in order to follow Twinway to the hut which at this point is only 0.2 mile away. Between here and the hut are two side paths to the left that will bring you to Zealand Falls. Even though the trail between the parking area and the hut was fairly busy, I was amazed that only one other party visited the falls during the long time I spent at them myself. And even at the pond outlook, a very small percentage of hikers walking by bothered to stop and get a good look at the pond. These short side trails are well worth the tiny bit of effort it takes to enjoy these special spots.

Upper Zealand Falls (photo by Webmaster) The first access spot to the falls is where the main trail veers right and there is an obvious path to the left. Follow the side trail for about 40 feet and you'll be at the tail end of Zealand Falls where there is a series of small cascades in dappled shade. I made myself comfortable here and had lunch.

Returning to the main path, the trail gets steep as it climbs up toward the hut, but is made a bit easier by stone steps. About halfway up this short pitch, is another spur leading to the left, only about 20 feet long, and it brings you to the main section of Zealand Falls, and in my opinion is even more beautiful than the first side trail. Looking upstream, the water drops straight down a 15-foot high, steep, orange-tinted cliff and then keeps stepping down through a series of cascades and small pools. Downstream from this spot, the water flow is relatively mellow (until it recommences its drops as part of the lower falls). I went down the embankment to the shore and was able to easily step across a narrow channel and work my way upstream, up over the ledges and boulders to arrive at a high point opposite the sheer drop of the water flow; it was an attractive perspective. There were some interesting looking plants bursting from the cracks in some of the rocks both up high and down low.

After exploring this area for a while, I returned to the main path and finished the steep pitch up to the hut whose side appears to the right of the trail, with the front porches visible as you reach the top of the climb. You are rewarded for that steep climb with stunning views into Zealand Notch and beyond that into Carrigain Notch.

View from hut into Zealand and Carrigain Notches (photo by Webmaster)


Zealand Falls hut has restrooms that are open to all. The hut also offers overnight accommodations with breakfast and dinner (reservations required). The lodging area consists of two rooms, each with 18 bunks. This is also a popular spot for bird watching.

I recommend a little detour by continuing straight up the trail, past the front of the hut (follow your ears). Pass through a little grove of trees and you will be on the ledges of Whitewall Brook; remember these are the ledges that were visible from Zealand Pond. Now look way down and you will see a small brownish colored body of water - that's Zealand Pond!

 
Footbridge on Zealand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Zealand River (photo by Webmaster)


Bunchberry in fruit (photo by Webmaster)

Zealand Ridge (photo by Webmaster)

Beaver Swamp (photo by Webmaster)

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Beaver Swamp (photo by Webmaster)
 
Bluebead lily on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Indian pipe on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Lichen-covered tree on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

View from Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Ledges on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)
  Lend-A-Hand Trail   

Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster) Now back to our main loop. Go back to the hut and follow the sign for Twinway, hugging the far side of the hut. In 0.1 mile or less, Twinway will branch left and Lend-A-Hand Trail will go right; go right to follow Lend-A-Hand Trail. Just a short ways along this trail I felt like I left the relative hustle-and-bustle of Zealand Trail and Zealand Falls Hut far behind. I only met up with one other party early on in this segment (they were going in the opposite direction) and aside from that I felt like the only human in a great wide wilderness. I was due to reach Mount Hale 2.8 miles from Zealand Falls Hut.

The trail started out climbing pretty easily through a forest of paper birch (Betula papyrifera). I thought I heard the call of chickadees, but when I looked around, I saw phoebes. I had just recently learned that chickadees and phoebes share that chick-a-dee-dee-dee call that we commonly associate with chickadees (although the phoebes more often use the FEE-be call). I found a feather on the path but I don't know whom it belonged to. It was about six inches long and one inch wide, was mostly a dark gray with one wide band of white going all the way across it and two smaller patches of white extending only about halfway across.

Feather on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster) I saw both bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and yellow clintonia (Clintonia borealis) plants in fruit. Bunchberry has bright red berries and yellow clintonia, also know as bluebead lily, has shiny blue berries. The dual name for the lily comes from the delicate yellow flower that it produces starting in the spring that then transforms to stunning blue berries late in the summer. The deep green of the evergreen goldthread (Coptis groenlandica) leaves hugging the ground provided a welcome contrast against last season's brown leaf litter.

Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster) After a half-mile on this trail, the grade becomes flat and easy and much of the walkway is atop a long series of sturdy bog bridges through largely coniferous woods with some mountain-ash and patches of water mixed in. There were some bugs through this section but as long as I kept moving (even slowly) they really weren't bothersome. I saw quite a bit of creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) with its white berries along this stretch. As the name implies, this plant creeps along the ground with its tiny leaves often forming dense mats of shining green. And at this time of year, it produces white oval-shaped fruits that are bigger than the leaves and have a wintergreen flavor.

The path weaves amongst some interesting boulders and occasionally opens up to views of the surrounding peaks. After 1.5 miles on this trail, I came upon an open ledgy area with scrubby trees and a big blue sky. The grade climbed easily through this stretch and then it was back into the forest with some steeper climbs to tackle.

I saw a male spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) on the trail. Actually he saw me first and moved off the trail; otherwise I probably would have stepped on him because he blended in with his surroundings so well. He seemed perfectly content to step off the trail and let me take his photos. He made soft humming-like noises, "mmm mmm mmm". The reddish-rusty colored stripe through his eye identified him as a male and his smooth crown distinguished him from the ruffed grouse. The majority of his body was covered with various shades of brown and beige.

Male spruce grouse on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Continuing up a climb past some small ledges, I spotted some ghostly white Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) plants. This interesting plant is totally lacking chlorophyll and depends upon an underground network of fungi, called mycorrhiza, for its nutrients. Speaking of eerie, I also saw some trees so covered and drooping with various types of lichen and moss that they could hardly be recognized as "normal" trees.

At the top of a rocky pitch, 1.9 miles along this trail, there's a faint spur path that leads about 40 feet to the right to a supposed view towards Carrigain Notch. The path was moss covered and springy and sometimes felt like it had solid ground beneath it but other times felt like it was concealing a dip between boulders. I followed it anyway to a little uphill clearing jumbled with sharp-edged boulders. It seemed like the encroaching trees would have blocked any view but I decided not to brave the poor footing so I can't personally attest to the presence or absence of an open view there.

Creeping snowberry along Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)


Following this section is about a half-mile of gentle walking. There were some interesting moss-clad boulders with one looking like a bench and another taller one, almost close enough to form the bench's back. It was a very inviting spot but since at this point I was feeling hungry, I choose to press on. As I approached the summit, I could hear the wind blowing strongly. The last steep pitch, although only about 0.3 mile seemed to go on and on before I finally broke out into the summit clearing of Mount Hale.

  Wetlands along Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Boulders along Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Mushroom and creeping snowberry along Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)
 
Meadowsweet on Mt. Hale summit (photo by Webmaster)   Mount Hale and Beyond   

Mount Hale, at 4054 feet is one of the "4000-footers" but in spite of what the guide books will tell you, it really has no view to speak of. The summit is a large, flat area ringed in by conifers that obscure what would otherwise be magnificent panoramas. There is a 5-foot summit cairn, and even risking ankle twists to stand atop of it, the view is minimal and is more of a tease than anything. Not to mention it's not easy to balance on those lose rocks with the strong wind trying to knock you off.

View from Mt. Hale summit cairn (photo by Webmaster)


Nevertheless, it's still a pleasant summit. There used to be a fire tower there that was unfortunately dismantled in 1972. There are still some kind of stakes marking its four corners. I think it's time to build a new one.

The ground is covered with various "seat" rocks, grass, and small-sharp stones. I saw a long thick snake wending its way amongst the rocks and grass. Some of these rocks are strongly magnetic; move your compass close to some and see what happens. There were also some low-growing wildflowers fighting the elements. Hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) had pretty irregular (petals of different shapes) flowers of purplish-pink. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), often a tall plant, was hugging the ground in order to survive what seemed like persistent summit winds.

Growing on the edges away from the wind was the shrub-like meadowsweet (Spiraea latifolia) with dense clusters of small white flowers.

I found a spot in the sun, pulled on my fleece to fight the wind, and settled in for a much-needed dinner. Then I took a tiny nap under the bright sun. I was woken up by the longest squirrel trill I have ever heard. Turning my head, I saw a red squirrel perched at the very top of the summit cairn with his back to me. Later on he posed for me while he was sheltering amongst the cairn's rocks.

Red squirrel on Mt. Hale summit cairn (photo by Webmaster)


After about 45 minutes, I decided it would be wise to move along to get the steepest part of the descent out of the way before darkness fell. I packed my fleece figuring I wouldn't need it once I got out of the wind and headed to the Hale Brook Trail. This trail would take me back to Zealand Road in 2.2 miles.

Almost immediately upon entering the woods the wind was totally non-existent and the woods, for a stretch, were absolutely silent. The upper part of this trail is the steepest, requiring patience with foot placement to prevent slips and falls. Through the sparse-looking conifers, there were several views.

I same many yellow flowering plants that I couldn't identify and also some twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) with oval red berries dangling beneath its leaves.

Time passed quickly and was marked by three stream crossings: small, medium, small - all very easy - at 0.5, 0.9, and 1.4 miles into the descent. And each crossing seemed to delineate an easing of the grade so although darkness was descending, I was still able to keep up a good pace with smoother footing and gentler slopes. The only other people I came upon were a father-and-son (I assume) camping next to the middle stream crossing of Hale Brook. Although I warned them of my approach when I was about 20 feet away from them, I still managed to startle them out of their skin.

Mt. Hale summit cairn with Hale Brook Trailhead in the background (photo by Webmaster)


By the time I reached the bottom of Mount Hale, it was quite dark but I managed it without a headlamp which was my goal. I knew I wouldn't need a light once I reached the road and prefer to use my wide-reaching night vision as opposed to the relatively narrow beam of a headlamp or flashlight.

And indeed the road did seem to almost glow in the night compared to the dark tree-sheltered trail. At this point I only had one mile left to walk along the gravel road to return to my car. Upon reaching the end of Hale Brook Trail, turn right to follow Zealand Road to its end. The road was an easy uphill walk with the Zealand River chattering along on the left. Although my feet hurt from all the rocks I traversed throughout the day, I found that this loop made a really wonderful way to spend the day.
  Hemp nettle on Mt. Hale summit (photo by Webmaster)
 


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

The Zealand Trailhead is located in Bethlehem, New Hampshire at the end of Zealand Road which can be found on the south side of Rt. 302.

From the East:
  • Traveling on Rt. 302 West, Zealand Road is about 9.2 miles west of the Willey House Historical Site, and about 6.5 miles west of the AMC Highland Center. Zealand Road as well as both of these landmarks are all on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Turn left onto Zealand Road.
  • 3.5 miles from Rt. 302, Zealand Road ends and there is a large parking area on the left.
  • The trailhead is straight-ahead from the road.

From the West:
  • From the junction of Routes 302 and 3 in Carroll (Twin Mountain), go east on Route 302.
  • After 2.1 miles, turn right onto Zealand Road.
  • 3.5 miles from Rt. 302, Zealand Road ends and there is a large parking area on the left.
  • The trailhead is straight-ahead from the road.

Winter: Zealand Road is closed to vehicular travel during the winter, although hikers and skiers are welcome to use it. Snowmobile trails also intersect the road in a couple spots. There is a large winter parking lot on Route 302, 0.2 mile east of Zealand Road. Parking here instead of at the far end of Zealand Road adds a total of 6.4 miles and 270 feet of elevation gain to the hike.

Check out the White Mountain National Forest's road status page for the most up-to-date information on road closures.

Facilities   

Bathrooms in parking area. Zealand Falls Hut with bathrooms and kitchen and lodging facilities.
 
 
  Other Notes   

A parking permit is required to park at White Mountain National Forest trailheads and parking areas. You can purchase a WMNF permit from the forest service and other vendors and can also pay-by-the-day using self-service kiosks located in many parking areas.

For more information on parking passes please refer to the White Mountain National Forest website.

Rates:
  • $3 per day
  • $5 for a week-long pass
  • $20 for a year-long pass
  • $25 for two year-long passes (one household/two cars)

More Zealand Pond, Zealand Falls, Mt. Hale Trail Reports   


Male spruce grouse on Lend-A-Hand Trail (photo by Webmaster)

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