Swift River (photo by Webmaster)

Falls Pond, Swift River, and Rocky Gorge

Destinations:  Falls Pond (1115'), Swift River, Rocky Gorge (1136')
Trails:  Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail, Lovequist Loop
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Moat Region
Location:  Albany, NH
Rating:  Easy/Moderate  
Features:  Pond, river, gorge, cascades
Distance:  3.8 miles  
Elevation Gain:  100 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 2:51   Typical: 2:00  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 4:45   Typical: 4:00  
Season:  Winter
Hike Date:  01/08/2008 (Tuesday)  
Weather:  Mostly 50-60 degrees and sunny
Author:  Webmaster
Companions:  GMCers: Kathy A, Patty S.

Patty and Kathy on Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail (photo by Webmaster) Route Summary   

This is a point-to-point hike, starting on Bear Notch Road and following the Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail gradually downhill to the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area.

  • Start at the Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trailhead on the east side of Bear Notch Road.
  • After 0.7 mile, at the signed junction with Paugus Link Trail, turn right to stay on Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail. The trail sign looks like it's directing you to go straight ahead but I think that way is an old out-of-use route.
  • Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail heads downhill to meet the Swift River, visible through a screen of trees. An open shoreline of the river is reached 0.4 mile after the junction with Paugus Link Trail.
  • Continue following Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail, going straight past another junction with Paugus Link Trail, and straight past a junction with Wenonah Trail.
  • After the Wenonah Trail junction, you will go up a hill and then meet Lovequist Loop which is also Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail for a short ways. Go straight here to take the short leg of the loop to Falls Pond.
  • At the bottom of the hill is a short spur path going to the left which leads to a clear view of Falls Pond.
  • After checking out the pond, return on the spur path and then cross the main trail to follow the non-loop section of Lovequist Loop, down a steep hill to the bridge crossing Swift River at Rocky Gorge Scenic Area.
  • Cross the bridge, turn right, and walk along the river to the parking area where you should have spotted a car before starting the hike.

Swift River and animal tracks (photo by Webmaster)

Place         Split
Bear Notch Road (1340') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
First Jct. Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail/Paugus Link Trail 0.7 0.7 1:00 1:00
Swift River first open shore area 0.4 1.1 0:21 1:21
Second Jct. Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail/Paugus Link Trail 0.6 1.7 0:31 1:52
Jct. Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail/Wenonah Trail 1.8 3.5 1:43 3:35
Jct. Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail/Lovequist Loop 0.1 3.6 0:06 3:41
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area bridge 0.1 3.7 0:07 3:48
Rocky Gorge Scenic Area parking lot (1136') 0.1 3.8 0:04 3:52

"Pancake" fungi on birch tree (photo by Webmaster)

Hobblebush bud (photo by Webmaster)

Large tree gall (photo by Webmaster)

Moss and fungi on tree trunk (photo by Webmaster)


Map of hike route along Swift River to Falls Pond (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

We donned our snowshoes and started hiking from Bear Notch Road on Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail. We were expecting a relatively easy stroll on flat ground but due to weather conditions that was not to be. We had had a lot of snowfall followed by a couple of very warm days. This resulted in a puddle-filled trail with the water being bordered by tall snow banks that collapsed very easily. Not only was walking difficult but we fell repeatedly. Not the easy fall-and-bounce-back-up tumbles that one would experience in powder, but very awkward spills that required a lot of effort and coordination to right oneself again. Although we traveled through beautiful woods, the first 0.7 mile was pretty grueling and took us about an hour to complete; but after that wet section conditions improved greatly.

Patty and Kathy at the first trail junction with Paugus Link Trail (photo by Webmaster)

At 0.7 is a signed junction with Paugus Link Trail that leaves to the left. At this point continue following Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail by turning right to head downhill even though the sign seems to point straight ahead. At the bottom of the long decline, Swift River comes into view for the first time, through a screen of trees.

Continue on a bit farther and you will reach an open shoreline. This was a beautiful spot and we stopped to enjoy the scenery as well as a hard-earned lunch break. On our side the embankment was steep but across the narrow river was a more gradual approach and we saw animal tracks leading to the water's edge. The water was mostly free flowing with ice floes melting before our eyes under the onslaught of the sun. There were some mountaintops visible in the distance.

Swift River, animal tracks, and mountains (photo by Webmaster)

Now that we had reached a dry, well-packed trail, the hiking was easy. Although we were to lose some elevation overall between the start and endpoints of our journey, the trail seemed to be mostly flat with a few gentle ups and downs. We reveled in the glorious sunshine and 50-60 degree temperatures and took our time to explore many interesting sights along the way.

The path pretty much paralleled Swift River until near the end, with the water sometimes visible through a thin grove of trees and other times flowing right next to the trail. The Swift River has many bends and turns and was endlessly fascinating to watch. At one point, on its far shore, it almost touched Kancamagus Highway, but for most of the way we were unaware of the nearby road. At another place we were able to witness the effects of erosion where the river undercut the near bank exposing a tall area of dirt, resulting in the waterway slowly altering its course. I was careful not to stand too close to the edge here for fear that the thin shelf of ground beneath my feet would crumble and drop me into the icy torrent. One open spot allowed a glimpse of the Three Sisters, the very tip of Mount Chocorua, and part of Mount Paugus.

Undercut embankment of the Swift River (photo by Webmaster) The path meandered through both hardwoods and evergreens and was never boring. The mix seemed to be ever-changing and included paper birch, yellow birch, hemlock, fir, sugar maple, white pine, and red pine.

We saw moose prints and scat and deer prints. A grouse startled us with its burst of movement as we approached. Patty stepped just a bit off the trail and was able to find its roosting spot, evidenced by numerous scat: both the pellets and the softer, more variable type. We passed by spots littered with hemlock branchlets indicating red squirrels or porcupine feeding in the tree above. This may seem like a wasteful way to eat but it ends up benefiting deer who will come along and browse on their leftovers.

We first heard, and then spotted a downy woodpecker, high on a tree trunk pecking away in search of food. Their brains are surrounded with a spongy tissue which enables them to withstand the frequent hammering. Studies of this material have helped in the development of shock-absorbing materials, such as that used inside bicycle helmets.

Artist's fungi, looking like a spaceship, on a tree trunk (photo by Webmaster) Close to the ground we discovered "snow fleas". When you see little black specks in the snow, stop and look closely and you should be able to spot these tiny springtails jumping around. These insects have forked tails that act like coiled springs causing the insect to jump when released. Springtails feed on algae and are thought to appear on top of snow when the living conditions get too dense under the snow among their brethren.

The trail crossed many small streams, sometimes on bridges and other times not; and other times it wasn't clear if we were walking on snow on top of a bridge or if we were simply striding across a snow bridge. Infrequent blue plastic diamonds marked the path, but other than the one junction described earlier, it was very easy to follow. Later along the route kilometer/mileage signs started to appear. I think the first one read "3 km". But there was no indication of a reference point: three kilometers from where or to where was the big mystery.

We saw several different kinds of shelf fungi projecting from tree boles, including artist's fungi and some that resembled pancakes. There were various kinds of lichen and mosses clinging to tree trunks and even some small ferns sprouting from crooks between large branches. Some of the lichen looked like seaweed and was a bright green on top and a light brown underneath; it was attached loosely to the tree so it was easy to see both surfaces and it had a bit of a wind-blown look.

Swift River (photo by Webmaster) We walked past a tree with a gall that was wider than the tree itself. The gall was topped with a triangular accumulation of snow so it looked like a big head was wearing a funny white hat.

There were several sections of ground covered with dimpled snow forming little tiny hillocks and valleys. Many of the "hillocks" were topped by little bits of debris, but strangely, no debris fell on or gathered in the "valleys".

Eventually the trail turned away from the river and ascended a couple hills while skirting around an esker that forms a barrier between the river and Falls Pond. At the top of the final uphill we reached the junction with Lovequist Loop and looked down upon the 8-acre Falls Pond through some trees.

We went straight downhill and quickly reached a short spur path to the left that led to an open shoreline of this kettle pond. A large portion, but not all of it, was visible from this perspective. There was a signboard describing the pond community. The pond was frozen over and a knob on Bear Mountain was peaking over the trees on the opposite side. None of us wanted to risk walking out on the ice to see views of the Table Mountain cliffs and other surrounding peaks.

Falls Pond and Bear Mountain (photo by Webmaster)

The Lovequist Loop circles the entire pond on an undulating path (not open to skiers) affording various outlooks upon the pond and area mountains. But by the time we reached this point, it was starting to get dark fairly quickly so we decided to skip the loop. If you have time for it, it is a worthy detour, adding 0.7 mile to the trip's distance.

Instead we backtracked on the spur trail, crossed the main trail and headed down a steep hill to quickly arrive at the Swift River in the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area. A sturdy bridge crossed Rocky Gorge (also known as Upper Falls) and we hung out here for a while watching the water surge down some robust cascades and through the narrow channel. Like the rest of the river we saw today, there was a fascinating mix of open water and ice that was constantly changing. Some mountaintops were visible upstream.

The temperatures, aided by the setting sun, were suddenly much colder here, dropping all the way down to 35 degrees. We finished crossing the bridge and turned right to follow the open walkway along the river back to the parking area. There was a signboard describing a story of a swimmer in the gorge who was caught under the rocks and was presumed to be drowned when her ripped-apart swimsuit was discovered downstream. Luckily the rescue efforts continued and the woman was found alive after surviving several horrifying hours trapped in the water, under some rocks, with a small air pocket that enabled her to breathe. We were happy to enjoy the rugged beauty of the gorge without even considering swimming in it.

Rocky Gorge Upper Falls (photo by Webmaster)

Patty on the puddle-filled section of Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Dimpled snow (photo by Webmaster)

Bare trees and blue sky (photo by Webmaster)

Lichen on tree trunk (photo by Webmaster)

Lichen on tree trunk (photo by Webmaster)

Mini shelf fungi on tree trunk (photo by Webmaster)

Bridge and Patty on Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail (photo by Webmaster)

NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

Kathy on Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail (photo by Webmaster) Rocky Gorge Scenic Area: The parking area for Rocky Gorge Scenic Area is located on the north side of Rt. 112 (Kancamagus Highway), 3.1 miles east of its intersection with Bear Notch Road (8.7 miles west of its junction with Rt. 16).

There was a signpost at this plowed parking area but not an actual sign. Continuing another 0.3 mile east is a second entrance (8.4 miles west of the junction with Rt. 16) to Rocky Gorge and this one was signed (almost buried under the snow banks) but it was not plowed.

Spot car(s) at the Rocky Gorge lot, and then drive to the start point on Bear Notch Road.

Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trailhead on Bear Notch Road: The Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trailhead is located on the east side of Bear Notch Road, 0.8 mile up from its intersection with Rt. 112 (Kancamagus Highway). The trailhead is on the east side of the road and a pull-off area for parking is located on the west side of the road.

Other Notes   

WMNF Recreational Pass

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.

  • $5 per day
  • $30 for a year-long pass
  • $40 for a year for a household

Moss and leaves at the bottom of a puddle (photo by Webmaster)



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