Iron Mountain (2,726 feet) in Jackson has a new 1-mile section of trail well worth checking out. It was a collaborative effort by the White Mountain National Forest, the White Mountain Trail Collective and the Appalachian Mountain Club.
I did the hike on a beautiful crisp fall day this week.
To get there, head north on Route 16 in Jackson. Just north of the covered bridge, take a left on Green Hill Road. In 1.2 miles, it bears left and the pavement ends. It continues uphill at a sustained grade. In 2.6 miles, turn into a trail parking lot on the right.
The trail starts across the road on a new set of wooden steps filled with small stone. These were built this September by Yohann Hanley and crew from the White Mountain Trail Collective.
Above that, the old trail traverses an open field, part of the Hayes Farm, its white house visible farther up the field. As you walk across the field, turn around and look north. I think this is the best view on the start of any trail in the White Mountains, looking up through Pinkham Notch with Mount Washington on the left and the Wildcat Ridge and Carter Dome on the right.
Nineteenth-century Boston painter John Enneking was impressed and captured this scene on a large canvas. Many saw this wonderful painting a few years ago at a show in the Pace Gallery at Fryeburg Academy, put on by White Mountains art collector Sam Robbins.
Anyway, soon after you enter the trees on the other side of the meadow, the old trail merges with the new 1-mile section. I didn’t notice the transition until, as if by magic, I was walking on the soft ground of the new trail. That set the mood for enjoying this new modern section of the Iron Mountain Trail.
The old trail had gone from the meadow directly up the mountain to the summit. Much of it was a steep 3-foot-deep rut from years of use and abuse. Matt Moore, supervisor of trails for the AMC, told me that early trails were sometimes “string trails.”
“They would lay out a string straight up a mountain and then cut along it,” he said.
The new trail has at least six switchbacks.
Awareness of the need for a new trail has been around for years. After a 10-year effort, Christin Bailey, trails supervisor for the Saco District of the White Mountain National Forest, and Jeff Sires of the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust finally wound up an agreement with the generous landowners of the Hayes Farm to approve the new trail work.
The trail work began on Aug. 23, and the trail reopened Sept. 30. It was funded by the U.S. Forest Service and the Great American Outdoors Act, with a 50/50 match from the White Mountain Trail Collective.
“The AMC did the bulk of the work, with Matt Moore supervising,” Cristin Bailey told me. “But I was out there a lot, and Yohann Hanley of the White Mountain Trail Collective gave lots of support, too.”
It was chilly in the shaded woods as I climbed up the switchbacks, and I kept on my light L.L Bean “downtek” jacket. But since the switchbacks weren’t steep, I didn’t sweat or overheat. To keep the trail level on steeper traverses, the trail builders had installed some rock cribbing and retaining logs.
Finally the trail merged magically into the old trail again about a quarter-mile below the top. I took a spur trail to a boulder with the same great view north.
The summit itself has four concrete supports of the former tower and some old lumber. There is no view.
The cool thing about Iron Mountain is that you continue on from the summit and descend the south side for about a half mile to a right-hand turnoff for the South Ledges. The view there looking west is great and it is a good place for lunch. There is no sign indicating the turn for the South Ledges. The trail splits with a small cairn in the middle.
I took a right there and anticipated the view as I walked through thinning trees on smooth granite. There was a slight cool breeze when I arrived at the South Ledges. The vast western vista of the mountains opened up. I found a quiet sunny nook for lunch, surrounded by red blueberry leaves.