Is it worth driving almost 140 miles to climb a 0.8-mile trail to the summit of a mountain with good views? In this case, yes. A few years ago, I traveled north with friend Carl to climb Mount Magalloway (3,383 feet), located in the green northern tip of New Hampshire in the town of Pittsburg.
We weren’t doing the 52 With a View list, which includes Mount Magalloway and motivates many hikers to climb it today. We just wanted the pleasure of doing it.
The night before climbing the mountain on Saturday, we stayed in the Mountain View Cabins in Happy Corner, a neighborhood north of Pittsburg village on Route 3.
Also on Saturday, after climbing the mountain, we did a flat hike along the shallow Connecticut River on the recently built Falls on the River Trail. We were done by late Saturday afternoon and headed home satisfied.
Backing up a day, on Friday it was pouring when I left Tamworth to meet Carl in Jackson and head north, and the traffic was bad. You could say it was a good day to get out of town.
Later, as we drove north, the rain tapered. By Jefferson and Lancaster, there were hints of blue to the west, and when we reached the quiet section of Route 3 north of Colebrook, the late afternoon sun shone on the low hills and cornfields. It was so green. We saw another car every few minutes.
Finally, we pulled into Happy Corner and settled in a cabin. Conveniently across the street was a store with everything, and a restaurant named the Happy Corner Café.
The next morning, there were ample cumulus clouds, yet ample sun as well. A brisk breeze turned up the leaves as we drove a short way north of Happy Corner on Route 3, and turned east on the dirt Magalloway Road, heading out into private timberland.
We traveled 5.3 miles on this well-kept road, though there were frequent shallow potholes full of water. Then a right-hand turnoff on the rougher Tower Road brought us in another few miles to the tiny parking lot at the base of Mount Magalloway.
We started up the 0.8-mile Coot Trail, an old fire warden’s access road that today has eroded to mostly rocks and ledge. We were headed for the lawn-like summit area, where there is a fire tower and warden’s cabin.
The cabin can be rented. The famous views on top include the 360-degree view up on the tower, and views found on a short side trail that leads from the summit down to outlooks above the steep rocky east side of Mount Magalloway.
Who owns Mount Magalloway and the surrounding area? The summit area and buildings are owned by the state of New Hampshire. The mountainside and much of what you can see from the fire tower (minus the horizon, of course) is part of a 146,000 acre parcel owned by investors. The parcel is called Heartwood Forestland Six. It has a conservation easement with the state of New Hampshire that does not allow subdividing. It will remain whole, and be used for recreation and timber.
We passed a family on their way up. The short trail, though rough, is good for most levels of hiking experience.
We reached the summit green, where another family told us that there was a steady cold wind up on the fire tower. The summit cab was closed (the fire warden is only there during high fire danger). We donned coats and headed up to the platform just below the cab.
The view from the tower — of three states and Quebec — was grand. To the north above the second Connecticut Lake, rose the long ridge of Mount Megantic, where Canada’s largest astronomical telescope is located. As I looked that way there was a silver flash on its summit. The view south, of New Hampshire’s endless mountains, was great.
Shortly back down on the lawn, we headed down the short trail to the eastern lookouts. This was the highlight for me. The lowest lookout was a great vantage point to see the east side of the mountain, which dropped steeply past rock and evergreens to a wide gray scree slope of boulders below. At eye level to the east spread an unobstructed view toward Maine. Parts of Lake Aziscohos appeared between mountains.
Earlier in the summer, I had flown with a friend from Fryeburg’s airport north to Mount Magalloway. This steep east slope had impressed me then as we circled around the mountain. It did again now, as I sat and ate lunch on the edge.
We headed back to the summit, then headed down, taking an alternative forest path part way down called the Bobcat Trail. Later, we drove back out to Route 3 and turned north for another couple miles to the dam on the Second Connecticut Lake. That is where the Falls in the River Trail starts, down along the Connecticut River.
It is like a time machine in a way — to witness a juvenile river after being familiar with its older and wider aspect downstream. The Connecticut at this point is about 30 feet wide and swirls over rounded boulders. Deciduous trees create a rounded canopy above it. Fly fishermen come from afar, and this section of the river was catch and release.
The Falls in the River Trail follows the river a few feet into the woods. It was inspired by Kim Nilsen, founder of the Cohos Trail, who more than a decade ago walked downstream there on old fishermen’s trails, trying to find a through route for his trail. A mile and half down from the dam, he stumbled upon a beautiful series of falls in the river.
Thus its name. Chad Pepau of Pittsburg supervised the building of the 2-mile-long trail.
Carl and I walked down the trail to the falls, then I continued on to its end, and he turned back to retrace his steps, so entranced was he with the sight and sound of the flowing water on that section. We met later back at the car.
It was 4:30 p.m. and time to head south. Below Pittsburg, the slanting light shone across the fields again, beneath an azure blue sky. Though it was Saturday evening, we had the highway to ourselves.