Some hikes are perfect for exercise, views and enjoyment, especially if they are nearby, and don’t require a lot of driving. For me, one such hike is Mount Paugus (3,198 feet). Those who live in Tamworth or Sandwich are blessed with the nearby Sandwich Range.
It is about a 6-mile drive to the trailhead from Tamworth village, down Route 113A, taking a right on the dirt Fowler’s Mill Road, and then a left on Paugus Mill Road to it end — the start for trails to Mount Chocorua, Mount Paugus and the deep, silent valley between them.
From Conway, it is still an easy 14.5 miles. Go south on Route 16 at Chocorua Lake go right and across the bridge on Chocorua Lake Road and continue on Fowler’s Mill Road to Paugus Mill Road.
Recently, I climbed Mount Paugus twice, both times doing the 5.8-mile loop hike up the Old Paugus Trail, down the Beeline Trail and back on the Bolles Trail. The first time, I went by myself and started early on a hot day to beat the heat. The second time, I brought my partner and her visiting daughter.
Familiarity is a great plus in the mountains, and I felt comfortable bringing them the second time, despite the warning in the AMC White Mountain Guide that reads as follows: “Portions of the Old Paugus Trail are very steep and rough, with poor footing, and may be dangerous in wet or icy conditions. It is sparsely marked and requires care to follow.”
The Chocorua Mountain Club has done a great job in recent years maintaining the trail. Still, near the top there are a few smooth granite ledges to carefully ascend. I knew the skill level of my hiking partners.
Trekking poles are highly recommended for a number of brook crossings lower down.
When I went solo, in the early morning parking lot the bugs hit me as soon as I opened the car door, and despite applying repellent, followed me half way up the Old Paugus Trail, then thinned out. On the South Ledges lookout on top, there weren’t any.
When three of us went a week and a half later, a blessed cool wind greeted us in the parking lot, and there were no bugs to speak of on the hike until at the end, a half mile from our car. The wind had gone and the black flies and midges descended on us. But we were OK with it, knowing we would soon be in the bug-less sanctuary of the car.
There are many nice qualities to this hike. From the parking lot, walking past the gate and soon bearing left, you take the flat old road of the Bolles Trail for a while. Crossing Paugus Brook on this trail is fun. Large boulders were placed in a line by the CMC for getting across. They are needed. Remember to bring trekking poles.
During Hurricane Irene, the current was so strong these boulders were forced a short way downstream. Later, a pulley system was used to drag them back.
Soon at a sign you turn left off the old road on the Old Paugus Trail and hike up the pleasant valley of Whitin Brook. Crossing the narrow brook at one point can be a challenge, but an old iron grate from logging days in the area has been placed across it, making it easier. But the grate is tippy on the far end, be careful. The trail continues, with the brook cascading below on your left.
At a trail sign you bear right up the mountain on the Old Paugus Trail (the Whiten Brook Trail continues straight at that point).
The trail gets increasingly steep, and soon you find yourself in a walled enclosure of cliffs with a small notch up ahead. The trail bears right before the notch, goes under a striking 50-foot wall of granite and ascends over to the north side, where a breeze will likely meet you.
From then on you are climbing west toward the top. The feel of the hike is different from the south side below. Soon, you pass the Beeline Trail on your right, the best trail for your descent. You begin encountering some short scrambles on granite, where placing your boots flat as possible for friction is necessary.
Reaching one longer ledge with my companions, we climbed up the left side on roots, and had to grab evergreen branches above to get across a wet, mossy spot of the ledge with some exposure below. Later, on the way down, we slid on our butts down the dry middle of the ledge.
The rest of the climb has pleasant variety. You reach a fine eastern lookout. Then there is a dip in the trail to a small outlet stream from a high altitude marshy spring, just visible through the trees.
The actual summit of Mount Paugus is a trail-less wooded rise to the west, a real scratch and not one of my objectives. When you reach the open ledge and signs at the high point on the trail, it is important to know about the South Ledges, reached by descending southwest a short distance down the ledge and following a narrow trail through scrub to the fabulous view there.
It is a great place to linger and have lunch.
The descent is a treat, retracing your steps to the Beeline Trail and dropping steeply down it to the silent valley between Chocorua and Paugus. Then heading right on the flat Beeline Cutoff and Bolles Trails back to your car.