Mt Willard, Saco Lake and Around the Lake Trails

August 2, 2015.

A rarity today as I get to hike with my special love. It's been over two years since she hiked with me and I have a fantastic little spot picked out for today. On the way up we must stop for the mandatory classic picture of Mt Washington and its namesake hotel.

Which one of those peaks am I taking Lisa up on? None but there is a mountain down the road with a fairly easy and short trail with a great vista at the top, Mt Willard.

The trail head is located right behind the historic Crawford Notch Depot and only 1.6 miles to the top. I have been saving this trek for just such an occasion, short, easy and big bang for the buck (or walk in this case).


I let Lisa take the lead and set the pace as we cross the tracks and start out on Avalon Trail. About a hundred yards up and the left turn for Willard Trail is next to the kiosk. An easy crossing of a brook and in the woods to the left I notice a lean-to structure. Hopefully this was an educational tool and not someone's idea of spending the night out so close to the trail.


Soon the trail begins the gradual ascent although Lisa might tell you otherwise. Off to the right is a path that leads down to a nameless brook and I head down to check it out. There is nothing special at this spot other than a nice quiet place to sit and listen to the gurgling water.


Back on the trail and Lisa is further up waiting for me. So far the crowds have been minimal as we see very few people. At the next diversion is Centennial Pool and I go to check this out also. There is a very small water fall and pool at the base making for another quiet secluded spot off the trail. The trail becomes a little rougher beyond the pool due to erosion and all the traffic this trail sees.


A few more groups pass us as we take our time heading up. Lisa begins to understand why I like my quiet time in the woods and when I run into too many people it takes away from my solitude. This is one busy little trail as people are starting to come down. Along the way all the erosion has exposed the old concrete culverts once placed here back when this was a short lived carriage road.


Moving along and we reach an odd flat opening where the sun is shining through and grass is growing. A little further up and the grade becomes even gentler signaling we are getting close to the top.


Not far from the end and I spy some debris on the left purposely put there to deter people from straying off the trail. I have read about there being an old trail up here and I think this is it. I'll check it out later if I have the time as it leads down to Hitchcock Flume. Up ahead and we can see the opening in the trees signaling the end.


Reaching the opening and the view is as breath taking as it gets for such an easy trek.


Straight ahead is the U shaped notch carved out a long long time ago by the glaciers. Route 302 heads south down the middle of it and parallel to it up on the mountain side is Crawford Notch Railroad opened in 1875. Looking down over the cliff edge the cars resemble ants from this high up.


There is no Photoshopping in the next photos as my baby made it all the way. I am so proud of her for coming out today and even happier that I can share this with her. Webster Cliff is behind us in both pictures.


Turning more to the left Mt Jackson can be seen and on the other side of the Notch is Willey.


After resting and enjoying some snacks I head over to the right to explore and follow the path that leads into the woods to another vantage point on a small cliff edge. Returning and Lisa is waiting patiently for me as I take one more look from the rock outcropping and finally spy Mt Washington flirting with the clouds. That is Eisenhower in front of Washington.


Time to make our way back down and reaching the spot where the path leads down to Hitchcock Flume I ask Lisa to wait for me as I want to check it out. I had no intentions of going all the way but just wanted to confirm it lead to the flume and a return trip for another day. The trail is very distinct as it winds it's way through the woods until I reach the steep section and that is my cue to turn around.


The rest of the trip down is uneventful except for the crowds heading up and the constant stepping aside to let them pass. We arrive back at the depot and Lisa buys us each an ice cream treat and it hits the spot as we sit at the picnic tables enjoying the moment.

There are some short trails surrounding this area and I ask her if she wants to come with me and she declines. No since pushing it and risking injury. She doesn't mind my heading off and knocking these trails off my redlining list while we are here. So quickly I head off across 302 to do the Saco Lake Trail then back across 302 and out behind the Highland Center to do the Around the Lake Trail and the Red Bench Trail.

Saco Lake is not very big and actually it should be classified a pond but who am I to say? The southern end of the trail begins at a small bridge that crosses over the outlet of the lake marking the beginning of the Saco River. At the bridge a clear view across the Lake to Crawford Depot and Highland Center.


The trail stays close to the edge of the lake for most of the way. Towards the center the terrain on my right changes as outcroppings and ledges appear.


Shortly the trail heads into the woods away from the lake and makes it way to the north trail head coming out onto Route 302. Heading across the road and up the driveway of the Highland Center and I find the next trail out in back. Around the Lake Trail starts out on an old road and then diverts away from it to the left. Reaching the spot where the trail splits I go right to make a clockwise journey around Ammonoosuc Lake. The trail crosses over a very dry Crawford Brook via a wooden bridge.


Just before reaching the lake there is a spring right in the middle of the trail called Merrill Spring. Not so sure I want to try this water as it is too close to civilization for me.


Ten feet off the trail is the edge of Ammonoosuc Lake, again more of a pond, and a pano shot of the whole lake. Across the way on that bump is a small opening. It is just above the shore trees on the right. That is the granite ledge called Crawford Cliff where I was back in the end of June.

At the far end of the lake the trail reaches a junction with Red Bench Trail. Why it is called Red Bench I do not know as I didn't read the trail description. The trail winds through the woods eventually reaching the train tracks and crossing over to the other side.


Crossing a brook and then a very minor up down and the trail comes to...


The obvious next question is WHY? Why does someone put a bench out in the middle of the woods at the end of the trail. I figure I am here I might as well sit on it and that is when I see the WHY. Looking straight out and above a small opening in the trees is the top of Mt Washington. While it might not be so dramatic at his time of year I bet it is during fall and winter.


Heading back and passing the junction I see views through the trees across the lake to Webster Cliff and Mt Willard. Wishing the views were better and a little ways up my prayers are answered. A side path leads down to the shore and the view is open all the way. The only thing that would have been better is a calm lake for the reflection shot.

Back up where the trail left the old road there is another trail (not included in the redlining spreadsheet) called the AMC Stewardship Trail. This is a short trail that leads back up to the Highland Center with a bunch of numbered posts along the way. Most likely an interpretive trail for the kids staying at Highland Center.


Back to the car and the days adventure is over and we'll see how Lisa feels in a few days to try and get her back out again. It's always nice to be able to share the things I see on the trail in person and wished it would happen more often.

Final numbers: 5.6 miles, 4 hours and 5 minutes.

Redline Miles: 3.4, Total to Date: 884.2