Well this is hardly an auspicious start: I was prepared to extoll the virtues of Rollins State Park with its scenic road to the top of Mt. Kearsarge, but our arrival was welcomed with a padlocked gate and the simple sign: “Closed for Season”.
Admittedly, April in New Hampshire would normally be pretty raw. But this is no normal year. It’s April 15th and the temperature was already in the 70’s. All the snow melted weeks ago. A scenic drive to a fabulous view seems like a wonderful thing to do. So why is the park closed?
I could get pedantic and criticize the sign’s grammar but that isn’t the point. There was absolutely no more information available: when would it open? could we still enter anyway? what would we find if we did? I checked the web site which stated that the park was open… Lame.
So a quick change of plans was in order. An unusual thing about Mt. Kearsarge is that there’s a state park on both sides of the mountain: Rollins on the south and Winslow on the north. It’s about a 15 minute drive between the two, so a quarter hour later we drove past the unoccupied tool booth and parked at the Winslow SP parking lot. At least it wasn’t “closed for season”.
There’s not really very much to be found at Winslow. I’d have to call it a park-n-hike park: basically you park and then go for a hike. Admittedly, there are plenty of picnic tables and a new playground at the parking area, but they would hardly be the reason to visit this place. There’s also a cellar hole – the only remains of a 19th century grand hotel: The Winslow House. Fortunately the web site had some information about this because there was no information to be found at the park. Maybe something gets handed out to visitors when the park is manned but it would make sense to add a few interpretive all-weather signs explaining things. I would have loved to see some old photos of the hotel and its visitors, too. Maybe I’m spoiled by our national parks, which always have lots of information for the curious visitor. Even roadside rest areas have interpretive signs. It’s surprising that a state park doesn’t have any. They’re missing an opportunity; at least put in a plug for the park system and other local sites to visit. Lack of money could hardly be the reason as we’re not talking about a huge outlay and local sponsors might even contribute. Lack of imagination seems more likely to me.
But enough criticism -let’s be positive! This is a park for a reason and that is Mt. Kearsarge, and what a beautiful mountain it is. I had hiked this mountain as a kid with my family nearly 50 years ago. The views from the top didn’t disappoint then and don’t disappoint now. They say that on a clear day you can even see Boston, and, although the weather this day was beautiful, it would have to be exceptional to see the nearly 100 miles to Boston. Even though we couldn’t see Boston, the views in every direction are fantastic, with the White Mountains to the north, Vermont’s Green Mountains to the west, and Mt. Monadnock to the south. That’s the reason there’s a fire tower and a huge communications tower on top, too.
Two trails present themselves to the hiker at the parking lot: the Winslow Trail: 1.1 miles direct to the top, and the Barlow Trail: following a gentler but longer path (1.8 miles) to the same destination. We went up the Winslow and down the Barlow. The Winslow trail was pretty rocky and steep but that wasn’t stopping families with young kids and little dogs, all of whom were handling it just fine. On a wet day I’d stick with Barlow though.
When you reach the top you realize just how popular this mountain has been over the years. The smooth rock faces are covered with 19th century inscriptions chiseled into the granite. Here’s one I call Newspaper Rock, after the petroglyph-covered stones from the American southwest.
Here’s another one. Someone spent a lot of time getting this one just right!
It’s fun reading some of the inscriptions although I’m glad this particular form of graffiti has gone out of style. The rocks are great for sunbathing, too. So even though the park doesn’t appear to have much to offer, the mountaintop makes it well worth the visit!