Bear Brook State Park would be one of the gems of the NH park system – if it only knew! Why? There are a variety of things to do here: from swimming to fishing, archery to biking. It’s got two swimming areas, a campground, and miles of trails. There are even two museums housed in an intact CCC camp from the 1930’s. The terrain doesn’t feature any of the ruggedness of the White Mountains, but to me that’s one of its special attractions.
One thing I like about the park is its sheer size. Located just a few miles from Concord, it’s surprising that so large a parcel of land (nearly 10,000 acres) could have been set aside without large numbers of homes and in-holdings. To me it resembles what the state may have originally looked like to the first optimistic European settlers who tried to farm the rocky soils of New Hampshire. Although I didn’t find them listed on any map, I did discover some cellar holes in the woods left by those hopeful homesteaders. The woods reclaimed them years ago, though.
The park’s size has allowed it to have an extensive network of trails, and mountain bikers have really taken to it like ducks to water. Based on my limited experience, I’d say that appears to be the most popular way to experience the park, although the beach probably tops it on hot summer days! But large parts of the park seem completely remote, and once on the trails you could probably go for hours without encountering others.
I parked at the Podunk Road entrance and hiked to Catamount Hill and back, a loop of about 7 miles. I took the Hayes Farm and Sentinel Pine trails out and the Bear Brook trail back. Except for a few spots near Catamount Hill, I’d characterize the land as gentle and rolling. All in all, it was really quite pleasant hiking, and the bikers I encountered were all quite friendly.
I also visited the archery range (in use) and the campground, which looked busy on this summer weekend. The campground is in a secluded part of the park and has its own pond for swimming and boating. Boat rentals are available. It looks to me like the campground would be a good base for a weekend of biking, allowing you to finish each day with a dip in the lake.
As a history buff, I did enjoy the CCC museum located in a former CCC camp within the park. It’s one of only two such museums in all of New England. It might not be as interesting for children, but it is small and likeable for a quick glimpse into the organization that did so much to shape the park systems throughout the United States. There’s a snowmobile museum too with some really old sleds.
I have to admit that I didn’t visit the swimming area at Catamount Pond, but based on my view from across the pond, I’d say it’s pretty popular but not overcrowded. The classic bathhouse is attractive and there’s lots of room for picnicking. Bear Brook itself is small and not suitable for boating but there are 7 ponds within the park, some larger than others. All in all, I look forward to coming back to do more exploring. I had visited one day in late spring and saw more red efts than I had ever seen elsewhere in my life and I’m sure larger animals are plentiful if you’re in the right place and time. I’ll bet the trails are great for x-country skiing in the winter, too. Happy travels!