January 15, 2017: Waukewan Highlands

I can’t remember when it last snowed. Probably more than a week ago? We’ve had some unusually warm days recently, combined with rain, followed by some very cold days, when the remaining rainwater and anything that had melted just refroze. So when I headed out today, I knew the well-traveled trails would not require snowshoes. For today’s hike, I chose Waukewan Highlands Community Park, where I spent a lot of time snowshoeing several years ago.

Immediately after getting out of the Jeep, I was greeted by a feisty retriever returning from a hike with her human and another dog. This greeting consisted of the extremely friendly dog running up to me, standing up with her paws on my chest, and licking my face. (No, I didn’t mind. I actually found it quite amusing. It’s not like this was an Irish wolfhound or other large breed. I’m just short.)

Other than the man and two dogs who were just leaving, I was the only person there when I arrived. I headed down the red/blue trail and continued left on the blue trail at the split. Before I knew it, I had arrived at the viewpoint (which, as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t have much of a view anymore). Here, you can see Red Hill and the Ossipee Range in the distance, but it’s through the tree branches.

Continuing down the other side of the hill on the blue trail and not long after crossing the small stream, I came upon what appeared to be a trail branching off to the left that I had never seen before. After noticing some orange surveyor’s tape in the trees, I concluded that this was a new trail, but had no clue as to where it led. Since this park is near heavily traveled roads and is surrounded by residential areas, I decided to explore it and see where it took me.

This new trail turned out to be only about a half-mile long, but was well traveled by humans on foot, a dog, a deer or two, and someone on a fatbike (all based on tracks in the snow). Turns out the trail leads to the Clover Ridge housing development off of Pease Road in Meredith. Certainly a great option for the residents to access the park easily.

I returned to the blue trail and continued down to the reservoir, Hart’s Pond. I took a little break at the picnic table to enjoy the scenery and eat a snack, when some light snow flurries began to fall. I was surprised nobody was ice fishing on the pond.

Quick break over, I set out on the yellow trail across from the pond, following the trail along the stream that drains from the pond. When I reached the point where the orange trail splits off and the yellow trail takes a hard right, I decided to follow the orange trail. I hadn’t ventured out this way before, but I knew it would be an out-and-back since this trail only leads to Reservoir Road and doesn’t loop back to anything in the park. Near the end of the trail, I crossed a bridge over another small stream with a small swimming hole to the left side. It was even marked with a sign: Sadie’s Swimming Hole. I haven’t a clue who Sadie is… she could be a human, or a dog for all I know.

After reaching a wire gate at what I assumed was the end of the trail (I could see people had continued on, but I couldn’t tell if the footprints went right to someone’s backyard or bypassed it), I turned back to return to the junction. After walking about a hundred yards or so, I heard a dog barking. I turned around and saw someone at the end of the trail, walking a black lab. I waved and continued on. Again, this is another excellent access point for those who live along Reservoir Road.

Back at the junction, I resumed my trek on the yellow trail, where I spotted another person hiking toward me from the pond end of the trail. I followed the yellow trail, climbing up the hill through the woods and emerging into a large, open field along Parade Road. Here’s where the person I had just seen on the yellow trail caught up to me and I let her pass by (after saying hello and both of us commenting on what a beautiful day it was).

I followed the meandering trail through the field and down the access road back to the pond, where I stopped again for another snack before taking the red trail up through the woods to return to the parking lot.

Considering all the melting I’ve seen around town and in my own yard recently, I was surprised to find that there was still plenty of snow covering the trails in the park, even through the open field – which gets a lot of sunlight – and down the access road. The snow was extremely well packed on the heavily used trails, requiring only my microspikes. (Really, only light traction is needed – Yaktrax or Stabilicers would work well enough.)

Waukewan Highlands is the perfect spot for a quick and easy little hike. It’s easy to get to, has plenty of parking, and offers several different trail options. In addition to the trails I hiked today, there is a white trail, the shortest of the four trails, that leads directly to the access road, just above the pond. With the additional out-and-backs on the new trail and the orange trail, I ended up with 3.77 miles of hiking in an hour and 47 minutes, including breaks. If you’re near Meredith or Laconia in New Hampshire, I highly recommend checking it out. (Just watch out for dog poop.)


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