Nash Stream State Forest – Sugarloaf and South Percy

Amy Patenaude

by Amy Patenaude
Outdoor/Ski Writer

Nash Stream State Forest became into existence in 1998 when the State of New Hampshire purchased 46,679 acres for $12.75 million. This deal was made possible by loans from conservation groups and the sale of a conservation easement to the United States government (White Mountain National Forest).

The Nash Stream State Forest rests between the towns of Groveton and Stark, north of Route 110. From Route 110 follow Emerson Road 2.2 miles to reach the gravel Nash Stream Road.

The Percy Peak Trailhead is 2.7 miles and the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail is 8.3 miles from the beginning of the Nash Stream Road. The trailheads are not well marked so take note of your mileage.

Charlie in the clouds on top of Sugarloaf Mountain,elevation 3701 feet.  A fire tower, actually a cabin built on the bare rock summit was established in 1911 by the NH Timberland Owners on Groveton Paper Co. Land. The last cabin to stand was built in the mid-1960s and closed in 1980 before it was burned in 1982.
Charlie in the clouds on top of Sugarloaf Mountain,elevation 3701 feet. A fire tower, actually a cabin built on the bare rock summit was established in 1911 by the NH Timberland Owners on Groveton Paper Co. Land. The last cabin to stand was built in the mid-1960s and closed in 1980 before it was burned in 1982.

The drive into the Nash Stream Valley is lovely. We drove slowly and after a few miles we were delighted to meet a big moose standing in the middle of the road. The moose gave us a glance and then slowly stepped off the road and was gone. Moose are naturally super-camouflaged, so when they are surrounded by trees they disappear from sight quickly and completely.

The weatherman had promised a nice day but it wasn’t yet. Charlie and I decided to drive past the Sugarloaf Trailhead and see what was up the road. We drove past a sign that read something like No Dam Camp and soon we were passing many small camps surrounding the edge of a bog. Later when we returned home I learned that there are 90 something camps that once surrounded a 70 acre lake but the dam blew out and was never rebuilt. All the camps leases will expire on June 30, 2039.

The temperature hovered around freezing when we hit the trail. The Sugarloaf Trail went around a small camp and headed up. We crossed a well maintained snowmobile trail and we continued up. Up is the key word for this hike. The old road to the former fire tower is steep and stays that way for nearly the entire 2.1 miles.

The leaves off the trees heavily blanketed the trail and any hopes of seeing wildlife was dashed with every noisy rustled step we took up the mountain. About half way up we got a nice line of sight through the bare trees to the North Percy’s bald summit that was partially covered with clouds. “Oh no,” I thought and hoped the clouds coverage would lift by the time we made the summit.

A taste of winter!  Cold temperatures and frosty white trees near the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain.
A taste of winter! Cold temperatures and frosty white trees near the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Just before reaching the summit ledges the spruce treetops were frosted white with a coating of ice. They were the prettiest thing we saw as we walked into the clouds.

The summit sign was in pieces and we walked around the ledgy summit. Blots in the ledges, a USGS benchmark and part of an old cast iron stove are all that remain for evidence that a fire tower once stood here.

We put on our down coats and hats and quickly decided it wasn’t looking good for the clouds to clear out anytime soon. Chalk up another peak on the “52 with a View” list where didn’t get to see a view.

We made quick work of the descent and we used our hiking poles to clear a few water bars to change things up on the hike down.

Back at the car we jumped in and drove back down the Nash Stream Road to the Percy Peaks Trail. We enjoyed the car’s heat while we ate our peanut butter and honey sandwiches. We had our eyes peeled for another chance moose sighting. Charlie did spy a fox carrying prey, perhaps a small bunny rabbit.

Charlie and I had hiked the loop over North Percy together about ten years ago but we had skipped the herd path to the summit of South Percy. So up the trail to South Percy we went.

The Percy Peaks Trail is steep and since we weren’t doing the loop today we would be descending this steep trail on the way back. The trail follows along the bank of Slide Brook and for the first mile the trail was covered with dry leaves even deeper than we had experienced on Sugarloaf.

When we reached the bottom of the ledges it was so steep that the leaves and needles couldn’t pile up on the trail–they just rolled down the mountain.

The orange blazes led us to the top of the notch between North and South Percy where the trail intersects the yellow blazed Cohos Trail. We followed the yellow blazes a 1/10th of a mile to reach the spur path to South Percy. There is now a nice sign marking the path that reads South Percy.

On the leaf covered Sugarloaf Mountain Trail with a nice view of North Percy through the trees.
On the leaf covered Sugarloaf Mountain Trail with a nice view of North Percy through the trees.

The rugged narrow spur path appears to see plenty of hiker traffic and it is a fun steep scramble of 3/10th of a mile to the top.

Thankfully, the clouds had just lifted just above us opening the grand vista. We looked but couldn’t see Sugarloaf Mountain because the large bald summit of North Percy Peak was standing between us and the mountain.

Nice view of South Percy and North Percy from Emerson Road near Stark, NH.  If hiking isn’t your cup of tea the Nash Stream Valley is a nice place to take a Sunday Drive. During the winter months the area is a popular snowmobile destination.
Nice view of South Percy and North Percy from Emerson Road near Stark, NH. If hiking isn’t your cup of tea the Nash Stream Valley is a nice place to take a Sunday Drive. During the winter months the area is a popular snowmobile destination.

Oh! The view was wonderful. I pointed out to Charlie, Victor Head, the small peak that I had snowshoed up last winter after I cross-country skied from Christine Lake to reach its trail.

The trip down the mountain was slow and deliberate, we had no desire to take a tumble. We had a big day, either one of these hikes alone would represent a good day’s effort. But when in the North Country of New Hampshire we wanted to make sure we hike more hours than we drive in the car to get there!

Yours truly and my husband Charlie Gunn on top of South Percy with North Percy right behind us blocking the view to Sugarloaf Mountain
Yours truly and my husband Charlie Gunn on top of South Percy with North Percy right behind us blocking the view to Sugarloaf Mountain

Winter will be here soon. I have already taken my winter clothes out of the closet and I have been eyeing my skis. Friends have skied Sunday River and Killington already!

Think Snow and Have Fun.

Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: amy@weirs.com.