Mt. Katherine And Wonalancet River – Sweet Easy Hikes
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
When we pulled into the Ferncroft parking area there were no other cars. The weather wasn’t great and there was a threat of rain forecasted for later in the day but we wanted to go hiking just the same. Danielle wanted to hit some of the Wonalancet Out Door Club’s trails that she needed to collect for her redline. Redline refers to hiking every trail and Danielle is working hiking/redlining every trail in the AMC White Mountain Guide. She has hiked over half the trails so far. Gordon Path, Red Path, Pasture Path to Mt. Katherine, Tilton Spring Path and McCrillis Path-Blueberry Ledge Trail, along with a couple of short road walks with only repeating one section of the Pasture Path—this was a six mile outing. Danielle collected just over four miles of new-to-her trails for her redline.
Best yet is that these are nice short paths that are much less traveled than the popular trails in the area. These paths are well taken care of by the WODC and all the water crossings have foot bridges. Ferncroft is also where the trails begin for Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway, peaks on the 4,000 Footer List. Less traveled means less erosion and most often a softer gentle path. In the AMC White Mountain Guide, under suggested hikes in the Mt. Chocorua and The Eastern Sandwich Range chapter, Mt. Katherine is the first easy hike recommended. Hiking to Mt. Katherine alone is about three miles round trip and can be done from Ferncroft via Blueberry Ledge Trail to Pasture. Another option is to park at the Wonalancet White Church on Rte 113 and take the Red Path to the Pasture Path (there is no parking on Ferncroft Road at the Red Path trailhead). From the north end of the Ferncroft parking area we followed the Gordon Path sign and the blue blazes that distinguished the path from the old logging road and ski trail. The Gordon Path is only 1.2 miles long over rolly terrain through the woods. We popped out into the edge of someone’s yard and followed the driveway and crossed their bridge over the Wonalancet River to Rte 113A. From here we walked back to the White Church and a short distance up Ferncroft Road to the Red Path. There is a nice big sign that reads “Red Path” pointing the way left up a private road. We kept our eyes open and found the trail where it entered the woods. A recent logging operation has been done nearby but has caused no harm to the path. The Red Path ends at the Tilton Spring. Water filled the stone walled pool along with a lot of mud and leaves. It was a hundred years ago or more that farm animals drank from this spring and resided in the surrounding area now forest that once was a pasture. The woods were quiet and mushrooms were abundant along the paths. We headed up the slight grade to Mt. Katherine’s summit ledge, elevation 1,380 feet. We didn’t get to enjoy a view due to the clouds and fog but I did enjoy recalling my own redline finish here. Danielle thinks it might be nice to finish her redline on top of Artist Bluff in Franconia. We scampered down and went straight past the spring to the other end of the Pasture Path. Then we turned left and went up the McCrillis Path and then turned left on the Tilton Spring Path that brought us back to the spring. We then repeated the section of the Pasture Path since it was the most direct path back to our car. We had a lot of daylight left and our jaunt around the paths had not worn us out. I told Danielle we should do the Brook Path. When I redlined the Brook Path years ago my husband Charlie dropped me off at the top and he drove around and hiked upstream to meet me. End to end the Brook Path is 2 miles long. We decided to do it the same way. I dropped Danielle off at the Brook Path trailhead across from the Cabin Trail on Route 113A, about a half mile east of the White Church. I drove east 1.7 miles on Rte 113A and right after crossing the bridge over the Wonalancet River I took a hard right onto a narrow gravel road. I parked my car in a small parking area on the right, there is a sign “Parking for the Brook Path” but it is nearly impossible since trees have grown in front of it.
There is a sign pointing up the road, don’t be confused by a forest road to the right, continue up the gravel road and watch for a narrow opening to the right. I walked past it the first time but knew I had missed it when the road became steep. I backtracked and found it, the sign was blocked from view by trees. The Brook Path is wonderful. It closely follows the bank of the Wonalancet River all the way. I guess it is called the Brook Path because it feels more like a big brook. It was flowing well since it had rained the day before and the cascades were a sight and the falling water roared. I met Danielle just above the old mill building near bottom of the lovely Wonalancet Falls this was close to mid-way of the path. She excitedly told me she took a few minutes to climb down near the old breached dam. She saw the discontinued pipeline that fed water to the mill. The section between the top and the bottom of the falls is short, steep and rooty and it is the only “not easy” footing of the Brook Path. I gave Danielle the key to the car and she headed downstream. As I traveled upstream and I watched the brook get slower and wider as the terrain became more level.
All streams and the river crossing have bridges and the trail is well marked. This is a splendid path and on a hot day there are numerous places where I’d consider wading in the water. Danielle came driving up the road, I only had waited a minute or two. There were two more miles of lovely trail that we might have overlooked if it weren’t for trying to hike every trail in the Whites. 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: email@example.com.