Location: Harts Location, New Hampshire
Webpage: New Hampshire State Park
General Description: In 1771, the Great Notch was discovered by a Lancaster hunter named Timothy Nash while tracking a moose over Cherry Mountain. He noticed the gap to the south and packed his way through to Portsmouth to tell Governor John Wentworth of his discovery. He was granted a large parcel of land in the notch on the condition that he built a road through to notch to connect with Lancaster to the north. The road was opened in 1775 and Nash received his grant. In 1790, Abel Crawford moved his family to the land given to Nash at what is now Fabyans in Bretton Woods. The Crawford family had so much influence in the development of the area that the notch was renamed Crawford Notch. Along with Abel’s father-in-law, Eleazer Rosebrook, who also moved his family to Hart’s Location about 12 miles away, they built and operated inns for travelers on the road. They were also well known mountain guides blazing the first trails and taking visitors to the top of Mount Washington. In 1825, the family of Samuel Willey, Jr. moved into a small house in the heart of the notch, expanded it, and opened an additional inn for travelers. Following a drought during the summer of 1826, a torrential storm on August 28 caused the Sacco River to rise 20 feet and two days later a torrential rock/mud slide came down the mountain side. Although the house was left untouched due to a rocky ledge that split the slide into two streams on either side, the Willey family got caught trying to escape to higher ground and died. The inn continued to operate until it burned down in 1898, leaving a legacy and mystery about the dangers of life in the mountains. With increasing tourism in the White Mountains, the Anderson Brothers of Maine built a railroad through the notch in 1875 that ran from Portland to Fabyans. Today, Crawford Notch State Park has 5,775 acres of mountain slopes, rivers and streams that can be enjoyed by fishermen, hikers, and skiers in the winter. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Saco River within the park on its way to the peak of Mount Washington.
1) The White Mountains of New Hampshire are as impressive as the Great Smoky Mountains in the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. Crawford Notch provides the only accessible route from the south to access the Presidential Range in the White Mountains. With high mountains on both sides of US 302 that goes through the middle of the park, the drive itself is very scenic. However, if you want to see any mountain vistas you will have to leave your vehicle and hike some of the trails within the park.
2) Depending upon the summer rainfall, the Saco River can be either a raging torrent or a quiet mountain stream. We visited in the first week of August and there was not very much water flowing in the river. However, it was still a nice opportunity to sit quietly by a mountain stream and speculate whether the beavers along the river would be successful in building any dams.
3) One of the hikes we took was to the top of Mt. Willard, which has an elevation of 2804 feet. Over a distance of 1.7 miles, the trail climbs over 600 feet, so it would be classified as a “moderate” trail. Be prepared to be walking up hill the entire distance to the top with some stretches being very steep.
4) The site of the Willey home is an historic site with a marker at the location of the home. Today there is information about the park and a gift shop. Across the highway is a nice man-made pond with ducks and fish (fishing is restricted to children only). There is also a short trail that loops along the pond and a trail that goes downhill along the Saco River. The trail is very easy and well marked with multiple opportunities to watch the river and observe attempts by the beavers to build a dam.
5) The Ripley Falls trail is a 0.6 mile trail up to the base of Ripley Falls. The trail is listed as moderate, but really only the first half of the trail is uphill with a couple of steep stretches. The rest of the hike is along a ledge near the top of the ridge to the base of the falls. Ripley Falls is approximately 100 feet, as the second highest waterfall in the state, and is a steep cascade instead of a sheer waterfall. The waters of the stream run down the polished rock to a small pool at the base. Viewing the falls made the hike worthwhile.