These woods have drawn wilderness pilgrims since long before Henry David Thoreau made escapism stylish, and this 23.6-mile point-to-point offers enough deep forests and waterfalls to inspire another back-to-nature movement. Start in the parking lot (1) in Mt. Grace State Forest, and climb to Mt. Grace's 1,621-foot summit. On top, a five-story fire tower presents a three-state view over rolling hills. Turn north onto the white-blazed New England Trail (2) and descend over rocky trail and crumbling stone walls (old property lines) to MA 78 (3). Cross it and continue 1.8 miles to Richards Reservoir (4). Hugging the shoreline, you'll reach a side trail (5) to a bed of moss 30 feet above the water and open to a breeze. Nap time.
Back on the trail, climb to Richmond Road (6) and weave through hemlocks for 2.7 miles to Mayo Hill (7). In .6 mile, a small ridge yields a view of 3,165-foot Mt. Monadnock framed by pines. (Summit hungry? See "Locals Know," next page.) Descend into New Hampshire and rebound south to Bliss Hill Road (8), where the trail merges with the yellow-blazed Tully Trail. In .9 mile, reach MA 32 (9) and Newton Cemetery, an array of weathered tombstones dating back two centuries. Camp at Trustees Shelter (10) in .6 mile.
Start day two with a detour to Royalston Falls ("See This," next page), then hike north along Falls Brook past Buick-size boulders to a meadow (11). Cross Greenwood Road (12) at mile 13.5 and follow a 2.6-mile ridge to NH 119 (13). Go northwest along the road for .3 mile, turn right at Old County Road (14), then north at Grassy Hill Road (15). Reenter forest filled with a shag of primeval ferns and turn south down a cobblestone road (16). It's 1.1 miles to the top of Little Monadnock. Ease down a 30-foot rock slope to a dirt road (17). Turn right and descend gently for .7 mile to Prospect Street. Having fronted the essential facts of life (to paraphrase Thoreau), find your waiting ride in one mile.
Shuttle From Troy, go south on Prospect St., and park in .8 mile. Let the Troy police know (603-242-7992).
To trailhead From Troy, go south on NH 12 to NH 119 west. In 14.5 miles, go left on NH 10, then left on NH/MA 78 for 7 miles to Mt. Grace State Forest. Tell the Warwick Police dispatch (978-544-2244) you're parking overnight.
Gear up Trail Head, 1 S. Main St., Orange, MA. (978) 249-8500; trailheadonline.net
Key Skill: Bumming a Ride
Part of the NENST's beauty comes from its isolation--it's off the Appalachian Trail corridor (where most Bay Staters hike), and two hours from Boston. But that can make finding a shuttle tricky if you opt to bring just one car (or are abandoned by friends, family, or your significant other). Here's how to beg, barter, and deal your way into a ride (in order of descending usefulness).
Before Call the local trail club (amcberkshire.org) and gear shop (trailheadonline.net) a few weeks ahead to see if someone's willing to give you a lift. No luck? Surf Craigslist's rideshare page (boston.craigslist.org/rid) to partner up with another shuttle-needing hiker.
Trailhead Strike up a conversation with other hikers before starting or hang around the parking lot at the end and approach obvious outdoorsy types. Offer a few bucks. Virtually all ride providers will turn down cash, but a six pack of local suds is a solid gesture.
Street Stand in the roadway's shoulder (stay off the pavement to remain strictly legal), be relaxed, smile, make sure your backpack is visible, and if possible, pair up with someone of the opposite gender (this looks less intimidating). Always turn down offers from sketchy folk, and if you need out of a stranger's car pronto, pretend you're going to puke.
See This: Royalston Falls
A .3-mile walk from the Trustees Shelter takes you past a series of small falls to a 45-foot plume splashing through a narrow gorge into a shallow pool. The emerald mist will mesmerize, but take care: There's a steep pitch along the side and moss can make the rocks slick. Heading back upstream, wade in a series of cool, calf-deep pools, and look for two mini natural bridges, cleanly polished in the sandstone by time and the elements, as though punched by a wrecking ball.
"At almost any hour of the day they were seen wending their way single file in various garb up or down the shelving rocks of the peak," noted Henry David Thoreau while exploring Mt. Monadnock in 1860. Since it tops out at 3,165 feet and isn't far from Boston, it is said to be among the most-climbed mountains in the world (company to Mt. Fuji and China's Mt. Tai). With more than 30 trails totaling over 30 miles, it's possible to approach Monadnock from nearly any direction. The least traveled route is also the longest: The 4.4-mile (one-way) Pumpelly Trail, which begins at Dublin Lake, northeast of the mountain. Blueberries line the path in June and July; classic red, yellow, and orange leaves appear in September. With a few steep exceptions, the grade remains mild, eventually reaching an exposed ridge leading to the top from the east. Pack a lunch and channel Thoreau by exploring the glacier-deposited boulders, tiny pools, and the remains from buildings of centuries past.
On the Menu
On the road
Bagels with hummus
New England Clam Chowder
Peanut butter and jelly bagels
Apples and peanut butter
New England Clam Chowder
A belly-warming classic
2 slices shelf-stable bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 potato, diced
1 6-ounce can evaporated milk
1 6.5-ounce can minced clams salt and pepper
Cook onions in oil until tender; add crumbled bacon. Add clam juice and 1/2 cup of water, then potatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook covered until potatoes are tender. Add clams and evaporated milk, and cook until hot but not boiling. Serves two.
1 cup biscuit mix
1 tablespoon dry milk
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tart apple, sliced
Stir first four ingredients together. Oil pan and dust with sugar and spices. Add apples. When bubbly, spoon in batter, cook until brown, and flip. Makes six.
The Grocery List (Aisle # In Nearest Store Below)
[ ] apple (produce)
[ ] onion (produce)
[ ] potato (produce)
[ ] bagels (deli)
[ ] hummus (deli)
[ ] shelf-stable bacon (meat)
[ ] can evaporated milk (8)
[ ] biscuit mix (8)
[ ] powdered milk (8)
[ ] sugar (8)
[ ] PB & J (9)
[ ] minced clams (9)
Pack Cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup, vegetable oil, salt, pepper
NEAREST GROCERY STORE Hannaford Grocery and Pharmacy West St. Shopping Ctr., 481 West St., Keene, NH (603) 357-2832
PIT STOP Eva's on the Common's Central Square Steak Bomb, with American cheese, peppers, and onions. 31 Central Square, Troy, NH; (603) 242-3044; evasonthecommon.com