I bagged my bear.
Not a very large black bear, mind you. But a cute little guy. Caught a glimpse of him as I was driving west just out of town in Errol, way up north in New Hampshire, as he crossed someone’s long driveway and ducked back into the tall grass.
I turned around and came back for a better look and saw him peek out of another section of grass and then quickly sneak away again.
That was it. Didn’t even have time to grab a picture. Looked around to see if he had any siblings or a mama hanging out in the vicinity, but found no sign of either.
But I had my bear and now have my bear memory with a sighting that helped make my most recent visit to Errol a success.
Errol and its immediate surroundings — a fine place to appreciate and attack the great outdoors in any season or smell the pines and maybe even relax for a bit if you prefer — has long held a certain allure for me and my family and the wildlife in the area has been a major part of the draw.
That wildlife, along with a chance to try out the whitewater rapids on the Androscoggin River that is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and starts in town, get in a little fly fishing, and check out Umbagog Lake are a few of the attractions that led to my first overnight stay in the tiny town — population a little under 300 — earlier this month.
Part of the Great North Woods at the northern tip of New Hampshire, Errol is on the eastern edge of the region and not as visited as Colebrook and Pittsburg on the western side.
Previously, the town had been mostly an intriguing gateway for my family and, I suspect, others. We’d pass through, usually on the last leg of our trips from central New Hampshire up through Berlin and on to Rangeley, Maine. Hit Errol and you were not far from the Maine border and well within an hour of Rangeley.
The ride from Berlin north ranks as a highlight itself. Up Route 16, along the Androscoggin, through Thirteen Mile Woods, keeping one eye on the water that seems perilously close and another on the alert for moose or deer.
Take a right at the stop sign in Errol, then a quick left and it’s on to Wentworth’s Location and then into Maine and Wilson Mills and soon Rangeley.
This time Errol was the destination.
I checked into the cozy, friendly, and affordable Errol Motel on the main drag and proceeded to give the town a closer look. It’s just steps away from a bunch of pools on the river, but a few morning casts were not able to conjure up a trout. Just wait until the water temperatures cool a bit as fall approaches.
Guests at the motel will sometimes fish for a while and then come back to their room and return to the river with their swimming and tubing gear.
The folks at Northern Waters Outfitters across the street from the motel have been promoting fun on the water, including Umbagog and the Androscoggin River that runs alongside the company’s property, for nearly half a century.
Thomas D’Amour and Eric Verratti bought the place five years ago from founder Ned McSherry, who did double duty as a skiing and canoe and kayak race coach.
Northern Waters provides a day full of adventure, starting with a morning pontoon boat ride out on Umbagog Lake and a search for wildlife — we checked in on a few bald eagle nests, but the birds themselves were not at home at the moment — and including several afternoon runs down the family-friendly whitewater in a variety of crafts from inflatable rafts to tubes.
We had fun bouncing along the quarter-mile of rapids in each of the boats, and got nice and wet in the tubes, a somewhat beefed-up version of the kind you probably float in on the lake.
Stuart Hickey guided our small rafting group this day, along the way giving safety tips and entertaining and informative lessons on how whitewater works. Northern Waters has a small campground along the river, as well as campsites around Umbagog, too, and Hickey, D’Amour, and Verratti are excited about the prospects of expanding what they offer down the road.
The Androscoggin through Errol is Class II whitewater and the plan is to soon offer trips on the more rugged stretches of the Magalloway and Rapid rivers just over the border in Maine that are currently served by ELC Outdoors and other outfitters in Errol and the area.
Northern Waters also offers kayaking and canoeing lessons and they, ELC, and others rent canoes and kayaks for the flat waters of Umbagog Lake and the rivers, too.
Boats are for rent as well at Umbagog Lake State Park, which is out Route 26 toward Maine and features a campground with 27 sites and three campgrounds at its base, along with 33 popular remote sites and four cabins that must be reached by boat (delivery service is available).
Errol is surrounded on all sides by state parks and getaway places.
Besides Umbagog State Park to the east, there is the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge Station, another access point to the lake, up Route 16 to the north. Out Route 21 to the east are the hiking trails and waterfalls of Dixville Notch State Park, just this side of the Balsams Resort, the historic grand hotel that locals still hold out hope will be brought back to booming life but that has been shuttered since 2011. To the south, Mollidgewock State Park Campground lies invitingly beside the Androscoggin and Route 16.
Not far from Mollidgewock, I stopped to watch a couple of groups of young canoeists take lessons in paddling in the Androscoggin whitewater.
Back at the Mollidgewock one day earlier this summer, I met a family from southern New Hampshire that did a five-week, cross-country camping tour focused on national parks out of its Subaru Outback two summers ago. This time they were looking for a quiet getaway for a couple of nights and giving the region a first-time try.
“We might go rent a couple of canoes and take a paddle,” said Nathan Carle, the father.
“We’re very happy to not have it all structured,” said his wife, Rebecca. “We didn’t necessarily come here for what there is. We came for what there isn’t. If that makes sense.”
It makes perfect sense.
Errol offers plenty to do in the outdoors from hiking, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking to fishing and hunting and ATV riding, snowmobiling, and biking.
L.L. Cote — “The Home of Toys for Big Boys & Girls” — on Errol’s main drag will help gear you up for any of those adventures and more and is a must-visit shopping stop.
Errol also offers the choose-your-pace ability to get away from it all and take in the scenery and quiet on trails and Umbagog Lake, the Androscoggin River, Clear Stream, Akers Pond, and the like.
And there’s always the chance you’ll spot my bear. Or a bald eagle, osprey or loon, a moose, deer or fox, or any of numerous other types of wildlife.
If you go. . .
Some late summer rapid running, foliage watching, fishing and hunting, hiking, and riding countless ATV trails remain among Errol attractions before the snow turns everyone’s attention toward snowmobiling and cross country skiing.
A little less than a four-hour drive from Boston, the Errol Motel and 150 Main Street Lodging on the Androscoggin are a couple of in-town lodging options along with Akers Pond Inn & Cabins, while Paradise Point Cottages on Umbagog Lake and Upton House Inn, just over the border in Maine, are a few miles out of town.
Besides Umbagog Lake State Park and Mollidgewock State Park, campgrounds include Clear Stream and Log Haven Campground.
Northern Waters Outfitters (www.beoutside.com) and ELC Outfitters (www.elcoutdoors.com), which has a ropes course and ziplines, and Raft NH (www.raftNH.com) are among those who can help set visitors up in Errol.
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.