Spring Travel: Natural Wonders

2 rewarding hikes in northern New Hampshire

Explore the state’s less-traveled trails, where you’ll find a summit with breathtaking views, a dramatic waterfall, and the site of a long-ago airplane crash.

ON HIGH The summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Success trail rewards those who make the often steep climb.
ON HIGH The summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Success trail rewards those who make the often steep climb.Photographs by Erin Paul Donovan/ScenicNH.com Photography | Erin

Reprinted from 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, by Kim Nilsen. Copyright © 2012 by Kim Nilsen. With the permission of the publisher, The Countryman Press.


Location Pittsburg, New Hampshire

Distance 2 miles to the junction with the Moose Alley Trail

Difficulty Easy to moderate

Getting There

Take state Route 3 up to the northernmost reaches of New Hampshire. Turn off the road to the right just before the Second Connecticut Lake Dam and park. Facing the dam, look 90 degrees to the right. There is a large sign with bright yellow raised letters at the woods line that signals the start of the newly constructed Falls in the River Trail.


In Wild River Country

The Falls in the River Trail puts visitors in contact with a truly wild stretch of New England’s greatest river. The Connecticut River is almost always close by, sometimes placid and quiet, sometimes torrid and roaring. Easy to access and easy to walk, and with dramatic falls and flume in the middle, the trail has become a favorite not only among hikers but also among families with children, moose watchers, and anglers.

WATER WONDER Thundering sounds greet hikers  on New Hampshire’s newly built Falls in the River Trail.
WATER WONDER Thundering sounds greet hikers on New Hampshire’s newly built Falls in the River Trail.Photograph by Steven D. Smith/Steven D. Smith

Enter the woods at the sign and amble along a low ridge directly above the river. For a few minutes, Route 3 is close by over the right shoulder, but the path descends away from the ribbon of asphalt as the elevation drops. At several points along the way in the first 10 minutes or so, you can dodge down openings to the river itself to look at the fast-moving waters.

The trail soon levels out in flat terrain and turns to the right, away from the river. In five minutes, you will approach an alder thicket and cross the first of several bog bridges over narrow branches of Dry Brook. Pass through tight spruce and an S-turn at a forest opening to another bog bridge over moist ground. In a minute, cross yet another span, this time at another alder patch. The trail reaches the river again a little more than a mile from the trail head and parallels it on flat ground. Here the waters open out into a quiet backwater inlet that is a favorite haunt of wildlife and waterfowl. When the trail was built, cutters found most of the skeletal remains of a moose along the proposed pathway.


The trail runs with the river in the flat for five minutes, then bends uphill into a region of tight, dark spruce. The way zigzags briefly before reaching a height of land where the forest lightens abruptly and roaring noise greets your ears. Descend a moderate decline, pulled along by increasingly loud sounds of great volumes of falling water. Round a bend, and rock ledges come into view, along with foaming river water.

Descend to a great spur of granite ledge that juts out directly into the path of the river. No one who comes this way can resist walking out onto the rocks and having a seat just a few feet above the big and powerful step falls that swing in an arc around the visitor and crash in a tumult into a long, narrow flume gorge boiling with frothy waters. Remarkably, this feature of the Connecticut River was virtually unknown before the trail was built. There is no better spot on the trail to stop for lunch or a snack. Because of the noise of the falls and flume, no sounds encroach on the visitor other than the voices of companions, perhaps.


Leave the cataract and continue south, making several quick turns and several short spurts uphill. Soon the trail levels out again in mature spruce, but this time you are directly above the river thundering 70 or more feet below. Fallen spruce needles render the trail red underfoot. Continue high above the river for five minutes, when the trail suddenly loses elevation as the river turns away from the path. Bottom out in the narrow valley of Big Brook. Soon you’ll reach the brook and the long, narrow span over it.

Cross the bridge and begin a lazy climb out of Big Brook valley. Within a few minutes you’ll be at a junction with the Moose Alley Trail, where the Falls in the River Trail ends. Retracing your steps to your car is just as much fun.


Location Success, New Hampshire

Distance 3 miles to the summit, about another mile to the crash site, 8 miles round trip

Difficulty Steep in some sections

Getting There

From the city of Berlin, pick up Success Pond Road and watch on the right for a sign that points the way to the trail head of the Mount Success Trail. Turn right, and stay right at a fork in the narrow lane, which eventually ends in an old log yard where you can park. The trail is at the head of the old yard and to the right.


SOMBER STOP In 1954, Northeast Airlines Flight 792 crashed close to Mount Success’s summit, killing two; the wreckage remains.
SOMBER STOP In 1954, Northeast Airlines Flight 792 crashed close to Mount Success’s summit, killing two; the wreckage remains.Photographs by Erin Paul Donovan/ScenicNH.com Photography | Erin

The Trail to Tragedy

The Mount Success Trail doesn’t get top billing on the marquee of White Mountains footpaths, but it should. The Outlook cliff alone is reason to go, as are the blueberries on the ledges in late July. Farther up the line, Mount Success’s summit is an unheralded gem: broad, open, and commanding a 360-degree view of what is considered the most challenging terrain of the entire Appalachian Trail.

The summit, though, is not the final destination. The prize, if I should call it that, is the remains of a Northeast Airlines passenger plane that crashed very close to the summit ridge in a snow squall in November 1954. The site is hallowed ground, for two of the seven people on board the plane died in the wreck. The twisted aluminum skin and framework and the separate broken sections of the craft’s fuselage remain where they came to rest.

Setting out from the log yard, head up an easy grade in open hardwood forest, following blue blaze paint. In the early going, the trail occupies a gradual grade, following a wash where recent heavy freshets have roughed up the watercourse considerably. The path threads along the edge of this seasonally dry defile, crossing it once, and then heads into an area where nearby woods were logged a decade ago. The grade begins to sharpen as you reach the base of the peak.


Forest canopy closes in and the trail becomes a good woods walk. Much of the climb out of the valley is rather direct. As the hardwoods begin to mingle with birch and then spruce and fir, the way gets steeper. On several angled inclines, the trail has worn down to bedrock. Some sections may be wet and a bit slippery.

Push ever upward toward a junction about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. The route to the right is a loop trail that swings west and returns to the main trail a half mile on. Don’t pass this up. This loop path runs out to a series of ledges, the main one being a broad expanse of rock at the head of the Outlook, a big, near-vertical knob of granite that is a prominent feature on the side of the mountain, easily recognized through the windshield of your vehicle as you motor toward the peak. If the season is right, pick blueberries while on this loop.

Once you’re back on the main trail, turn uphill. Trek over a low height of land and enter a country of wet feet, where dozens of bog bridges string out. Eventually the Mount Success Trail meets the Mahoosuc Trail at a T-junction.

Turn right and head toward the nearby summit of Mount Success. Tread over a granite hump, level out, and begin a moderately steep push into the high country. Quickly, the spruce and fir lose height as the mountain levels off on a summit plateau of many acres. Suddenly the going is easy, and a squat, bony ledge thrusts up out of the flats at about the height of a man. This elevation is marked by a stout signpost. You’ve reached one of two nearly identical topknot granite crests that crown Mount Success.

The Great State of Maine heaves into view. To the north, Mount Carlo and first-rate Goose Eye Mountain stand at attention. All the Carter-Moriahs stretch out, as does the spine of the Northern Presidentials down to Mount Washington. The Dartmouth and Crescent ranges tip their hats. The Pliny and Pilots, too.

Directly below, more bog bridges stride south across the plateau and disappear in a scrub-forest summit shoulder. Drop down off the bony summit rib and cross the puncheon spans to the south. Cross through the wooded shoulder, and ledges dominate once again.

About a quarter mile from the summit sign, watch on the left for a granite boulder about the size of a chest freezer sitting all by itself some 70 feet east of the trail. It is unmistakable. Once you’ve spotted the boulder, pick your way over to it on the herd path. Now follow that unofficial pathway downhill into the trees. Drop only about 50 vertical feet below that boulder and suddenly a string of bright yellow blazes will appear. This blaze line is the boundary of the protected lands that surround the Appalachian Trail corridor in this region. Be sure to look around you, because you will have to return this way, and you’ll want to pick up the herd path again to regain the summit.

Follow the yellow blazes to the south, the path staying fairly level as you make your way along among the trees and blowdowns. After a few minutes, just about the time when most people would feel discouraged that they had made a wrong turn, the forest brightens with reflected light. Sunlight bouncing off aluminum shows the way.

The yellow blazes run right up to Flight 792, the ill-fated Douglas DC-3 twin-engine airliner. The flight originated in Boston with stops at Concord, Massachusetts, and Laconia, New Hampshire, and was making the last leg of the scheduled trip to Berlin. This roughed patch of forest is where it came to rest.

Trekkers first stumble upon the front end of the plane and can see where the copilot sat with an airline dispatcher directly behind. Injured and knocked unconscious when the plane struck the ground, they died during the night. Where the pilot was seated, the plane is nothing more than a tangle of wreckage, but somehow, despite terrible injuries, he survived. The airliner broke into large fragments. A chunk of the main cabin sustained little damage; the three passengers who sat there and the flight attendant escaped injury. The aft of the cabin, the tail assembly, and a wing are scattered elsewhere. It would take three days before rescue crews were able to reach the wreckage and remove the survivors.

Once you pay your respects, it’s time to retrace your steps to the summit. If for some reason you miss the herd-path route, simply bushwhack uphill and keep going until the trail or its cairns come into view. Head north and you’ll be back on track.

Kim Nilsen is an avid hiker and the founder of New Hampshire’s 165-mile Cohos Trail. He lives in Spofford, New Hampshire. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.