Volcanoes, glaciers and trails built by mountain bikers are a recipe for excellent mountain biking. Pawtuckaway State Park lies at the center of the Dragons Eye, a ring of steep hills – the Pawtuckaway Mountains. Eons ago when a seething cauldron of molten lava beneath the eye exploded up through circular cracks in the overlying bedrock; ring-like ridges were formed that are the present day North, South and Middle Mountains.
About 21,000 years ago, the Laurentide Ice Sheet, a continental glacier covered most of Canada and a large portion of the northern United States. As it receded, it "snatched" huge sections of rock off of North Mountain, leaving a trail of monolithic glacial erratics that stretches from the valley floor to the base of a steep sided North Mountain cliff face. This area, nestled in the notch between North Mountain and Rocky Ridge, is affecionately called the "Boulder Field" by park rangers, rock climbers, hikers and mountain bikers.
32 miles of trails offer a diverse range of mountain biking experiences and the opportunity to explore the park's 5,600 acres via double track fire roads and singletrack trails. Trails lead to many special points of interest, including a mountain top fire tower, boulder fields and marshes teeming with wildlife. Along the way you will encounter stories of those who have walked the land before evident in place names, stone walls and Pawtuckaway Lake.
This is also a very popular bike and beaches, family camping and mountain biking destination. Park facilities include the Pawtuckaway State Park Campground - campsites and cabins available, a camp store, bathhouse, restrooms, picnic area, swimming beach with roped off swimming area, boat launch, canoe and kayak rentals, ball field, playground and more.
Some family members may want to take a rain check on blasting the Split Rock Trail. The New Hampshire "Power Of Parks" nature program features guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families.
Pawtuckaway State Park Mountain Bike Trails Description
Don't let the park's distant fiery and icy past scare you. The focal point of the 5,500 acre park remains the Pawtuckaway Mountains in the northwestern portion of the park, with North Mountain summit at 1,101 ft., being the highest point in Rockingham County. The South Ridge Trail, Mountain Trail and The Tower Trail climb to the Fire Tower atop the summit of the 908 foot-high South Mountain.
While the hilly and rocky terrain, phantasmagoric boulders and steep sections present intermediate and advanced technical challenges there are miles of trails for more mellifluous mountain biking experiences within the eastern portion of Pawtuckaway State Park. This area encompasses the lowlands between the mountains and Pawtuckaway Lake. Mountain Brook, a small perennial stream percolates through the area and ends in Mountain Pond, an inlet of Pawtuckaway Lake. You will find yourself biking through beautiful hemlock - beech - oak - pine forest, cruising along lily pond dotted marshes, around and over streams, peatlands, herbaceous wetlands, firing up some vertical boilers, ringing rock boulder fields and s-curving between trees.
Some of the best mountain biking experiences can be found on the mountain bike trails built by mountain bikers – the Woronoco and Split Rock Trails. Tthe Fundy Trail provides an easy scenic ride with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
Trail conditions vary seasonally. Some of the hiking trails are used in the winter as snowmobile routes. Mountain bikers should possess the necessary knowledge, skill, and equipment to ensure their own safety. While some trails are well marked, it is possible to lose your bearings in this large state park.
Mileage / Blaze: 2 miles (one-way)
For those looking for an easier mountain bike ride, this doubletrack fire road offers some bumps and rocks along with lake views as the trail edges Fundy Cove, an arm of Pawtuckaway Lake and skims along the west side of Fundy Marsh. For wildlife photography or watching, try a bike ride in the early morning or evening when the beavers, deer and great blue herons are likely to be out and about. Trail conditions vary seasonally - leaf strewn trails, fallen trees, flooded areas and a beaver or two.
There are also options to try more difficult singletrack on the connecting Shaw Trail and Woronoco Trails.
Starts across the road from the entrance to the group picnic and camping areas.
Mileage / Blaze: 2.1 miles (one-way)
This fun, hardpacked "wandering" singletrack trail was built by the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA). It officially opened in 2005. The trail twists and turns in a large half circle into the quieter center of the park through open hemlock - beech - oak - pine forest and around forested swamps,lily pad dotted marshes and moss covered boulders. Technical challenges include boulder skirmishes, twisty and svelte s-curves around tree trunks, long descents, hill traverses, and lots of several stream and wetland crossings via bridges, boardwalks and raised platforms.
From the main park entrance, off Mountain Road, where the Woronoco Trail meets the Mountain Trail there is a gate. You can park along the road.
Via Fundy Woronoco Trail junction. See Fundy Trail access.
Split Rock Trail
Mileage / Blaze: 1.3 miles (one-way)
The trail, built by NEMBA in 2010 is a connector between the Shaw Trail and the Woronoco Trail. Boulders in a variety of odd shapes and sizes border the trail. Some have split in half or clam shelled at the baseline. The ride will have you demonstrating powerful geologic forces through some technical sections and navigating several stream crossings. The Split Rock Connector offers an out and back ride and the opportunity to make circuit and longer mountain bike rides using connecting trails.
Trailhead can be reached via the Fundy Trail from the end of the Fundy Boat Launch Area or from the parking area near the camp store.
South Ridge Trail
Mileage / Blaze: 2 miles (one-way)
If you aim to take on the challenging climb to the 908-foot summit of South Mountain, the South Ridge Trail circles around Round Pond before climbing up the south ridge of the mountain. While this is the least strenuous option in terms of trail steepness, the challenge is it's rocky ridges with large areas of exposed rock in the form of ledges and slabs, as well as small cliffs. The carrot? The breathtaking, panoramic views from the summit ledges on the way up and at the top.
Trailhead can be reached via Round Pond Road off of Deerfield Road.
Middle Mountain Trail:
Mileage / Blaze: 0.9 mile (one-way)
Eroded, sometimes rocky jeep road geared for those who enjoy the challenge of a steady, strenuous, continuous climb. The route gets harder and steeper as you proceed up from the base - Tower Road access. The steepest sections about halfway up have been clocked at a 17.3% grade. This mountain bike ride requires finesse with the right pacing, approach, technique and making the most of the long gentler grades and switchback sections. Rest at the ledge outcroppings and return the way you came. Exercise caution – there are blind hairpin turns and other trail users to consider.
Trailhead can be reached via Tower Road.
Trail Highlights and Points Of Interest
Bikes & Beaches
Pawtuckaway Lake, a 784-acre reservoir provides the closest state park camping area to the seacoast. Cool off after your bike ride by taking a dip in the roped off beach swimming area.
Wooded campsites are situated along the lake shore, Neal's Cove and Horse Island, a small islet located in the center of Pawtuckaway Pond / Lake which is accessed via a footbridge. The family friendly campground and the cartop boat launch area bridges provide access to State Park Road and the Fundy Trail, which can be used to access other trails in the park. The water level of the lake is managed to maintain separate summer and winter target levels.
Kayaking, canoeing and fishing are also popular activities in and around the lake. When the area reaches top people capacity, which happens early in the day during peak summer season, visitors are turned away for safety and other reasons.
Scenic Overlooks: Firetower
The Fire Tower, erected by the state was built in 1915 on South Mountain, which at the time was part of the George W. Goodrich farm. The Fire Tower was rennovated and the cab rebuilt in 2016 to accommodate a fire warden whose job it is to survey the surrounding forests for signs of fire. The delight from the summit are the 360 degree views that encompass Pawtuckaway Lake, Middle Mountain and North Mountain.
Natural Features: Pawtuckaway Boulder Field
As early as 1878, New Hampshire's state geologist and Governor, Benjamin J. Prescott, came to see the Pawtuckaway Boulder Field. It is said that the discovery of these boulders was made at the instigation of the Governor, who was disturbed because no boulders were found in this State equal to those known to exist in neighboring states.
Today, it’s known to climbers nationwide and the world. Several clusters of these gray monoliths provide rock hopping, boulder climbing and natural jungle gyms. The largest of the boulders at 62 feet long, 40 wide, and about 40 high, known as "Churchill Rock" is located on the south side of North Mountain.
"Boulder Natural", one of the most popular fields, offers a variety of climbs within a square quarter mile area. Glacial erratic megaliths rise up from the forest floor and between the trees in a variety of atypical formations.
From Reservation Road, turn left onto left onto Round Pond Road and continue to the Boulder Trail.
Wildlife Watch & Photography
From the ground up to the tree canopies and the ring-dike summits, a unique biopshere exists on every level. Whether you paddle around the islands of Pawtuckaway Lake, mountain bike or hike the trails along mountain ledges or through the eastern wetlands – opportunities for photo ops and wildlife watching abound in every season.
You'll encounter plants with names that will tickle your tastebuds, optic and olfactory nerves – climbing fumitory vines with white or pinkish flowers that grow in large clusters and appear in summer; dwarf huckleberry, a blueberry-like shrub; mushrooms, wildflowers like Pink Lady Slippers, Wild Columbine, Saxifrage, Red Trillium, Bloodroot, Coltsfoot and the rare bright yellow Early Buttercup, which appear on the hillsides just after the snowmelt.
Look for beavers, great blue herons, turtles, amphibians and waterfowl in the wetland environents. Deer roam Pawtuckaway "land of the big buck". Once wiped out of the Granite State by habitat destruction and over-hunting, the wild turkey has been reintroduced into the park.
The best time for bird watching is from April until October. Pawtuckaway is the only known breeding location in New Hampshire for the beautiful Cerulean Warbler. Listen hard for the soulful cry of the northern Loon.
Don't pick or eat the flowers or disturb the wildlife, no matter how good they look.
Historical Note: The Land Of Sticks And Stones
Many visitors have come to the Pawtuckaway area over the millenia. Prior to 1825, the area was an extensive wetland habitat crisscrossed by mostly brooks and streams. At high water periods, water ran into the lowlands, what is now Pawtuckaway Basin.
Some were just passing through and others came to settle and eke out a subsistence from the land. Algonquin Natives called the area "the land of sticks and stones" and Pawtuckaway rolls off of native tongues as "land of the big buck". Stone walls, signs of logging operations and rows of trees that once lined pastureland can be seen along the trails. Cemetary headstones also tell the names of 18th century settlers that left their mark on the land. Pawtuckway Lake is the result of dams and dikes that were built on the Pawtuckaway River to provide hydropower to the Newmarket Manufacturing Company, a textle milling operation.
In 1915, when the Fire Tower was erected, it was recognized that the area would be ideal for a state reservation. In 1923, a 60-acre property on Middle Mountain was purchased, the first parcel of land that would form what was to become Pawtuckaway State Park.
Route I-93 & I-95 are the gateway highways to New Hampshire.
From I-93:Take Route 101 east to Exit 5 and follow signs to Pawtuckaway State Park.
From I-95: Take Route 101 west to Exit 5. From Exit 5 take 156 North approximately 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Mountain Road. The main entrance to the Park is about 1 mile ahead on the left.
Parking fees apply.
Pawtuckaway State Park: