NH Family Hikes

Bear Mountain

Length: 3.3 miles out-and-back with loop

Difficulty (click for info): Hard

Elevation Gain: 1080 feet (+20 feet on return)

Rating (click for info): 5/10

Elevation: 1842'

Prominence: 259'

Driving Directions:
Trailhead and parking area are on Bear Mountain Road in Hebron, NH. To get there, drive West Shore Road from the west side of Rt. 3A, 2.1 miles north of the junction with Rt. 104 in Bristol. 1.8 miles up the road, turn right to stay on West Shore Road at signs for Wellington State Park. Continue 3.6 miles and turn left onto Bear Mountain Road. Drive 0.4 miles uphill to a right hand turn and stay straight onto the class 6 extension of the road. Park in the turnout right at the beginning. You will walk the road to the trailhead. Click here for a Google map.

About the Hike:
Bear Mountain is the higher northern cousin to the popular Sugarloaf Mountains, and is the next destination on the 12-mile Elwell Trail from the shores of Newfound Lake to Mt. Cardigan. It receives far fewer visitors than its neighbors to the south, about 450' lower in altitude. While the summit vista is not quite as attractive as the Sugarloafs', lacking the same striking down-look on the lake, it has some alluring features for those who are well-travelled in the region and want to experience something new. The shadowy evergreen forest cloaking its summit ridge is replete with intriguing boulder jumbles, tossed with lush ferns and twisted trees. To reach this pleasantly scenic locale, one must surmount the unusually tricky Bear Mountain Trail, which shoots directly up the harrowing east wall of the mountain, its 1940's-era trailbuilders evidently having shunned a clearly simpler route around the sharp slope and up the ridge.

Start your hike up the dirt road to reach the official trailhead. The road rises gently, cutting through an extensive logged area, lined with stone walls on each side. Look through the trees on the right to the towering ridge of your destination. In several places you can look back over the patch on the left side for a view out toward Plymouth Mountain. In 0.6 miles you will see the signpost for Bear Mountain Trail across a gap in the stone wall to the right. Follow the little-trodden path as it tunnels through the dense growth repopulating the logged area and swings into the older forest after a bit. The trail ascends gently, with the imposing hillside directly ahead. Follow the faint footway with care as it meanders in proximity to a small brook, reaching a point 0.2 miles from the road where the trail pivots left and faces a rock-strewn gully. The path climbs vigorously right up here, weaving past veteran trees. Fortunately the yellow paint blazing is prominent enough to keep the next marker in sight. After a switchback left out of the gully and right back across it, the trail attacks an even steeper pitch on a diagonal. Keep your footing as you work your way up several ledge bands, which may necessitate grabbing onto handholds. Look back as you climb to see the view of the lake materializing. After an intense quarter mile climb, the trail levels off and attains the main ridgeline. Just a bit further, merge with Elwell Trail coming in from the left. For the slightly easier loop route on the way down, you will take this fork.

Now on a more travelled route, the trail weaves across a scenic ledge area, with one view across Newfound Lake toward Peaked Hill and the Belknaps in the distance. The trail then dips into a ditch and climbs back up over assorted boulders and ledges, with an interesting crevasse trailside. After a quarter mile on the Elwell, the trail passes an uplifted rock knob on the left, where an old and still faintly marked cut-off diverges. The main trail makes a casual 180-degree bend around the knob to rejoin the cutoff in less than 0.1 miles. Now ascending moderately again, the trail makes a moderate ascent for 0.1 miles on its final approach to the summit. Take a few steps up to the highest ground on the right as you see the open ledge and a sign on a tree. Here you take in the limited view over the treetops over the lake. To the right of the long Peaked Hill ridge are the Belknaps in the distance again, and Hersey Mountain all the way to the right. The Ossipee Range appears in the backdrop on the left side of the Peaked Hill ridge, and by moving around on the ledge, you can see over to Plymouth Mountain, and Sandwich Dome behind. Eager adventurers can step off trail and locate a ledge with a view of Mt. Cardigan a short distance on the opposite side of the trail. To return on the alternate loop route, continue straight on the Elwell Trail when you get back to the junction with Bear Mountain Trail. This trail parallels the route of Bear Mountain Trail, slicing down the same terrain but avoiding some of the worst ledge bands. It remains quite close for much of the descent, coming within 125 feet at one point. The Elwell Trail eventually levels off and crosses Bear Mountain Road after just under half a mile. You can then turn left and follow the road 0.2 miles back to the start of the Bear Mountain Trail.

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