White Mountain National Forest

Boulder Loop Trail
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The Boulder Loop Trail is located offthe Kancamagus Highway near the Covered Bridge Campground. The three-mile-long trail passes through broad-leafed and evergreenforests to reach its highest point at ledges 1000 feet abovethe Passaconaway Valley.Allow about 1 to 1= hours for thewalk up and one hour for the downward leg. Along the trail are18 stops which are numbered and keyed to the guide below. Yellow blazesmark the trail route.

Sturdy footwear should be worn on this trail. Hiking boots are recommended. Please stay on the trail and use caution at all times, particularly near the ledges.

Over 50,000 years ago, the WisconsinIce Sheet gathered in Canada and grew southward. Eventually itcovered every mountain and valley in New Hampshire. On melting,the ice picked up frozen soil and broken pieces of rock. Thisglacial material acted like a giant piece of sandpaperbeing dragged across the land surface. The last of the ice meltedaway some 10,000 years ago.

As you walk this trail you will see theeffects and results of glaciers. The scoured and scratched granitewas probably covered by soil before the grinding ice dragged thesurface material away and exposed the ancient bedrock.

Stop 1: The things that look like dead leaves growing on the rocks arelichens. Lichens are pioneers. They are the first plants to coverbare earth and rock. A lichen is a combination of two plants,an algae, and a fungus. The fungus absorbs and stores water, whichthe algae combines with sunlight to make food for other plants.The fungus produces an acid which eats in the rock on which itgrows. This acid helps to crumble the rock into fine particles.This is one of the first steps in soil formation.

Stop 2: So far, the trail has passed through a broad-leaf or deciduousforest. Starting at this point, evergreens, or conifers, such asthe nearby spruce, become mixed with the broad-leafed trees.

Stop 3: Before you is evidence of the damage done by a typical New England"Nor'easter". The high winds of these coastal stormshave uprooted several trees in the vicinity, including the pinetree crossing the trail. The majority of these trees have fallenin the same direction, pushed by the wind.

Stop 4: New growth of red spruce is taking place here. Red spruce is ableto grow as a seedling in the shade of the surrounding bigger trees.When trees fall and a clearing such as this one is opened, theseedlings grow toward the sunlight.

Stop 5: From this point you can see the Swift River and the KancamagusHighway weaving through the Passaconaway Valley below.

Stop 6: Expansion within the granite masses causes fractures known assheet joints (cracks parallel to the rock surface).The parallel cracks before you are illustrative of this jointing.The glaciers quarried out fractured pieces of rock, exposing smoothsurfaces of bedrock.

Stop 7: This slope is exposed to the sun's rays during midday. It is,therefore, hotter and drier than slopes which receive less directsunlight. The large conifers are absent here, mainly because theygrow better in a more moist environment.

Stop 8: This old hemlock was at one time a healthy specimen, as you cansee by the size. One can only guess what brought about its death.It could have been a prolonged period of drought. Perhaps lightning,disease, or wind. Maybe the leaves were eaten by insects. Mostlikely it was a combination of these factors.

Stop 9: The cool moist slopes in this vicinity provide good growing conditionsfor hemlock and paper birch.

Stop 10: Red oaks are able to tolerate a hotter exposure and drier, stoniersoil than most other trees in this region. On this rock outcropping,red oak has little competition from other species.

Stop 11: This is the entrance to the ledges. CAUTION: The sheerness thatmakes these ledges spectacular also makes them dangerous. YOUCAN ENJOY THE VIEWS AS MUCH FROM A SAFE SPOT AS YOU CAN FROM THECLIFF EDGES. Use good judgment and be careful. As you walk outto the ledges, the hollow sound underfoot is caused by joint fracturingof the bedrock. This is the result of physical and chemical changes—water and temperature at work.

Stop 12: This is similar to stop 7 except it is a south/southeast slopeas compared to a west/northwest slope at 7. Originally, this areawas bare rock. Over eons of time, lichens, mosses, glaciers, wind,and rain created enough soil to support plant life. Each of theseforms of plant life essentially sacrificed itself, making thesite suitable for the next stage of succession.

Stop 13: You are in the White Mountain National Forest, one of the 155National Forests in the United States. These public lands areadministered by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.As directed by Congress, renewable forest resources—water, timber,forage, wildlife, and recreation are managed in the best interestof the people. Before you and to the left is an example of thetimber management mandate from Congress to grow and harvest timber.It also stimulates the local economy by creating jobs to supportthe industry. The particular method here is called regenerationor harvest cut. To your right and along the trailfor about 800 feet is a selective thinning. To your left is asmall clear cut. As you would weed and harvest yourgarden at home, we are doing the same thing with this stand oftrees.

Stop 14: Hemlock trees are capable of surviving for long periods in theshade of other trees. When an opening is created, they take advantageof the added sunlight and grow into good-sized trees.

Stop 15: Foresters refer to this particular decayed granite as rottenrock and use it to cover many of the roads, footpaths,and campsite pads in the White Mountain National Forest. It takesapproximately 1,000 years for mother nature to wear down solidrock enough to make an inch of soil.

Stop 16: All life depends on water for survival. This small stream is atributary to the Swift River, which feeds into the Saco River inConway. The Saco River meanders to Saco, Maine, where is entersthe Atlantic Ocean. Streams like this meet many needs before enteringthe ocean. A few of these uses include fishing, swimming, drinkingwater, and irrigation of crops.

Stop 17: This mountain shook when boulders crashed down from the cliffsabove. The land was pounded and ancient trees were felled. Here,all around you, the boulders came to rest. Trees and underbrushhave healed the scars and obscured the once dramatic plunge ofthe boulders.

Stop 18: The stumps you see here are remains of the old timber sales inthe early 1940s. The new growth shows why timber is truly renewable,thus protecting the soil, supporting wildlife, and giving youenjoyment.

Return to White Mountain Hiking


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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