Category Archives: Hiking

Smarts Mountain: A Tale Of Two Trails – May 15, 2023

Continuing to more-or-less work from the “52 With A View” list, last Saturday Youngest Son and I decided to climb Smarts Mountain. We’d already been up neighboring Black and Cube Mountains, so why not? Our plan was a loop hike, over the Lambert Ridge Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) and the Ranger Trail.

The trailheads are located off Dorchester Road in Lyme, New Hampshire. I met Son there around 10:30AM, a bit late due to erroneous Google guidance once again. The small parking lot was full, so he tucked his car off the side of the road while I straddled a small and muddy runoff ditch in the lot with the Jeep. There was a lot of water still coming off the Ranger Trail into the parking area. We decided to head up the Lambert Ridge Trail.

It was bright and sunny, although somewhat hazy, and the temperature was in the low 60s. The trail was dry as we headed up the steep incline. This trail wastes no time in getting to the top of the ridge. It reminded me of the short walk I took last week up to Table Rock. That first mile features grades of 25 to better than 30%. The trail was well marked with the white AT blazes, and the only obstacle encountered was a recent oak tree blown down over the winter- easily passed.

We eventually started walking across some granite, and not long after gaining the ridge we were treated to a nice view to the south.

For the next mile and a half we followed the ridge, always on the rock and with some nice views along the way. It was a great part of the walk. There’s also a great view of Smarts Mountain summit off to the right- if you look closely you can make out the fire tower.

The open ridge gave way to a more tree-shaded trail, and gained a bit more elevation before quickly descending to the flat forest floor. This was the approach to the final climb to the summit of Smarts Mountain. We saw an incredible amount of wildflowers on this section of the hike. They were with us from the start, but the variety and volume along this part of the trail was fantastic. Here’s a slideshow of photos taken by Son.

When we arrived at this spot, where wood steps meet the iron rungs, the hike became significantly more steep as we started up the final mile of trail to the summit.

It was a long slog up to the top of Smarts. That final trek is about a mile, without any let up on the incline, which approached 40% in places. The black flies also decided to come out in force right about that time, which necessitated reapplication of the bug dope. 

We passed the junction of the AT with the Ranger Trail, and turned left towards the fire tower and shelter on the summit.

It was a lot more windy topside, and that kept the bugs down on the tree-covered summit. There are no views from the summit of Smarts- if it weren’t for the fire tower I guess it wouldn’t be on the “52 With A View” list. Here’s a video from the top of the tower. The combination of the hazy conditions and shooting the video through glass was challenging. We were amazed that all of the glass was intact on the fire tower.

We took a break on the benches outside of the shelter for lunch. There were a few people about, but not too many. I asked one group how their trip up the Ranger Trail was, because I was now considering going back the way we came to avoid mud and water. They said there was mud and water, but not bad enough to make the trail impassible. After discussion, Son and I decided to head down Ranger.

So we did, retracing some of our steps down from the top until we came to the trail junction. The Ranger Trail headed off to the left, and while we were at elevation it was ok.

As we headed downwards, we came upon the first blowdown. At this point the trail was mostly dry, but there was a lot of debris scattered about. It wasn’t that long ago that winter was here.

Obstacles, both blowdowns and mud became much more frequent. I stopped taking photos of them after navigating through this,

and stopped counting them after reaching twelve. There were many- the trail maintenance crews are going to have some work ahead of them here.

Roughly a mile and a half from the end of the trail, Ranger begins to follow Grant Brook, which I am guessing only recently receded back within its banks after the spring runoff. Lots of mud and standing water in the trail. All able to be navigated by going around or through, sometimes with rock-hopping. 

When you reach this final stream crossing at the garage, Ranger Trail becomes a two-track. From here it was a fast final mile back to the parking lot.

We passed a pretty cascade during the final mile. It won’t be long before that brook is a trickle.

It was about 4PM when we reached the parking lot and the end of the hike. I thought the section on Lambert Ridge Trail was fabulous, the summit underwhelming, and the return trip down Ranger fairly tedious and boring. But overall it was a great outing- it reminded me of our hike up Tumbledown Mountain last fall, where we ascended the fabulous Loop Trail and came down Brook. 

Total distance covered by Son and I was 8 miles exactly, with an elevation gain of 2400 feet. Not counting the lunch break, moving time was 4 ½ hours, which is the average reported for this loop. Not bad!

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