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Good Views Meet a Good Workout

  • The entrance to Lyme Hill Conservation Area from River Road. A 0.2-mile stretch on River Road is this only paved portion of this hike and it includes views of the Connecticut River.

  • Lyme Hill's summit features partial views of Lyme village, Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube.

  • Old gravestones rest at Gilbert Cemetery, site of Lyme's original settlers, according to an on-site plaque. The cemetery is accessible via short spur trail from the Lyme Hill Conservation Area near River Road.

  • Sam Levey, of Lyme, and his dogs Poppy, left, and Khobi hike to the top of Lyme Hill almost every day.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/30/2016 12:47:02 AM
Modified: 3/30/2016 12:47:46 AM

Lyme — What good can possibly come out of a winter as snow-starved as the one the Upper Valley experienced this year? Aside from less shoveling and cheaper plow bills, an earlier hiking season will make foot travelers happy.

Less snowmelt means a shorter mud season and fewer erosion concerns on trails, rendering networks such as Lyme Hill Conservation Area — with its low-lying paths along Grant Brook and its tributaries — suitable for comfortable hiking much earlier than it would be following a typical, snowy winter.

Though waterproof boots are still recommended for some moderately wet patches, there's no reason to delay exploring LHCA, one of the region's most improved networks in recent years.

Annual workday crews from Hyperthem have helped the Upper Valley Land Trust enhance accessibility to the area's 237 acres, now featuring wider paths and easier-to-follow blazing and signage.

An out-and-back climb to the top of Lyme Hill takes little more than an hour. To take advantage of more of the network's bountiful features, plan for a 4½-mile trip that includes part of the Lower Grant Brook Trail, just north of Lyme Hill Conservation Area, as well as a short stretch of scenic River Road.

From a gravel parking area off of New Hampshire Route 10 a mile south of Lyme village, take a bark mulch path south and you’ll almost immediately encounter a short spur trail to a bench overlooking a stream below. It's worth a glance, though there are more impressive water views to come.

Entering the woods following blue blazes, three boardwalks traverse the stream as moss-covered boulders line the sides of the trail. Combined with the hemlock-strewn canopy overhead, the air emits a greenish hue even on an overcast afternoon such as Tuesday’s.

Get the blood pumping up a gradual hill to the first of many well-marked intersections, turning left downhill over rabbit scat and scraggly rocks to a wetland viewing area. Nestled parallel with the parking area just west of Route 10 — the Nichols Christmas tree farm is visible just past the wetlands — UVLT is in the planning stages of making the area wheelchair and handicapped accessible.

Return to the main blue-blazed path (avoiding a snowmobile trail marked with orange signage) and continue 0.3 miles to the base of Lyme Hill. It’s only another 0.3 miles to the modest summit, where a bench overlooks partial views of Bailey’s Farm, Lyme Congregational Church, Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube to the north. Hypertherm’s work crew recently performed clearing to help open up this view, along with rerouting part of the trail into switchbacks to help control erosion.

Return to the bottom of Lyme Hill and follow the path for River Road. Be alert for a spur trail to the right just one-tenth of a mile later — its sign, labeled “To Grant Brook,” is facing the opposite direction.

Take this trail for a pleasant and diverse 0.6-mile path featuring more dense moss, a vernal pool still coated with ice and mysterious piles of rock that appear to have been intentionally placed long ago. They may have once been agricultural markers, the likely purpose of the stately white pines remaining from the property’s past as well.

The trail eventually cuts left — straight ahead is a private trail — meandering along a clay-banked stream to another intersection. From here it’s only another 0.1 miles over roaring Grant Brook to the Lower Grant Brook Trail.

This flat, tunnel-like trail eventually gives way to an open field. Stay to the left side of the field to remain on the trail, heading toward a clear opening on its far end. This segues to River Road, the lone paved portion of this hike and one that doesn’t lack scenery. Turning left from the end of Lower Grant Brook Trail, an open southerly sky and the Connecticut River dominate the landscape, including a wetlands area where ducks swam Tuesday.

Walk a short distance uphill to re-enter the woods with signage for Lyme Hill Conservation Area and Upper Valley Land Trust. A white sign soon marks a short spur path to Gilbert Cemetery where, according to a plaque, Lyme’s original settlers are buried. The bedraggled, chipped gravestones include one marked for a Revolutionary War soldier.

Get the heart rate going again while venturing uphill from there, bypassing a pair of intersections with trails labeled for Grant Brook (the second is the one you took from the opposite direction to begin the loop). Turn left at the base of Lyme Hill — this time, you want to follow the orange arrow marked for snowmobilers that coincides with the blue blazes — and it’s an easy half-mile back to the parking area.

Trail Trials is a periodic series that reviews hiking trails in and around the Upper Valley. Send feedback to Jared Pendak at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.




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