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View from the Kanc takes in all seasons

The Swift River by the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, N.H.
By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / March 1, 2009
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LINCOLN, N.H. - Jagged Scar Ridge, with its snow-choked ravines, is the million-dollar view on a winter hike that doesn't require much effort.

The impressive range is bounded in the east by Mount Osceola, one of New Hampshire's 4,000-plus-foot peaks, and Loon Mountain to the west.

Snowshoers and hikers don't have to venture far from the winding Kancamagus Highway to see the ridge. It's about midway along the benign 1.4-mile Forest Discovery Trail, about six miles east of Lincoln.

The Kanc is one of the state's most famous roadways (perhaps second to the Mount Washington Auto Road), a sinuous link between the ski towns of Conway and Lincoln that transports visitors in summer to boulder-strewn swimming holes and hiking trails while treating the leaf-peepers of autumn to an astounding blaze of color.

In winter, Route 112 is more solitary, but motorists who tackle the 30-plus-mile White Mountain road through its mixed bag of weather don't have far to go on foot, free-heel skis, or snowshoes to experience an abundance of outdoor recreation.

The Kanc is just plain cold in winter. Both its roadside waterways - the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River near Lincoln and the Swift River - are loaded with snow and ice. Even after road crews plow and treat the Kanc, those precarious grades and curves can turn drivers' knuckles white. Most campgrounds are gated while some scenic vistas and trailheads are left unplowed.

The Forest Discovery Trail is a gentle adventure along a path teeming with interpretive signs. Booklets at the trailhead detail nature facts, like how many calories a black bear needs daily to prepare for winter (60,000).

The Kanc's classic cross-country ski venue is along the Swift River on the seven-mile Lower Nanamocomuck Ski Trail,which is wild, narrow, and its snow conditions variable. (The Saco Ranger Station on the Kanc by Conway is the snow report resource.) But the trail is a wondrous schuss over bridges, up and down hills, along the Swift, and into the quiet of the woods. There are three access points for the trail along the Kanc: the Albany Covered Bridge about six miles west of Conway, the Rocky Gorge parking lot about 8 1/2 miles west of Conway, and Bear Notch Road some 12 miles west.

A point-to-point west to east adventure using two vehicles is an enjoyable ski through the evergreens and birches between Bear Notch Road and the handsome 1858 covered bridge.

Two campgrounds - Hancock in the west and Blackberry Crossing in the east - are plowed but services are minimal (the toilets are open). Campers might have to dig out their picnic tables and fire pits. Water is shut off in winter, so it's bring your own or melt snow over a camping stove.

Not far from the Blackberry Crossing campground is the tiered and frozen Sabbaday Falls. About 15 miles west of Conway and approximately 19 miles east of Lincoln, a visit to the falls along the Sabbaday Brook Trail leads to the icy plunge over fractured rock. The undemanding trek is about a half-mile round trip. Not only are there no mosquitoes and black flies, but there also are about as many people. And that is the appeal of the Kanc in winter.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty@martybasch.com.

If You Go

User fees are charged in the White Mountain National Forest. A $3 daily pass can be obtained on site at trailheads. A seven-day pass is $5 at locations including ranger stations. For more information, go to www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain/.

Saco Ranger District

33 Kancamagus Highway

Conway

603-447-5448

Daily 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Gateway Visitors Center

Interstate 93, exit 32, Lincoln

603-745-3816

Daily 8:30-5:30.

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