Hiked the (New) Iron Mountain Trail | Hiking news
Iron Mountain (2,726 feet) in Jackson has a new 1 mile section of trail worth seeing. This was a collaborative effort of the White Mountain National Forest, the White Mountain Trail Collective, and the Appalachian Mountain Club.
I did the hike on a lovely cool fall day this week.
To get there, head north on Route 16 to Jackson. Just north of the covered bridge, turn left onto Green Hill Road. In 1.2 miles it turns left and the sidewalk ends. It continues uphill at a steep slope. In 2.6 miles, turn into a trail parking lot on the right.
The trail begins on the other side of the road on a new set of wooden steps filled with small stones. These were built in September by Yohann Hanley and the White Mountain Trail Collective team.
Above, the old trail crosses an open field, part of Hayes Farm, his white house visible higher up in the field. Crossing the field, turn around and look north. I think this is the best view at the start of any trail in the White Mountains, looking through Pinkham Notch with Mt Washington to the left and Wildcat Ridge and Carter Dome to the right.
19th century Boston painter John Enneking was impressed and captured this scene on a large canvas. Many saw this magnificent painting a few years ago during an exhibition at the Pace Gallery of the Fryeburg Academy, curated by White Mountains art collector Sam Robbins.
Anyway, shortly after entering the trees on the other side of the prairie, the old trail merges into the new 1 mile section. Didn’t notice the transition until, as if by magic, I walked on the soft ground of the new trail. This set the tone for enjoying this new modern section of the Iron Mountain trail.
The old trail went from the meadow straight up the mountain to the top. Much of it was a steep 3-foot-deep rut due to years of use and abuse. Matt Moore, trail supervisor for the AMC, told me that the first trails were sometimes “rope trails”.
“They would stretch a string directly over a mountain and then cut it along it,” he said.
The new trail has at least six switchbacks.
The awareness of the need for a new path has been around for years. After a 10-year effort, Christin Bailey, Trails Supervisor for the Saco District of the White Mountain National Forest, and Jeff Sires of the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust finally struck a deal with the farm’s generous landowners. Hayes to approve the new track work.
Trail work began on August 23 and the trail reopened on September 30. It was funded by the US Forest Service and the Great American Outdoors Act, with a 50/50 match from the White Mountain Trail Collective.
“The CMA did the heavy lifting, supervised by Matt Moore,” Cristin Bailey told me. “But I was there a lot, and Yohann Hanley of the White Mountain Trail Collective was also very supportive.”
It was chilly in the shady woods as I pulled up the laces and I kept my light LL Bean downtek jacket on. But since the laces weren’t stiff, I didn’t sweat or overheat. To maintain the level of the trail on the steeper crossings, the trail builders had installed rip-rap and support logs.
Finally the trail magically merged into the old trail about a quarter mile below the summit. I took a spur trail to a rock with the same great view to the north.
The summit itself has four concrete supports from the old tower and old timber. There is no view.
The nice thing about Iron Mountain is that you continue from the summit and descend the south side for about half a mile until you exit to the right for the South Ledges. The view to the west is great and it is a good place for lunch. There is no sign indicating the turn for the south ledges. The trail splits with a small cairn in the middle.
I took a right and anticipated the view as I walked through thinned trees on smooth granite. There was a light cool breeze when I got to the South Ledges. The vast western view of the mountains opened. I found a quiet, sunny corner for lunch, surrounded by red blueberry leaves.