Mt. Sunapee in Newbury, NH is known by many as an excellent ski mountain, but there’s actually a lot to see and do in the park during the summer as well. The mountain is great to hike and the view from the top is very rewarding. The real hidden gem here is Lake Solitude, which lies just over the top of the mountain. The hiking trail up the mountain is a part of the extensive 75-mile Sunapee Ragged Kearsarge Greenway loop, which opens up a whole range of options for longer hikes. There’s even a beach in the park on the other side of the traffic circle.
The Sunapee Ragged Kearsarge trail (SRKG) is nice and shaded and winds up the mountain through beautiful woods and good terrain for walking. Some people do hike straight up the ski trails from the ski lodge parking lot. And while those are more direct, they’re not shaded, are very steep, and also can have tall grass – so the 2.1 mile stretch of the SRKG trail to the top is much better. There are a couple ways to actually get on the SRKG trail. One way is to park at the ski lodge parking lot, which is huge and easy to find, and start the hike via a short connector trail from that parking lot to the greenway. I prefer parking at the end of Old Province Road in Goshen, NH and starting from there. The ski lodge parking lot approach is better in some ways because while it’s open, the deli (and bathrooms) associated with the Adventure Park at Mt. Sunapee are right there, but starting from Old Province Road lets you skip a bit of unnecessary uphill walking by starting on the back side of North Peak, and is also more out of the way. Make sure to follow the SRKG trail signs and blazes. The trail starts out gradually uphill as it heads into the woods and eventually gets steeper as you reach the actual mountain.
The trail ends somewhat abruptly in tall grass and ferns atop the mountain, with only a couple peeks at the view before leaving the woods. The best views are from just before the Skyway Ledges ski trail takes off down the hill (where to go to see Lake Sunapee), and the big panoramic view from the upper deck behind the big lodge (see the image at the top, look for the wind turbines of Lempster way off in the distance to the far left).
The trail to Lake Solitude actually starts a little lower on the mountain. There are signs, but the easiest way to describe where the trail starts is to follow what looks like a dirt road down the hill to the right, and look on the right at the bottom of the first steep section for a sign marking the start of the trail. From there, it’s 1.2 miles to the lake, and just 1 mile of somewhat rocky terrain with a few small ups and downs to the white ledges overlook, where you can see the whole lake laid out below you with another great panoramic view. The ledges are an excellent place to take a break since the trail gets considerably steeper as it descends to the lake below.
As the trail reaches the lake, the woods become much less dense, letting in more light and the first views of the lake from up close. There are lots of good places to stop and lots of good views up and down the lake. I found that the environment really made me feel like slowing down and taking time to enjoy every place as I walked around the shore. There were lots of dragonflies zooming about when I was there, noisy frogs, and lots of fish jumping – I’m not actually sure what kinds of fish are in the lake, but there clearly were quite a few there. From farther around the shoreline there is a nice view back up at the white ledges – it’s impressive how they shoot up just at the edge of the lake. It’s worth note that the trail to Lake Solitude connects to the Sunapee-Monadnock Greenway, which means you can keep on walking from there to places like Lucia’s Lookout in Pillsbury State Park. There is good signage around the lake.
Seeing Lake Sunapee from the mountaintop is one thing, but visiting the beach is another. The State Park beach is down the road directly across the traffic circle from the mountain, and is worth a visit. In how many parks can you hike a mountain and go to a beach with so short a distance in between? The beach is located on a nice stretch of Lake Sunapee and has nice facilities, a playground, a boat launch, and lifeguards.