Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, NH is an awesome sample of New Hampshire’s great outdoors. With an area of around 5,000 acres, the park contains a great variety of the things that make New Hampshire’s wilderness unique- from impressive geological formations to beautiful beaver ponds.
There are actually a couple different ways to get into the park, which makes it a lot easier to get to the right place. While the main entrance is a quick way to drive to the beach, it’s easier to access Round Pond, the boulder field, and the fire tower from the back entrance on Tower or Round Pond road off of Reservation road. It’s worth note that Tower Road and Round Pond road are narrow and fairly rough – while I was able to get there with a Honda Civic, a car with more clearance would be recommended especially if it’s muddy. On Tower Road there is a small parking area with an outhouse at a trailhead. South Mountain Trail is a very easy and short (.4 miles but pretty steep) walk and is a great way to get to the fire tower for a view. There are a couple trails that leave from that parking area, South Mountain trail is the one with signs directing you to the fire tower.
To get to the boulder field and Round Pond, I just kept on hiking, taking the South Ridge Trail to Round Pond and the Boulder Trail from there. It was a fairly easy hike, and almost entirely downhill from the fire tower, but it was a bit long and the trail does get a little rocky and muddy in a couple places. It’s worth note that I had a hard time finding the Boulder Trail once I got to Round Pond – make sure to bring a map! The terrain was beautiful and it felt like around every turn I had to stop and take pictures of something. There were several small marsh areas and I saw a lot of big whirligig beetles which were fun to watch for a while. At Round Pond I saw a log with at least 11 painted turtles on it, and at the beaver pond on the Boulder Trail I was surprised by a big Northern Water Snake, and also saw lots of birds including a few Phoebes and Red Winged Blackbirds. I heard a Barred Owl somewhere in the distance around the beaver pond too! The whole area felt like I was much deeper in the wilderness than I actually was and it made the hike very rewarding.
If you wanted to just visit the boulder field, driving to Round Pond is possible via Round Pond Road, and in fact some of what I thought were the most impressive giant boulders are right near the boat launch on Round Pond. From there, the Boulder Trail is fairly easy and gives you a great view of the beaver pond as well as a walk through the impressive boulders. I walked all the way back out the Boulder Trail to its intersection with the road, and then walked on the road back to the car at the head of South Mountain trail – but I wouldn’t actually recommend doing that if you just want to see the boulders. The road wasn’t terrible to walk on, but the bugs were pretty bad, and it’s just a dirt road. To experience the boulders best, I would suggest exploring the area right around the boat launch at Round Pond, and going out the Boulder Trail just to the end of the beaver pond. Though the boulders do continue all the way out to the road from there, and there are a few huge ones past the beaver pond, the most impressive boulders are right there at the start, and there are lots of nice places to stop and sit along the shore of the beaver pond.
One of the things that made Pawtuckaway really stand out to me was the abundance of life, and that includes not only all the animal life there but the plant life as well. I don’t know too much about wildflowers, but there were lots of Pink Lady Slippers and Wild Columbine everywhere I went in the park and they were very beautiful. These definitely aren’t something that I see everywhere and they really added to the environment.
Pawtuckaway State Park really is a great way to get a taste of New Hampshire’s wilderness and what makes it unique. It’s a big park and there’s a lot to do, but it’s totally manageable. Cool things like the beach, the boulder field and the fire tower are easy to get to and the park can definitely be enjoyed in a day trip. If you want to spend more time in the area, the park’s 195 site campground is worth considering as well!