A Short Visit to a Tall Rock

The Madison Boulder in Madison, NH is the largest glacial erratic boulder in not just New Hampshire, but all of North America. It’s a National Natural Landmark. It’s also ridiculously easy to visit, and there’s a lot of fun family-friendly stuff to do nearby as well.

The boulder is just at the end of Boulder Road, and is a 10 minute walk from the first parking area down the bumpy end of the road – but if your car has enough ground clearance, there actually is a second parking area right at the boulder. The woods surround the rock so that you really only get your first look at the boulder as you walk directly up to it. The sheer size of the boulder was impressive to me when I first saw it – I knew it was going to be a big rock, but I didn’t know what to expect. The actual size of the boulder is even more than what you can see – around ten feet of the boulder is now underground. The measurements I found here are around 23 feet tall and 85 feet wide left to right and an estimated weight of 11,926,000 lbs.

That’s a big rock!

It’s incredible to think that a boulder of this size was able to be moved, but it’s a testament to the power of the glaciers that left their mark on this area 2.6 million years ago. There is some dispute about where the Madison Boulder actually came from – most people think that it came from Whitton Ledge 12.5 miles to the northwest, but some think the rock type resembles parts of Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch. One thing is for sure: the Madison Boulder definitely comes from somewhere other than where it sits now, and you can see the difference between the rock type of the boulder itself and the smaller rocks it sits on.

The Madison Boulder is an incredible thing to see and definitely worth a visit, but part of what makes it great is how you don’t really need a ton of time to see the boulder and get a sense of why it’s a special thing. There’s a lot of other great stuff to do outdoors in the area, so it’s easy to make a day out of a trip to see the boulder or do it along with something else.

One fun thing that I didn’t expect to do on my trip to the Madison Boulder was a train ride. The Silver Lake Railroad is located right in the town of Madison and uses the same rails that the Conway Scenic Railroad uses, stopping around three miles before where the Conway Scenic starts. Train rides take about an hour and are an excellent way to see the outdoors of the area, including several wetlands and some woods. I saw a deer and a nesting heron, and I heard that earlier visitors had seen moose. The best thing about the Silver Lake Railroad is that it’s a nonprofit and everything is by donation – pay what you want for everything from the train rides themselves to snacks in the restored diner car outside.

White Lake State Park is just a short drive away in Tamworth and has a nice (though very popular and sometimes a bit crowded) beach with a great view. White Lake State Park is also home to a stand of pitch pines which are another National Natural Landmark… but I had a very hard time finding them. Though the pitch pines were pretty cool, I would say that they’re really only worth going to if you are already more excited about trees than I am, and I can’t really say exactly how to find them other than the picture below of where the trail branches off the main trail around the lake – I never found any signage. That said, the trail around the lake was an excellent easy walk and the lake is beautiful – the walk is a good way to get away from the noise of the beach on a crowded day. There are at least three loons on the lake, so be sure to watch for them and if you’re boating, give them room. I wish I’d brought a zoom lens!

To find the pitch pines, walk about halfway around the lake, and look for the trail in the picture above that goes up a little bump and into the woods on the left…

I want to quickly mention Jim Driscoll, 1971 second baseman for the Oakland A’s, currently a Parking Attendant and Guide Extraordinaire at White Lake, who helped me find the trail around the lake when I was looking for the pitch pines… One part of my experience with the New Hampshire State Parks that I haven’t really talked about yet is how generally great my interactions with Parks staff have been. Everyone seems to be very helpful, whether it’s helping me find something I already knew about or helping me think of ideas for places to visit in the future – and some people are just very interesting characters!


Tom Howe

Tom Howe is a third year Div II at Hampshire College concentrating in graphic design. he lives in Goshen, NH and grew up in Anchorage, AK. He likes hiking, biking and cross country skiing, and just generally being outside.

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