The Merrimack Valley Region: Bears, Brooks, and Everything In Between

Who knew that the biggest developed state park in New Hampshire was only 18 minutes away from a Target? Not me until I Googled it, but that’s the beauty of the Merrimack Region! There are five charming state parks within an hour of Concord and Manchester. So if you have been looking for an excuse to not get outside this summer, this post is not it.

Clough State Park

For me, the highlight of Clough State Park was meeting staff member Cindy at the toll booth. She walked me through the history of the area and brought my attention to the towering evergreens. Their foliage doesn’t begin until ⅔ up the trunk, and she informed me about the great Mother’s Day flood of 2006. Take a look at this picture; the water got so high that year the tree’s foliage doesn’t grow below where the waterline reached. 

Clough sits on Everett Lake, and I walked up to the Everett Dam to snap this picture. The views from above are worth the trek. The beach is spacious, but if you want to swim in peace, you can venture down the other side of the damn to access a small peninsula. Canoeing and kayaking is another way to explore the lake. While the bugs are not friendly, the inlets are bursting with fauna (and more bugs). That being said, I forgot my bug spray, so don’t be like me.

Bear Brook State Park

Not to keep dredging up the past, but like many, I heard about Bear Brook State Park from the New Hampshire Public Radio podcast. If you have not listened already, maybe hold off until after you’ve visited. Luckily (and possibly contrary to popular belief), Bear Brook is incredibly safe, and with over 10,000 acres of forest, it’s one of the best places to explore time and time again. 

The main campground is massive, with over 70 spots, plus a few cabins if you need something a little more civilized. On my trip, I hiked out to Smith Pond, and you can even stay overnight in a remote shelter overlooking the water. The pond is swamp-esque, with ancient tree trunks jutting out here and there. Some look like they had been snapped in a bad storm but others were chiseled to a point, and my suspicions of beaver activity were confirmed with a huge dam on the southern end. 

I had my first close encounter with a deer on Pitch Pine Trail. Before you ask, no, I did not get a picture. My shock stood in the way of that happening. But the trails are lovely, and I saw bikers and hikers alike. Many trails are interconnected, so it’s possible (and highly recommended) to get immersed in the shady woods for a few hours.

On my way out, I stopped by the Archery Pond to see the fly fishermen, focused as ever, sitting under their bucket hats around the small body of water. They reminded me of how serene the outdoors can be if that’s what you’re looking for. This park is only 20 minutes away from Concord, so if you need a break from city living, Bear Brook can offer you just that.

Northwood Meadows State Park

Tucked into a small forest in the town of Northwood sits the aptly named Northwood Meadows State Park. It’s a little deceiving; it seems so small when you pull in, with just a parking lot and lending library to greet you. The real magic is past the trailhead and deep into the wooded realm. 

The main path branches off into tributaries that lead you towards ponds, meadows, and waterfalls. I passed this creek on my walk down the Universal Access Trail and decided to experiment with long exposure on my camera for the first time. The water was gushing and a bit foamy, but the photos turned out!

I found myself at Meadow Lake, which has spots for picnicking and sightseeing (if you like beetles). The water was glassy, reflecting the purples and greens that glimmered all around me.

If you’re feeling optimistic, you can also check out Demon Lake. In terms of attractions with more pleasant names, there are multiple other trails that will take you around the lake and into the flower fields. 

Pawtuckaway State Park

“Pawtuckaway or No-Way,” a guest at Silver Lake State Park tells me. She and her family would spend the summers camping on Pawtuckaway Lake, and the memories stick with her to this day. When I arrived, I soon found out why. 

Pawtuckaway is massive and pretty popular, but there are plenty of hidden gems tucked into the seams. If you’ve had enough of the beach, boulders, and bonfires, the swamps hold a special charm waiting to be discovered. I saw turtles, bullfrogs, and a few bumblebees hovering among the blueberry bushes. The blueberries are just ripening, so you have weeks to head out and pick your own (locally grown) wild berries.

Also – don’t litter.

Silver Lake State Park

Silver Lake State Park doesn’t have the sprawling campgrounds of miles of trails. Still, it is perfect if all you need is a place to relax on the beach, take a dip, and maybe explore some calm water in a kayak or canoe. 

The park backs up into Spaulding Town Forest, so there are few trails available past the picnic benches. However, most folks were shaking off the feverish Sunday air in Silver Lake. The staff is cheery and kind, working a park store stocked with every type of snack. If you decide to camp out on the beach all day, you’ll be set.

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Sophia Hartley

I am a senior at the University of Chicago, and I am thrilled to be interning with the State Parks this summer. As I explore New Hampshire’s parks, I will be sharing my experiences through the blog! My goal is to get off the beaten path and encourage others to explore parks they might not have realized hold their next adventure.

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