My two five-year-olds, newly initiated into kindergarten, reminded me authoritatively this week that it’s officially fall. How could I forget? Autumn has always been my favorite season in New Hampshire — my husband even proposed on a pumpkin.
And, it’s a relief now that I have help teaching my children about the natural world after a solitary summer. In school, their first project was a booklet with facts about owls, from Great Horned to Burrowing. My children are excited to keep their eyes peeled for wildlife as we enjoy autumn. I just hope they don’t expect to spot the owl with the rainbow wings that popped up in their illustrations.
Although most of the trees in southern New Hampshire are still covered in green, reminders of the season abound —along with a sense of urgency to explore new outdoor spaces before winter arrives. This year, the window of time between forests alight with a rainbow of colors and the rustle of bare branches also seems starker. As we pack masks into our hiking backpacks, we are living with uncertainty about how we will bear another season separated from so many people we love.
It’s no wonder that hundreds of thousands of people have sought solace in New Hampshire’s outdoor spaces. But, after a summer of parks and trails filled to overflowing with visitors, there are changes afoot for fall recreation to help keep communities and wildlife safe.
The reason for the season: foliage
Fall is a great time to enjoy the foliage and forests of the Granite State. If you’re planning to hike the big two — Mount Major and Mount Monadnock — there are a few differences this year.
- At Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, day-use reservations are required to ensure COVID-19 precautions are followed. As of my writing, there were still plenty of Monadnock HQ parking day passes left for weekends in October but the 225 spots fill quickly — always plan ahead. Learn more: https://www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/monadnock-state-park.
- At Mount Major in Alton, the more than 80,000 visitors that hike the peak each year have taken a toll on the trails. The Forest Society is currently repairing the drainage and erosion problems at the bottom of the Main (Blue) Trail. The parking lot is temporarily closed during construction, which is expected to wrap up by early October. Visitors can park along Route 11 (except in designated "no parking" zones) and will be directed to a temporary trail detour which will provide hiker access to all of the trails. There is no advance registration necessary for Mount Major. But if you’re planning a mid- to late-October hike, it’s safest to check out the upgrades to the Main Trail at an off-peak time, such as weekdays. For updates about the project, visit forestsociety.org/majortrailwork.
Hikes and outdoor activities go the “do-it-yourself” or virtual route
If you’ve taken advantage of cooler fall temperatures by participating in guided hikes and other outdoor activities in the past, the pandemic has caused the cancelation of many of these traditions. However, some of the festivities have gone virtual or DIY, meaning you and your family can take up a challenge or an educational activity on your own schedule.
- 5 Hikes Challenge: I’m one of the 500 people taking part in the Forest Society’s 5 Hikes Challenge, which lasts through October 31. The first destination on my family’s list was the Merrimack River Outdoor Education & Conservation Area in Concord. The beloved reservation, known as “The Floodplain,” is one of more than 20 Forest Society destinations across the state that count toward the challenge. Participants will receive a special patch for completing five hikes. Registration fees for non-members support the continued stewardship of these beautiful spaces. Learn more: forestsociety.org/5hikes
- In place of the annual Woods, Water & Wildlife Festival, Moose Mountains Regional Greenways and Branch Hill Farm offer a free Woods, Water & Wildlife Explorers Club. The club includes a series of self-guided and educational activities designed to support youth and families spending time in the outdoors together. Activities include, “Learn Your Leaves,” with an identification guide that you can use in your backyard or on a hiking trail, and “Birds, Bugs, and Blooms,” a lesson on the connections between birds, wildflowers, and bugs that benefit the natural environment. Learn more: mmrg.info/mmrg-in-action/explorers-club/
Most importantly, read up on the universal guidelines to “leave no trace,” no matter your activity. Avid hikers can also learn from the state’s Hike Safe guide (hikesafe.com) and purchase a “Hike Safe” card from NH Fish & Game. See you out on the trail!