The Cohos Trail runs the length of Coos County, starting in the White Mountains to the south, and threading its way through Northern New Hampshire to the Canadian Border. While I’ve hiked most of the southern sections of the Cohos (pronounced co’-haus), this was the first section I’d hiked north of the Kilkenny Wilderness, which is the northernmost extent of the White Mountain National Forest, and the edge of the world as far as most White Mountain hikers are concerned.
I’d tagged along on an Appalachian Mountain Club weekend section hike led by two close friends, to get a first hand look at this section of the Cohos Trail and see what hiking in the north country was all about.
Hiking the northern section of the Cohos is not for the faint of heart. There are no decent maps of the trail, so you’ll need to put your faith on the trail blazing and signage (which is quite good) and carry sections of Cohos Trail Guidebook for your hike, including the frequent trail updates posted on the Cohos Trail Association website.
I also recommend carrying the relevant pages of the Delorme New Hampshire Gazetteer (which maps the dirt and gravel roads you need to penetrate northern New Hampshire) and the excellent Coos County Snowmobile Trails Map and Guide for New Hampshire (order from the Mountain Wanderer Bookstore), which is the best waterproof overview map for this region. The Cohos Trail isn’t shown on it, but it shows all of the snowmobile routes, which are the main thoroughfares in the area, and provide access to all of the detours one might care to take.
Many of wildest 3000 footers in northern New Hampshire can be accessed by hiking in on the Cohos Trail and its connecting snowmobile corridors, including Deer Mountain, Salomon, Mt D’Urban, Kent, Magalloway, Pisgah, Cave, Dixville Peak , Baldhead, Kelsey, Muise, Kelsey, Blue, Teapot, Goback, Sugarloaf, Whitcomb, Long. and North and South Percy. That’s one of the big allures for me. Be forwarned: many of these are off-trail hikes (bushwhacks) although the most popular are accessible by trails.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The section we hiked on this trip ran from Rt 110 to Sugarloaf Arm, the spur trail leading to Mount Sugarloaf (not the one you’re probably thinking of). Most of this section runs through the Nash Stream Forest, which is administered by the State of New Hampshire, which bought it from the lumber giant, Diamond International.
We broke the section into two days hikes and camped at a nearby commercial campground, but this required several fairly long shuttles to place cars at the ends of our route on the Nash Stream Road, a dirt and gravel road that runs through the area. This road is good enough to drive a regular car on, if you’re willing to travel at 20 mph or less.
The Cohos Trail follows snowmobile trails and pre-existing hiking trails through this section, which makes for pleasant and fast walking, although it can be muddy in spots. The blazing and signage are surprisingly good (yellow blaze) and the trail is easily followed without constantly referring to a map. Water sources are abundant, although you’ll need a filter or chemical purification.
Some of the highlights we visited along our the route included Victor Head, a small mountain where we ate lunch on a big open ledge, and the South and North Percy Peaks. The rest of our hike was through open forest and along easy trails, some choked with ferns or grass, but easy to follow nevertheless. This being July, the bugs were out in force and headnets and copious amounts of DEET were required.
On day 2, we were forced to hike out early without summiting Mt Sugarloaf due to heavy rain, but we did get to hang out at the Old Hermit Lean-to, one of the new shelters built by the Cohos Trail Association, for a few hours during the worst of the storm. It’s a nice. but modest shelter, with a composting privy.
Camping along the Cohos Trail (north of the White Mountain National Forest) is strictly limited to a few designated campsites such as this one, along the trail or at adjacent campgrounds, because the trail passes over private land. Campfires are not permitted without landowner permission and a fire permit, so be sure to bring a camping stove.
While I can understand the need to control camping on private land (this is strictly enforced), it weakens some of the allure of hiking a long trail through a less populated area for me, because wild leave no trace camping is something I enjoy so much. Still, it’s a constraint, I’m willing to abide by for the privilege of hiking into the wild north of New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail.
How Tough is the Cohos Trail?
The 165 mile Cohos Trail can be divided into two halves:
- The area south of Rt 110, which falls within the White Mountain National Forest
- The area north of Route 110, which is largely privately owned and follows many snowmobile trails and other established hiking trails.
While the Cohos follows portions of the White Mountain trail system south of Rt 110, it’s not signed or blazed, so you’ll need to follow the Cohos guidebook instructions and a get a good White Mountains map to follow the route. While this portion of the Cohos is physically challenging (see Why are the White Mountains So Tough?), the difficulty of hiking in the Whites is mitigated by easy road access, the presence of other hikers, decent cell phone coverage, and relatively quick search and rescue services.
The situation north of Rt 110 couldn’t be more different. While the trail is much less rocky and far easier to hike because it follows relatively well graded snowmobile trails, you are on your own if you need any help. Cell phone and landline service is virtually non-existent, resupply becomes increasingly difficult, road access is extremely limited, and you’ll need to be very self-sufficient in a crisis. If your navgation skills are on the weak side, your best bet is to hike the trail with more experienced hikers and not go solo.