Backpacking a Sandwich Dome Loop
Sandwich Dome (3980′) is not quite a White Mountain 4000 footer but it’s still a popular mountain to climb because it commands such an impressive view. It’s also a huge mountain that can be climbed from a number of different directions along some impressive trails that boast their own jaw-dropping scenic viewpoints. Autumn is a particularly fine time to climb the mountain and backpack in the surrounding area when the trees are bursting with color and the nights are cool and dry.
While Sandwich Dome is popular because it’s on the 52 with a view Peakbagging List, the trail system surrounding it is lightly used making it a good place to see wildlife if you’re willing to immerse yourself in its depths. The area also boasts many excellent swimming holes and small stream fly fishing along the mountain streams that drain the Sandwich Dome area including Pond Brook, the Cold River, and the Beebee River.
With just a week left in the fishing season, I planned a one-night 13.8-mile loop to climb Sandwich Dome and visit the headwaters of all three of these rivers, splitting my time between hiking and fishing in these low-pressure mountain streams, because they take some effort to get to. This is a moderately strenuous route, but it was really lovely and I thought I’d share it with you. It’s been a few years since I backpacked extensively in the Sandwich Range, but this trip reminded me of how much I love the area, its gently rolling landscape, and history.Sandwich Dome Loop Map
Here’s a map of the route. This is a georeferenced PDF created using Caltopo. You can navigate with it using an app like Avenza (directions here) or just print it out.
- Bennett Street Trail – 4.0 miles w/2800 ft of elevation gain
- Algonquin Trail – 1.7 miles, descent
- Black Mountain Pond Trail – 3.5 miles, decent
- Mary Cary Falls Spur – 0.2 miles (out and back)
- Guinea Pond Trail – 2.4 miles, flat
- Guinea Pond Spur – 0.4 miles (out and back)
- Flat Mountain Pond Trail – 1.1 miles, descent
- Black Mountain Pond Campsite – tent site pads
White Mountains National Forest Backcountry Camping Rules
Please observe all backcountry camping rules and leave no trace.
Follow Whiteface Intervale Rd. which leaves NH113A, 2.9 miles north of the western junction of NH113 and NH113A, where NH113A bends from north-south to east-west. Bennett St. turns left from Whiteface Intervale Rd 0.1 miles from NH113A, continues straight (left) past a junction at 1.7 miles onto a rough gravel road that is gated at 2.2 miles. Turn left into a small parking area with room for 6 cars and trucks. The end of the road past the junction is unplowed in winter. For more information see p. 369, 30th edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide.
On the Trail
The Bennett Street Trail leaves the trailhead and runs alongside Pond Brook before veering right at a junction with the Flat Mountain Pond Trail. There are a number of popular swimming holes to the right of the trail here on Pond Brook.
The trail climbs gradually and is blazed in blue, before narrowing past the Gleason Trail Junction. If you have an old map, you’ll see that the Gleason Trail climbs Sandwich Dome just west and parallel to the Bennett Trail. Ignore it. While there is a 0.5-mile segment of the Gleason Trail that does link the Bennett St and Flat Mountain Pond Trails, the upper part of the trail has been abandoned and is no longer in use. I once climbed it, all the while thinking “this trail is in terrible shape”, only to learn that it had been closed but still remains on many maps both paper and electronic, including the Gaia app.
Pond Brook gets rockier with many gorges and waterfalls as you continue along the Bennett Street Trail. It really is quite lovely and the swimming and Tenkara fly fishing options abound. I had problems pulling myself away and getting on with my climb up Sandwich Dome, thinking what a pleasant place it would be to camp and do some more fishing.
Onward and upward as my friend Tom likes to say. I continued up to the point where the Bennett Street Trail begins its ascent of Sandwich Dome and started to climb. The first 1000 feet of elevation is steep, but the slope moderates above 2500 feet and the going got easier. The last time I hiked this trail I’d hiked down it, so it was only fitting that I hike up it this time around.
If you look closely, you can still just make out the point where the only Gleason Trail intersects the Bennett St Trail at 3600′. It’s subtle, but the Gleason Trail’s remains haven’t been completely obliterated. No one would mistakenly go down that way, however. I soon reached the summit cairn on Sandwich Dome, which was crowded with people who’d climbed the peak via the more popular Sandwich Mountain Trail. The views were glorious and they say you can make out 35 four thousand footers from the summit.
I soon headed down to the Algonquin Trail junction and headed down the trail. I’d hiked it before with two friends on a foggy day but I couldn’t remember a thing about the route. While I do enjoy hiking with other people, I often can’t remember the scenery because I’m chatting and not paying attention to it. I guess that’s one of the reasons I like to hike alone so much…because it helps me remember what I’ve seen and the emotions I feel at the moment. That and writing trip reports.
The upper part of the Algonquin Trail is forested, but there’s an outstanding north-facing viewpoint on an open ledge, just above the Black Mountain Pond Trail junction. The day was sunny and gorgeous, so I hung out there for a while admiring the view of Welch-Dickey, Acteon Ridge, and Tecumseh and the Osceolas. It was awe-inspiring, but I knew the best was yet to come.
I turned on the Black Mountain Pond Trail and because of the steep and rocky descent. This was by far the most difficult section of my route and required careful footwork over rock ledges and through huge tumbled-down boulders. I was relieved when I made it down to Black Mountain Pond and the pond’s campsite.
I’d been expecting to run into some campers here, but there was no one in sight. Black Mountain Pond used to be a popular party spot, including some ghastly “overuse”, but has since been cleaned up rather dramatically by trail maintenance groups. There are also large areas around the pond that have been walled off for revegetation, but I was still surprised to see so little trace of human visitation. That’s a good thing I guess. The area deserves a rest.
I thought about camping at the pond, but I’d not a pond style fisherman, preferring streams and small rivers with moving water. My reel-less rods also have a maximum reach of about 30′ and are match better suited for close-in fishing, rather than long casts. So I continued down the trail toward the Guinea Pond trail thinking I’d like to reach the Cold River and camp nearer to it.
The Black Mountain Pond Trail is mostly downhill and easy to hike between the pond and its junction with the Guinea Pond Trail. It passes by a short spur trail that leads to Mary Cary Falls, which was barely a trickle when I visited, before nearing the headwaters of the Beebee River, which snake through the forest within earshot of the trail. The Beebee drains into a big beaver meadow, before draining into Guinea Pond, which is a seldom-visited hidden gem surrounded by bog and marshland.
Shortly thereafter, I arrived at the Guinea Pond Trail junction. I knew it was the right junction even though all the trail signs pointed to and named the intersecting trails, but not the Guinea Pond Trail itself. Kind of odd. I turned onto it, did a few easy river crossings because the water was so low, and walked right past an unmarked path snaking off to the left.
I’d been expecting that trail, which is called the Guinea Pond Spur Trail, even though it’s not signed. As I approached the shore, I thought “isn’t it incredible that my socks still haven’t gotten wet today,” just as I stepped into an area of calf-deep mud which soaked my shoes and socks. I had to laugh. I backtracked to the main trail and continued hiking toward the Cold River.
This section of the Guinea Pond Trail is very fast hiking down an old road, which I suspect must have been a logging railway line given its width and level surface. Looking ahead, I could see a long green tunnel of trees, straight as an arrow, as it reached into the distance.
Sections of the Guinea Pond Trail are notoriously wet and I knew I was coming up on an area that is totally underwater, taken over by beavers who’ve turned it into a pond. That pond seems to have grown even larger in the past 2 years since my last visit. The trail takes a detour around it, but even that was partially underwater, so I had to bushwhack a bit to get around it. Once past it, I arrived at the Cold River trail crossing and set out to look for a campsite.
You’re allowed to camp in non-designated campsites throughout much of the White Mountains. That’s one of the things I love about the place. But you’d be surprised at how many pre-existing campsites exist. Following Leave No Trace practices, I will use a pre-existing campsite if I come across one rather than create a new one.
I didn’t know what I’d find when I reached the Cold River, but it didn’t surprise me that there was a fisherman’s path down the side of the river or that it led to a pre-existing campsite. It actually wasn’t a terribly good tent site, but I managed to find a flat enough place to pitch my tent and set about making dinner for the night, perched on a big rock in the middle of the river.
Then I went to sleep for 12 hours. I sleep really well outdoors, which probably explains why I take every opportunity to do it. It was a cold night, so crawling into my warm sleeping bag and checking out was a lot better than trying to stay awake and keep warm.
When I woke the next morning I had a cold breakfast of nuts and dried fruit before packing up and hiking out. I was only 2.6 miles from the trailhead, so it didn’t take long to get there. In fact, I could have probably finished the entire loop the night before but I’d wanted to sleep out and fish the Cold River that next morning.
Autumn is always a bittersweet time for me in the White Mountains and while the colors and cool weather are a welcome change, they’re often too brief to savor for very long. Winter is on the horizon. The high peaks are frost-covered in the mornings, it’s sweater weather during the day and the sun goes down early in the evening. That means it’s time to get out a few more times before old man winter arrives.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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