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Backpacking to Sawyer Pond Trip Plan

Best Backpacks in the White Mountains Sawyer Pond

Sawyer Pond is a picturesque backcountry pond on the east side of the White Mountain National Forest, near Crawford Notch and Bartlett, NH. It’s easy to hike into, making it an ideal destination for families, small groups, or couples who want a quiet place to camp without undertaking a huge backpacking trip. The pond is 40 acres in size and quite scenic with a great view of nearby Mt Tremont and a smaller peak called Owls Cliff.

The pond has 6 large campsites (max 8 people per site), fire rings, two outhouses, and nearby lean-to shelter that can sleep another 6 people. Camping is free, but the campsites are first-come, first-serve. The pond is stocked with trout and fishing is permitted with a New Hampshire fishing license. You can also swim or mountain bike on nearby forest roads, XC, and snowmobile trails.

On the clear nights, the star-gazing from Sawyer Pond can’t be beat. There’s no light pollution and the large open space above the pond provides an unobstructed view of the heavens. Fall foliage is a particularly beautiful time to visit when the trees and surrounding hillsides have turned a golden yellow, orange, and red.

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. Backpacking To Sawyer Pond PDF

Rating/Difficulty

Easy

Distance/Elevation Gain

1.5 miles with 150 ft of elevation gain.

Recommended Duration

2 days/1 night

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

No Fires or Camping except at Designated Campsites in the Sawyer Pond Scenic Area

New to the White Mountains? Read this Quick and Dirty Guide to Backpacking in the White Mountains for information about camping regulations, road access, trail shuttles, lodging, dangerous wildlife, weather, etc.

Trailhead Directions

  • Sawyer Pond Trail Trailhead.  Sawyer River Road is a gravel forest road (FR 34) located 1.6 miles north of Sawyer Rock Picnic Area on Rt 302. Turn left from Rt 302 onto Sawyer River Road and drive 3.8 miles to its end, where there will be a parking area on your right. This is 1.8 miles past the Signal Ridge Trail parking area, which you’ll pass earlier on the road.
  • Note: The south (other) end of the Sawyer Pond Trail leaves from Rt 112, the Kancamagus Highway. The directions above are from the north end of the trail, which is where you want to start the trip.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Map 3: Crawford Notch-Sandwich Range (2017 ed),  although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way. Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • Sawyer Pond Trail – 1.5 miles from parking lot to campsites

Camping and Shelter Options

Campsite #4 at Sawyer Pond
Campsite #4 at Sawyer Pond

Sawyer Pond has 6 campsite platforms capable of holding multiple tents. There is a maximum of 8 people per campsite. An adjacent lean-to can house an additional 6 people. Campsites are first come, first serve. Each campsite has a fire ring. There are two outhouses. If the campsites are full, you must hike a quarter-mile away before camping at a dispersed site. Fires are prohibited in the Sawyer Pond Scenic Area except at designated fire rings.

Please observe all White Mountains Backcountry Camping Regulations and leave no trace.

Water

Water is plentiful on this route which parallels a small mountain stream before it arrives at Sawyer Pond. The use of a backcountry water filter or purification device is strongly recommended.

On the Trail

There’s a kiosk next to the trailhead parking lot, which has room for about 10 cars. Pass the kiosk and turn left onto the small pedestrian bridge across the Sawyer River to begin hiking up the Sawyer Pond Trail.

Cross over the Sawyer River and continue up the Sawyer Pond Trail
Cross over the Sawyer River and continue up the Sawyer Pond Trail

The trail enters forest and climbs gently over assorted rocks and tree roots, in other words, a typical White Mountain trail. The trail is well beaten down and very easy follow, with intermittent yellow blazes painted on trees. The 1.5 miles to the pond should take you anywhere from one to two hours to hike, depending on your pace and how much pack weight you’re carrying. There’s no need to load up with too much water for this short stretch and carrying one liter should be sufficient, provided you have a filter or purifier with you to process more water when you reach the pond and the campsite.

The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, alternating between roots and rocks
The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, alternating between roots and rocks.

You’ll soon hear a brook on your right as it flows through the forest. It runs along the trail for most of the way to the campsite and drains into the Sawyer River, near the bridge you crossed earlier. Just before you reach the campsite, you’ll take a right hand turn at a well-marked sign that has a diagram of the campsite locations.

Campsite map

When you reach a small stream fed by the adjacent pond, turn left 270 degrees, before crossing it. After you’ve turned, the pond will be on your right, and you’ll soon see Mt Tremont and Owls Cliff beyond its far shore. They’re two round knobs with distinctive profiles.

Mt Tremont (left) and Owls Cliff (right) overlook Sawyer Pond
Mt Tremont (left) and Owls Cliff (right) overlook Sawyer Pond

The lean-to shelter is another .15 miles down the spur trail. It’s in remarkably good condition and perfectly suitable for sleeping in.

The Sawyer Pond Lean-to is clean and in good condition. Sleeping 6, it's one of the few shelters left in the White Mountain National Forest
The Sawyer Pond Lean-to is clean and in good condition. Sleeping 6, it’s one of the few shelters left in the White Mountain National Forest.

The best time to visit the Sawyer Pond campsites is during the week when there are few people around and there’s little competition for campsites. The campsites become busier on weekends because they’re such a short hike in from the road. Access to the pond becomes much more difficult in late fall and winter because Sawyer River Road is closed to vehicles in winter and usually only opens in late spring.

Philip Werner is the 36th person to finish hiking all of 630 trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of over 1440 miles. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook that anyone can access. Philip has also finished hiking many of the region's peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72 (but still needs 24 hours of trail work for the patch). Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

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5 comments

  1. One of my favorite spots in NH. So peaceful.

  2. Great place to camp! I have bushwacked up the saddle between Tremont and Owls Cliff a few times and up to Tremont and back to the pond. I feel like it’s my home away from home. I remember the first time hiking up there with my dad…I believe it was 1979. There were no fire rings at the platforms; just one communal fire pit at the shore of Sawyer and the shelter was closer to the shoreline. Brings back great memories.

    Great write Phil!

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