In an area full of superlatives, the Moriah Brook Trail is considered one of the most beautiful gems in the White Mountain National Forest.
Located in the Wild River Wilderness, the Moriah Brook trail follows a mountain stream from its source high up on the Carter Moriah Ridge to its confluence with the Wild River some 5.5 miles distant. Passing cascades, mountain pools, and rocky gorges, the life of this stream has many different personalities as it flows through reforrested lands, born again from the ashes of the region’s logging boom. The scene of both industry and fiery conflagration, the Wild River Wilderness is testament to a forest’s ability to regenerate itself despite clear-cutting and slash fires that made the area a living hell for all who dwelled here, both man and beast.
While the Moriah Brook Trail is a treasure for those who venture into its deep valley and experience its delights, the trail is gradually reverting back to a wilder state. The reallocation of trail maintenance funds, in part due to the extreme damage to other trails from Hurricane Irene in 2011, have shifted manpower away from keeping the trail pristine and in good condition.
Mud mires, rotten bog bridges, numerous blowdowns, enroaching vegetation and beaver activity are gradually obscuring sections of the Moriah Brook Trail. I’m not sure what can be done to restore the trail to its former state, particularly at its northern intersection with the Carter Moriah Trail. This section of trail is virtually impassable from blowdowns without bushwhacking or following a nascent herd path which bypasses the established trail and pops out higher up on the Carter Moriah Trail. This is probably the most pressing trail maintenance priority. requiring a fair amount of ax work to rectify, since it’s in a wilderness area where power tools are prohibited.
Moriah Brook Memories
I first journeyed down the Moriah Brook Trail in 2007 on a trip led by my friend Christine Benton, a leader with the NY/NJ Chapter of the AMC. We were backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail from Rt 2 up the Rattle River Trail, across the Carter Moriah Range and back to the Wild River Campground on one of my very first White Mountain hiking trips.
I’d fallen in love with the Catskill Mountains in New York before I got hooked on the White Mountains, which is how a Bostonian ended up hiking with a group of New Yorkers in New Hampshire. I think I can trace my love of the Whites and Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail to that one formative backpacking trip, and the rest is history.
Christine had brought us half way down Moriah Brook to swim in its glorious mountain pools, but we hadn’t followed the trail along its entire route, instead hiking back up to the Imp Shelter to camp at night.
Revisiting Moriah Brook
With memories of that trip on my mind, I was determined to revisit Moriah Brook and follow its full length to the Wild River, along with additional hiking along the Highwater Trail and the Sherburne Trails, since I have a compulsion for exploring places in the White Mountains that I’ve never visited before.
“Is that a banjo? A portable grill? A butterfly net?,” day hikers I met hiking up to the top of the Moriah Brook Trail, asked. No, “it’s a fishing net”, I responded optimistically, since I hoped to do a little angling on Moriah Brook, despite the trout-drought that fly fishermen are experiencing on the region’s streams after an exceptionally harsh winter killed off much of the wild fish stock. While I did get some strikes fishing on the brook, the trout I saw were very small. Hopefully the fishing will recover next year.
Finally reaching the head of the valley, I headed down the Moriah Brook Trail, passing a camp site where my friends Guthook, Hiker Box, and I had camped the previous winter (on over two feet of snow). But it was full of mud and blowdowns, a real wreck, a preview of what was to come. It’s amazing the effect that winter storms and snowmelt can have in the mountains: mightier than the hand of man, and far more random.
But the trail was so obscured by debris that I could not find it! Instead, I was forced to bushwhack the top of the valley for the first 1/4 mile, passing back and forth over the area where I expected the trail to be until I came across some rock steps, partially obscured by enroaching vegetation. I’d read a trip report earlier in the season that the Moriah Brook Trail was overgrown and in bad shape, but this really exceeded my expectations.
(I subsequently contacted a ranger at the White Mountain National Forest HQ, who said that the Androscoggin District Office was responsible for the Moriah Brook Trail. Their trail coordinator subsequently contacted me and hopes to get someone out there to clear the debris. Despite their best intentions, I didn’t get the sense that there was a trail crew that they could dispatch to address the trail maintenance concerns without calling on volunteers to pitch in.)
Having found the trail, I hiked through a few muddy sections before finding pay dirt: the cascades and pools that the Moriah Brook trail is famous for. Feast your eyes and you’ll understand what a beautiful lost world exists down this hidden river valley.
Five and a half miles in length, the Moriah Brook Trail can be broken into five distinct parts. The upper mile of the trail flows through a narrow valley largely hidden by forest. As the brook descends down the valley, it grows in size from a creek to a stream, as water from the surrounding drainage flows into it.
After a mile or so, you arrive at the Moriah Brook Cascades, a magnificent section of trail with numerous waterfalls and small pools. Next comes the swimming holes, even bigger pools which are easy to access from the trail and open to the overhead sunshine, heating up nearby boulders that you can lie on to dry off on hot summer days.
The next section of trail has been impacted by beavers, who’ve created a archipelago and meadow. You’ll hike over a beaver damn in this section, quite a solid one, which has been incorporated into the trail. This section has a bit of mud too, which was filled with guppies (proto-frogs) when I passed them. They started hopping up and down in unison when I splashed through the muddy puddle where they lived. I’ve never seen anything quite like that!
The final and lowest section of the Moriah Brook Trail starts at the top of the Moriah Gorge, a deep canyon which drops 300 feet to its confluence with the mighty Wild River. The trail runs above the gorge, although glimpses of its vertical rock walls are visible through the trees before reaching the Wild River Trail which runs along the river.
The Moriah Brook Trail can be accessed from the northwest by climbing the Stony Brook Trail from Rt 16 or over Mt Moriah via the Carter Moriah Trail. These northern approaches require fairly strenuous hikes and are best done if you plan on backpacking in the area or camping at the Imp Shelter between North Carter Mountain and Mount Moriah. See the WMNF Backcountry Camping Rules if you plan to camp in the Moriah Brook Valley. The valley is a sensitive environment so care should be taken to minimize your impact when visiting.
A much easier point of access is from the southeast, via the Wild River Campground, which is very close to the southern end of the Moriah Brook Trail and only a few miles from the best swimming holes. Coming from the south also bypasses the blowdowns and mud which have compromised the top of the trail.
The Moriah Brook Trail is a gem of the White Mountain National Forest and a favorite trail with many local regulars.