Blueberry Mountain is in the Caribou Speckled Wilderness (of the White Mountain National Forest) in Evans Notch on the border between New Hampshire and Maine. It has great views of the North and South Baldface, East and West Royce, Basin Pond and Shell Pond, without requiring a huge amount of effort to climb.
That’s what makes many of the trails in Evans Notch so special…that you can have an alpine experience above treeline without having to hike a full day excursion or climb a White Mountain 4000 footer. The views here are actually better than most of the 4000 footers (and far less crowded), making Evans Notch an even more attractive destination in my opinion.
The White Cairn Trail provides a fun way to climb Blueberry Mountain, beginning at the air strip of a private home called the Stone House, located just north of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cold River Camp. The owners have graciously provided hikers with access to their property and nearby Shell Pond. Shell Pond has a lovely loop trail, well worth hiking, which can be coupled with the White Cairn Trail to make a longer hike.
While the White Cairn Trail is reachable from the Rt 113 side of Evans Notch, I approached it from Deer Hill Road, a seasonal forest service road, that’s well worth becoming acquainted with if you want to explore the trails below Speckled Mountain and further east towards Albany Notch. Gravel-topped, Deer Hill Road is good enough shape that you can drive it with a low clearance car. It also has pull-off primitive (free) campsites, like many other the other seasonal forest service roads in the Whites
I hiked this route on an early June day, the morning after a heavy rain, and while the trails were wet, there was very little pooled water along them. These trails are maintained by the CTA – Chatham Trails Associations, which does a fantastic job keeping the local trails in tip-top shape. Being early June, the black flies were out, but they rarely bother me much since I always wear a hat, long sleeves, and long pants, when I hike. I did dab a few drops of DEET on my wrists and ears though, since black fly bites take so long to heal and itch like mad.
I parked my car at the pull out by the trail sign and headed into the forest. The trees were colored the vibrant green of early spring. There were a few minor brook crossings from all the rain, but the crossings were easy rock hops. I soon came to the Shell Pond Loop junction and decided to take the long way around the pond.
Shell Pond is a surprisingly big pond, but the loop trail is an easy hike along an old forest road. Views of the pond are limited although there are a few easy to find access points like the bench above that lead down to the water. I didn’t linger, but I imagine the solitude of the pond makes it a good moose habitat. Parts of the pond are quite shallow and covered with lily pads and I spied more than one large beaver mound from the shore.
The trail crosses several inflow and outflow streams which were interesting to me, since I was carrying a Tenkara Rod that day. The best trout habitat I spied was the large outlet on the south-eastern side of the pond. I decided to come back to this spot since I’ll be staying nearby when I work at the AMC’s Cold River Camp later in the summer and continued on my hike toward the White Cairn Trail.
The White Cairn Trail isn’t a free pass to Blueberry Mountain and the magnificent Blueberry Ridge Trail, but like I said, it’s an easier climb than most for the views it provides. There is 1150 feet of elevation gain, but most of it is up the ledges at the end before you pop out above treeline. I find ledge scrambling easier than forest trail climbing because it gives me an excuse to stop and admire the views. :-)
As you reach the ledge section of the climb the White Ledge Trail crosses into the Speckled-Caribou Wilderness, a good teachable moment, if you hike this route with kids because you can explain to them what a wilderness area is. The trail is well-marked by rock cairns and yellow blazes painted on the rock surface.
The views open up as you climb up the ledges, providing a unique view of Shell Pond and nearby Big Deer and Little Deer Mountains to the south. There’s also a great view of South and North Baldface across the notch (valley) and the cliff faces of East and West Royce as you hike further up the trail. No matter how many times I see these peaks, I never tire of the views.
On this particular hike, I reversed my route and climbed back down the White Cairn Trail. You can also make a loop and hike back down to the Stone House access road or Shell Pond via the Stone House Trail. This also a great route for a hot day since it passes an excellent swimming hole called the Rattlesnake Pool (there aren’t any poisonous snakes in the White Mountains).
Total Distance: 7 miles with 1700′ of elevation gainWhite Cairn and Shell Pond Loop PDF
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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