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Owl’s Cliff and the Brunel Trail

Green Cliff and Sawyer Pond
Green’s Cliff and Sawyer Pond from the Owl’s Cliff Ledge

The maze of trails and forest roads that run through the forest near Sawyer Pond can be a overwhelming even to an experienced navigator. I know, I’ve gotten turned around in there several times when I tried to find my way with just a map and compass.

How’s that possible? There are a lot of ski trail, snowmobile trails and old logging roads that pass through this area that aren’t on hiking or topo maps making it hard to figure out where you are. If you’re looking for a good place to practice using a GPS device or a GPS Smartphone App like, Gaia, this is the place.

In fact, the last time I tried to hike the Brunel Trail up to Mt Tremont, I couldn’t find it and gave up looking. I’ve since bought an iPhone, which makes it easy to use the Gaia app for GPS navigation. I also installed a new release of Guthook’s New England Hiker App, which includes GPS routes for several regions of the White Mountain Trail System. I was determined to find the Brunel Trail this time and figured this would also be a good test of Guthook’s app as well.

There's no way to avoid getting your feet wet at the Swift River Crossing on the Sawyer Pond Trail, even when the rivers are low due to drought.
There’s no way to avoid getting your feet wet at the Swift River Crossing on the Sawyer Pond Trail, even when the rivers are low due to drought.

I hiked in on the Sawyer Pond Trail from the Kanacamagus Highway (Rt 112) which requires a river ford as soon as you leave the trailhead parking lot. There’s no way to avoid getting your feet wet on this one, which probably explains why this approach to Mt Tremont is less hiked than the northern route up the Mt Tremont Trail which leaves from Rt 302.

Brunel Trail Junction
Brunel Trail Junction

Once across, I headed north, logging waypoints to the trails and roads that intersected my route but are not on my hiking map. There’s a side trail off the Sawyer Pond Trail that leads to a dirt road which you follow for a ways. I’d hiked it the last time I was here, but must have missed the Brunel Trail junction the last time or not gone far enough to see the sign. It’s hard to know.

The Brunel Trail intersects more obscure side trails and logging roads as it climbs, becoming harder to follow as it gains elevation, before reaching a side trail that leads to a great viewpoint on Owl’s Cliff. I sat down here, had a snack, and admired the view of Green’s Cliff and Sawyer Pond below. My friend Chris and I bushwhacked Green’s Cliff last year, which has a great reciprocal view of Owl’s Cliff, shown below.

Mt Tremont and Brunel Cliff seen from Greens Cliff
Mt Tremont and Owl’s Cliff seen from Green’s Cliff

From Owl’s Cliff, it was a short hike over the Owl’s “head” and up to the summit of Mt Tremont, which is one of the nicest viewpoints in the Whites, well deserving of being on the 52 With a View List.

Being alone, I hiked back out the way I’d come, only to discover this past week that there is a NH 200 Highest canister on Owl’s Cliff that I missed. Twist my arm, I’m going to have to go back and bag that peak again!

Total distance 7.8 miles with 2000′ of elevation gain.

Owl's Cliff and the Brunel Trail (Click for downloadable PDF)
Owl’s Cliff and the Brunel Trail (Click for downloadable PDF)


  1. I’ve gotten lost in that area too! Thought it was just me.

  2. This whole area is fun to explore. Love your photos of owls cliff and greens cliff.

  3. Good note on the different type of trails not showing up on all maps. Years ago I had a rather hard bushwhack in this area up a peak of little interest to most. Only to be surprised by A snowmobile trail I found just below the summit once I got there and the maze of other use trails in the area. I now carry a snow mobile, MTB and XC trail system map for the Whites with me. I can decide to use those “other trails” or too avoid them. It has led to more than a few Mountain Bike/XC Ski approaches with transition to bushwhacking on foot/crampons/snowshoes to get to obscure summits.

  4. Went back to NH 2 weeks after thru hiking the Appalachian trail and did this area from Mt. Tremont to Sawyer pond and wow, I was too used to the white blazes of the AT. Almost got lost several times but so beautiful.

  5. This looks like a great hike with some beautiful views. Can’t believe that I have hike all of the the 48-footers and haven’t explored hikes like this. Good inspiration!!

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