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Access to good weekend rides is easier than you might think

Yes, you can get there from here!

September 03, 2009
The bike lanes on West Side Road and North-South Road are helpful, but don't solve the problem. A bike path would help, but there would still be many connections that wouldn't be clear or safe. It's a bigger problem on a busy weekend such as Labor Day, when the roads are choked with cars and anxious drivers.

There are four in-town North Conway trail access points: Pudding Pond, Whitaker Woods, Smith-Eastman Park, and Echo Lake State Park. All four can be reached by car, or with modest riding effort, directly on your bike. I would not recommend direct road riding access for younger, less experienced riders. Some of the off-road rides are fine for kids, but it's best to drive there and park.

Pudding Pond lies within Conway Conservation land. The justifiably popular single-track trail — Sticks and Stones and the new pump track — lie within this tract of land. The easiest way to get to this public land and the trails is to drive or ride to Artist Falls Road, which starts on Route 16 opposite the Muddy Moose Restaurant. Artist Falls Road crosses the North-South Road and passes under the railroad trestle. About a half mile east of the railroad trestle, turn right onto Thompson Road, which shortly turns left. Watch for a dirt parking place, large enough for about 10 cars, on the right by a pipe gate and a sign board.

Park here and ride around the gate. Ride the gravel road south several hundred yards to a kiosk with trail signs on the left. Sticks and Stones enters the woods directly behind the right corner of the kiosk. There is no sign for Sticks and Stones. Once you are on the single-track, just keep going. Turn right at the first junction to ride the west loop. Continue left at the rock ramp to ride the east loop. You may feel lost on these trails, but the entire network is confined in a triangular piece of land no bigger than a half square mile.

It is possible to access Pudding Pond directly off North-South Road, if you happen to be riding north from the roundabout. First, look for the pond on your right. As you descend on the road toward the junction with Artist Falls Road, watch on the right for a gravel trail and a wooden sign board on the right. Turn right onto this trail, cross a wooden bridge and ride about a quarter-mile on an old woods road to a fork. Take the left fork to ride to the kiosk; take the right fork to get to the south entrance near the rock ramp.

Continuing east on either of these roads brings you to the power lines. The pump track is located slightly east of the power lines to the left of the kiosk. This will all make sense when you get there and have a look around. Get a copy of the Conway Area Mountain Biking Trail Map, which has an inset of Sticks and Stones. Maps are available at local bike and sports shops.

Whitaker Woods

Whitaker Woods is located in North Conway, near the last traffic light on the north end of town, near the Shell gas station. Park either in the public lot by the Whitaker House on the right just past the light, or in the John Fuller School parking lot on the left off Pine Street.

The trails in Whitaker Woods are not immediately visible from either parking lot. Ride around the softball field and enter the woods behind the outfield fence. There are two entrances behind the field, giving access to a maze of trails on both sides of two railroad tracks. A power line crosses east to west near the north end of Whitaker Woods. There is a map on a tree at the junction of Whitaker Lane Trail and the Power Line Trail. Following the Power Line Trail east will take you up over a hill and down to another access point with a small parking lot on Kearsarge Road.

I have no idea how many trails there are in Whitaker Woods, but suffice it to say, you can find two hours worth of riding there without riding them all. There are flat, wide trails, good for kids and beginners, and there are sharp climbs and short pieces of satisfying single-track that will please advanced riders. None of the Whitaker Woods trails are paved; all trails there are off-road, best ridden on fat-tired bikes.

Smith-Eastman Park

Smith-Eastman Park, the third North Conway access point, is located off Redstone Road (Route 302), at the end of the road that leaves East Conway Road on the left side of the Conway Police Station.

Drive east a mile and a half on Redstone Road from the traffic light by L.L. Bean. Turn left at the blinking light, then turn right next to the Police Station. The road ends at Smith-Eastman Park at the edge of the Saco River, where there is a canoe-kayak put-in. The Conway Rec Path starts on the south edge of the lawn on the right. Cross a narrow wooden bridge over a brook and turn left onto a wide trail along the north bank of the Saco River.

The Conway Rec Trail is an easy trail that offers some modest technical challenge. About a half-mile south of the Park, the trail goes under the Route 302 bridge, where a sandy wash might slow you down. Climb out on the south side of the bridge and continue to the left, passing two junctions on the right. Pass a cable crossing in about a mile from the Park. Continue along the river for another half-mile on pleasant single-track with scenic views of the river until you reach a paved road with a fence on the left. This is Lamplighter's beach.

The trail continues along the river beyond the beach road for another half-mile, but becomes more challenging, eventually reaching a private development. There are side trails, but some enter private property, and one reaches the south edge of the Kennett High School property. Trails on the north side of the Rec Path have been disrupted by the school construction, and are no longer rideable. Turn around at Lamplighter's beach or at the development and reverse your ride back to Smith-Eastman Park.

Echo Lake State Park

Echo Lake State Park is located on the west side of North Conway. Turn left at the last traffic light on the north end of town. Go over the three bridges on River Road, then turn left onto West Side Road by the strawberry farm. In a short distance south, turn right by Frechette's Oil Company. Watch for the Echo Lake sign. A fee is charged for parking inside the park gate, but there is room for eight to 10 cars outside the gate on the left. DO NOT PARK ALONG THE ROAD north of the park. Your car will be towed!

There is a good map (although it's fading) on a sign board near the park entrance that shows all the trails around the lake. I recommend not riding on the trails closest to the lake, as these are used heavily by walkers. Find the Elm Brook Trail, an easy intermediate ride that will inspire you to find the Perimeter Trail on the west side of the park, parallel to the entrance road to the White Mountain Hotel. The Perimeter Trail can be ridden to the Bryce Path, which connects to the Town Line Trail that will take you to Cathedral Ledge Road. Echo Lake is a good area to explore to expand your knowledge of the area and to gain practice in technical trail riding. Many of the older trails are rooty and rough. We like it that way.

Rocky Branch Rail Trail

If you want to get away from the crowds and out of town, try the Rocky Branch rail trail.

The trail follows the old Rocky Branch logging rail bed along the banks of the Rocky Branch of the Saco River. Drive to Glen on 16-302, through the traffic light by the Irving station near Story Land. About a half-mile past the Margarita Grill, turn right onto Jericho Road. Drive about four miles, the road turning to gravel at the top of the hill.

Continue to the parking circle at the closed Forest Service gate. Start the ride here by passing the gate, crossing the river bridge, and riding the grassy double-track to a signboard in about a half-mile. The rail trail goes straight into the woods by the signboard, and continues another mile and a half to a shelter.

The Rocky Branch rail trail is unimproved, but offers mountain bike riding that is easy to intermediate. There are two brook crossings that can be ridden in low water and may be impassable in flood. There are a number of water ditches to cross, but all are rideable with sufficient skill. Last week, there were a number of blowdowns blocking the trail, but only one of them required a carry. The rail bed is gently uphill most of the way to the shelter, just enough grade to work up a sweat. Then, on the return it's a pleasant, easy downhill. On a hot day, this is a good ride, since trees shade the trail most of the way and there are swimming holes all along the way.

There's plenty of good riding in-town and close to town. Start with one or two of the rides described here and branch out. Ask at a local bike shop how to get to the longer, more advanced trails. With a bit of asking and some poking around, you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you can discover around the Valley. Get a map, ask a local, park your car, get out and ride. Have a great weekend!

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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