Winter’s cold temperatures and abundant snow give Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire, a remote feel. At 10,000 acres, Bear Brook is the state’s largest developed state park. Plus, it’s located near the state’s biggest cities and just over an hour from Boston.
The proximity to major population centers is intentional—Bear Brook was part of the Recreational Demonstration Area program, a 1930s New Deal initiative to provide urban people an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and escape city life.
With so much of the park’s construction done by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), enjoy the fruits of their labor this winter by snowshoeing some of the park’s 40 miles (64 km) of rolling trails in an outing that combines winter recreation with a dose of history.
The CCC in New Hampshire
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a depression-era program focused on infrastructure and conservation projects, is closely associated with winter recreation in New Hampshire.
During the 1930s, the CCC built some of the state’s most well-known backcountry ski trails, like the John Sherburne and Gulf of Slides trails on Mount Washington. They also constructed ski trails that became the backbone of popular ski areas such as Cannon and Wildcat Mountain.
CCC Impacts on Bear Brook State Park
Although more commonly tied to skiing in the northern part of the state than snowshoeing in the southern half, the CCC significantly impacted Bear Brook.
Many of the recruits came from hard-hit cotton and paper mills of southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts. These men, all between the ages of 17 and 28, were enticed by the promise of housing, food, education, and medical care, along with the $30 monthly salary ($25 of which was sent home to their families). Accustomed to city life, the surroundings of Bear Brook must have felt otherworldly.
While at Bear Brook, the men converted old farmland and scraggly woods to the recreation area we know today. They built the bathhouse and beach at Catamount Pond and constructed Bear Hill Pond and Spruce Pond camps. The men of the CCC also planted 30,000 trees as part of the “Penny Pines” program,” which were sadly clear-cut after a red pine scale infestation in the 2010s.
Bear Brook’s CCC camp and the program itself came to a close in 1942 with the U.S.’s entry into World War II. Thereafter, the camp briefly served as a recreation facility for Navy personnel on leave from bases in the Boston area before returning to state control.
Although the CCC only lasted nine years, its impact was significant—and not just at Bear Brook. Three million men participated in the program, 3 billion trees were planted, and almost 2,000 CCC camps were established.
Read More: Snowshoeing Areas Near Greater Boston
Bear Brook State Park Snowshoeing
The Catamount Pond parking lot is a popular jumping-off point for many snowshoers. This lot also serves as Bear Brook’s main winter access point.
From the lot, many people head over to the old CCC camp. One of the few remaining intact CCC camps in the country, the camp serves as a museum to the CCC. It’s typically open for viewing during the spring, summer, and fall, just a short walk down the road. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, it offers great insight into what these men’s lives looked like. The simple structures heated by a single wood stove are a stark contrast to modern homes. It’s definitely worth the 15-20 minutes you’ll spend poking around.
Of course, if you’d prefer to get right to “the fruits” of the CCC’s labor, grab your map and head across the street to the One Mile Trail, which connects to many of Bear Brook’s trails.
Snowshoe Loop through Bear Brook
One great outing is to link the One Mile, Lower Bear Brook, Bear Brook, Little Bear, Big Bear, Hayes Field, Sentinel Pine, and Alp d’Huez trails in a six-mile (9.6 km) clockwise loop.
To begin, snowshoe along the One Mile Trail for a few hundred yards before joining the narrower and less-traveled Lower Bear Brook Trail, which follows alongside the park’s namesake, Bear Brook. Soon the trail opens up near the river. You can pause here to take in the view and think of the work that went into creating this park. It’s sobering that modern snowshoes and poles cost nearly as much as the men’s yearly earnings who made these trails.
Eventually, Lower Bear Brook merges into Bear Brook, which you’ll follow toward Little Bear. There you’ll find the first “real” climb of the day—it’s likely to get your heart pumping. Just a short distance farther down Bear Brook is another popular parking area, the hiker/biker lot on Podunk Road (a great option for those looking for less mileage).
From the hiker/biker lot, the trails move quickly. You’ll link Little Bear to Big Bear, then move on to Hayes Field, the approximate halfway point and a popular meeting spot in the summer months for mountain bikers and equestrians. From here, it’s tempting to set off toward the CCC-built Broken Boulder Trail, but it will almost double the day’s mileage. Instead, continue the loop back to your car by heading toward the junction with the Sentinel Pine Trail.
Sentinel Pine provides higher ground and denser tree cover than the hemlock-like forests below. It also offers less up and down, which should speed your progress as long as the snow isn’t too deep. Make your way toward Alp d’Huez, a long, switchbacking trail that descends toward One Mile Trail and shortly thereafter to the car.
Don’t miss the statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worker on your way out. It’s located between the parking lot and the beach. In fact, the statue’s positioning almost gives it the appearance that it’s admiring its work.
Have you or would you go snowshoeing in Bear Brook State Park? What are your favorite trails in this CCC-built park? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
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