No matter which route you take, every entrance to the Great North Woods is a grand entrance, and that’s only the beginning…
On this particular day, my husband and I zipped along the Franconia Notch Parkway as we drove North to Colebrook to enjoy a weekend gravel biking to the furthest northern reaches in New Hampshire. It was a warm summer morning in June, one where every sound, sight, and smell announced the start of the season, giving me yet another reason to disconnect and take in the clean, fresh air. To our left and right, the mountains, lakes, and trailheads of the White Mountain National Forest flew by as blurry waypoints while we journeyed onwards. For many visitors, that is their final destination. The Franconia Ridge Loop is easily one of the most popular and crowded trails in the country, attracting droves of hikers to its rocky paths and scenic vistas.
But today, that was not our aim. Don’t get me wrong, I love a hike in the Whites as much as any adventure seeker, but I also know that just beyond its borders is the Great North Woods — a pristine, remote, and wild region of New Hampshire with far fewer crowds and infinite ways to satisfy your appetite for outdoor adventure. This scenic route was only stoking my excitement for the epic pursuits that lay ahead on some of the best trails in New Hampshire.
I first experienced the Great North Woods on an old beater pair of cross-country skis. A group of us crossed the frozen lakes (Lake Francis, First, and Second Connecticut Lake in Pittsburg, NH) and snaked through the snow-covered trees for thirty miles over the course of two days. The remoteness of the landscape dazzled me, as it always does to someone who grew up with the silhouette of New York City’s skyline rather than mountain peaks and pine trees. I wasn’t quite sure what a summer expedition would bring, but as we rolled into town for our New Hampshire mountain biking adventure I felt a tingle of excitement and knew whatever it was, it would be good.
DAY ONE: Epic Gravel Biking Adventure at Bear Rock Adventures Camping
That morning, as we rolled into downtown Colebrook, New Hampshire for our North Country biking adventure the paved road transformed into dirt, and sweeping views of the mountains opened up in front of us. My excitement grew when I caught a glimpse of a white canvas tent behind a cluster of evergreens at the top of the hill, and a panoramic view of the mountains stretching from East to West. This is where we would have a bonafide glamping experience in our own private campsite. We had finally arrived at our little slice of North Country paradise and I whooped (no one ever accused me of being unenthusiastic) and nearly ran from the car to the tent.
Both the interior and exterior of our Tentrr safari tent were picture perfect. Inside, a tiny wood burning stove sat adjacent to a queen-sized bed that was flanked by two bedside tables. I noticed a thin booklet and flipped through, realizing it was a guide to the campsite meant to answer any and all of your questions: Is this real? Yes. Do we actually get to stay here? Oh, yes. And other logistics that would prove helpful to campers.
The tent was perched atop a wooden platform with two welcoming Adirondack chairs. A fire ring, picnic table, and a small prep table with basic camp cooking essentials were set up nearby, only taking up a small section of the sprawling green fields. It was heavenly. We’d have plenty of time to enjoy this space later — on the agenda today was a New Hampshire gravel biking adventure.
We had two routes to pedal through that day. The first to check off our list was a tour of Colebrook via a 14-mile loop around town that included a stop at the scenic Beaver Brook Falls. At completion, it would take us back to Bear Rock Adventures where we would regroup to hit more of the best biking trails in New Hampshire.
After a hearty lunch and a break from riding, we would hop back on and ride the scenic 8-mile loop through East Colebrook along a rolling gravel trail past local farms like Weir’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Bridget Freudenberger, my good friend, inspiring outdoor tri-athlete, and North Country local was our trusted guide and I was eager to see the area through her eyes. We downloaded her routes to our GPS devices for easy navigation while riding and took off from Bear Rock straight into town.
Route #1: Colebrook Loop from Bear Rock Adventures Camping
The first route led us down dirt roads, the gravel grinding beneath our tires and clouds of dust in our wake as we whooped and hollered with excitement. This leg of our journey took us up a few short hills and down a windy trail with natural berms to help us pick up some speed. We followed Bridget’s lead, barely able to keep up, and then pulled off to the side of the trail where we hiked down to Beaver Brook Falls and splash ourselves with some refreshing water and take in the area’s natural beauty.
We all hiked back up to our bikes and rode into town to a bustling fresh air market where we were greeted by an abundance of fruit, vegetables, and snacks to refuel for the rest of our ride. Bridget guided our group through the heart of town where we acquired some much-needed sustenance from the First Run. We ate our fill quickly and appreciatively as we relaxed along the riverside at Colebrook’s River Walk , taking our time before hopping back on our bikes and returning to camp to rest for another day exploring the best New Hampshire bike routes.
Route #2: Scenic Gravel Loop from Bear Rock Adventures Campground
After getting a taste of downtown Colebrook, we were excited to see the area’s idyllic side on this quick 8-mile ride. Once again, we conveniently began at our campsite and pedaled through a dreamy landscape of beautiful organic farms and rustic lodges. Bridget pointed out the views of Dixville Notch in the distance and waved to some of her local friends as we sped along the quiet roadways void of much vehicular traffic.
When we returned to camp, the group was thoroughly worn out from the summer sun and miles of riding. Dirty and in need of a cool down, Bridget suggested we take a quick drive over to Diamond Pond for a refreshing dip to help us unwind and ease our muscles.
Since this was our only night at camp, we made a veritable feast with all the fixings. A bonfire roared as we watched the horizon fade from pink to purple, taking in the quiet and dark North Country night sky that glittered with thousands of stars before heading to bed.
DAY TWO: Hiking in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire
Despite this being our last day, there would be no shortage of adventures. Bridget drove into town and brought back a hearty breakfast that we enjoyed with generous refills of camp coffee until it was time to pack up and head out.
A Half-Day Hike in Dixville Notch
That morning, we were off to Dixville Notch, which is home to Table Rock, a 2,540-foot cliff with sheer vertical drop-offs on either side. This brief yet heart-pumping climb has dazzling views in every direction and is a part of the Go North 9er Challenge that invites hikers to complete all nine peaks in the North Country. We hauled our tired legs up to the top and were rewarded with scenic vistas that showed off the Notch’s rugged, prominent peaks and serrated edges that shoot up into the sky.
It’s hard to find another landscape in the state that is as pristine and dramatic as this one. The North Country’s distinctive natural features are one of my favorites because of the way it feels new and exciting every time, and made for some of the best gravel biking in all of the Great North Woods.
The group hiked back down and crossed Route 26 to access the trailhead for Sanguinary Ridge Trail — another thigh-burner that is pretty short and sweet thanks to a steep climb in just 1.5 miles. From this vantage point, hikers get an even better look at The Balsams Resort and Lake Gloriette, before zigging and zagging back down the switchbacks and through a rust-colored scree where you can get a unique perspective of Table Rock from below.
If you want views and vertical, but are short on time, this four mile hike will surely deliver. When you’re done, make sure you have a proper recovery drink at Black Bear Tavern in downtown Colebrook. On this hot summer day, we were relieved to kick back and relax on the shady outdoor patio as we reflected on the past two days, and of course, schemed about future adventures for our next visit of biking trails in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods.
The Great North Woods is full of opportunities to get away from it all. Northern New Hampshire and Vermont offer a variety of lodges, cabins, hotels and motels and restaurants, bars and entertainment venues that make your visit easy and stress-free.
About the author – Katherine Englishmen: Movement and the outdoors is at the heart of everything I do. I grew up in an active, outdoorsy family in a New Jersey suburb located on the fringes of New York City. Throughout early years and adulthood, I traveled, camped, hiked, biked, skied, surfed, and soaked up the vibrant culture of New York and the outer boroughs. Today, my tiny family and I have put down roots in Portland, Maine, where we are spoiled with oceans, mountains, coastlines, and trails.