Smarts Mountain

Smarts Mountain lies southwest of the White Mountains but is just as attractive as many peaks in the closeby national forest. Hikers can quickly reach vistas of NH’s Upper Valley and a sunrise for early birds. Most of this hike takes place in boreal forest. Tent site, a shelter, and a firetower with a 360 degree panorama await at the summit.

Lambert trailhead was right off the small AT parking lot and near the dirt road. It immediately started climbing and switchbacked up the steep grade. Although I’d missed sunrise, I enjoyed seeing the sun creep up over the surrounding hills through the leafless trees. Immediately after a set of stone stairs, the trail turned left, but there's a small opening straight ahead that offers a restricted view of a nearby hill, I didn't linger here and would have been fine completely skipping it.

The grade eased and a few hundred yards later I found myself at a spectacular ridge with a wide open vista. It really would have been an amazing place to watch the sunrise. The commanding east-facing view looks down upon Reservoir Pond along with many of the surrounding hills and more prominent Mid NH peaks. I took a seat on a small rock ledge that Mother Nature must have made just for this purpose.

From here the ridge trail genty rolled up and down through a sliver of boreal forest. Looking down at the ridge’s metamorphic quartzite and its swirling striations was its own sight. The next outlook offered my first sighting of Smarts Mountain and its firetower which felt further away than I would have liked. Along the ridge I counted four prominent east-facing views in addition to the intermittent peaks through the trees. No openings faced west. I loved the flat hike through the boreal forest which provided much welcomed greenery and comforting shelter from the wind.

After the last ridge vista, the trail descended slightly through a mostly flat stretch. After the great early views and before the upcoming climb, these lovely woods provided a great opportunity for reflection. At one point, a bent tree offered an ideal place to take a seat deep in the forest.

A small wet, flooded area marks the low point before the climb up Smarts Mountain. A few mostly rotten puncheon (I’ll always love pencheon no matter how rotten) followed before the trail gradually became steeper. At this point a few patches of ice appeared on the slabs of rock and one provided a slightly psychedelic sight of dripping water beneath (see video below).

After 3.3 miles and 1900’ of elevation, I met Ranger Trail on the right and the climb continued. A steep section had a set of wooden steps followed by metal rungs, to aid me on the most precarious part of the trail. After another fifteen minutes of climbing the grade eased and I arrived at a set of marked tent sites. There are three useful places to set up camp. I didn’t investigate long, but none seemed perfectly level. One was grass covered with a firepit and had restricted south-facing views, it would be a great place to welcome the day. A privy was a short way up the trail, but I wouldn’t want to use it in the rain. The old fire warden’s cabin was also maintained for shelter, but I didn’t check it out.

The fire tower greeted me right after this. I climbed the stairs and was uncertain when I reached the top; a trap door awaited and didn’t easily open, but I didn’t see a lock. I gave it a good push and the heavy door gave way and I entered the enclosed room. Windows provided views in all directions. A piece of the window on all four sides could’ve opened once upon a time but now only two worked and only one could be propped open. I quickly layered up and loved the protection from the wind while taking in the views in all directions.

To the north, white-capped Mount Moosilauke was the most prominent with the Franconia Range to the right followed by Sandwich Range. On a perfectly clear day, the Presidential Mountains are probably visible. I could see the Green Mountains of Vermont to the west as well. Looking southwest Mount Ascutney is prominent. Sunapee lies in the distant south along with Kearsarge, Ragged, and Cardigan southeast.

After soaking in the views, eating my packed lunch and enduring the penetrating cold, I climbed down the firetower and began my descent. I initially retraced my steps and carefully navigated the ice before returning to the intersection of Lambert and Ranger. I turned left on Ranger Trail to continue the steep climb down. The grade remained steep with many sloped smooth rocks and I was happy the conditions were dry. With a sheen of water this would have been a real challenge, a wet butt would be all but guaranteed.

About forty-five minutes from the firetower, I reached a small brook and took a longer than anticipated rest after I sat back against a tree with my feet up in a surprisingly comfortable position. From here, the grade eased considerably, but not enough for full speed travel. After another 0.4 miles I reached another brook whe required some rock hopping to cross. On the other side stood the old fire warden’s garage.

The trail trail became much wider and flat. I was able to move quickly for the remainder of the hike. It took me just a half hour moving briskly to cover the last 1.9 miles. Along the way the trail paralleled Grant Brook at times and was fairly wet in places, even on this dry day. Some yellow markings appeared on two trees on opposite sides of the trail and the trailhead awaited a few hundred yards later.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable hike which kept me engaged throughout. The variety of terrain during the ascent was beautiful and the destination was definitely worthy. I also liked the two mile flat landing strip at the end of the hike after my legs had enough. I recommend this hike to anyone looking for something between the White and Green Mountains which feels exactly in between the two ranges.