Trails: Wildflower and Rhododendron Loop Trails
Geographic Location: southeast of
Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A flat loop through a dense rhododendron grove.
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=455749
Directions to the trailhead: From Keene, take SR 12 south 10.9 miles to SR 119 and turn sharply right on SR 119. Drive SR 119 0.9 miles to
Road and turn right on Rhododendron
Rd. Drive Rhododendron
Rd. 2 miles to the signed park entrance on the
right. Turn right on the gravel park
entrance road, pass a signed historic cottage on the left, and park at the cul
de sac at the end of the road.
The hike: The historical core of
lies in the small wooden
cottage you passed on your drive in.
Known as Rhododendron
State Park Old Patch Place,
the cottage was built by either Captain Samuel Patch or his son between 1790
and 1818. The cottage changed ownership
several times before 1865, when it became the headquarters of a mail-order
business that sold potted rhododendrons among other items. This business first brought the majestic
rhododendrons that live here to the public’s attention.
In 1901, the land was scheduled to be lumbered until Miss Mary Lee Ware of
purchased the land to save the rhododendrons.
In 1903, Miss Ware donated the land to the Appalachian Mountain Club,
which in turn transferred it to the New Hampshire Division of Parks and
Recreation in 1946. The Old
Patch Place was listed on the National Register of
Historic Places in 1980, and the rhododendron grove was added to the list of
National Natural Landmarks in 1982.
The park remains lightly developed, and the 16 acre rhododendron grove remains the focal point. The park’s main trail is the short 0.6 mile handicapped accessible Rhododendron Loop Trail that tours the rhododendron grove, but the adjoining 0.3 mile Wildflower Trail, maintained by the Fitzwilliam Garden Club, also provides a nice walk. A more difficult 1 mile one-way trail leads to the summit of Little Monadnock, a nearby mountain also within the park’s boundaries, and connects with the long-distance Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. This hike combines parts of the two shorter trails to give a nice, fairly flat tour of the rhododendron grove.
|Start of Rhododendron Loop Trail|
Both ends of the Rhododendron Loop Trail leave the parking area. This description starts at the western end with the picnic area and toilets on the right. It seemed odd to me to have a picnic table right beside a pit toilet, but such is this park’s layout.
The wide Rhododendron Loop Trail heads west around a large boulder into a dark hemlock forest. Very quickly you reach the first area of rhododendron. When I hiked here in early August, all of the rhododendron had already bloomed, leaving just the leaves and stems. Come in early to mid-July for the height of the rhododendron bloom. Also, in the summer the park maintains a bloom update on its webpage. I had missed the last blooms by a couple of weeks.
In less than 0.1 miles you reach a junction. If you only wanted to hike the Rhododendron Loop Trail, you would turn right here. To see some additional wildflowers on the Wildflower Trail, turn left to briefly leave the rhododendron grove. An information board says that the Wildflower Trail was constructed in memory of Betty Myrick, 1915-1989.
|Hiking the Wildflower Trail|
The trail heads west before curving right to head north along the base of Little Monadnock Mountain. A creek gurgles just downhill to the left. I did not see many wildflowers on this trail, but I did see a lot of mountain laurel, which looks much like rhododendron except for its smaller leaves and different flower.
Just past 0.3 miles, you pass through a break in an old stone wall to rejoin the Rhododendron Loop Trail, which goes straight and right. Continue straight to hike the full loop. After curving slightly right, you cross a recently replaced wooden footbridge and enter the core of the rhododendron grove. You will be surrounded by white flowers if you come here at the peak of the bloom.
|Entering the rhododendron core|
At 0.5 miles, the rougher Little Monadnock Trail exits left for its namesake hill. This description stays right to remain on the fairly flat Rhododendron Loop Trail. Now heading south, you quickly reach another trail junction, where a left turn is needed for the shortest route back to the parking area. Another 0.1 miles through more hemlocks and rhododendron return you to the parking lot to complete the hike.