Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rhododendron State Park (Blog Hike #541)

Trails: Wildflower and Rhododendron Loop Trails
Hike Location: Rhododendron State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Keene, NH
Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A flat loop through a dense rhododendron grove.

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 Rhododendron 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 Rhododendron State Park lies in the small wooden cottage you passed on your drive in.  Known as 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 Boston 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.
Bloomed-out rhododendron
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.

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