Deep in the Pine: A Trek to Hancock Notch from Sawyer River Valley

Date of Hike: 11/9/14

Sawyer River Trail: 1.1 miles : Hancock Notch Trail 10.0 miles  /  Logging Road 1.1 miles
Total Miles: 12.2 (1,700 feet elevation gained)

Trip Report:
- Sunday, after a yummy breakfast at Peaches in North Conway (the pancakes are the bomb!) Whitney had to head to work so I decided to get in a quick hike before heading back south to RI.  I didn't really feel like climbing a lot but wanted to put in some decent miles.  I figured it would be a good time to check out the eastern section of the Hancock Notch Trail, the section from where it splits at the Cedar Brook Trail junction to Sawyer River Road.  I had heard it was a little overgrown and lightly used, and well, that was an understatement!
- I drove down Sawyer River Road to the gated end of it.  There's a real sense of remoteness at the end of the road this time of year on a Sunday as no one is hiking into the lean-to at the near by Sawyer Pond.  It was just before noon when I started my hike, I ran into one hiker finishing up his hike with two little dogs dressed up in funny outfits, one of which looked like mini mouse.  Other than that I saw not a soul the whole day.
- The first mile I hiked along the Sawyer River Trail which parallels the Sawyer River, along the way I spotted a beaver pond clearing above the trail and checked it out, I sunk my trail runner into the water but I had my gortex ones with built in gaiters so I stayed dry.  The shoulder season trail runners would definitely come in handy on this day.
- The Sawyer River Trail heads away from the river and passes by the eastern terminus of the Hancock Notch Trail which then heads back towards the river over an old railroad grade.  The trail passes by an old RR camp, I didn't know there was one located here so it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon it and find some interesting RR junk to take pictures of.
- The trail continues on a flat grade that becomes more eroded as it jumps off the logging roads.  The first two water crossing of the Sawyer River were a little washed out and sandy but that was nothing compared to the third crossing which had severe damage in the river and along the banks where the trail had been washed out from the 2011 storms.  There was also a huge landslide that loomed large across the river.  There is ribbon flagging in spots to help lead the way if you get lost at this washout spot along the river.
- From here the snow started to cover the trail making the hiking very interesting.  The Hancock Notch Trail is a muddy mess and becomes more and more overgrown for about a two mile stretch to the height of land in Hancock Notch.  The trail reminded me of the fiasco that is the Mount Clinton Trail at times.  There was one quarter mile section where it looks like the trail hasn't been trimmed back in a dozen years or so, it's almost completely overgrown, and I became soaked from the pine branches that were covered in snow.  The sections that weren't overgrown were mud pits or slippery rocks or slab that had flagging to show where the trail went.  It was a lot of fun and I would have enjoyed it more but since I got a late start and wanted to get back out before dark it was a little nerve-racking for a moment or two as I had to find my way through an overgrown, icy, snowy, muddy mess.  From the height of land to the drop down to the junction with the Cedar Brook Trail the path opens up again and I was able to warm up before having to double-back and go through the same mess again.
- I had paid really close attention on my way in so on the way out I was able to breeze through the tricky sections with relative ease.  My waterproof trail runners definitely did come in handy, I fell into boot sucking mud and some hidden puddles about a half dozen times.  There is about a two mile stretch of trail that needs a little to major TLC but the rest of it is great to hike.  On the way out I checked out the RR camp and studied the maps for future bushwhacking adventures up to the Captain and Carrigain Pond to Desolation.
- The final mile I decided to stick to the old logging road.  It's actually a much better hike than the Sawyer River Trail as you get some very unique views of Mount Carrigain, AKA the 'Prince of the Wilderness.'  It made for a great way to end a mini adventurous day.
- I'm looking forward to heading back out here to do a loop that goes below the Hancocks and Carrigain via Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, Wilderness, and Carrigain Notch trails.

 End of Sawyer River Road and the bridge to the Sawyer Pond Trail
 Along the Sawyer River Trail
Heading to the Hancock Notch Trail 
 A really beautiful spot along the Hancock Notch Trail
 Getting a little wet along the trail
 Sawyer River at one of the water crossings
 The Captain rises above the valley as the trail becomes muddier, snowier, and muddier
 Washout and erosion along the Sawyer River (notice the tiny flagging on a small branch on the left)
 The trail goes from narrow to overgrown, yes that's the trial on the right!
 The ice and snow will be here until May, enjoy!
 Tricky section along the Hancock Notch Trail just before the height of land
 Old Railroad Junk at the camp near the junction of the Sawyer River Trail
 Sawyer River logging road
 Mount Carrigain!
 It was a good day to wear these!
Route for the day, click here for details


  1. We checked this area out in early July and it was pretty fun. That overgrown stretch must have been nasty with the wetness. We had considered doing this trail on skis before we hiked it, but not so much any more! I lost a shoe in one of those mud pits. I'm not sure they ever dry up. I think they only freeze solid.

    1. Yeah that stretch would be a sufferfest on skies, the first mile would be nice to ski and so would all those logging roads in the area of the Sawyer River Trail.

      Enjoy the rest of 'shoulder season' hiking until the snow comes!

  2. We did the Sawyer River Trail from the Kanc up until where the logging road crosses. We did it on a somewhat crappy day over this past Labor Day weekend. That end of the trail is very pretty, we got up to all the eroded areas before we headed back. Hope to cover the areas you did eventually. It was Scat City where we were; Prema saw a little flash of a bear as it scrambled away.

    1. Thanks for the bear intel. I definitely will have to check that section of the Sawyer River Trail from the Kancone of these days!

  3. Thanks for the trail report. We started working on the HNT trail two weekends ago.

    1. Glad this report could help a little. Thanks for all your trail work, just don't clean it up too much, I really enjoy the remote and obscure trail, very enjoyable! :)