Fox State Forest Black Gum Swamp

Area:  Fox State Forest
Trails:  Ridge Trail, Swamp Trail, Hurricane Road
Region:  NH - Southwest  
Fox State Forest
Location:  Hillsborough, NH
Rating:  Easy  
Features:  Black gum trees, swamp
Distance:  2.0 miles  
Elevation Gain:  Minimal  
Hiking Time:  Typical: 1:00  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 2:00  
Season:  Variable
Last Updated:  01/25/2009  
Author:  New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau

This information has been reproduced (with permission) from New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau. Below you'll find trail information as well as detailed natural information.

Route Summary   

This is a loop hike through Fox State Forest. It includes a visit to a black gum swamp where the trees are over 400 years old.

For most of the hike we will be following Ridge Trail which is blazed in red on a white background.

  • Start on Ridge Trail which is across the street from the parking area.
  • Upon reaching a T-junction with Hurricane Road after about 0.5 mile, turn left to stay on Ridge Trail which coincides with Hurricane Road for about 0.1 mile.
  • At the next junction, veer right to stay on Ridge Trail, leaving Hurricane Road behind.
  • The next junction, less than 0.1 mile later, marks the loop split. Bear right to follow Swamp Trail and leave Ridge Trail behind for now; we will return via the opposite leg.
  • After less than 0.2 mile on Swamp Trail, White Cross Trail will enter from the right; keep going straight on Swamp Trail.
  • Next, along Swamp Trail, you will very soon encounter the swamp itself which runs along the right side of the trail for about 0.1 mile. This is where you can see the 400-year-old black gum trees.
  • Just after the swamp, you will again encounter Ridge Trail. Turn left to resume following Ridge Trail's red blazes on a white background.
  • Very soon, Ledge Trail will come in from the right; keep going straight to stay on Ridge Trail.
  • About 0.2 later, you will be back where the loop split at the junction with Swamp Trail. Stay straight and retrace your steps from the first part of the hike back to the parking area, following Ridge Trail all the way (although a small part of it coincides with Hurricane Road).

About Black Gum Swamps   

Black gum swamps are a rare wetland type in New England. They contain the highest concentration of black gum trees in the region. In New Hampshire, they are primarily found below 1,000 feet elevation in central and southern parts of the state.

Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) trees, also called black tupelo, are uncommon in New Hampshire, where they are at the northern edge of their range in North America. They are the oldest known living hardwoods, and are the oldest trees (nearly 700 years old) of any kind in New England.

The stag-headed upper trunks of old black gum trees are the result of repeated breakage of brittle limbs, which easily give way under heavy winds and ice loads. While the crown becomes a gnarled jumble of remaining branches, the strong trunks are left intact and the tree survives. The species is clonal, meaning trees close together may share the same root system and actually be the same genetic individual. The combination of an extensive clonal root system and brittle branches may have provided black gum trees with the right formula to withstand centuries of hurricanes and ice-storms.


Trail map of hike at Fox State Forest (by Ben Kimball)


In the exemplary black gum - red maple basin swamp community (photo by Ben Kimball)

  Trail map legend (by Ben Kimball) Trail Guide   

This trail travels over moderate terrain, with some hills. The footing varies from dirt path to rocks to roots to wooden bridges. Please wear appropriate footwear. The roundtrip distance is about 2 miles and takes about an hour to complete.

At Fox State Forest, several different natural and managed vegetation communities can be viewed along the trail to the black gum swamp.

The beginning of the trail gently descends from the road and you quickly come to a sharp right turn (1). This area is a red pine plantation (2): look for distinct rows of trees here. At a fallen-over tree, the trail turns sharply left (3). Go through a break in an old stone wall (4) and bear slightly left. The forest transitions to a stand of white pine, red oak, and hemlock. Several glacial erratic boulders dot the ground in the woods on either side of the trail. Cross over a log bridge and arrive at a stand of hemlock and white pine (5). At the junction with Hurricane Road (6), go left on the road a short distance, then veer right off the road onto Ridge Trail. A variety of amphibians make use of the moist Sphagnum moss carpeting the floor of the swamp (photo by Ben Kimball) At the next junction (7), bear right and down the hill on the Swamp Trail. The upland woods here are composed mostly of a mix of hemlock, birch, and white pine trees. Many small, young trees indicate healthy regeneration of the forest. Pass the junction with the White Cross Trail on the right and continue straight to the eastern edge of the black gum – red maple basin swamp.

The ground in the swamp itself (8) has a thick layer of peat moss and is saturated year-round. The tree canopy in the swamp is dominated by red maple and black gum trees. There is also a very thick shrub layer with lots of mountain holly, highbush blueberry, and winterberry. The winterberry plants produce bright red berries in fall that provide an excellent food source for birds. The herbaceous plant layer is mostly composed of several trailing evergreen species such as partridgeberry and wintergreen, as well as others such as bunchberry, cinnamon fern, and several sedges.

The black gum trees, several of which are visible from the trail, have blocky, deeply furrowed bark ridges and characteristic, stag-headed upper trunks. These trees are very old (over 400 years). Several dead trees that are still standing (snags) provide good habitat for small animals and birds.

To return, either walk back the way you’ve just come, or make a short loop by continuing on to the Ridge Trail again (9), and turning left up the hill.

NH - Southwest

  Old stone wall along the trail to the black gum swamp (photo by Ben Kimball) Driving Directions   

The trailhead leaves from Fox State Forest Headquarters in Hillsborough, New Hampshire.

From the combined Routes 9 and 202 in Hillsborough:
  • Take the exit for Hillsborough and Fox State Forest. The signs leading up to the exit indicate "Henniker St. to West Main St. - Hillsborough" but just before the actual exit is a sign specifically for "Fox State Forest".
  • At the end of the exit ramp, turn towards town in the direction indicated by the "Fox State Forest" sign.
  • About 1.8 miles from the bottom of the exit ramp, you will reach a set of traffic lights in the center of Hillsborough.
  • At the lights turn right (opposite the junction for Route 149) onto what starts out as School Street and then becomes Center Road.
  • Travel 1.9 miles on School Street/Center Road and then turn right into a parking lot prominently signed as "NH Dept. of Resources and Economic Development, Division of Forest and Lands, Fox Forest, Southwest Region Headquarters".
  • Upon pulling into the driveway, turn left to access the large parking area.
  • There is a trail kiosk next to the lot with trail maps and brochures. Trails leave the parking area from both sides of the lot (one side heading across the road) and are are well signed.
  • The trailhead for this hike is just across the street.

Start of the Ridge Trail at Fox State Forest (photo by Ben Kimball)

  About Fox State Forest   

Fox State Forest is the State of New Hampshire’s forestry research station. It is operated by the Forest Management Bureau, part of the NH Division of Forests and Lands in the Department of Resources and Economic Development. The forest is managed to study and demonstrate scientific forestry and includes specific trees that have been studied since 1952 as well as a couple wooded plots that are managed as silviculture demonstration areas.

Nyssa sylvatica (black gum) (photo by Ben Kimball) Highlights of Fox State Forest include its Black Gum Swamp (black gum trees are also known as tupelo trees) with trees over 500 years old, Mud Pond Bog which contains peat deposits over 13 feet deep and has a boardwalk for easy access to the bog and its unique plants, and Monroe Hill Tower which provides views locally as well as towards Mount Monadnock. Other points of interest include a small stand of virgin forest, a swamp managed specifically for woodcocks, and a cemetary.

There are 22 miles of trails winding through the 1,445 acres of forest. Ridge Trail, blazed in red on a white background, is a 10-mile loop encircling most of the property. A plethora of other trails intersect it including a short Tree Identification Trail. Brochures and trail maps for the forest are available at the site. The trails are well marked and are fairly easy although they do traverse several small hills.

Fox State Forest was initiated in 1922 when Caroline A. Fox donated 348 acres, including her summer home, as well as a trust fund for the purpose of forest research. Her house still stands by the parking area and serves as the headquarters building. Also at the site is the Dr. Henry I. Baldwin Forestry Education Center which contains a museum and is used for meetings and workshops. The museum is open on Saturdays in July and August.

Property Use Guidelines   

This property is open to the public for recreation and education. Please, for the protection of the area and its inhabitants, and for everyone’s enjoyment:
  • Trails are for multiple-use. Please share with care.
  • No motorized wheeled vehicles on trails.
  • Respect the private property of adjacent landowners.
  • Carry out all trash.
  • Practice low-impact hiking; tread lightly and please don't pick plants or flowers.
  • No camping or open fires are allowed.

Douglas fir tree on the Tree Identification Trail (photo by Dennis Marchand)
At the edge of the black gum swamp (photo by Ben Kimball)   Credits   

The NH Division of Forests & Lands protects and promotes the values provided by trees, forests, and related resources in the state of NH.

The New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau is a public/private partnership between the State of NH and The Nature Conservancy that finds, tracks, and facilitates the protection of the state’s natural heritage, including rare and endangered plants and animals, exemplary natural communities, and exemplary natural community systems.

This brochure was created by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau as part of a series designed to educate the public about the state's special plants and natural communities. For more trail brochures, visit: New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau.

NH Division of Forests & Lands - DRED
172 Pembroke Road - PO Box 1856
Concord, NH 03301-1856
Tel: (603) 271-2214
Fax: (603) 271-6488
The DFL is an equal opportunity employer and educator.

This brochure was paid for with funds from the NH Conservation License Plate

More Fox State Forest Trail Reports   

Nyssa sylvatica (black gum) (photo by Ben Kimball)

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