ATVs and Fishing in Coos County, New Hampshire

Coos County, NH: Ride the Wilds

By Jack Dunphy

In Colebrook, NH, you see ATVs riding down the roads all the time.
In Colebrook, NH, you see ATVs riding down the roads all the time.

If you build it, they sure will come.  That's what has happened after New Hampshire not for profits, 17 snowmobile and OHRV clubs along with all four Chambers of Commerce in Coos County conceived of connecting and promoting a network of miles of trails in Coos county and called it Ride the Wilds.  Soon, a local entrepreneur opened a center renting ATVs and today, he sells out most weekends.

Steve and Corine Baillageron started their new All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) business, Bear Rock Adventures after the connected trails opened, sensing a huge need that has happily been well-filled. Plans call for even more expansion next year, maybe including renting snow machines as well as ATVs. View trail map

But the slogan also fits the local ELC Whitewater Rafting business. And it suited the snowmobiling, hiking, cross country skiing, hunting, fly fishing, moose viewing, and so many other outdoor adventures offered in New Hampshire's Coos county, pronounced "Koh-ass".

Riding an ATV on the 1000 miles of trails in Coos County, New Hampshire. Max Hartshorne photos.
Riding an ATV on the 1000 miles of trails in Coos County, New Hampshire. Max Hartshorne photos

Coos is at the very tip of the state, 90 miles north of the interstate, where the roads are hilly and the scenery can be breathtaking.

"Ride the Wilds" personifies the new optimism in the North Country. The paper mills closed. The furniture manufacturers laid everyone off. The hardscabble New Englanders needed a redo.

So they took their best asset, the beauty of the nature around them, encouraged and supported each other's new outdoor businesses, created jobs, and are riding the wild right out of this recession. And guess what? It's working!

Bear Rock Adventures

You the traveler and adventurer benefit from the growing number of fun and family friendly activities that are now available in this most northern of New Hampshire's counties. We started our Ride the Wild experience high on a hill in Colebrook at Bear Rock Adventures. A converted barn housing clean and new ATVs sits beside the trailhead to 1000 miles of riding –- the largest ATV park in the country.

The Balsams was a grand hotel that closed in 2012, greatly hurting the economy in Coos county. It might be re-opening under a new owner, which makes the locals very happy.
The Balsams was a grand hotel that closed in 2012, greatly hurting the economy in Coos county. It might be re-opening under a new owner, which makes the locals very happy.

You can go for an hour ride or you can go and go and go... These two or six seat vehicles are loads of fun to drive yourself or you can get a competent guide to drive you.

I enjoyed being driven by our guide Casey Hibbard. While bumping and splashing through woods and fields she shared stories of the area, the possible renovation of Dixville Notch Resort which we could see through our mud splattered windshield.

She even drove us into town where we filled up with diesel fuel. Due to a smart change in state law you can now drive ATVs on the local roads to get gas, lunch, go to your hotel, or onto other trails.

I asked Casey if the 1000 mile trail was restricted to ATVs. "Oh no!" she said "the trails are open to all. Hikers, mountain bikers, cross country skiers, snowmobilers, horseback riders. Kids as young as 12 can drive the ATVs.

"And grandparents enjoy going for the ride too especially the sunset tour when you can often see a moose" she said. Another ATV driver told me he saw a bear swimming across the river during his trail ride. I was glad Casey knew the way back. Rates start at $150 for 1/2 day.

Colebrook, New Hampshire's main drag.
Colebrook, New Hampshire's main drag

Rafting the Rapid River

Our next wild ride took us whitewater rafting on the Rapid River, the steepest river in Maine. A sleepy looking group of us assembled In Errol, NH. Soon we would be at full wide awake attention! Jim Cochran, founder of ELC Rafting, put us on his bus for a pleasant ride into Maine to our launching site called "Pond in the River." We climbed into inflatable rubber rafts and sevenpeople per raft (owner Jim was our boat guide).

A leisurely half-hour paddle followed. "Where is the whitewater?" I asked Jim."Just wait."

Moose are abundant and a big danger if you hit one with a car up in the North Country.
Moose are abundant and a big danger if you hit one with a car up in the North Country.

And suddenly, even oddly, the silence changed to the sound of cascading water as the pond (a lake really) gave way to a roaring river. We hurtled down past boulders with water splashing onto our faces and Jim yelling "pull right" and "pull left" and "do not to fall overboard" and other orders I barely heard over the increasing cacophony of quickening water.

We came to a calmer section and we all congratulated each other on our teamwork. The next set of rapids called Devil's Hopyard, proved even more challenging.Here we learned many rafts flip over. We hung on but we did go over a boulder with a big splash and get stuck behind it spinning wildly until all of us, pulling together, popped out of the eddy with a jolt. What fun!

During our lunch break most of us took a swim in the cascading water (all wearing life jackets). It really was not a swim, more like a roller coaster ride. And most surprisingly the water was comfortable, almost warm. Because the headwaters to the Rapid River comes from a shallow sunshine absorbing lake the water temperature was very comfortable.

Returning Every Year

Verlaine, the French baker in Colebrook.
Verlaine, the French baker in Colebrook.

Andrea and her two sons from West Virginia shared my boat. Every year they return to the North Country for a summer adventure. This was their second trip with ELC Rafting. At some point we crossed back into New Hampshire and our Rapid River spilled into scenic Lake Umbagog. We climbed into waiting pontoon boats for an hour-long trip across the lake.

I was tired from all the paddling and glad for the rest. I sat next to Andrea a dental assistant from Rhode Island. Her husband and their four children still looked eager for more. "How did you pick this trip?" I asked her. "I have always been afraid of rapids and whitewater," she said. "And the kids wanted to do it."

"Did you enjoy it?" "Oh yes, we'll be back next summer." Our pontoon pulled into dock as a black lab leaped 20 feet off the pier in pursuit of a flying stick. A short walk from the pier brought us to our  waiting cars. Perfect.  www.maine-rafting.com

Our Cabin with a View

Fly fishing on the Connecticut river, just below the First Connecticut Lake with Bill Barnardt.
Fly fishing on the Connecticut river, just below the First Connecticut Lake with Bill Barnardt.

We settled in for the night at the Cabins at Lopstick, Pittsburg. The peculiar name comes from what is left when someone has logged a bunch of trees, and just one tree remains...the lopstick.

Our cabin, nestled high on a hill overlooking the First Connecticut Lake, gave us that New Hampshire back woods feel but with all the creature comforts.

Over a glass of wine on our deck we congratulated ourselves on making reservations as all 58 cabins were sold out, which is a common occurence we learned.Our cabin had three bedrooms, a full kitchen, an outside grill, and two full baths.

The beds were comfortable; everything was very clean. Management offers kayak and canoe rentals. Canada is just nine miles up the road.

The place to eat in Pittsburg is Murphy's Steakhouse. On our way to dinner we saw a sign by the side of the road, "Do Not Stop to Watch Moose." In front of and in back of the sign 20 cars parked, with us it made 21. At the woods edge, grazing and ignoring all the people, stood a pair of magnificent moose. These moose were our second moose sighting in two days!

An old farmhouse was tastefully converted into Murphy's Steakhouse. We sat in the former living room. While enjoying our gourmet meal (much more than steaks are offered) the owner, Georgie Lyons, stopped by to chat.

We could tell Georgie enjoyed her work. "It is like a dinner party every night," she said. While talking with her I got the feeling we were in a special place in the North Country where time slowed down and people relished time to talk and listen to each other.

Bill Barnhardt, of Lopstick Outfitters, our NH fishing guide.
Bill Barnhardt, of Lopstick Outfitters, our NH fishing guide.

I got the same feeling walking the next morning into "Le Rendez-vous Bakery," in Colebrook and meeting Verlaine Daeron. Verlaine and her husband Marc Ounis, from Paris, France no less, own and operate this  authentic French cafe.

A few years ago on a trip back to Paris Verlaine and Marc found they were denied entry back to the US by the Immigration Bureau.

As beloved members of the Colebrook community outraged citizens besieged their Congressmen to "let our French friends back!" It worked. The Rendez-vous is a unique treasure for locals and for travelers to discover.

Fly Fishing on the Connecticut River

Perhaps my last but favorite "Ride the Wild" North Country adventure was fly fishing. We met Bill Barnhardt of Lopstick Outfitters, a ruggedly handsome licensed New Hampshire Guide, back at the Lopstick Cabin headquarters. He outfitted us with waders and special nonslip waterproof boots. In order to get our one-day NH fishing license we had pay $15 and answer a government questionnaire (hair color, DOB, weight, eye color etc. - do the fish care and what happened to "live free or die")?

Off we went on a sun dappled summer day in Bills comfortable truck to fish the headwaters of the Connecticut River. The secret spot Bill chose we found full of other fly fishermen. "No problem," Bill said and off we went to another, more secluded location known to our local expert.

A moose crossing the road in Pittsburg, NH. It's a common sight.
A moose crossing the road in Pittsburg, NH. It's a common sight.

That is only one reason we were glad we had a professional guide. He picked the right type of wet flies, he held our hand to make sure we did not fall as we walked across the Connecticut River several times (it was only 10 yards wide), he taught us how to properly cast and he told us of his adventures as a fishing guide in Patagonia, Chile.

Under Bill's tutelage we both caught some beautiful rainbow trout which we promptly released. Bill knows his fly fishing and is a delight to spend time with, especially if you're holding a fish rod.

Getting to Northern New HampshireThe beautiful and uncrowded interstate 91 goes as far north as Littleton, NH, and from there it's all two-lane winding roads. It's 90 miles to Colebrook and about 20 more miles to the Canadian border. There are few large stores up here, so plan ahead.  To find out more about this beautiful and mostly undiscovered Coos County, visit NewHampshireGrand.com.

The Cabins at Lopstick and Lopstick Outfitters
45 Stewart Young Rd, Daniel Webster Hwy, Pittsburg, NH 03592
(603) 538-6659

Jack DunphyJack Dunphy right, rides bikes, kayaks and runs a property management business in Greenfield MA. His most recent project is the Orange Innovation Center, where an old mill is being transformed for the 21st century.

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