The Pawtuckaway boulder field is something to behold--it ranks up there with some of New England's most profound boulderscapes (Smuggler’s Notch, Carter Notch, Mahoosic Notch, etc.) in terms of its sheer number of boulders and its general bouldery goodness. Besides the boulders, one can hike up the three peaks of the mountain, as I did: South Mountain (908 feet), Middle Mountain (800ft) , and North Mountain (1,011ft). Don't let the low elevations fool you--Pawtuckaway makes up for it in a generosity of ruggedness.
South Mountain hosts a well-curated fire tower and many open ledges and is a fine short hike in its own right. The out-and-back trail to Middle Mountain is an uninspiring woods road but there is a sweet, sunny ledge at the end of the trail (with a cameo of the South Mountain fire tower) and Middle Peak gets less visitation than the other two peaks. North Mountain is blessed with an excellent array of ledges and overlooks; its north slope plunges into a part of the boulder field colorfully known as the Devil’s Den. Amidst the fantastic mess of ledges and boulders in Pawtuckaway are nested a number of attractive ponds and wetlands. Round Pond, with its many lazy rock outcrops, is perhaps the most scenic of the park's water bodies.
A glance at a topographic map of Pawtuckaway reveals the mountain's unusual, graceful symmetry, a product of its past as a volcano--the great tooth of it worn down by the eons into an almost perfectly circular series of rocky stubs (in geologic terms, a "volcanic ring-dike"). Rim-to-rim, the old core of Pawtuckaway is about a mile across (there is also a smaller inner ring). Volcanic cores aren't unusual mountainforms in New England, but so few are well preserved in their original molten design as Pawtuckaway is. Even the continental ice sheet--which took its colossal wrecking ball to the north rim of the old volcano, tearing out a million boulders and strewing them like primitive toys below--hasn't ruined the pleasing topography of it.
To get to the start of my hike, I parked at Reservation Road, entering from Tandy Road in Deerfield, NH (amidst a comedy of Covid-era signs from the locals: "your GPS is wrong, go home" ). Parking does fill up fast—on sunny weekends it's wise to get there bright and early (don't even bother trying the limited north parking area on Round Pond Road—you won't beat the rock climbers vying for spots). Making the grand loop over South and North Mountain is pretty straightforward (South Mountain Trail to Boulder Trail, to North Mountain Trail and back to start) and a worthy loop, but squeezing in Middle Mountain, which is serviced only by a dead-end trail, requires some gymnastics (I cheated with a bushwhack shortcut). Shorter loops to just the North or South Mountain are also possible, and longer routes can be had from the park's lakefront entrance to the east at Pawtuckaway Pond (busy in summer) where there is also a campground. There are over 30 miles of trail in the park, including foot paths and woods roads. Some of the woods roads are multi-use trails--expect to see mountain bikers and in winter, snowmobilers. Although it was too early to try during my March visit, I suspect that Round Pond is a good place for a dip on a hot summer day.
See the gallery below for more photographs of Pawtuckaway. I hope you will visit this fine bouldery wonderland of a mountain!