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The Sawyer River Trail/Sawyer River Road lies deep in the forested heart of the 1,200-square-mile White Mountain National Forest. The 7.5-mile route traces an old logging railroad that’s now part forest road and part singletrack. Alert visitors might even stumble across the foundations of a ghost town in the undergrowth.
The corridor follows the old Sawyer River Railroad, which served the logging operations of the Grafton County Lumber Co. between 1876 and 1927. The Saunders family owned the lumber company, the mill, the railroad, and the town of Livermore located in the center of logging operations. The rough terrain and frequent use of aging equipment contributed to more than 30 derailments over the life of the railroad, which was finally done in by a devastating flood in 1927. Most Livermore residents left soon thereafter.
The lightly traveled Sawyer River Road starts at US 302 and follows the forested river valley 4 miles to a U.S. Forest Service gate, where it meets the 3.5-mile Sawyer River Trail. The road is closed in winter when snowmobilers, cross--country skiers, snowshoers, and dogsledders take to the corridor. In summer visitors hike or ride mountain bikes down the road or drive to trailheads deeper in the forest.
Starting at the trailhead at Sawyer River Road on US 302/Crawford Notch Road (technically located in Carroll County), you’ll begin a trek that gains almost 900 feet through the forest to Kancamagus Highway, although most elevation gain is in the first 4 miles. In 2 miles, keep your eyes open for crumbled walls and building foundations among the trees. This is the abandoned town of Livermore, once home to nearly 200 people. As you poke through the woods and down the hillside toward the Sawyer River, you might identify the remains of the brick power plant, the store, and houses, including the Saunders’s mansion that stood here until it burned down in the 1960s.
The junction with the Signal Ridge Trail is also in this vicinity, climbing 5 miles to the Mount Carrigain Fire Tower. You’ll arrive at parking and a major trail junction in another 1.9 miles at a U.S. Forest Service gate at the end of Sawyer River Road. Past the gate, the Sawyer Pond Trail heads left over a footbridge, while the Sawyer River Trail stays straight. You’ll pass a snowmobile trail on the right. Continue over a logging bridge and Sawyer River Trail turns off to the right and becomes a singletrack trail.
Flooding caused by beaver dams creates some detours on the Sawyer River Trail. The grade flattens out, but the trail still provides mountain bikers with technical challenges. You might see old railroad ties, bridge supports, and other hints to the trail’s past.
Approaching the trail’s end, you’ll reach the Swift River, where boulders facilitate crossing. Note: High water can make the crossing difficult and dangerous in spring. This is a great spot for lunch, however, and one of the best swimming holes around. Just beyond the river is the Kancamagus Highway trailhead.
To reach the northern trailhead from I-93, take Exit 40 onto US 302/SR 10 toward Bethlehem and Twin Mountain. Turn right (east), go 29.9 miles, and look for Sawyer River Road on the right. Parking is available next to the road, as well as at trailheads 2 miles and 3.9 miles down Sawyer River Road.
To reach the southern trailhead from I-93, take Exit 32 onto SR 112 E/Kancamagus Hwy. Turn left (northeast), go 16.6 miles, and look for trailhead parking on the left.
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