Ferns are abundant in Manchester Cedar Swamp in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Ferns Ferns are abundant in Manchester Cedar Swamp in Manchester, New Hampshire. © Eric Aldrich/The Nature Conservancy

Places We Protect

Manchester Cedar Swamp

New Hampshire

Giant rhododendron and lush ferns are abundant at this urban preserve

New Hampshire’s largest city isn’t where most of us think of going to explore nature. But nature abounds here at the 640-acre Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve, the largest conservation area in the city—providing residents and visitors alike with opportunities for a peaceful escape, outdoor recreation and nature study close to home.

Curious visitors who follow the preserve’s easily accessible and well-maintained 1.8-mile trail system will find shady hemlock groves, giant rhododendron patches and the globally rare Atlantic white cedar swamps that are the preserve’s namesake. Mingling in are black gum, another long-lived tree species that occurs in the Manchester Cedar Swamp wetlands. Some of these trees are over 450 years old. 

When you’re down on the boardwalk in the cedar swamp, the stillness and sense of solitude can feel like a remote wilderness. Amazing to think that in 10 minutes’ time you can be off the trails and in downtown Manchester getting ready for your next adventure!

A large portion of Hackett Hill, including parts of what is now our preserve, was slated to be UNH’s Manchester Campus.  Plans were drawn up and funding approved to start construction. Roads, granite curbs, underground power, parking lots and lighting were all installed.  Before classroom construction began however, the state decided to relocate the campus into the old mills along the Merrimack River.  The Hackett Hill improvements remain to this day, creating a ghost town feel. 

After the relocation of the campus, Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve was protected through an innovative settlement agreement in 1999 between the City of Manchester, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.  Under the agreement, the City of Manchester agreed to establish a $5.6 million Supplemental Environmental Projects Program in order to do environmental restoration and protection projects. In exchange the City was allowed to phase in stormwater control improvements to remove combined sewer overflow into the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers.

The city allocated $2 million for protection of rare wetlands with a goal of preserving the globally rare Atlantic white cedar swamp and giant rhododendrons located in the Hackett Hill area. The cedar swamp is among the biggest and best quality in the state and was located in an area of several hundred acres of undeveloped land. The EPA asked The Nature Conservancy to own and manage these special lands because of our biodiversity mission and land management expertise. We received 350 acres from the City of Manchester in August 2001 and another 252 acres was added to the preserve in 2002 and 2003. In April 2015, we once again partnered with the City of Manchester to add another 40 acres - known as "the thumb" - to the preserve.

You can hike through 1.8 miles of trail that includes three loop trails through the cedar swamp, white pine and red oak woodlands, and giant rhododendron thickets.  The cedar loop trail leads you through a small section of the cedar swamp where you’ll see Atlantic white cedar, giant rhododendron, winterberry, cinnamon fern, and a large black gum tree.   The rhododendron loop trail leads through several thickets of giant rhododendron which are in full bloom in June.  You can also walk along the wetlands of Millstone Brook which is a great place to see wetland birds like great blue herons and common yellowthroat warblers and wildlife like deer, mink, and beaver. The trails are also perfect for snowshoeing in the winter!

Trail rating:  Easy

Enjoy the Preserve Responsibly:

• Leave No Trace—please keep the preserve clean by carrying out your trash (and any that you find).

• No camping or open fires allowed.

• Please, for your safety and the protection of this globally rare ecosystem, stay on marked trails.

• Foot traffic only; horses, bikes and motorized vehicles are prohibited.

• Pets are not permitted; help us protect wildlife on the preserve and be respectful of other hikers by leaving your pets at home.

• Hunting is allowed on the preserve, except within 300 feet of the trail. Please obey all posted signs and contact NH Fish & Game Department for dates and regulations.

• Respect the natural world around you! Do not remove or destroy plants, wildlife, minerals or cultural items.