Ossipee Pine Barrens

Freedom, Madison, Tamworth, Ossipee, NH


NEW in April 2017! Download the Ossipee Pine Barrens Trail Map & Guide

What makes this place special?

The Ossipee Pine Barrens were shaped more than ten thousand years ago, when retreating ice age glaciers left behind a broad, deep sandy outwash plain. Too dry and nutrient poor to support agriculture or many of the more typical forests of northern New England, areas with these sandy-gravelly soil types became known as “barrens.” Despite the tough growing conditions, however, this area is hardly barren - a forest of pitch pine and scrub oak thrives here, rejuvenated over the eons by lightning and human-sparked fires.  It’s a patchwork of pine woods and scrub oak: dense and tangled in some places, open and airy in others, with an inviting bed of blueberries and ferns near the ground.

Pine barrens are a globally rare forest type, and one of the state’s most endangered landscapes. A combination of flat topography, well-drained soils, and proximity to population centers has resulted in the development and conversion of most of New Hampshire’s original pine barrens.  The pine barrens ecosystem of Ossipee, Madison, Freedom, and Tamworth is the last relatively large and intact example in our state.  This unique habitat supports a diversity of uncommon wildlife, including nearly two dozen threatened and endangered moths and butterflies – some found nowhere else in New Hampshire. These insects use pitch pine and scrub oak, and understory plants like sweet fern and low-bush blueberry for food and as a place to lay their eggs.  The pine barrens also provide very important breeding habitat for several declining bird species like whip-poor-wills, common nighthawk, and the Eastern towhee. The preserve also includes a mile of frontage on the West Branch River and another mile of frontage on Cook’s Pond and River which drain into Silver Lake.

The Ossipee Pine Barrens not only provide habitat for a diversity of unique and rare plants and animals in New Hampshire, but they also safeguard and recharge the largest stratified drift aquifer in the state.  Residences around Silver Lake and the pine barrens rely on clean drinking water extracted from private and public waters supply wells dug into the Ossipee aquifer.  Protecting these pine barren properties is an important step in maintaining water quality and clean drinking water resources in the Ossipee watershed.

Pitch pine and scrub oak are uniquely suited to dry, acidic soils of the pine barrens and rely on periodic fires for the regeneration and sustainability of the forest. Mature pitch pines have a thick bark that protects the living tissues of the tree during fire episodes, and their seeds readily germinate in soils exposed after fire. Scrub oak survives fire by having a taproot that is as large as the above-ground portion of the tree.  If the tree is burned by fire, the taproot often survives and is able to sprout new growth.  Several of the rare moths and butterflies that populate the pine barrens have also evolved behaviors to survive and respond to fire, by burrowing under the soil during the burn season. 

How was this land protected?

“Persistence” and “Continuity of Purpose” are two of the Conservancy’s hallmark characteristics, and both were on full display in the long and complicated undertaking required to protect the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve.  The Conservancy’s first land acquisition in the pine barrens occurred in 1988, when 341 acres in Madison were protected along what is known as the West Branch of the Ossipee River.  Twenty years and 13 land conservation transactions later, the preserve now consists of nearly 4 .5 square miles of pine barrens and supporting habitat in Freedom, Madision, Ossipee and Tamworth.  In addition, thanks to the outstanding efforts of the Trust for Public Land and local partners, the adjoining Freedom Town Forest was protected and is managed by the local community.  Nowadays, there are more than 6,000 contiguous acres of conservation land in and around the pine barrens, a remarkable conservation legacy that would not have been possible without the support of the USDA Forest Legacy program, New Hampshire’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), and hundreds of community members that generously supported these efforts.

How can I explore the property?

7.5 miles of hiking trails in the preserve provide terrific opportunities to explore the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve.  The 1.3 mile Pine Barrens Loop begins at the preserve parking area along Route 41 in Madison and offers an easy excursion through classic pitch pine/scrub oak barrens, while the 3.2 mile West Branch Trail is a popular snowmobile trail that begins just across from the boat access on the south end of Silver Lake, follows the West Branch, and traverses through pitch pine and hardwood forests before ending at the Camp Calumet Conference Center.  A trail leading from the Camp Calument Center parking area up to Jackman Ridge offers excellent views of the pine barrens, the Ossipee Mountains, and Ossipee Lake. Trails off of Leadmine Road provide access to Cook’s Pond and Cook’s River along with an interesting sandy esker.  Trails are easy to moderately strenuous.  Summer is prime time to visit the pine barrens when blueberries are plentiful and the songs of whip-poor-wills fill the nighttime air. Fall is beautiful as the scrub oaks and blueberry bushes in the understory turn a brilliant scarlet. You can also canoe or kayak on Cook’s River and Pond from the Town of Madison boat launch on Silver Lake.

Trail maps and further information:
Trail maps of the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve are available for download (updated April 2017), as well as at a kiosk located at the preserve’s main parking area off of NH 41 in Madison.

Special Visitation Guidelines:

Please have your dogs leashed during the breeding bird season as many of the rare species nest on the ground from late May through mid-July.


Special Visitation Guidelines:
Please have your dogs leashed during the breeding bird season as many of the rare species nest on the ground from late May through mid-July.

Take a short (1.65 mile) loop hike along the Pine Barrens Loop Trail off Route 41. There are additional trails to explore here - see below.

Check out the fire protection buffers along Route 41 and along the Pine Barrens Trail near the West Branch entrance. The Conservancy cleared these areas to mimic fire disturbance and protect nearby homes from wildfire.

In early summer, this is the best place in New Hampshire to hear whip-poor-wills and nighthawks; best after dusk. Later in summer, the blueberries are ripe!


From the intersection of NH 16 and NH 41 in West Ossipee:
•    To reach the preserve’s main parking area, follow NH 41 north for approximately 2 miles and look for The Nature Conservancy’s preserve sign on your right. Turn right onto the Class VI dirt road to reach the preserve entrance and parking area.
•    To access the southern portion of the preserve, follow NH 41 north for approximately ½ mile and turn right onto Ossipee Lake Road. Drive approximately 2.1 miles down Ossipee Lake Road, and there is trailhead and a small pull-off parking area located on the left side of the road.
•    To access the northern portion of the preserve along Cook’s Pond and Cook’s river, follow NH 41 north for approximately 2.5 miles and turn right onto East Shore Drive.  Follow East Shore Drive for approximately 1.1 miles, and turn right onto Leadmind Road.  Drive approximately 0.4 miles down Leadmine Road, and there is a trailhead and a small pull-off on located on the left side of the road.

Pine Barrens Loop - 1.3 miles. This trail begins at the preserve sign on Route 41 in Madison. The loop offers an easy excursion through classic pitch pine/scrub oak barrens. Follow the Pine Barrens Trail for a short distance before the trail diverges on the right. The trail crosses a powerline just before reaching the West Branch of the Ossipee River. To return, walk south on the powerline to the other half of the loop.

Pine Barrens Trail - .7 miles. This trail, a Class 6 town road, cuts across the pine barrens from Route 41 to East Shore Drive at the south end of Silver Lake.

West Branch Trail - 3.2 miles. A popular snowmobile trail, this path begins just across from the boat access on the south end of Silver Lake. Following the West Branch of the Ossipee River, it traverses through pitch pine and hardwood forests. It ends at the Camp Calumet Conference Center.

Boundary Loop Trail - 1.35 miles. Park at the Camp Calumet Conference Center and begin this walk from the west end of the lot, near the camp entrance. The first .3 miles goes through excellent pitch pine/scrub oak forest with many signs of past fire, including charred bark and sprouting needles. At .8 miles, the Jackman Ridge Trail diverges right to a sweeping overlook of the Pine Barrens and Ossipee Lake. From this junction, the trail returns to Camp Calumet in another .5 miles. Follow Ossipee Lake Road back to the parking area.

Jackman Ridge Trail - .5 miles. See above.

Hobbs Trail - .5 miles. This trail offers a short walk through a mature stand of pitch pines. Some of the larger trees are more than 150 years old. Parking is allowed only in the public portion of Babcock Road or at the Camp Calumet Conference Center.


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