By Katie Salvatore

Lake Sunapee & Minute Island from The Fells hiking trail
Lake Sunapee & Minute Island from The Fells hiking trail

A stunning hike along the shore of Lake Sunapee

Five trails wind through The Fells, a wildlife refuge and historic site. Although the center piece of the estate is the house, the grounds, gardens, and forest, have not been neglected. It’s named for the Scottish word for rocky pastures, which anyone who has tried to dig in New Hampshire’s soil will easily understand.

Since it was founded by John Milton Hay in 1891, he and the following generations have transformed these rocky pastures on the shore of Lake Sunapee into a place of appreciation and the preservation of nature, art, and history.

The Main House at The Fells
The Main House at The Fells from the Woods Road trail

The five trails emphasize different aspects of the grounds. The longest is the John Hay Forest Ecology Trail at 1.5 miles of easy terrain. It has entrances at both the Gatehouse and just beyond the Main House. If entered through the Gatehouse entrance, the trail first passes through the Hay Refuge, a forest protected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

It then crosses Beech Brook (which can be tricky) and rambles along the shore of Lake Sunapee before turning back into the forest and heading towards the Main House. As it turns, it merges with the Lake Loop: a half mile trail that is contained in the forest in front of the House. It has wonderful views of the lake and Minute Island, a small island just off shore.

The trail also passes by the old tennis courts, glacial erratics, and, excitingly, the Roosevelt Maple, planted by President Theodore Roosevelt himself.

The Fairy Village on The Fells
The Fairy Village on The Fells Wildflower Walk trail

The Wildflower Walk, although not yet completed, is a magical trail. It follows historic roads and trails that are now edged with native wildflowers. It passes by the Fairy Village, where anyone can build a fairy house with found woodland objects, a vernal pool, and the heather ledge.

The Carriage Road Trail connects the Wildflower Walk and the front parking lot; it travels for under a half mile long through mature forest and has a spur that follows an old carriage road.

One of several footbridges in the John Hay Forest
One of several footbridges in the John Hay Forest Ecology Trail

The final trail is the Woods Road, which leaves the quarter-mile gravel driveway connecting the front parking lot with the Main House, and connects with the John Hay Forest Ecology Trail. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers enjoy this trail because it’s wide and grassy.

Although they are not official trails, the gardens are beautiful to walk through and are in bloom May through September. Daily tours occur in the afternoon during the summer when the Main House is open.

The grounds do have fees. If the Main House is open, tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $4 for children (6-17), free for children under 5, and $25 for families of two adults and two children 6 or above. Trail maps are available at the gatehouse

Stream crossing the John Hay Forest Ecology trail
Stream crossing the John Hay Forest Ecology trail

In the Spring (starting late May) and the Fall (September through Columbus Day) the House is open on weekends and Monday Holidays.

During the summer, late June to September, it’s open Wednesday through Sunday. If the house is closed, it’s $2 less per ticket and families are $15, and in the Winter, entrance is $5 per household.

The trails and grounds are open year round from 9 to 5. Members, however, have free admission and can be there from dawn till dusk. No dogs are allowed on the property and there are also restrooms at the shop and the Gatehouse.

Refreshments are available to purchase in the shop at the House, when it is open; picnicking at the veranda and the Gatehouse is welcome, but be sure to take everything you came in with and keep this historic estate preserved for future generations.

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