There is something in most of us that periodically needs some place of peace and quiet, where the pace is slower and where we can soak in the natural world. Pittsburg, New Hampshire is one of those places.
Huge town, few people
Located at the triangular top part of New Hampshire, Pittsburg is the largest town not only in New Hampshire but in New England too, at 291 square miles. For all its size, Pittsburg has only about 870 inhabitants, but it has more forests and lakes than some small countries.
An independent republic
When the Revolution ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 the New Hampshire/Canadian border was listed as the northwesternmost headwaters of the Connecticut River. Problem was that there were three streams that form the headwaters of the Connecticut. By the 1830s, when almost 400 people lived there, both Canada and New Hampshire claimed the land between the three streams. Fed up with both sides claiming them but neither doing anything to resolve the issue, people in the disputed territory formed the Republic of Indian Stream, named for the middle of the three streams. It lasted only three years, ending when New Hampshire sent militia in to solidify its claim. The US-Canadian border was finally settled in 1846 accepting westernmost Hall’s Stream as the border.
Playing on the lakes
Pittsburg is a true four-season retreat for enjoying nature and the out-of-doors. It includes the four Connecticut Lakes, strung out line a line in the green forests along Route 3. The southernmost, Lake Francis, covers more than 2,000 acres with most of its shoreline pristine and free of development. A state park accessible from Route 3 has camping sites, a put-in for fishing boats and rental canoes. Back Lake, west of Route 3 on Back Lake Road in the village center or, for the boat launch, from Spooner Road about four miles further north. At just under 360 acres, is the shallowest of the lakes but is spring-fed making it good for fishing and boating.
The Connecticut Lakes are a series of four lakes, the first two on the east side of Route 3, and Third and Fourth Lakes on the west. First Connecticut Lake, is even larger than Lake Francis with an area of more than 3,000 acres. Farther north, Second Connecticut Lake is smaller at 1,100 acres and Third Connecticut Lake is smaller still at 231 acres. Fourth Connecticut Lake is a small pond reached by a trail close to the US/Canadian Border station. The other three are easily accessed from Route 3 and popular with fishermen, canoeists and kayakers.
Hiking the northern wilderness
The Cohos Trail extends from Crawford Notch north into Pittsburg and the Canadian border. Its paths are available to hikers in Pittsburg and one of the most popular is the Moose Alley Trail, signs for which are on the east side of Route 3 beyond Back Lake. This trail leads through the woods to the Falls in the River, a combination of falls and cascades in the Connecticut River. They are impressive, but beware of slipping in, as there is no way to get out. A Recreation Map and Guide is available ($5) is available in town.
Off road riding
The back woods trails of the area and logging roads of the area are popular venues for ATVs and other off-road vehicles. The Great North Woods Riders ATV Club maintains 120 miles of trails and is seeking access to more.
Fall and winter ideas
Pittsburg’s many hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails have the most and the deepest snow in the state. The Pittsburg Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, for example has more than 3,000 members, about three and a half times the town’s population. This being a wilderness area, game animals abound and hunting is popular in the fall.
Where to eat and sleep
There are no fancy big hotels in Pittsburg but there are several nice places to stay. This is the land where sporting camps have been popular since the 19th century, and staying in a cabin at a sporting camp create a strong sense of place. Tall Timber Lodge is one of these. Located on Back Lake, their cottages face the lake, each with a ring for a fire and Adirondack chairs placed for watching loons and ducks swim by. Lodging with up to four bedrooms is available for families or groups. They also have boats and canoes for guests. This lake is popular for fishermen. Their dining room, the Rainbow Grill, has a varied menu and several specials each night, offering both favorite comfort foods and some innovative new American dishes.
The easiest access to the Great North Woods is I-93 to Route 3 just north of Franconia Notch. Follow Route 3 through Twin Mountain (where you’ll see the old Cog Railway train at the Route 3/302 junction). Continue on north on Route 3 through Lancaster and Colebrook to Pittsburg. From western Mass and Connecticut take I-91 north to St Johnsbury, Vermont, and follow signs for I-93 south to Littleton, New Hampshire. At Littleton take Route 135 north to Lancaster where you join up with Route 3 north through Colebrook to Pittsburg. The trip is about 220 miles so plan on 4 and a half hours.