EASY Dayhike: 7.6 miles (5 hours) — 15 miles from Hanover
Smarts Mountain, at 3,240 feet, offers the closest taste of boreal forest in the Upper Valley. Standing alone and often buffeted by high winds, Smarts has a feel about it similar to the higher White Mountain peaks further north. With its open quartzite ledges on Lambert Ridge and old fire tower on the summit, Smarts affords plenty of interesting views across the surrounding countryside.
How To Get There:
Take Route 10 north from Hanover into Lyme. Coming around the green in Lyme, bear right at the white church and follow signs for the Dartmouth Skiway. Pass through Lyme Center 1.8 miles from the green in Lyme, and continue winding around for 1.3 more miles to where the wide gravel Lyme-Dorchester Road forks to the left. Take this fork for 1.8 miles until, just before the iron bridge over Grant Brook, a small parking lot is reached on the left. Orange signs mark the trailheads. Park here.
Two trails leave the parking area (0.0 miles) — the white-blazed Lambert Ridge Trail (AT) on the left, and the Ranger Trail (former AT) straight ahead. For the ascent, follow the white-blazed Lambert Ridge Trail. The trail ascends quite steeply right from the beginning, with several switchbacks helping to reduce the grade.
At 0.3 miles, the first major view is reached. Underfoot is a pinkish, grayish, white-banded rock known as quartzite. Comprised almost entirely of former beach sand, this quartzite dates from the time roughly 400 million years ago when this part of New England stood at the edge of a chain of volcanic islands. Quartzite, because of its unusual hardness, tends to remain as high ridges long after surrounding rock has worn away. The ridge that forms the eastern edge of the Connecticut River valley, from Moose to Moosilauke, is comprised in part of the same type of quartzite underfoot here.
The trail continues along the spine of Lambert Ridge for the next 1.3 miles, with frequent views.
At 1.6 miles, the trail descends to the left off the last ledge of Lambert Ridge, and enters a swampy col.
At 2.9 miles, smarts proper has been reached. The trail begins to rise straight and steeply.
At 3.5 miles, the Lambert Ridge Trail intersects with the Ranger Trail. Follow the upper Ranger Trail (also blazed in white) to the left.
At 3.6 miles, a sharp switchback to the right begins the ascent of the summit ridge, and also marks the beginning of the transition from the beech and maple of the northern hardwood forest into the spruce and fir of the boreal forest.
At 4.0 miles, after several switchbacks, occasionally crossing wet ledges, the trail crests the long east-west summit ridge. At the trail junction here, a side trail leads right 0.1 miles to a tent platform and privy. On wind-free (and bug-less) nights, this site is an excellent place for sleeping out under the stars.
At 4.1 miles, here on the summit, a firetower (abandoned in 1976) affords panoramic views of the Upper Valley and the White Mountains beyond. Just past the fire tower, the old ranger cabin is maintained as a shelter for camping. A side trail, formerly the AT and now blazed blue, leads to Mike Murphy Spring in 0.1 miles. Mike was the last ranger stationed on the mountain.
The Appalachian Trail north continues straight, east, to the right of the cabin. Ambitious hikers with more time and transportation may want to continue north along the sloping ridge that connects Smarts to Eastman Ledges and finally to the summit of Mount Cube, seven miles away.
To Return To the Trailhead
From the summit (0.0 miles), retrace your steps along the Upper Ranger Trail, past the tent platform side trail, and descend to the junction with the Lambert Ridge Trail.
At 0.6 miles, continue straight down the Ranger Trail (formerly the AT, and now blazed blue, when blazed at all). The trail switchbacks across rock slabs as it descends to the valley floor. You may notice an occasional rock cairn standing off in the woods on the side of the trail. These cairns at one time supported telephone poles that held the cable linking the firetower with the valley.
At 2.0 miles, after crossing a small brook, the ruins of an old garage are on the right. Fire rangers used to park their cars here. The trail from here follows the old jeep road above the western bank of Grant Brook.
At 3.5 miles, reach the parking lot and lower junction with the Lambert Ridge Trail.