Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lunch at Zealand Falls Hut

As promised, a description of another fine Zealand Trail hike!  Mr. Yogi went to another foster home on Saturday and we had the opportunity to bring a beautiful Carolina Dog named Rayne with us this time.  Our feet hit the ground at the same starting point at last weekend: the Zealand Trail, this time with the whole family – my non-hiking husband was with us!

There are two parking lots at the end of the road; we've always parked in the first one.  By the lot at the trailhead is a trash can (rarer than the bears they're designed to prevent access by!) and a composting toilet (TP included, running water/hand sanitizer not so much.)
The trail begins smooth, flat, and promising.  Keep left of the big AMC sign and don't head up the overgrown hill like Ty always wants to do!  After a short walk, you will see  a trail over to the left with a birch sapling laid on the ground and a ski trail sign on the tree that I miss every time.  If you’re more observant than me, you will stick to the trail without issue.
Over rocks and mud we traveled, chatting much of the way.  The rocky section is brief and transitions easily to a trail broad enough for us to walk side by side.  It felt a little odd to me but it was nice to hold a conversation and was convenient for having a leashed pup.  Tangent: Rayne helped make this one of the nicest hikes with a foster.  I clipped the Ruffwear Roamer leash via carabiner to my waist belt and she was a dream!  The terrain is a very easy introduction to hiking, generally not much more intense tha many state park trails in New England.  There's just enough rocks and distance to see how new hikers (two and four legged) feel about those elements and Rayne was a natural.  (Good thing because she is going to be a hiking dog with her new dad!)
There are a couple easy water crossings and bridges on this trail and elevated boardwalks that provide beautiful views of one of the beaver ponds.  Shortly after the elevated boardwalk is the intersection for the A-Z Trail, which heads over the Mt Tom.  Continuing on, we crossed a broad bridge over Zealand Pond and skirted the side of it over to the junction with the Ethan Pond Trail for the hut.  At this point, we had gone 2.5 miles.

The majority of the final .3 miles is a rocky but moderately steep incline.  My husband is not thrilled about it but it is very doable.  Zealand Falls Hut is popular for families and we saw quite a few young hikers developing a love for the mountains while we were out.  We skipped it this time but just as the steep section starts, one can see the falls through the trees and follow a quick detour to view them or sit on the rocks and enjoy the solitude if inspired to do so.
 Then, ta-da, we arrived at the hut!  There’s not as much space around the hut as some others like Mizpah and Galehead (relevant because we try to stay out of the way with the dogs) but there is enough room for visitors to spread out on the hut’s benches, stairs, and short log seats across from the hut.  Among the dozen or so human hikers, there were six dogs total, half were ours! 
The hut serves soup, lemonade, a couple bakery items, and maybe some other simple but tasty treats.  The Hungarian mushroom soup was delicious!  There are also bathrooms.  While there is room inside (and the friendly croo!) we always snack outside because of our four legged companions. 

Past the trail sign at the hut by a few strides is Zealand Falls.  For all his caution on the rocky trails, Erick has no problem stepping out onto the falls.  I'm comfortable with my adventurous pups crossing the water and was pleased with Rayne’s natural caution but folks with green hiking dogs or adventurous children would benefit from knowing what to expect.  After subjecting everyone to photos, we packed up and headed back down.
Looking down
Looking up
I love this hike for everything that it offers.  My husband concurs that it is a great hike for those who are new to hiking or have limited interest in day-long or rocky excursions but still want to hit the trail.  The food is also a great motivator!  We generally spend about 4 hours total on this hike, including a break of about a half hour at the hut.  I get the views and out-in-nature, happy-fuzzy feelings I need but when I’m itching for more, can head down the Ethan Pond Trail afterwards or up to Zeacliff (or further) for the views and more challenging terrain.  The dogs have plenty of excitement; water access; great socialization (interestingly, lots of people at the hut, few on the trail); and an easy hike for the hot days, those new to hiking, days they're tired but still want to get out, etc.  Win-win-win!  A long post for a pretty short hike but, if I had one go-to hike to suggest to nearly anyone, this is the one!

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