The Castor Pond Loop via Sheldrick Forest Preserve at the Heald Tract in Wilton, New Hampshire is an easy 3.9-mile loop hike that features views of Castor Pond while passing through both the Sheldrick Forest Preserve and the Heald Tract.
Trail name: Castor Pond Loop Trail by way of Sheldrick Forest Preserve Trails
Parking Location: Sheldrick Forest Preserve, Old Farm Road, Wilton NH
Sheldrick Forest Allowed activities: Foot Travel (Hiking, Snowshoeing), Nature study and Observation
Sheldrick Forest Restrictions: No Hunting, No Fishing, No Trapping, No motorized vehicles, No mountain biking, No Equestrian usage, No camping, No Fires, No pets, No removal or destruction of plants, wildlife or minerals
Heald Tract Allowed activities: Birdwatching, Cross-country skiing, Dog-walking, shore fishing, Hiking, Hunting, Snowmobiling, and Snowshoeing
Heald Tract Restrictions: No wheeled vehicles (including Bicycles), No Camping, No Fires, No Boating (including kayaking and canoeing), Do not disturb plants, animals, or cultural features
Hours: No Hours of use are posted at the trailhead kiosk
Fees and Parking: There are no fees to park or use the trails. There is ample parking, but may not be accessible in winter.
Pets: Pets are not allowed on the trails at Sheldrick Preserve but the Heald Tract does allow dogs on a leash
Accessibility: The trails are not wheelchair accessible
Sanitation: There are no restrooms or trash bins at the trailhead kiosk or along the trails. Please carry out all waste.
Length and Trail information: Our goal was to hike the Castor Pond Loop Trail found within the Heald Tract. The Castor Pond loop is 1.5 miles long and is named after “Castor Canadensis” our native beaver. The Heald Tract has 6 miles of trails within its borders made up of the Heald Pond Trail, Castor Pond Loop Trail, Camp Trail and the Fisk Hill Trail. The Heald Tract has 1,492 acres of conservation land under the stewardship of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
We chose to access the Castor Pond Loop trail by parking at the Sheldrick Forest Preserve Trailhead off of Old Farm Road in Wilton NH and using their connecting trails to get to the Heald Tract and head to the Castor Pond Loop Trail.
This hike was done as a “lollipop”. The topography was easy to moderate and the combination of trails we took amounted to 3.92 miles. We hiked along several different trails within the Sheldrick Forest, each having different colored well placed blazes.
There is an information kiosk at Sheldrick Forest Preserve beside the trailhead/parking area. There is a map posted, but none to take along. The trail junctions within the Sheldrick Forest Preserve were marked with wooden posts that have the trail name of the trail and arrows engraved on them. The trails and land at the Sheldrick Forest Preserve are part of the Nature Conservancy which owns and manages 31 nature preserves in the State of New Hampshire. The Sheldrick Forest Preserve consists of some 227 acres. Even though all the trails are well marked, hikers will want to plan ahead and download a brochure about the Sheldrick Forest Preserve which includes a map and information about the trails. The brochure tells the tale of how the Sheldrick Forest Preserve almost didn’t happen, and how this beautiful spot almost became a residential subdivision. A link to download the brochure is below:
The Sheldrick Forest Preserve has 3.8 miles of trails to hike that interconnect making it easy for hikers to visit several times and hike different combinations of trails with their visits. The first trail we took was Helen’s Path. Hikers will want to be on the lookout for a wooden post in the middle of a large field just past the parking area as Helen’s Path starts at the post and heads into the woods. Helen’s Path led us into the woods and down a narrow trail that was marked by orange diamond trail blazes. We traveled on Helen’s Path a short distance until we connected onto the Flyway Trail where the trail blazes changed from orange to yellow. Flyway Trail leads down a ravine and over a wooden bridge back up the side of the hill and along a very narrow trail along the very edge of the hill. At the end of the Flyway trail we headed northeast on the Swift trail with orange blazes, for a very short distance until it connected to the Heald Connection Trail which had yellow blazes. We hiked until we came to the area where the Sheldrick Forest Preserve meets the Heald Tract. There is a plaza of sorts at this junction with excellent signage and a wooden structure that holds a Preserve visitors log where hikers can sign in. At the time of our visit, the sheet was full.
There is no kiosk here for the Heald Tract, only a sign showing access to the trails. Hikers will be able to download a copy of the Heald Tract trails by following the link below:
At this junction we began hiking on the Heald Tract’s Camp trail which is marked by blue blazes. We hiked through dense mixed forest of Oak, Hemlock, Black Birch, along with massive pines that stand some 150 feet high. According to the Nature Conservancy website, this area may not have been logged in over 200 years. The topography can been described as “rolling” with many changes in elevation, but none of the inclines or descents are severe or of long duration. The trails led us over streams and along hillsides. The substrate on the trails is what one would expect of a woodland hike with trip hazards including roots, rocks, tree debris and wet or muddy areas. One of the highlights of this hike was abundance of blooming Mountain Laurel surrounding the trail and visible off into the forest.
The Camp trail eventually led us to a rocky junction plaza area where the Castor Loop trail begins. The Castor Loop Trail is marked by Green Blazes and brings hikers all the way around Castor Pond. There are several spots that offer lovely views of the pond. The pond is small and secluded and in the late spring Great Blue Herons visit and nest here, hikers are encouraged to quietly pass by the rookery and to stay on the trail.
There were several well placed wooden foot bridges to ease in crossing over muddy or wet areas and the majority of the bridges have been well maintained. There is a bridge at the end of the Castor Loop trail that is blocked off from use. The supports and handrails have deteriorated and are too dangerous to use. Hikers will need to ford the stream below the bridge and get back on the trail. When hikers cross the stream they will be back on the Camp trail and the blazes will again be blue. From this point hikers will follow the trail back to the rocky junction area where the Castor Loop began and backtrack along the Camp Trail and on to the Sheldrick Forest Preserve trails to finish the hike.