Prettiest in the White Mountains
In its short course along Black River's west fork, Thompson Trail traverses one of the loveliest landscapes in the White Mountains. The trailhead is on a major forest road negotiable by vehicles of all types. The trail is generally well groomed and level and remains always on the same side of the creek, requiring no crossings. Despite its proximity to the popular campgrounds around Big Lake, the area has few visitors other than fishermen, who usually do not venture far from the road.
The trail begins, atop the old railroad grade, where West Fork departs a large valley and enters a narrow, forested canyon. The first of two fish barriers appears in the creek .4 mile along, and immediately after that the trail divides. At this point bikers and equestrians are invited to remain on the rail bed while the footpath departs to the left and through a gate. The two routes stay close and parallel, but the former is elevated and, for the most part, out of sight from the latter. The trail passes the second fish barrier - fishing is prohibited between the two - and continues at creekside for a mile. Then the canyon widens, the forest recedes, and stream and trail veer easterly through a grassy park. Another park, even broader, occurs a half mile farther down stream, and a sign near the end of it indicates a second way into, and out of, the canyon. To the right of the sign, a trail ascends to the rail grade, which here loops up into Stinky Creek and intersects an abandoned road back to FR 116. Thompson Trail continues to the left for a short distance until the canyon narrows and the path ends.
At this point the hiker can retrace the route to its beginning or proceed along one of several different ways. West Fork Trail #628 begins on the opposite side of the creek and wanders to its intersection with FR 68 in about 3 miles. Crossing to it during low flows is possible by rock hopping or wading. If the stream is running high, one can cross on a couple fallen trees a short distance farther downstream. A bit further along an arrow carved on a pine tree points to the right up a side canyon. An unmaintained track here leads to the rail bed. One could also start here on a cross country trek of 5 miles, combining old log roads, game trails and bushwhacks, to reach West Fork campground. A good map is essential.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.