Balch Hill

About the Balch Hill Natural Area

For over 50 years, the Balch Hill Natural Area has been a favorite of Hanover residents for its great views, picnicking, walking, and bird watching.  Ten trails provide easy to moderate routes to the 937-foot summit.  Its diverse communities include a former pasture and apple orchard at the summit, and forests of pine, hardwoods, and hemlock on the slopes.

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Our first land protection project, the Balch Hill Natural Area began with 10 acres acquired in 1970 to protect the summit from development.  The Natural Area now includes 20 acres owned by the Hanover Conservancy, including the summit, and 46 acres owned by the Town of Hanover. Dartmouth College owns 18 acres on the east side. The Upper Valley Land Trust holds a conservation easement on 10 acres. The Conservancy’s Balch Hill Stewardship Committee manages the Balch Hill Natural Area in partnership with the Town and College.

Map & Guide

Our full-color map and guide to Balch Hill gives insights into natural features including geology, birds, mammals, plants, and habitats, and explains the trails and the property’s history.  Printed copies are available at the trailheads and summit.

Balch Hill’s ten trails are open for foot travel at all seasons, and provide access to the summit from every direction. Check the trail map carefully before leaving to be sure you return to your starting point.

  • Please take only pictures & leave only footprints! Pollinators of all types feed on the wildflowers here.
  • No fires or camping.
  • Mountain biking is permitted only on the Dot Strong Trail.
  • Trapping and hunting are not permitted (except archery by special permit only, Sept. 15-Dec. 15).
  • Dogs enjoy Balch Hill as much as we do – please pick up after your pet and remove the waste. Dogs must be under the direct control of their owners and not chase wildlife.
  • Populations of deer and dog ticks have risen in our area in the last decade, and Balch Hill is no exception. Check for unwanted passengers after your visit whenever the ground is clear of snow.

How to get there

For access to the Grasse Road Trail, park  at the intersection of Grasse Road and Trescott Road, where a trailhead kiosk was provided by the Hanover Lions Club in the fall of 2011. Parking for 3-4 cars is available at Hemlock Road for access to the Hemlock Trail.

Our annual Kite Day on breezy and beautiful Balch Hill is a favorite with families each May. Check our calendar of outdoor trips for the next date.

Explore this preserve at your leisure with a delightful hike uphill to grand old trees and the expansive view, through the Balch Hill Quest.  One of a series of treasure hunts created by the Valley Quest program of Vital Communities, this quest takes about an hour.

Balch Hill Management Plan

The volunteer Balch Hill Stewardship Committee updates the management plan for the hill and works with staff at the Conservancy, Town of Hanover, Upper Valley Land Trust and Dartmouth College to ensure future generations will enjoy the same views and native plants & wildlife that exist now. View the updated plan here.

Balch Hill easterly viewshed

Balch Hill Stewardship Fund – Thanks to generous friends and Balch Hill neighbors, we have established a dedicated fund to care for Balch Hill into the future. This is especially welcome news, since annual maintenance costs at this property are significant, and Balch Hill was protected years before land trusts like ours realized the need to plan for the costs of caring for such properties into the future. Donations to the Fund are warmly welcomed.

Restoring Views & An Historic Agricultural Landscape

Balch Hill from E. Wheelock St., 1887

Ten thousand years ago, when glacial meltwaters flooded the Connecticut River Valley, Balch Hill was an island in Lake Hitchcock.

Look for clues to its more recent past as you head up the Grasse Road Trail along a stone wall. This wall and the wide wire fencing are relics of the Sheep Craze days of the early-mid 1800s, when 11,000 sheep pastured in Hanover, including here. Veteran trees along the boundary have grown around fragments of barbed wire that mark the transition to dairy farming after the Civil War. While most of Balch Hill was cleared for grazing in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many large, old trees remain, including a line of ancient sugar maples on the long-ago route of Half Mile Road.  White pines reclaimed the abandoned farmland, but many fell on the northeast side during the 2007 Patriot’s Day windstorm.

The summit of Balch Hill offers wind-swept views of the Green Mountains of Vermont to the west, including Killington (elevation 4241’), 29 miles as the hawk flies. Seven miles to the northwest is Gile Mountain in Norwich (1873’).  Mount Ascutney (3144’), appears 21 miles to the south.  We’re hard at work to restore the views from Balch Hill, the only unforested summit in Hanover that is open to the public. In the process, we’re also restoring wildlife habitat, an historic landscape with its stone walls, orchard, and summit meadow with support from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

View restoration volunteers

We initiated a new wave of viewshed restoration activity in 2013, focusing on the aspect of Mt. Ascutney and downtown Hanover; this continues today as we improve views of Moose Mountain from the new Chapman Trail.  Brush piles are burned as conditions allow, but please note: no fires are permitted on Balch Hill other than those conducted by the Hanover Conservancy.

 

Old red oak on the Hemlock Trail

Elder Trees

Witnesses to Balch Hill’s history remain in its forest.  The Maple Trail features several large sugar maples dating from the time of Hanover’s settlement.  Nearby, a cattle watering pond created in the 20th century is now a nursery for frogs and salamanders.

County Champion Red Oak on the LInk Trail
County Champion Red Oak on the LInk Trail

Grafton County Champion Oaks

The largest red oak trees in all of Grafton County can be found at Balch Hill. The champion, near the Link Trail, is easily 200 years old and has a circumference of 196 inches, a height of 114 feet, and an average crown spread of 80 feet. The second largest in the county is on the Hemlock Trail. The “Venus de Milo” of oaks would have qualified as #1 before her two large limbs fell.

 

Balch Hill Birds & Wildlife

Native Plant Restoration