What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!


5 Shorter Local Thru-Hikes to Tackle this Year

Not everyone has the time, savings or desire to head out on a 5 month thru-hike adventure on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Thankfully, for those of us who want to keep our jobs, there are plenty of shorter long-distance trails right here in the Northeast that are just as gorgeous and challenging as a longer trail, giving you the experience of thru-hiking and long periods spend in the woods, without forcing you to sacrifice a large part of your life. Plus, some can be completed in as little as one or two weeks. Here are five favorite thru-hikes that are worth your vacation time this summer.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins
Courtesy: Haley Blevins

The 100-Mile Wilderness

Explore the Appalachian Trail’s most remote section along a substantial stretch of uninterrupted trail. Stretching from Rt. 15 in Monson and continuing to Abol Bridge, the 100-Mile Wilderness offers a challenging adventure deep in Maine’s woods.

Location: Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park

Length: 100 miles (5-10 days)

Terrain: Easy to moderate elevation change with roots and rocks in sections (18,000ft. of total elevation change). Occasional water crossings.

Season: Summer to Fall. The trail can be muddy in early spring and buggy in early summer. Opt for July through October for the best conditions.

Camping: Plenty of shelters throughout. Summer and fall hikers will find themselves sharing shelters and stories with AT thru-hikers as they near the end of their multi-month adventures. Seeking more solitude? There are lots of backcountry camping options (permitted 200 feet from trails water sources).

Resupplying: None. Unless you arrange a food cache through Shaw’s Hostel in Monson.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The 100-Mile Wilderness travels through some of the most remote country in the Continental U.S. (it doesn’t cross a paved road). It’s a parade of changing scenery, with low elevation forests featuring glassy ponds and waterfalls, to the traverse across the Barren-Chairback Range and climb up White Cap. Have an extra day or two? When you finish, continue another 20 miles up Mount Katahdin and enjoy 360-degree views after a grueling 4,000-foot climb.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Cohos Trail

Still relatively unknown, the Cohos Trail extends from the Canadian border near Pittsburg, New Hampshire to Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. Its remote nature guarantees frequent wildlife sightings and varied terrain through dense woods and across steep ridge lines through New Hampshire’s North Woods.

Location: Coos County, New Hampshire

Length: 170 Miles (10-15 days)

Terrain: Rolling hills combined with steep, rocky climbs through lush forests and by remote lakes. A combination of singletrack trail, snowmobile trail and dirt road.

Season: The Cohos can be hiked from May through October. August or September will provide ideal weather, with fewer bugs and more berries. Head out in early- or mid-October to catch the leaves change while enjoying cooler temperatures and a crowd-free White Mountains.

Camping: There are a few newly-crafted shelters, some state and private campgrounds on or just off the trail that provide more facilities, and two B&Bs in the small towns of Stark and Jefferson. Backcountry camping following LNT principles (camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources, packing out all trash) is permitted outside of the Connecticut Lakes Region.

Resupplying: A handful of general stores, campgrounds and inns that may accept resupply packages, and opportunities to get rides into the towns of Gorham and Groveton.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The Cohos travels through diverse ecosystems and terrain including Dixville Notch, Nash Stream Forest, White Mountain National Forest, and Connecticut Lakes regions. It’s a quiet, but challenging trail for both new and experienced hikers. With its panoramic views and frequent mushroom and wildlife sightings, this is a trail for anyone seeking solitude.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Long Trail

Stretching the length of Vermont, The Long Trail is authentic, demanding New England hiking. It shares 100 miles with the AT and summits most of the prominent peaks in the Green Mountains, including Killington, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. While it’s the toughest of any on this list, that doesn’t go without huge reward and bragging rights: The trail climbs over 60,000 feet in elevation.

Location: Vermont; Massachusetts to Canada

Length: 272 miles (15-25 days)

Terrain: Rugged. Steep, muddy and rocky with lots of elevation change.

Season: June to September. “Vermud” is the real deal on the Long Trail, so it’s best to hike later in the summer or fall than at the height of wet trail season. The trail can be crowded in July and August with end-to-enders and AT hikers, but you’ll have longer daylight and pleasant summer temperatures. If you can tolerate, and have the proper gear for colder weather, October would be a quiet and colorful month to hike. Late fall hikes bring higher chances of snow.

Camping: There are over 70 shelters and nicer lodges (fee required) along the Long Trail built and maintained by the Green Mountain Club. You’ll find other lodging options directly on, or not far off the trail such as the famous Long Trail Inn.

Resupplying: Most hikers will only carry 2 to 4 days of food at a time. Resupplying by sending boxes to locations closer to the trail is also an option.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: Not only is the Long Trail the oldest (established in 1930) long-distance trail in the country, it’s also one of the toughest. Through rocky high peaks and evergreen tunnels, hikers will experience challenging terrain with rewarding panoramic views. The culture of thru-hiker camaraderie and history the generations of passionate outdoors-people who’ve sustained this trail, are something special.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The New England Trail

Stretching from the Long Island Sound to Massachusetts’ northern border, this trail follows classic New England landscapes: unfragmented forests, traprock ridges, historic towns, river valleys, waterfalls and farmlands. It is comprised mainly of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems and makes for an attainable thru- or section-hike.

Location: Massachusetts & Connecticut

Length: 215 miles (10-20 days)

Terrain: Moderate elevation change on well-maintained single-track trail with some river crossings and some road walking.

Season: Year-round. If you’re not afraid of cooler temperatures, October is a gorgeous time to hike the NET, thanks to colorful leaves, no bugs, and beautiful temperatures (and do-able ford of the Westfield River). Summer hikers will see optimal daylight and more crowds because the trail travels through popular day-use areas. Spring would be marvelous and lush as well.

Camping: With only 8 “official” shelter and tentsite locations, camping can the biggest challenge of an NET hike. Much of the trail crosses private property or State Parks where backcountry camping is not permitted. The map clearly outlines the boundaries of these areas and since the trail crosses roads often, it is entirely possible to avoid camping illegally with the fitness to pull bigger mileage and/or finding a ride into nearby towns for the occasional hotel stay.

Resupplying: Logistics are a breeze on the NET. The trail stays pretty urban for the most part, with opportunities to eat at restaurants and re-up on food at gas stations or post offices (via resupply box) along the trail. In addition, there are many places to get rides into towns for full amenities including grocery stores, lodging and laundry. By studying the maps, hikers can easily plan for major resupplies in Northampton, Massachusetts, Farmington, Connecticut, and Middletown, Connecticut.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The New England Trail offers the unique experience of hiking through historical woods and townships among sweeping vistas, diverse resources, and plenty of summits. In addition, the trail is so accessible, providing easy logistics and gentle terrain. Highlights include the 12-mile ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range above Northampton, Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Hartford, and Ragged Mountain.

Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski
Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski

The Northville-Placid Trail

While many people have experienced the joy of the High Peaks region, possibly bagging one of the Adirondack’s 4,000 footers, fewer have traveled the remote valleys between them. From Northville to Lake Placid, hikers can enjoy the solitude of backcountry lakes, rivers and woods.

Location: The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

Length: 136 miles (7-12 days)

Terrain: Moderate rolling hills at low-elevation, with some rocky and wet sections.

Season: June through September is the most appropriate time to hike. Since the Northville-Placid Trail stays at lower-elevation, there’s a few areas the trail runs through swamp lands, which would be buggy in early-mid summer. Days can be warm and humid with cooler temperatures at night. For warmer lakes to swim in, drier trail, and fewer bugs, hike it in September.

Camping: One of the greatest aspects of the NPT is the scenic lean-tos placed along the entire length of the trail close to many of the pristine lakes that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Backcountry camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail or body of water except at designated camping areas marked with a yellow sign.

Resupplying: In the heart of the Adirondacks, the NPT is remote and does not come within distance of any larger towns, requiring mailing resupply packages or finding a way into a town. Most hikers will send resupply boxes to the tiny towns of Piseco (mile 40) or Blue Mountain Lake (Mile 80) and get a ride into Long Lake, where you’ll find the Adirondack Trading Post and restaurants, laundry and lodging. Lake Placid (the northern terminus) is an outdoor town with many services, including shuttles and an EMS.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: With its mellow terrain and many backcountry lakes to cool off in, the Northville-Placid Trail travels through some of the wildest and most remote valleys of the Adirondacks. Some highlights include the Cedar Lakes, Canada Lakes, Long lake and the High Peaks Wilderness. The conveniently-placed shelters and straightforward logistics make it a fantastic hike for both new and experienced long-distance hikers.


Abandoned But Not Forgotten: Skiing Mount Watatic

Here’s a little secret that backcountry skiers in Massachusetts have been keeping for years: Mount Watatic, in Ashby, Massachusetts, still has awesome skiing. Sure, it’s a small mountain that “officially” closed as a ski resort in the mid-1980s, but in recent years locals have revitalized the abandoned trails, turning it into a backcountry paradise for skiers and riders of all abilities. Read on for the beta of this prime destination, located less than 60 miles from Boston.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Watatic’s Backstory

Although skiing began on Mount Watatic as early as 1940 (when a rope tow was installed), the resort’s heyday ran from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. At its peak, the resort had multiple lifts, snowmaking, a ski school, a base lodge, and night skiing. There were also six top-to-bottom trails—Spruce, Wapack, The Line, Cascade, Big Dipper, and Little Dipper—each with between 500 and 600 feet of vertical drop.

Like so many smaller resorts, Mount Watatic eventually succumbed to larger, glitzier, and more convenient mountains, closing for good in 1984. Things remained quiet at Mount Watatic until the early 2000s, when a company made plans to build a cell tower on the mountain. Thankfully for skiers, the tower was never built, with the land instead purchased and set aside for conservation in 2002. However, this didn’t happen until after the telecom company that planned to build the tower had blasted a road to the top of the mountain, slicing diagonally across the ski area (and the remnants of the ski trails) in the process.

watatic_map

Accessing the Goods

Whichever lot you decide to park in, “the road” is now Watatic’s most distinct landmark. It is the easiest ski descent on the mountain and it is also the unofficial uphill route for skier traffic thanks to its wide, even surface and moderate grade.

The road also separates Mount Watatic into two sections, the upper mountain and the lower mountain. Although it feels strange to divide a mountain with less than a thousand feet of elevation into sections, both the upper and lower mountain have distinct characteristics.

The Upper Mountain

The runs on the upper half of Mount Watatic feature everything from short, steepish chutes to perfectly spaced pine glades. In line with the old ski trails, the most challenging terrain is found on skier’s right just below the summit—on top of the old ski resort’s two black diamond runs, Big Dipper and Little Dipper. Attentive skiers should look for the awesome glade run hidden between the two; make sure to check it out on a pow day!

Cascade and Thin Line drop straight down the center of the upper mountain. Their starts are easy to find and both lead to tight runs that are lots of fun in good snow conditions. Of the two, Cascade is better maintained and, in most conditions, a little wider and easier.

The remnants of the trails on skier’s left are a little harder to find; the upper portions of the road have subsumed a good part of the upper section of Wapack, while the start of Spruce is overgrown and partially hidden. However, spending the time to find the start of Spruce—you’ll essentially ski down a short section of the hiking trail to find it—is well worth it, as it’s a tight, fun run that flows uninterrupted to the base area.

Because these runs are not formally maintained, conditions can vary from totally clear to shwacky depending on factors like skier traffic and snowfall. Be sure to also pay attention to your turns as these trails intersect the road separating the upper and lower mountain; the terrain here is sometimes tricky, as the road builders put little thought into preserving the ski trails.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Lower Mountain

The lower mountain’s three distinct runs (Wapack, Cascade, and Little Dipper) remain in their historic locations. They are easy to find from the road and tend to be more open and lower angle than the upper mountain trails, making them perfect for newer backcountry skiers and a pleasant reprieve from dodging trees (and the occasional rock) up top. Moreover, frequently windy conditions near the top of the mountain can often leave it scoured, but great snow can be found down low with powder pockets deposited generously across Watatic’s lower slopes.

The first trail that skiers descending the road see is Wapack. Dropping off the road just after it makes a sharp bend, Wapack is a tight chute, with interspersed mini-glades, that runs to the base area. It is the longest and most challenging of the lower three runs.

The drop in for Cascade is a short distance further down, just before the one steep section on the road. Although once fairly tight due to regrowth, Cascade was, and is again, the widest run on the mountain and offers fun skiing on moderate terrain.

At the bottom of the road’s decline, skiers can take a sharp left onto Little Dipper. Although not as wide as Cascade, it is the lowest angle of the three runs and is pleasant, easy skiing, especially near the bottom.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Base Area

All of the lower slope’s runs deposit into a large open area at the base of Mount Watatic, which makes it easy to regroup between laps. This area also gets a considerable amount of sun, allowing for comfortable conditions to refuel and transition between downhill and uphill skiing.

Have you skied Mount Watic either under your own power or when it was still operational? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments below!


A Bostonian's Guide to Fall Foliage

For Bostonians, there’s no need to travel far this fall to find the foliage. In fact, whether you’re looking to hike, climb, mountain bike, or paddle, the Greater Boston area has something to satisfy everybody’s cravings for yellows, oranges, and reds. To begin, start with these five great activities, all within an hour of the city, for a quintessentially fall experience.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Boulder at Hammond Pond

It’s strange to find great bouldering, much less an idyllic fall getaway, behind a mall. But, somehow, Hammond Pond pulls it off. Tucked behind The Shops at Chestnut Hill, just minutes outside of Boston, the puddingstone walls, the pond’s gentle waves, and the rustling of hardwood leaves as they fall to the ground—and the occasional grunt of a boulderer working a problem—combine to make you forget just how close you actually are to civilization.

In addition to the wonderful setting, the season’s cool temperatures are perfect for climbing classic Hammond Pond boulder problems, such as Hammond Eggs (V1), Breakfast of Champions (V3), and Hermit Cave (V4). You’ll find the highest consistency and most classic problems in an area called the Alcove, a steep semi-circle of Roxbury Puddingstone. This type of conglomerate rock resembles pebbles thrown into a still-wet concrete wall and is only found in the Greater Boston area. The Alcove’s orientation protects climbers from cool autumn winds, while the rock receives a lot of sun, keeping it pleasant even on the crispest fall days.

Linking a combination of cobbles and cracks, the Alcove’s most difficult problems are found in the middle of the wall, where the angle is the steepest. The easier problems, meanwhile, are located along the outsides, which are angled more vertically. Because of the Alcove’s short height and limited amount of rock, however, make sure to check out traverses that increase the challenge and volume of climbing. Boulderers beware: Many of the problems here were established decades ago. Thus, given the close proximity to Boston, they possess an ego-deflating blend of old-school grading and slick holds.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Climb Rattlesnake Rocks

Tucked just down the road from Quincy Quarries’ graffitied walls, Rattlesnake Rocks is a classic destination for fall foliage. Rather than the Quarries’ vibrantly colored walls, however, the forest surrounding Rattlesnake Rocks delivers a canopy of gold, auburn, and crimson, while cool autumn temperatures ensure the area’s short, coarse granite walls are at their best.

Consisting of smaller crags spread out over a cliffline, Rattlesnake is much quieter than its multi-use neighbor, giving you some freedom to make the most of your “Rocktober.” And, while moving from crag to crag may be an inconvenience, the autumn-hued forest is made for ambling amongst Rattlesnake Rocks’ various walls and routes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Bike Around Vietnam

No, not that Vietnam.

For Boston-area mountain bikers who prefer to race through colorful fall forests rather than idly admire them, Vietnam—located in Milford, roughly an hour outside the city—is an ideal outing. Infamous in the mountain biking community, Vietnam holds the distinction of being the first land purchased by a bike association. The New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, bought a 47-acre parcel to protect it in 2003, and today, it contains notorious singletrack, drops, and jumps. Even better, NEMBA’s parcel connects with other conservation land in Milford, Hopkinton, and Holliston to create an approximately 800-acre area. Legendary for its technical riding, Vietnam’s trails are best known for their rock gardens and steep rollers, as well as their natural and manmade drops and jumps.

Fall is the perfect time for a trip to Vietnam. Its often-soggy, low-lying areas are finally dry, and brisk temperatures enhance traction on the area’s steepest lines. While the forest’s changing colors and the rustling of leaves under tires can produce a meditative calm, don’t let your guard down too much. Fallen leaves add another challenge to Vietnam’s already-taxing trails, as they may hide in-trail obstacles.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Hike the Blue Hills

Hikers in Greater Boston anxious to explore brilliantly tinted fall forests need look no further than the Blue Hills Reservation. Just a short drive from the city, the Blue Hills deliver the perfect place for hiking, as the area’s rocky and once-lush prominences transform from dense grays and greens into a cornucopia of yellow, orange, and red shades.

Although the Blue Hills might not have the elevation found among its northern neighbors—the highest point, Great Blue Hill, stands at just 635 feet tall—the area boasts an impressive 125 miles of hiking trails and 22 named hills. All and all, it’s more than enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fall hikers busy. Proving you needn’t drive north, the various high points offer incredible views of everything from Boston’s skyline to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, New England’s iconic fall foliage makes these views even more spectacular.

Hikers looking to get a quick foliage fix should head for the summit of Great Blue Hill, a roughly mile-long round-trip hike. On the summit, climb the Eliot Tower for an unrivaled view of the city’s skyline and Boston Harbor. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. So, take a minute to reflect on the leaf-peeping madness (and heavy traffic) you’re missing out on by staying close to home. Or, have a picnic on the open summit, or continue touring the park’s expansive network of trails.

Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA
Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA

Paddle the Charles

For taking in the foliage around Boston, don’t restrict yourself to land. Another option, the Charles River delivers a different perspective for viewing the season’s leafy spectacle. Whether from the comfort of a kayak or balanced on top of an SUP, you’ll find the river’s calm waters offer a multitude of trip options for leaf-peeping. Along with the awe-inspiring autumn colors, expect to encounter everything from old forests to city skylines, as the Charles snakes from Hopkinton to the Atlantic Ocean.

With ample put-ins and numerous places to stop for a picnic or to merely enjoy the scenery, the Charles River has an adventure for every level. And, while an out-and-back trip requires the least amount of logistics, it’s easy to stage a shuttle for a one-way trip with a little planning.

What’s even better than lazily floating on the calm waters to soak up New England’s stunning fall sights? Through the russet-colored forest, the occasional rumble of the highway lets you know others are fighting their way out of, or back into, the city to look for something you’ve already found.

 

Do you have a favorite fall trip around Boston? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your favorite Boston-area fall trips in the comments.


The Best Outdoor Adventures Near Our New Hyannis Store

74-007-Hyannis-FB-Ad

Big news! Eastern Mountain Sports is reopening its Hyannis, Mass., store, so outdoor enthusiasts on the Cape can be equipped with the right gear for all sorts of coastal adventures. To celebrate, we asked the employee experts at the new Hyannis location about their favorite local spots. So, to plan your next trip, start with their recommendations, and swing through the new shop for all the gear you need and even more expert beta!

Where to Go & What to Do

Hathaway Pond is a small, 20-acre natural kettle hole pond, perfect for paddling around and looking down into the depths. Visibility is excellent, extending to 23 feet. The bottom is composed of rubble and sand, and is also a hot spot for local scuba divers. For those interested in staying dry, an easy walking trail roughly one-mile long loops around the whole pond, and it’s great for families and dogs. Pro tip: Next summer, it will be the location of the shop’s demo days!

Another local favorite is The Trail of Tears, a 1,200-acre parcel of conservation land in the village of West Barnstable. As one of Cape Cod’s treasures and a prime bike riding area, it’s a hot spot for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and cross-country skiing.

Nickerson State Park is a state-owned, public recreation area of more than 1,900 acres in Brewster, Mass. The sandy soil and scrub pines surround many kettle ponds, the largest of which are Cliff, Flax, Little Cliff, and Higgins Ponds. Ruth, Keeler’s, Eel, and Triangle Ponds provide additional water habitats. This is a great, fun place for people to go in the summer and off-season! We love the easy access to water, hiking, and camping. It’s also amazing in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A hub for kayakers who love the shallow bay for its scenery and wildlife, Washburn Island and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a coastal playground. Paddlers can also camp on Washburn Island, a rare untouched tract of land on the Cape. Here, you’ll find hiking trails weaving through oak and pine, as well as beaches and salty ponds. As a note, paddling from the inner harbor takes a couple of hours, and for camping, make reservations in advance.

Do you have another favorite Cape Cod adventure?


Alpha Guide: Mount Greylock's Thunderbolt Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steep, short, and scenic—a hike to Mount Greylock’s summit via the Thunderbolt Trail is the most direct way to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Greylock via the Thunderbolt Trail takes you through some of the East Coast’s most hallowed ski terrain and across the rugged Appalachian Trail, and is the steepest and shortest route to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.8 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

Download

Turn-By-Turn

To access the Thunderbolt trailhead, hikers can park in nearly adjacent lots on Thiel Road and Gould Road in Adams, Massachusetts. To get there from North Adams, the major jumping-off point for anybody heading to Greylock, take Route 8 south for about two miles, and then, make a right onto Friend Street at a rotary. After a mile, Friend Street merges into Notch Road. About 0.5 miles later, turn right onto Gould Street, and then, either continue straight for side-of-the-road parking on Thiel Road or make a quick left into the signed hiker parking lot on Gould Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

From either lot, finding the right trail is tricky. There’s a maze of intersecting trails in and around the parking lots, and the way to Thunderbolt is not always clearly marked.

For the easiest route, hike for roughly 10 minutes up the closed (to vehicles) section of Thiel Road, first on pavement and then on a gravel path, until you come to a sign (42.627598, -73.137497) directing hikers to Thunderbolt.

From the sign, navigation is still a bit strenuous, with the narrow trail winding through thick woods and dense ferns. Enjoy this short section, as it easily picks up elevation. You’ll soon approach the ski trail proper, (42.636150, -73.137497) where the trail opens up and the grade intensifies.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Ski Trail

The Thunderbolt foot trail ascends along the side of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, and it’s easy to know when you’ve reached its base. Here, the dense forest immediately transitions into a wide, open swath of green running straight up the mountain. The Thunderbolt Ski Trail climbs consistently, with few interruptions—among them, the juncture with the Bellows Pipe Trail (42.637295, -73.154152) and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail (42.642410, -73.161797).

That said, the footing is good, the path is easy to follow, and there are a good number of rest spots where the trail briefly levels out. When you need to catch your breath, make sure to turn around and enjoy the view back east, with Adams in the foreground and the Hoosac Range on the horizon.

Pro Tip: Although lots of trails intersect with the Thunderbolt trail and many of the junctions aren’t signed, knowing that you should be hugging the ski trail makes it harder to get off route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Joining the AT

After one final steep section, Thunderbolt levels out briefly before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Before ascending to the junction, make sure to pause to appreciate the spectacular view to the northeast. You’ll know you’re there when you see the first aid cache in the woods to climber’s right.

At the junction, follow the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes south another half-mile to the summit. The going is easy and relaxed, with only a slight incline. After a few minutes, hikers will cross the auto road, and then, spill into one of Greylock’s tourist parking lots.

Upon entering the lot, look to the right for the Thunderbolt shelter (42.638737, -73.0145218), an impressive stone warming hut built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934. Originally intended as a place for ski racers to warm up and prepare for their run—remember, back then, racers had to get to the top of the run via their own power—the hut is dedicated to Rudolph Konieczny, a soldier killed in action while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troop in northern Italy in 1945. Although, today, the shelter is primarily a tourist attraction and an emergency shelter for winter travelers, it is one of the summit’s several somber memorials.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

From the hut, the actual summit is only a short jaunt away. Simply rejoin the Appalachian Trail and follow the gravel, and then paved, path a bit farther south. Pretty soon, you’ll be on the summit proper (42.636898, -73.165527), which, in 1898, became the centerpiece of the first state park in Massachusetts.

As you approach the summit, Greylock’s 93-foot granite memorial to the Commonwealth’s war veterans—built by the CCC in the 1930s—looms overhead. If it’s open, make sure to go in to pay your respects. Then, climb the tower’s spiral staircase to a viewing observatory, which offers 360-degree views of the region. To the north, look for North Adams in the foreground and New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance. Looking east, mountains and hills are everywhere; try to pick out Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. Turning south and west, you’ll see the Berkshires, the Catskills, and the Hudson River Valley.

There are a lot of other things to do on the summit. In addition to the Thunderbolt Ski Hut, there’s the Bascom Lodge. Perched nearly on Greylock’s summit, the lodge is another minute south on the AT. Made using local schist and red spruce, the lodge was built in the 1930s by the CCC to offer shelter to summit visitors. Today, it features a restaurant and cafe, provides seasonal accommodations, and is even available for weddings and private events. Whether you’re grabbing a meal inside or having a snack at the nearby picnic tables, the Bascom Lodge is the perfect place to linger on the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

To return to your car from the summit, simply retrace your steps back down the way you came. Of course, as you pass by signs noting iconic sections of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, such as Big Bend, Big Schuss, and The Bumps, try not to get too distracted thinking about how much more fun (and faster) it would be on skis.

If you didn’t know, the Thunderbolt Trail was originally built as a ski trail (also by the CCC) and is rich with New England ski history. For example, Dick Durrance, the 17-time national champion ski racer who won the first race held on the Thunderbolt Trail in 1935, descended in just two minutes and 48 seconds—a time that feels especially fast to hikers anxious to get back to their cars.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Thunderbolt Trail is open to hikers all year, winter hikers are encouraged to ascend where others already have to preserve the snow for skiers.

The Cheat Route

If you have someone who would like to experience Mount Greylock’s summit with you but is unable to ascend the approximately 2,200 feet of elevation over roughly 2.5 miles, have them meet you at the top. The Greylock auto road allows cars to drive to the summit from May through October. Just know there’s a small fee to park at the summit.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Saying the Thunderbolt Trail is steep feels like an understatement, especially considering that, at its steepest, the trail pitches to 38 degrees. Make ascending and descending a little bit easier by bringing a pair of trekking poles.
  • Plan for your trip up and ensure you stay on track with the Mount Greylock Reservation Map. Mount Greylock State Reservation has over 12,000 acres and is home to roughly 50 miles of trails, so there’s plenty left to do after your successful summit.
  • While the origins of the Greylock name are up for debate, one popular theory is, it refers to the mountain’s appearance. Often, it has a gray cloud—or lock of gray mist—overhead. This has certainly been our experience, so don’t forget to pack a raincoat (men’s/women’s) for the summit.
  • 360-degree views and plenty of places to avoid inclement weather make for an unrushed experience on the summit. Treat yourself by bringing something warm to eat in the winter, or cool for the summer with a Hydro Flask Food Flask.
  • With so many steep pitches ahead of you, having a good-fitting pair of performance socks is critical for avoiding blisters. Pick a pair made from a wicking material, such as merino wool, to keep your feet happy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Before heading to the mountain, get some local knowledge at the staffed Visitors Center in Lanesborough, which is open all year.
  • Spend the night at one of Mount Greylock’s 18 tent sites, or in one of the five lean-tos found on the mountain. Learn more here.
  • Looking to grab a pint and absorb a little culture? Bright Ideas Brewing serves delicious brews and is located in the courtyard of the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).
  • Dogs are welcome to hike Mount Greylock’s trails, as long as they’re leashed and attended. However, if you had to leave Fido home and are missing man’s best friend, stop by the Museum of Dog (M.O.D.). Located just down the street from Mass MoCA, M.O.D. features more than 180 pieces from roughly 50 notable, dog-loving artists. Ironically, dogs are not allowed inside M.O.D.
  • Visit the Thunderbolt Ski Museum in the Adams Visitor Center to learn more about the history of this storied ski run.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Greylock recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


Three Crags for Early Spring Rock Climbing

With spring’s mild weather arriving early this year, it’s time to venture outside, and remember what it feels like to be on rock. If you’ve spent the winter pulling plastic or you’re simply excited to get outdoors, check out one of these excellent early-season climbing destinations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island

Just minutes outside Providence sits Lincoln Woods State Park. Home to some of New England’s best bouldering, it’s a frequent first stop for many of the region’s climbers. Thanks to its southerly location, it’s rarely exposed to as brutal of a winter, often making the problems dry and climbable, while snow still buries other popular areas.

With various boulders scattered throughout, “The Woods” almost always has something to climb, no matter the conditions. In fact, it’s possible to do everything from chasing the sun to hiding from the wind or even avoiding an unexpected spring shower. Even better, because most of the park’s classic boulders are in close proximity, it’s easy to move between them in search of better conditions or a different grade. Just use the park’s loop road and a handful of well-developed climber paths.

In March and April, cool mornings and evenings provide the perfect temperatures for finding friction on the area’s granite boulders. Later, cool nights keep the bugs at bay. Further making The Woods a great early-season destination, the wide variety of problems, in terms of both style and grade, allows climbers to acquaint themselves with crimps, cracks, and slabs while gradually increasing the difficulty.

While bouldering might be the primary attraction here, Goat Rock has a small amount of top-roping. This roughly 30-foot tall cliff offers some easy slab climbing on its flank and some truly hard climbing on its steep, overhung face. If you are planning on top-roping here, either bring some trad gear or a long static line for anchor building, and beware of broken glass.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries, Massachusetts

Quincy Quarries is another fantastic early-season destination. Located just seconds from I-93 near Boston, it offers great single-pitch routes on solid granite, as well as a smattering of fun, moderate bouldering. And, just like Lincoln Woods, it is often dry and climbable well before the region’s other areas.

While the heartiest among us come here year round, the season really picks up in early March, when area climbers begin longing for “real rock.” During warm weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find locals sending the most popular routes on C Wall, K Wall, M Wall, and Knight Face. Most parties seem to top-rope a variety of routes during their sessions, moving around the crag from one easy-anchor setup to another. You’ll also encounter some solid trad climbing and even a few sport routes. Whichever style you choose, be forewarned. The grades are old-school, and the layers of graffiti covering the first 10 feet off the ground only make the routes harder.

As long as it’s sunny, the Quarries can deliver a great outing even on the coldest of spring days. The walls of Little Granite Railway Quarry, noted in the Boston Rocks guidebook as A-F walls, form a natural reflector oven, heating the surrounding area as much as 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you end up there on one of those days, definitely check out C Wall’s many top-ropeable routes.

Of course, because the Quarries is a multi-use urban park, the climbers tend to head elsewhere once areas to the north and west “open up.” But, this shouldn’t deter you from checking out the early-season scene. Moreover, once you’ve spent a day or two placing your feet on spray-painted nubbins, the friction everywhere else will feel fantastic.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, or P-Way, in southern New Hampshire is best known for its bouldering. But, it’s also home to some fun top-roping and short-but-challenging trad climbing. Because of this, Pawtuckaway has become a popular destination. Generally, it’s the perfect place for getting in early-season pitches and problems while you wait for winter to leave and before the bugs arrive.

Top-ropers will want to visit P-Way’s Lower Slab for its selection of easy-to-set-up moderate climbs and the large open space at the bottom of the cliff. These factors also make this a popular area for large groups.

While the Lower Slab is ideal for rediscovering technique and working noodley winter arms back into shape, the Upper Cliff—located a short walk uphill—offers some stellar crack climbing that can either be top-roped or lead on traditional gear. Before you tape up, don your hand jammies, or go au naturel, however, be aware that what the cracks lack in height, they make up for in difficulty, and the ratings are old school.

Tim-P-Way

No trip to P-Way is complete without trying at least one of the area’s renowned boulder problems. A short walk from the cliffs, the Round Pond area receives a lot of sun, and is home to a diverse group of problems. Thus, it’s an ideal place to visit early in the season. Also a short walk from the cliffs, the Boulder Natural area is home to many of Pawtuckaway’s classic problems.

Don’t forget to visit Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods bouldering area. Separate from most of P-Way’s other climbing areas, Blair Woods delivers a large amount of easily accessible and moderately rated problems without the crowds. Like everywhere else in Pawtuckaway, bring the bug spray just in case, and be prepared for the park’s skin-eating coarse granite.

What’s your favorite early season crag? Tell us about it in the comments!


New England's Top 3 Manmade Ice Crags

Anybody who’s slipped on black ice knows that it can form in the most unexpected places. When that ice starts to freeze vertically, we, as ice climbers, typically want to climb it. How that desire manifests is sometimes quite ironic, however. In the Northeast, you’re equally likely to find climbers swinging their way up a roadside culvert, an abandoned quarry, or the walls of an old railroad cut as you are an alpine classic, like Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Auburn Ice Canyon

When most people think of ice climbing, their minds turn to frozen waterfalls, alpine cliffs, and remote gullies. What they don’t think of is shopping plazas, busy roads, and concrete, much less Worcester, Massachusetts. However, that’s where they’ll discover one of Massachusetts’ most popular ice climbing destinations: Auburn Ice Canyon.

Located at the corner of Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn—just minutes from the Mass Pike and Route 290—Auburn Ice Canyon started as a flood diversion channel for the greater Worcester area. Later, some discovered that the channel’s steep walls and melting snow above consistently icing over created steep ice climbs. Although the entrance can be seen from the busy local road, Route 20, you’ll find the best climbing and longest routes by following the culvert to its end. Here, the rock walls turn to concrete and the channel into a tunnel.

Because Auburn Ice Canyon is a drainage, its floor may consist of varying levels of water. Thus, the best time to visit is after a long-enough cold stretch, which then freezes the canyon’s floor. Popular with beginners and experts alike, Auburn Ice Canyon delivers routes steep enough for strong climbers to get a workout, and top-rope friendly attitude that newbies will appreciate. Leaders, beware: Suspect rock and interesting top-outs may make straightforward-looking climbs spicier than anticipated.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries

Although most people associate Quincy Quarries with rock climbing and graffiti, you’ll also find solid ice climbing at this close-to-Boston locale. Operating as a quarry from 1825 to 1963, Quincy Quarry earned the nickname “The Birthplace of the Granite Industry,” as places and businesses across the nation used its stone. More prominently, the Bunker Hill Monument features it to some degree.

For the best ice climbing at QQ, start with “A Wall,” the first wall on the left after you make the five-minute approach from the parking lot. Depending on conditions, QQ has as many as five distinct ice flows, each providing 35-foot vertical climbs with multiple variations. The climbing itself is Scottish-like, mixing sometimes quite-thin ice with rock moves and turf sticks. This is especially true at the starts of the routes, with the best ice usually found higher up.

Of course, the ice here can be ephemeral. As a good rule of thumb, hold off on visiting until after a heavy rain or snow followed by two to three nights of colder temperatures. Although the ice usually hangs around once it comes in, it doesn’t survive every thaw. So, before you set up your top-rope, it’s a good idea to scope out A Wall from across the “Cove.” And, if the ice has unexpectedly come down, you’ll find fantastic dry tooling on Layback Corner and M Crack on M Wall (both 5.8) and on Finger Flux (5.11) in the nearby Swingle’s Quarry.

As you work your way around QQ, you’ll easily notice remnants of the historic operation. Climbers regularly use the old “staples” for anchors, and even some “feathers”—shims used to help split the granite—are still in the rock. Particularly, you’ll see one at the base of a route on A Wall. And, if history is your thing, make sure to check out the Granite Railway on the Quarry’s backside. Established in 1826, it was the country’s first railroad and is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Find it by walking down the path between J and K walls.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keene Railroad Cut

Keene is known as a quiet college town located on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. However, long before Keene State was founded, the city, like many in New Hampshire, was based around manufacturing. In part, the Cheshire Railroad spurred this development, carrying goods to market and outdoor enthusiasts (including Henry David Thoreau) to Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. Although the railroad hasn’t run since the 1960s, the send train runs all winter on the Keene Railroad Cut’s walls, provided it’s cold enough.

Approaching the climbing is easy, as it’s a short walk from an obvious pullout on Route 12 near the city limits. Even better, the approach is almost always packed down, thanks to the snowmobiles that frequent the Cheshire Rail Trail. This 42-mile long trail begins near the the Massachusetts border in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and ends in North Walpole, New Hampshire.

You’ll know you’ve made it to the Keene Railroad Cut, or simply the Railroad Cut, when you get there. Here, the walls sharply rise above the old railroad bed, and numerous ice flows line its sides. Most routes stand between 20 and 30 feet tall, and while short in stature, they deliver steep climbing. And, convenience isn’t only found in the location and approach here. As well, sturdy trees, fixed anchors, and straightforward walk-arounds make top-roping a simple affair. Thus, it’s a popular destination for newer climbers and locals looking for a workout.

Pro Tip: Play nice with the snowmobilers, and keep your kit out of the middle of the trail. Their cooperation is key for access.

 

Although these three spots are not natural treasures, their local outdoor communities appreciate them for their easily accessible, close-to-home ice climbing. Have a manmade spot you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments, so we can check it out!


Mountain Biking Boston’s South Shore

Mountain bikers rely on their local trail systems to keep their legs fit, skills sharp, and the need for fat-tire fun satiated. From mid-week training sessions to giving an out-of-towner a tour, the local trail provides a reliable place to ride. As well, a “oneness” with the terrain comes after having logged countless miles on it. So, for those south of Boston looking to join the mountain bike scene or just ride somewhere new, these three destinations offer something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned riders.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Blue Hills Reservation

Located just outside of Boston, Blue Hills Reservation delivers everything from moderate fire roads and double-track to long climbs and gnarly rock gardens, making it easy to tailor rides to almost anyone’s ability. The trails are user friendly and well marked, and the easy-to-read map makes navigating the 7,000-acre park a piece of cake. Because of this, you’ll find everyone from serious racers in training to casual riders enjoying Blue Hills’ trails.

White and Yellow Trails

The main jumping-off point is the parking lot at Houghton’s Pond (840 Hillside St., Milton). From here, two color-coded trails designated for mountain biking depart: the White Trail and the Yellow Trail. The easier of the two, the six-mile White Trail is a loop marked with white triangles. Running in a counterclockwise direction, the White Trail is mostly comprised of gentle fire roads and easy double-track. The 4.5-mile Yellow Trail loop, on the other hand, is the more advanced of the two. Much like the White Trail, the Yellow Trail mostly follows fire roads and double-track but involves more climbing.

Buck Hill

Just because the White and Yellow Trails offer little in the way of technical challenges doesn’t mean advanced riders won’t find anything. In fact, they offer a great way to log mileage in between sampling some of the reservation’s more challenging terrain.

For more serious riders, the White Trail connects with some of the rocky trails that border Chickatawbut Road between Tucker and Buck Hill, before heading up toward Buck Hill’s summit, one of the reservation’s signature climbs. The near mile-long climb up starts moderately, but the technical challenges grow on the last third, just as your legs begin to tire. A fantastic 360-degree view, including Boston’s skyline and the harbor islands, serves as the reward for your efforts. Then, a fast and fun descent takes you back the way you came.

Those visiting should know that the reservation is closed to mountain biking in March, there is no night riding, and some trails are off-limits to bikes. Also, be aware that most trails are multi-use, which means you’ll be sharing them with hikers and horseback riders. For more information, check out the Blue Hills Mountain Bike Map and Brochure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Borderland

One of the best-kept secrets for New England mountain biking is North Easton’s Borderland State Park. Why don’t more people talk about it? Simply put, for all of the great riding found there, very little of it suits intermediate riders. But, with ample easy and plenty of challenging terrain, Borderland is the place for scenic, smooth cruising, testing your skills in some of the state’s most difficult rock gardens, and answering the question of “Just how rocky can a mountain bike trail get?” The answer: Very!

Pond Walk Trail

Leaving from the park’s entrance at 259 Massapoag Ave. in Easton, beginner riders will love the mellow double-track found on the Pond Walk Trail. More than merely pleasant riding, the Pond Walk Trail takes you past many of the park’s most notable attractions. You’ll ride by Ames Mansion, built using granite quarried within Borderland; the Wilbur Farmhouse, dating back to 1786; and both Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond. As a tip, advanced riders can loop Ames Mansion in with the Quarry Trail, which circumnavigates the old quarry.

Bob’s and NEMBA Trails

Advanced riders will want to challenge themselves on many of the park’s rougher and more technical trails. Two have been specifically designed for mountain bikes: Bob’s Trail and the NEMBA Trail. A great place for new-to-Borderland riders to get a feel for what’s to come, Bob’s Trail serves as a popular warm-up for fit locals. Specifically, it packs rock gardens, baby head-laden singletrack, and a bridge, all in less than a mile.

Riders looking for even more of a challenge should head to the NEMBA Trail. Featuring open rock slabs, steep rollovers, and tight twists and turns, the NEMBA Trail is perfect for advanced riders looking to test their technical abilities.

Borderland does have a $10/day use fee ($5 for residents), available from a machine at the main parking area. While Borderland is very mountain-bike friendly, mountain bikes are prohibited along a few trails, including the Pond Edge, Swamp, and Quiet Woods.

Also, the park asks that bikers avoid the trails on wet and muddy days to help keep them usable for years to come. As well, the park can get busy, especially around the main entrance and the mansion, so help keep the trails open for bikers by paying attention to and being respectful of other users. This map will help you get your bearings.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest delivers some of the best mountain biking south of Boston. Comprising over 1,000 acres in Foxborough and Wrentham, its 23 miles of trails are well marked and easy to navigate, especially with the maps found at most major junctions. From beginner-friendly double-track to narrow, technical singletrack, Gilbert offers something for everyone. But, be forewarned. Everything here is a bit more challenging due to loose rock and numerous rock gardens.

Moderate Trails

Parking along High Rock Road in Wrentham is the best way to access Gilbert’s mountain biking. Understand, though, that you may want avoid the trails on Patriots game days, when nobody in their right mind should be attempting to recreate anywhere near Foxborough.

Riders looking for moderate terrain from High Rock Rd. should continue on the unpaved road of the same name into the forest. Noticeably different from double-track found elsewhere in the state, many of Gilbert Hills’ easier trails are wide and less technical. But, they’re also a bit loose, so pay attention while ascending and descending the park’s short and steep hills. From High Rock Road, riders can access a significant portion of the park’s more moderate riding, including along Messenger Road and the Megley Trail.

More Technical Trails

The area’s designated mountain biking trail makes for a much more challenging ride. Bikers can join it where it bisects High Rock Road at the halfway point or from the main parking lot at the end of the road. Riders should expect technical terrain throughout, with small sections of flowing singletrack interrupted by regular rock gardens and other advanced features. Although you can go in either direction, riding it counterclockwise means you’ll get the (comparatively) easier terrain first.

In addition, you can access a slew of other trails for both dirt and mountain bikes from the High Rock Road parking lot. Consisting of rough, rocky terrain that tests even the most skilled riders, these trails feature small to large drops, rollovers, and even a little bit of pure rock riding not typically associated with the Northeast. And, the unique geography, with three interconnected drumlins, provides lots of short, steep up-and-down riding.

 

Whether you’re looking for a reliable place to ride south of Boston or just interested in mixing up your regular destination, consider checking out these three locations. Each offers plenty of opportunities to log miles, tackle challenging terrain, and get in a solid training session. So, go out for a ride at one or all, and tell us about it in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck
[/media-credit] Credit: Tim Peck