Western MA

Western MA

October Mountain State Forest

317 Woodland Rd
Lee  Massachusetts  01238
United States

413 243-1778

Easy

25%

Moderate

40%

Difficult

35%

Description

October Mountain State Forest (hereafter, OMSF) is the largest state forest in Massachusetts. It's about 16,500 acres or 25 square miles in area. It lies in Berkshire County southeast of Pittsfield and east of Lenox. A DCR trail map is available at the campground or at the state forest headquarters immediately north of the campground. The best commercially-available map to give the big picture of the state forest and surrounding areas is Rubel BikeMaps for Western Massachusetts (bikemaps.com).

This ride description (map) starts at the state campground on the western boundary of the state forest. There are several possible start points for a mountain bike ride in OMSF, but this circuit takes advantage of the steep elevation changes between the Housatonic River and the interior or the state forest. If you don't consider that an advantage, you might want to start your ride elsewhere in the state forest (but, remember, this is called mountain biking).

Just in case you do want to start from another location in the state forest, let's talk about where you can drive a 2WD automobile. The roads around the perimeter of OMSF are fine for 2WD, except for the road north from the campground, which eventually becomes a 4WD road (Roaring Brook Road). There's only one road into the interior of the state forest that's suitable for a 2WD vehicle. That road rises from the Housatonic River a short distance north of the campground and gradually turns to the right to run southeast to Becket. The road that rises from the river is Schermerhorn Road--be careful, because some maps (e.g., DeLorme's) give it a different name. On top of the mountain, turn right at the "T" intersection, then go straight. Although the road changes names, one road flows into another, and you'll end up on County Road, which runs southeast to MA 8 in Becket.

More information about OMSF:

First, a plug for the campground. It's sunny, grassy, terraced and real pretty. It offers wonderful access to Lenox, my favorite town in the Berkshires. Try this on a nice summer weekday (unfortunately, it won't be as nice on a summer weekend): bike to Lenox. Ride your bike in John Drummond Kennedy park, which is a community park with remarkably good mountain bike trails. Go out the park's back door onto Reservoir Road/Under Mountain Road and visit Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Walk the grounds of Tanglewood(no bikes inside the grounds, so bring a lock) and listen to the orchestra practice for that evening's paying customers.

The terrain in OMSF rises very steeply about 800 feet from the Housatonic River. Once you're on top, elevation changes are gradual. On top, there's a surprising amount of wet terrain, so plan accordingly. ORV's can ride in OMSF, so some of the trails are rough. The AT, off limits to bicycles, runs within OMSF from the south to northeast boundaries. On some maps, the most prominent landmark within the state forest is Washington Mountain Lake, which doesn't exist: that lake's dam leaked, so it has reverted to a permanent marshy area.

Because of the Housatonic River and some railroad tracks, driving to the OMSF campground can be confusing. The directions in DEM literature to OMSF campground are, "Mass Pike to exit 2, Rte. 20 west, take right on Center St., follow signs." An alternative that avoids the center of Lee is to go east for 1 mile on US 20 from Exit 2. Turn hard left onto Maple Street, then bear right (no 90 degree turns) at subsequent intersections. You'll end up on Woodland Road, which runs by the campground. If you're driving from Lenox or Pittsfield, your best bet is a good map (e.g., Rubel BikeMap).

Finally, here's my recommended ride within OMSF. Turn right as you exit the campground and ride north on Woodland Road. About 1 mile north, turn sharply to the right to keep the water (the Housatonic River) on the left side. Ride past Schermerhorn Road on the right, which is paved, and continue north along the river on the 4WD road until you come to pavement and a crossing road, New Lenox Road. Turn right and the paved road soon becomes another 4WD road that climbs steadily. Take a right at a sloppy "T" intersection and pass Farnum Reservoir on your right. After you pass Farnum Reservoir, look for trailheads on the left side that you might come back to. Also, locate a smooth dirt road on the right side that is Schermerhorn Road. Continue straight until you come to a 4-way intersection with West Branch Road. This is a very distinct intersection with flat, nearly treeless terrain.

This 4-way intersection is the most recognizable landmark on top of the mountain and is your reference point for the rest of the ride. To return to the campground, you initially continue straight southeast from the 4-way intersection, but let's first look at some options for additional riding from this intersection.

If you reverse direction and ride northwest from the 4-way intersection and take the second right onto a jeep road/double-track trail, you can make a loop to the north by taking right turns at all intersections, then taking a final left to return to the 4-way intersection. On the Rubel and DEM maps, you can see that this series of trails passes Ashley Lake and Sandwash Reservoir on the left side as you ride the loop in a clockwise direction.

If you turn right (west) at the 4-way intersection, you can make a clockwise loop over to Schermerhorn Road by turning left onto Navin Road (now a wood trail--there's a sign in the tree) then right onto Spruce Trail. This loop circles what was to have been Washington Mountain Lake and brings you back to the 4-way intersection if you turn right onto Schermerhorn Road and right at the subsequent "T" intersection. Incidentally, if you continue west on Navin Road, it descends the mountain to the vicinity of the campground. However, Navin Road is very steep and very rocky--I'd classify it as an "expert" descent. I did it once, but I won't go that way again.

When you're done riding around on top of the mountain and want to return to the campground, ride southeast from the 4-way intersection. Take a hard right over your right shoulder at the next dirt road onto County Road (County Road also continues straight southeast from this intersection). Follow County road in a westerly direction until the smooth dirt road turns sharply to the right. At this point, bear left onto a rough road that becomes a steep descent along a stream bed. As best I can figure, this rough road to the left is the "old" County Road, which becomes Washington Mountain Road when it crosses the Washington/Lee town line. Caution: do not take this route during times of heavy stream runoff. There's a stream crossing at the bottom that may be impossible (i.e., impassable) during heavy stream runoff, and your only recourse would be to climb back up the mountain to find another route down the mountain (e.g. Schermerhorn Road).

Washington Mountain Road eventually becomes paved. At the stop sign, turn right onto a paved road that becomes Woodland Road and runs past the campground on the right.

You'll find additional trailheads at the south boundary of the state forest along Yokum Pond Road (Becket Road in Lee). There's a trail that runs counter-clockwise from the east side of Buckley Dunton Lake, but this trail can be very muddy. There are two other trailheads further west along Yokum Pond Road that run in a northerly direction towards Finerty Pond. The trail along the south shore of Finerty Pond is very pretty.

For those who share my enthusiasm for "transit" rides in and between state forests, my description of Pittsfield State Forest includes a transit ride from Pittsfield State Forest to the campground at OMSF via Lenox. Another transit ride from OMSF that includes a lot of dirt roads and wood trails is to continue southeast on County Road in the above ride description to MA 8 in Becket. Turn right onto MA 8 then immediately right onto Fred Snow Road. Go south to MA 23 in East Otis and follow signs into the campground and trail areas of Tolland State Forest. If you're really ambitious, continue south on dirt roads from Tolland State Forest to Granville State Forest, which boasts another campground and more great trails. Go south from Tolland State Forest on Schoolhouse Road, cross MA 57 onto Hartland Road and ride into Granville State Forest. Is this a great area to ride mountain bikes, or what?

By Jim Logan Read more about October Mountain State Forest

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Western MA

Mount Holyoke Range State Park

1515 West St
Amherst  Massachusetts  01002
United States

413 253-2883

Easy

35%

Moderate

35%

Difficult

30%

Description

How do you define a great day Mountain Biking? Is it miles of buff singletrack snaking up and down a forested loamy ridge or numerous rocky technical trails working their way up and down along a rocky spine. Which ever suits your fancy find it at Mount Holyoke Range State Park.


The northern side of the Notch features 'Earles' Trails' - Miles of smooth flowing single track - abounding in challenging climbs and swoopy descents. All envisioned and uncovered in the forest by the talented folks from Hampshire College. South of the ridge find the famous 'Batchelor Street' trails consisting of such memorable challenges as 'Serpant God' the aptly named 'Technical Trail' and similar rock piles lovingly coaxed into trails by the legendary Pete Vangel and his loyal band of volunteers.

Either side is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon or, for the fearless and strong of leg, a combination of the two might be the ultimate experience. Though with 3000 acres and over 30 miles of marked trails to explore you'll probably need to spend more than one day here.

There are some nice trails on the Skinner State Park side, accross from Rte. 116. The Skinner State Park side allows you to work your way along the southern side of the range then climb Mt. Holyoke proper -- though the final ascent is paved it's worth it for the view (see Skinner map).

   
Directions:
From the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) take exit 5. Then take route 33 north to route 116 north to the Amherst town line. You can park at the Notch Visitor's Center which is on route 116. Alternatively about a mile and a hlaf south of the center turn turn onto Amherst Street and then left on Batchelor Street. The Bachellor Street parking area will be on your left.


Cautions:
Be careful when riding near the Notch Visitor's Center. Kids and dogs abound. Also, yield to equestrians when you see them.

By Harold Green Read more about Mount Holyoke Range State Park

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Western MA

Catamount State Forest

4 S Catamount Hill Rd
Colrain  Massachusetts  01340
United States

Easy

20%

Moderate

40%

Difficult

20%

Description

The town of Catamount was originally settled in the early 1800's by a few loyal friends of a prominent Boston judge. These people all decided that the city life was getting a little nutty and headed west to find an area to call their own. Catamount hill (not to be confused with the ski area of the same name) seemed a perfect spot to settle.

 

They built a dam across the small stream and created a man-made pond (McLeod Pond today) to serve as a water source for the community. Over the hills land was cleared and planted. Animals were allowed to graze. The small community struggled with the hardships associated with taming new country.

 

But, the land was not easy to deal with. After many years of continuous struggle and loss, the area was abandoned just prior to the turn of the century. The severe winters with massive amounts of snow, the poor growing conditions in the rocky soil were simply not the hardships the children of the original settlers wanted to deal with.

 

Today, the farms are mostly overgrown. Stone walls and foundations in a dense hardwood forest are the only remaining signs of the little community. Well, that isn't all... The roads are still there. Badly eroded and unpassable by conventional transportation, it provides a playground for trail enthusiasts.

 

One claim to fame for the departed town of Catamount, in 1812 it was the first public schoolhouse in the United State to fly the American flag. The lands comprising the town now form part of the town of Colrain.

 

Catamount State Forest is still laced with trails, trails that for the most part are the historic remnants of the town of Catamount’s roads and pathways.

 

Fox example, the formerly graded Catamount Hill Road has been abandoned by the town and many sections of it are impassable to all but mountain bikers, hikers, and winter travelers. Its steep hills and rocky passages provide many challenges for the beginner.

 

However, the trails off this main road are what draw people to the Catamount State Forest. One set of trails climbs high to the top of the small mountain ridge. The vertical assents are steep and rock covered offering many difficult climbs. The flats although wide enough to fit a Jeep, are littered with rocks and the occasional bottomless mud hole.

 

These trails wander the length of the ridge to emerge at a spectacular ledge overlooking most of western Massachusetts. The towers of U-Mass at Amherst are visible to the east. To the west rise the higher Berkshire Mountains including a spectacular view of Mount Greylock which at 3491 feet is Massachusetts’ highest mountain. I was lucky enough to be on that ridge shortly after the massive rockslide on the slope's eastern flank. That slide is still visible today marring an otherwise forested slope. Under the right light conditions the newly exposed rock face almost glows from reflected sunlight. To the south, ridge after ridge of hills flow to northern Connecticut.

 

Other trails travel the wetter areas around the streams, mud, rocks, roots, and trees all coming together to provide challenge after challenge.

 

But this place offers far more than just a large network of challenging hilly trails, there is history here as well. Visit the boulder caves which served the early settlers as a place of worship. Find the stone marker placed off the trail to commemorate the first raising of the US flag above a schoolhouse. Visit the Farley family cemetery and see the final resting places of those pioneering settlers. Stop for a break on the shore of beautiful McLeod Pond knowing that few others have ever been there.

 

Fox, deer, black bear, owls and even the occasional bobcat are just a few of the animals which have made their presence known in the past few years. I see more now than when I first came to the area, as Massachusetts public lands are re-foresting.

 

Those not familiar with Catamount will find this state forest in the towns of Colrain, Charelmont and Heath about 15 miles west of Rt 91 just north of Rt. 2. It’s in the Griswoldville section of Colrain.

 

The hills and old town roads in this area are some of the best trails in all of New England. Groups from as far as Virginia have come up to explore these old roads

 

Some old woods roads leading out of the forest will drop you in the towns of Heath and Charlemont. It’s a good idea to bring a local road map in case you find it necessary to road ride back to your starting are. All of the dirt roads in the State Forest have been closed to vehicular traffic, save for snowmobiles in the winter.

 

Total trail mileage in the forest, including those closed dirt roads is about 20. I know of no map which shows all the trails in the state forest, even the USGS maps only show Catamount and Stacey road in part.

 

You’ll enjoy exploring Catamount State Forest. The scenic vistas from the ridge and lake will more than make up for the energy expended on the climb to get there.

  Read more about Catamount State Forest

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Berkshire

The Berkshire chapter of NEMBA is responsible for trail advocacy in the Berkshire County region of Western Massachusetts. Our members act as liaisons between the highly active mountain bike community and the various state, town, and other landowners to help promote responsible trail development, maintenance, and usage.

Pioneer Valley

Pioneer Valley NEMBA operates in the Connecticut River Valley comprising Franklin, Hampshire and Hamden counties. Some of the key parks we work and ride in are Mt. Grace SF, Wendell SF, Mt. Toby Wildlife Management Area, Sugarloaf State Reservation, Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area, Erving SF, Dubuque SF, Holyoke Range SF, Robinson SP and the D.A.R. State Forest.

We welcome new members and volunteers, so join us to make the Pioneer Valley an even better place to ride.

PV NEMBA's Facebook Page keeps you current with chapter rides, events and discussions.

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