Buy the book!
Mountain Biking Connecticut
by Stuart Johnstone
Long time NEMBA member and Trail Boss, Stuart has
been writing excellent mountain biking guidebooks
since 1990. His current book has just hit the stands,
and includes 25 great rides throughout Connecticut.
You can get a copy at your local bike shop or by
sending a check to PO Box 1037, Concord MA 01742.
- Meshomasic State Forest, Portland CT
by Stuart Johnstone
Meshomasic is a secret giant. At first glance
it is an empty woodland traversed by a few lonely
gravel roads but a closer look reveals every level
of mountain biking on both singletracks and doubletracks,
all in a location that's convenient to many.
Located at the center of the state, Meshomasic
has the honor of being Connecticut's, and New
England's, first state forest. It was established
in 1903 with the purchase of 355 acres in Portland
(at a price of about $1.75/acre) and has since
grown into the neighboring town of East Hampton
to its current size of nearly 8,000 acres.
Today the forest remains in an undeveloped state,
free of the pavement, facilities, and visitation
that are present at other public lands in central
Connecticut. This creates excellent wildlife habitat
and attracts a healthy following of hunters, especially
in late fall when deer season is underway. Mountain
biking is discouraged at Meshomasic during this
period except on Sundays, when hunting is prohibited
Mountain biking is permitted on all trails at
Meshomasic except the singletrack segments of
the blue- blazed Shenipsit Trail. A long-distance
hiking route, the 33- mile Shenipsit traverses
the state forest on its northward course to Shenipsit
State Forest near the Massachusetts border. Fortunately,
plenty of other singletracks and miles of old
doubletracks await for mountain biking.
Cyclists are reminded that the forest's hilly,
narrow, and winding gravel roads are open to cars,
although the traffic level is quite low. Keep
to the right and be ready to share the road at
all times. Visitors are asked not to block trailhead
gates when parking since work crews and emergency
vehicles always need access. The area is open
only during daylight hours.
Signs mark a few of the gravel roads but none
are present on the trails so bring a map and follow
it closely. Mountain bikers should also be equipped
with bike tools and plenty of drinking water as
Meshomasic is relatively large and remote compared
with other nearby parks.
No parking lot exists but the roomiest roadside
parking area is designated on the accompanying
map at the intersection of Del Reeves Rd., North
Milford Rd., and Old Marlborough Tpke. Smaller
spots exist at many other trail/road intersections.
The miles of dirt roads have the forest's smoothest
surfaces but they encounter plenty of big hills,
making them strenuous to ride. One of the longest
options, Del Reeves Rd. originates at the parking
area with a climb at the base of Meshomasic Mountain
that gains about 400' in elevation and lasts for
over a mile. At this point it heads downward for
most of the remaining 1.7 miles to Mott Hill Rd.
at the Glastonbury town line, passing a scenic
pond along the way.
Milford Rd. is the forest's main drag. It begins
at Del Reeves Road near the parking area and heads
southward along a rolling course through a landscape
of rock-strewn slopes. Milford Rd. ends after
1.7 miles at the bottom of a hill where Wood Chopper's
Rd. intersects on the left and continues the ride
to the southeast. Wood Chopper's begins with a
1.7-mile uphill that is steep for the first quarter-mile
and eventually finishes with a 0.3-mile downhill
run to dark Hill Rd., with a few flat spots providing
restful interludes along the way. Curvy and narrow,
the road is cut into the rocky slopes of Gulf
Other options include North Milford Rd., a 1.2-mile
uphill ride to the state forest boundary at a
set of powerlines, and Old Marlborough Tpke.,
a paved road past Portland Reservoir that is gated
and closed to vehicles.
The main trail at Meshomasic is Reservoir Rd.,
or Portland Reservoir Rd. as it is known at its
East Hampton end. One of the forest's oldest,
it stretches for 3.5 miles across the center of
the property from Portland Reservoir to White
Birch Rd., spanning numerous hills deep in the
woods and providing a spine for many other trails.
Time has taken its toll on the road's surface
and mountain bikers should expect a difficult
ride at many points due to eroded inclines and
several stream crossings.
Beginning at the western end, Reservoir Rd. leaves
the water's edge and crosses Milford Rd. at the
half-mile mark after climbing a rocky slope. More
eroded hills await east of Milford Rd. and will
test even the nimblest riders with treacherous,
rock-infested inclines. After gaining about 400
feet in elevation in the first 1.5 miles, the
uphill grind mellows and conditions moderate for
the remaining distance to White Birch Rd., with
lots of downhill in the last half-mile.
The blue-blazed Shenipsit Tr. passes through Meshomasic
with a few miles of intermediate-level riding,
overlapping Portland Reservoir Rd. for part of
this distance. Mudholes and a few eroded slopes
are the predominant obstacles for bikers. The
trail is closed to biking where it reduces to
singletrack between two high points in the Bald
Hill Range but cyclists can continue westward
from this point on a forest road that descends
for more than a mile to Milford Rd. with a series
of washed-out drops.
Mott Hill Rd. has a variety of conditions. With
its southern endpoint open to cars, the road rises
past several homes and then enters the woods as
a trail that is hindered only by several broad
puddles. The course is generally flat for the
next half-mile until it crosses Portland Reservoir
Rd. where a 0.8-mile descent drops riders 300
feet in elevation on a severely washed-out route.
The trail reduces to single- track at a few points
where the erosion forced re-routing. Mott Hill
Rd. continues to descend from this point for another
0.7 miles to Dickinson Rd. in Glastonbury.
One of the state forest's highest points, Meshomasic
Mountain offers no view but provides three doubletrack
routes to the summit. The most difficult option
is a rugged jeep road aligned in the east-west
direction from Del Reeves Rd., while a second
trail originating from Del Reeves heads south
to the summit with a flatter profile and intermediate-
level conditions. The third route to the top connects
Reservoir Rd. with several moderate slopes and
one particularly rocky spot.
The doubletrack trail along the powerline corridor
has some big hills and a surprisingly firm surface
for the first 1.5 miles, then it reduces to singletrack
and hits some eroded slopes. The trail intersecting
at its midpoint has intermediate conditions with
milder hills and a scattering of obstacles.
Some of the best singletracks lie north of the
parking area between North Milford and Del Reeves
roads. Follow the doubletrack trail that starts
at the intersection of these roads and ride north
along Buck Brook. After two stream crossings,
the trail rises on a slope and then forks at the
start of a 2.5-mile loop that is best ridden in
the clockwise direction. Stream crossings, rocky
spots, steep inclines, and other hindrances slow
the pedaling at numerous points but much of this
loop is wonderfully smooth and curvy.
The yellow-blazed trail forms the northern leg
of this loop and then continues across Del Reeves
Rd. and up Meshomasic Mountain. From the top,
it descends southward on another singletrack for
a mile to Reservoir Rd. The first half has a gradual
downward tilt with a smooth treadway and the second
half descends at a quicker pace with a bumpier
surface and culminates with an abrupt drop over
slabs of ledge. Crossing Reservoir Rd. and a parallel
stream, riders can continue southward on a challenging
doubletrack section of the yellow-blazed trail
which eventually narrows to singletrack as it
approaches the highest point in the Bald Hill
Range. Climbing steeply, the trail demands strong
legs as it tops the hill near the Shenipsit Tr.
More good singletrack riding awaits in the northeast
corner of the forest where smooth treadways allow
space for riders to steer around the obstacles.
One of the longest veers off the Shenipsit on
a northward course to the shore of a pond beside
Del Reeves Rd. at the forest's northern boundary.
It starts with a short hill climb and then crosses
Reservoir Rd. and starts a long descent through
several timber clear-cuts. Most of this path is
an intermediate-level ride but one rocky section
is more difficult.
From 1-91 take Exit 22S and follow Rte. 9 south
for 5.3 miles. Take exit 16 and follow signs for
Rte. 66 east, crossing the Connecticut River.
At the next traffic signal, continue straight
on Rte. 17A north and continue for 1.5 miles to
a monument on the right. Turn right on Bartlett
St. at this point and drive for 1.7 miles to the
end, turn left on Rose Hill Rd. and continue for
0.6 miles, then turn right on Cox's Rd. The pavement
ends after 2 miles on Cox's Rd. and a third of
a mile later it becomes Milford Rd. Drive for
another 1.7 miles to the end, turn left on Del
Reeves Rd., and look for an unmarked parking area
a quarter-mile ahead on the left at the intersection
of North Milford Rd.
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