Harold Parker State Forest
Harold Parker State Forest is located in the towns of Andover, North Andover, Middleton and North Reading. The forest’s 3000+ acres have over 30 miles of old woods roads and singletracks. And the singletracks are some of the most enjoyable to be experienced in the region. The white-blazed Bay Circuit Trail goes through Harold Parker and links it to the nearby Charles Ward Reservation (The Trustees of Reservations) and the Boxford State Forest.
For many years NEMBA members have been active in the forest, repairing and upgrading its trails. I start most of my rides in the eastern section of the forest on Harold Parker Road where there are numerous small parking areas. Alternatively many riders start nearer to the center of the forest at the intersection of Jenkins and Harold Parker Roads.
The Lorraine Pond campground, which has 91 sites, is also centrally located and near to most of the forest's trailheads.
At least a few days will be needed to fully explore all of the trails that Harold Parker has to offer. And I'd suggest bringing a copy of the trail map so that you won't get too badly lost. The official DCR trail map doesn't show every one of the forest's trails. But at least all of the roads and major intersections are on it.
Every year North Shore NEMBA hosts the Wicked Ride of the East at Harold Parker. This is a challenging fun event that uses many of the best trails in the forest, including many that North Shore NEMBA has had a hand in maintaining. Be sure to check out the route map for this event.
For more information on Harold Parker, including camping and swimming visit the DCR's Harold Parker Website. This website now has three maps for Harold Parker. A general map of the forest and two mountain bike specific maps that were generated as part of the forest's recent Resource Management Plan. These are the East Map and the West Map.
But the best way to get introduced to Harold Parker's trails is to explore. Go there, take off on a trail, and get lost. Then find yourself, and get lost again. You'll never be too far from a paved road; so cutting the forest up into pavement encircled blocks will keep things manageable. Not to mention provide you with many days of fun exploring. I particularly like the way the singletracks make use of all of the forest's best terrain. They wind around and over all of the forests' hills and provide you with lots of scenic photo opportunities along the shores of the forest's many ponds.
If you want to sample the best of the forest’s trails without having to find them yourself try following the course on the Wicked Ride of the East event map. Or attend this year’s event.
Everyone I know who rides at Harold Parker raves about the place. The trails seem endless. The terrain ranges from smooth buffed singletracks to some of the most technical cross country trails on the North Shore.
When I ride at Harold Parker I normally do one of three rides.
For the first ride I’ll park in the dirt parking lot on the north side of Harold Parker Road just west of Collins, Brackett, Delano and Bear Ponds. I try to ride all of the singletracks and woods roads in this area as they loop around these ponds. In doing this I do not cross any paved roads. So if you get to one, turn around and continue exploring. I don’t have a preferred route, although some of the singletracks are much more fun when ridden down than they are as uphill climbs. If I have time I’ll finish on the trails to the south of Harold Parker Road that loop around the north of Field Pond. Actually, I always have time, as these trails are among my favorite trails in the forest. If you explore the trails to the east of Field Pond you’ll find one that leads into the back of the Lorraine Pond Campground.
Another good ride option is to park at the junction of Harold Parker and Jenkins Roads. Berry Pond Road also comes into this intersection. There is a large parking area here which is located pretty much in the center of the forest. From there I’ll choose one of the many forest roads to get deeper into the forest and then dive into any of the almost uncountable number of singletrack trails that lead off from them. A particular favorite among these is the technical singletrack that branches off from Harold Parker Road, which at this point has devolved into a dirt path. About 100 yards from the parking area turn right on the first singletrack. This trail is difficult and will serve as a great warmup for all of the other similar trails that you’ll encounter. Yellow diamond blazes mark the route to and around Salem Pond. Be sure to bring a copy of at least one of the maps mentioned above, as you will get lost without one.
For a third ride I focus on the trails in northeastern third of the forest. I’ll follow Berry Pond Road from the Jenkins parking lot to the crossing of the Bay Circuit Trail, and then take a right heading north. Following the white blazes and exploring additional singletrack spits you out on Harold Parker Road near Route 114. One can retrace the route back or continue behind Stearns Pond and Salem Pond for almost a 10 mile loop. But, at the northern end of this loop there is a vast array of convoluted singletracks that are almost too much fun to believe.
Riding in Harold Parker State Forest is a constant continuing challenge. Every time I go there I am awed by the trails that I find and surprised at how much fun I have. And, depending on the trails that I ride, how difficult they are.
In the winter I’ve encountered snow frozen as hard as Styrofoam here more than anywhere else. Frozen snow covers up all the roots and rocks that normally protrude from the ground and add it tends to make your ride very fast. But fast or slow, you’ll enjoy the trails at Harold Parker State Forest.
Expect to find hunters during hunting season in many areas of the forest. However, there is no hunting in Massachusetts on Sundays and the entire areas west of Jenkins Road in Andover and along Berry Pond Road are always closed to hunting.
The Lorraine Pond Campground is open from mid April to mid October.
From route 93 take exit 41. Follow 125 north (toward Andover), for about 4 miles to the State Police Barracks (on right). Turn right on Harold Parker Rd. There are many parking areas on this road and the Jenkins Road intersection is about one mile away. From that intersection turn right to get to the Lorraine Park Campground.