Myles Standish State Forest, Plymouth
Sprawling across the southern sections of Plymouth and Carver, Myles Standish State Forest is the largest publicly owned recreation area in southeastern Massachusetts. MSSF offers five camping areas, tucked into the forest or set along the edges of four of the park's 16 ponds.
All are beautifully maintained and a section of the Charge Pond area is set aside specifically for horse camping. Two day-use areas offer picnicking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, miles of paved bicycle trails, 35 miles of equestrian trails and 13 miles of hiking trails take visitors deep into the forest, which includes one of the largest contiguous pitch pine/scrub oak communities north of Long Island.
The forest's 14,635 acres are laced with hundreds of miles of trails, paths, fire breaks, paved roads and dirt roads. Some of the pathways in the forest actually predate the Pilgrims. There's also a 22 mile paved bicycle trail.
Mountain bikes can ride anywhere in the forest except on pond shores. Particularly attractive are the busy bicycle trail and the 28 mile horse trail. There is a very popular 6 mile marked singletrack loop that begins in the forest's central parking lot.
The horse trail is currently 28 miles long. A few of its trails are composed of loose sand but most are great for mountain bikes.
The forest's trails can form an endless number of rides. Maps showing the forest's extensive trail system, including many of the roads and trails that are not part of any trail system are available at forest headquarters. But, there are mny more trails than those shown on any published map.
Riding opportunities in the Myles Standish State Forest, range from wonderfully deserted smooth forest roads to endless doubletracks, to barely defined singletracks and game trails where you'll spend a good part of your time walking. You can expect lots of Pitch Pine and Scrub Oak, small hills, sand, a little mud and no rocks. Some of the forest's trails may convince you that you are riding in the "Miles of Sandish State Forest." With a little experience though, you'll soon learn to avoid them. Most of the trails are quite ridable and lots of fun.
The paved bicycle trail follows natural terrain and runs all through the forest. This makes it a fine reference point for traffic-free forest exploration. It's also good for short cutting the longer off-road sections.
A couple of cautions.... Get off the trail whenever you hear a motorcycle coming. Motorcycle riders go very fast and they don't expect others to be out on the trails. Currently Myles Standish's trails are closed to motorcycles and ATVs but you may see some. Bring lots of water. There is no potable water available except in campgrounds and at forest headquarters. You might consider riding the marked trails until you become familiar with the layout of the forest. Always carry a map. Nearly 15,000 acres, surrounded by a lot of other open space, can make it very easy to get lost.
Myles Standish State Forest is great in the winter due to a normal lack of snow and an abundance of frozen sand. Which almost seems to turn the "Miles of Sandish" sections into pavement.
It's a good place to ride in the early spring during the "mud season" as the generally sandy/gravelly upper Cape soil tends to dry out first. In warmer weather there are over 600 campsites, many on lakes where you can swim.
Myles Standish State Forest has become the destination of choice for winter riding in Southeastern MA.
When the snow is deep, the only riding is on packed snowmobile trails which support bikes quite nicely. Studded tires are optional. On mixed snow/dirt/ice conditions, studs are nice and the only places where riding is difficult to impossible are where the snow has drifted and not been packed down by snowmobiles.
But, most of the time in the winter there is no snow in Myles Standish. In a normal winter, the usually sandy conditions that occur on about 15% of the trails and make them less than optimal in the summer, are gone and the sand is frozen hard. Which makes for good riding everywhere.
Myles Standish State Forest is located in southeastern Massachusetts.
From the north: Take Rte. 3 south to exit 5, turn right onto Long Pond Rd. (west) and continue for about 3 miles to the park entrance on the right.
From Rte. 495: Take Rte. 495 to exit 2 (South Carver) and the intersection with Rte. 58. Take Rte. 58 north on Cranberry Rd., follow signs.
The central trails parking lot is located at the junctions of 3 cornered Pond and Upper College Pond Roads.
All trails are closed during Deer week, on a few Saturdays, and on all holidays during hunting season. Check with the DCR for hunting dates.
By Bill Boles