Achieving tremendous speed on a bicycle is, for many of us, one of the pinnacles of childhood experience. And of course, the easiest way to do that is heading down a hill. The bigger, the better. So it’s no wonder mountain biking has become such a fixture for kids and grown-up kids alike. It’s easily demonstrated that Western Mass is a trail-lover’s delight, but what about those times when you want to rip down the trail instead of enjoying a bit of forested contemplation?
Not surprisingly, our region has you covered. There are short, lesser-known trails all over, some of them well worth a visit if you’re lucky enough to know a local who visits them. And there are more-established trails you can find with the help of NEMBA, the New England Mountain Biking Association. The Pioneer Valley chapter rides and helps maintain trails region-wide. Trailforks online offers additional choices. Both sites offer good starting points – NEMBA gives you great descriptions, and Trailforks offers extensive maps and in-depth info about individual trails.
There are so many choices that we’ll do a two-parter, looking at eastern Hampshire and Franklin Counties, and the even-denser concentration of trails to the west next time. Wendell sits far from the region’s more-populous centers, but it holds Wendell State Forest, where you’ll find trails to keep you occupied for a long time, including some hairy downhills. Its trails are multi-use, so it’s a place to bookmark for almost any kind of outdoor adventuring.
It’s worth noting that if you’re looking for a long ride, you can take the lengthy Robert Frost Trail about seven miles southward via a connector from the State Forest. That brings you to Mount Toby, a sizeable mountain crossed by the Robert Frost, just to the east of the Connecticut River. And not far to the north are more trails frequented by NEMBA, in Erving State Forest in Erving, and Mount Grace State Forest in Warwick (home to one of the area’s highest peaks, and the northeast corner of Franklin County).
In Montague, just north of Montague Center, you’ll find a large area called the Montague Plains. It’s a unique place in the region, a sand plain only sparsely filled with trees, and almost desolate. It’s the former site of Lake Hitchcock, which covered large parts of the region and was formed by retreating glaciers around 15,000 years ago. Today, among other things, it’s a fun place for mountain biking. There are areas of deep sand from the old lakebottom, but that also means it’s largely flat, making for easier riding than some hillier destinations.
Our last more-eastward spot is in Belchertown, the Canal Trails. These trails are just to the south of the Quabbin Reservoir, and offer more easy riding, with well-maintained trails. Next time, we’ll look at more westward destinations to keep your wheels turning.