Monday, April 20, 2015

Exploring Honolulu

Honolulu Trail at Pittsfield State Forest in western MA (photo by Ben Kimball, 2015)
A leaf-off vista from a sharp switchback about 2/3 of the way up the Honolulu Trail

Pittsfield State Forest is just loaded with excellent trail running possibilities. I profiled one great loop in Trail Running Western Massachusetts. Here is a quick recap of a second sweet option.

This past Sunday, Jen and I headed an hour west from home, over the central Berkshires, to the base of the Taconic Ridge along the NY/MA state line. We parked at the spacious Lulu Brook picnic area in Pittsfield State Forest, joining a handful of other vehicles that were parked there (most with empty bike racks suggesting mountain bikers). After chatting briefly with Keith from the Arcadian Shop who was getting ready for an early season ride, we set out on the start of our 6-7 mile trail run.

The base of the Honolulu Trail (presumably named as a clever combination of the nearby Honwee Loop and Lulu Brook Trails?) isn't hard to find, but it does help to have some hints. To reach it, you head due east from the center of the parking lot, just a little bit downslope from the old cabin. After passing a rough old road that is the base of the eastern side of the Honwee Loop Trail, you come to a second old road heading left. Here, a narrow singletrack trail leads left as well. This is the base of the Honolulu Trail.

For 3 miles, the Honolulu Trail steadily climbs the southeast ridge of Honwee Mountain via a series of well-constructed switchbacks. The grade was gentle enough that we were able to run the entire way, albeit at a very slow pace. Along the way, the singletrack trail repeatedly crosses the old road / Honwee Loop Trail, which in comparison is rough and steep and straight and really, really boring. The two trails share the same route in two places, once about halfway up where the the slope levels out briefly, and again at the top.

At 2,309 ft., the summit of Honwee Mountain is one of the highest points around on this part of the Taconic Ridge. There are no views, though we could occasionally catch glimpses of nearby ridges and peaks through the still leafless trees.

Just past the summit, the singletrack trail veers left and desends the northwest slope for a quarter mile or so, crossing over the loop trail once and briefly joining the "Old Timer" trail in a saddle. A brand new section then leads right and slabs across a slope to meet up with a trail very near the top of the Lulu Brook Trail. A nice option would be to take the William Berry Way and Taconic Crest trails to the summit of Berry Mtn. from here, but due to occasional patches of leftover snow, we chose to take the Taconic Skyline Trail south up the top of Turner Trail. This rough old road has been heavily chewed up by ORVs and is not very fun to run, but it did serve as a useful connector for us.

Descending the Turner Trail is extremely fun. At first, the path is a mostly flat grassy lane along the crest of the ridge. After about a quarter mile, a short spur leads left to a vista overlooking the northern end of Onota Lake. Just past the vista spur, a singletrack path veers left off the main trail. Both paths appear to be named Turner Trail, but in my opinion the straight one should just be discontinued for all but winter use (it's pretty rough and eroded). As we flew down the 2 miles of rocky and rooty switchbacks, I was just ahead of Jen and at one point I heard her say "Well this is basically just too fun for words."

We sailed right past the 5-way junction where I had intended for us to go left in order to make use of the longer gentler switchback path just to the north (Roller Coaster), but it didn't matter. The trail became less rocky near the bottom, and we really were flying around the tight turns and along the short straight stretches. At the 4-way junction, we took a left and returned to the parking lot via the trail that crosses just above the old ski jump.

This is a very highly recommended trail run. Presumably it would be just as fun in the opposite direction, and probably even more fun if an extra mile was added to it at the top (using the William Berry Way, Taconic Crest, and Berkshire Ranger trails).

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