Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bonus Site: Catamount State Forest

My guidebook Trail Running Western Massachusetts (click here to view the book's page on Amazon) profiles 51 of the best trail running sites in the region. It was a challenge to whittle down the final list to include in the book to just 51 sites, and some that I really like or that would have been nice to include had to be cut for space. I occasionally post profiles of some of those "bonus sites" here and link to them from the book's Facebook page. (see the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail post for a previous example).

In this case, the bonus site is Catamount State Forest. It wasn't included in the book for a couple of reasons: 1.) It is an especially undeveloped site for a state forest, with no official map or parking, and no blazed or named trails. 2.) Several of the trails appear to be brand new, and either weren't there when the book was created or they hadn't been cleared and thus weren't visible. 3.) Most of the old road trails are pretty eroded. 4.) The singletrack trails, while wonderfully laid out, can be extremely challenging to navigate, especially in early spring and late fall when leaves are down (and some of the junctions can be hard to spot even in good conditions). Other factors of note are the fact that portions of the site are often used by off-road vehicles and it can be a bit of a backwoods party spot, and the fact that during wet years the bugs are notoriously brutal. Despite these notable drawbacks, however, the site can be a very fun place to explore and run.

a gentle stretch of singletrack at Catamount State Forest

The recommended route (highlighted in yellow) shown on the map below utilizes a combination of dirt road, old roads, woods roads, and newer singletrack trails. It is only about 56 miles total following the suggested route, but it will likely feel considerably longer the first time you go. You will need to look hard for junctions and turns, and paying careful attention to the map will be essential. There are also a number of optional extensions, depicted with light red highlighting on the map. Many of the trails on the northern and eastern boundary of the property continue onto private property and thus are not mapped here.

Starting at one of the small pullovers (with space for 23 cars) along the left side of Stacy Road (a rough dirt road that ascends north from Charlemont Rd just west of Rte. 112 north of Shelburne Falls), continue climbing up Stacy Rd to its end at a turn-around bulb just south of McLeod Pond. At the bulb, look for a trail that leads sharply at a diagonal up the hillside to the right. This trail quickly becomes a meandering singletrack path that winds past a number of old bicycle parts. After switching back and forth through the woods, it drops down towards the eastern shore of McLeod Pond. Follow it south along the shore to the southern end of the pond, then follow a path across ledges and an old dam to the western shore.

From a ledge at the southwest corner of McLeod Pond, follow a faint path north along the west side of the pond, just up from the shore. This trail soon swings left and climbs uphill, then swings left again and heads south. After taking a tight left turn near the height-of-land along the ridge, it meets up with a wider old woods road right where it crests the ridge. Turn right on this wide trail and begin descending. You will immediately come to a deep, eroded puddle (one of several along the trail in this vicinity). Go around it on the right. This trail soon levels out and heads north, with another short high-water bypass on the right that avoids a perpetually wet area, before veering west again and meeting up with S Catamount Hill Rd just east of an open wetland. One of the optional extensions in this area makes a tough 3-mile loop by heading north around the wetland and then climbing the slope to the west, going over a peak with an old chimney on it, and returning to the wetland.

Follow S Catamount Hill Rd north. In just under a mile, you will need to bypass to the right around a beaver flooded portion of the road, crossing over the outlet stream on some stones. Very soon you will arrive at a 4-way junction (where a different optional extension goes left). Continue straight for about 0.3 miles, passing a neat little spot where a stream flows underground on the left side of the road only to emerge from the base of a cliff on the right, to a ledge on the left with a cave called the Bear Caves. Yet another optional extension makes a very fun twisty horseshoe arc around the north side of the Bear Caves. Continue north from the caves for about about 0.1 miles along Catamount Hill Rd. At the top of a short trench-like, eroded section of the road, look for a faint trail leading sharply off the right up a small ledge.

Take a right on the faint trail, and follow it south above the eastern side of McLeod Pond for about 1.52 miles back to Stacy Road. This appears to be a newer section of mountain bike trail. It can be extremely hard to follow at times, but it is definitely there and it is very, very fun to run on, particularly in summer.

There are a number of other unmarked trails at Catamount State Forest, and aside from a few sections that may be rough or muddy, they're almost all fun to run. Some of them do lead off the property, however, and you must obey all posted signs (most notably along the trail that leads upslope to the west towards the summit of Pocumtuck Mtn.). Regardless of what route you choose to run, make sure to pay a visit to the ledges at the south shore of McLeod Pond. This remote and scenic spot is a true gem of the western Massachusetts wilds.


singletrack trail at Catamount State Forest
autumn along the trail at Catamount State Forest

singletrack trail at Catamount State Forest
along the "bike parts" trail at Catamount State Forest

a new bridge along the south shore of McLeod Pond at Catamount State Forest
a new bridge along the south shore of McLeod Pond at Catamount State Forest

Bear Caves at Catamount State Forest
 checking out the "Bear Caves" at Catamount State Forest

Sinuous singletrack trail above the east side of McLeod Pond at Catamount State Forest
Sinuous singletrack trail above the east side of McLeod Pond at Catamount State Forest

2 comments:

  1. Hello, these are unsanctioned trails by the state. I am afraid that this map will lead to more additional traffic, which could shut down the trails. This would be bad to all users. Nice map, but could you please consider removing it?

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  2. Trails look great! Can't wait to get up there and check them out. The pond and bridges make it look like a terrific spot. Best to park off Charlemont rd or further up stacey rd?

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