Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bonus Site: Northfield Gulf Road

As a brief recap of previous bonus site posts: 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 included in the book to just 51 sites, and some that I really like or that would have been nice to include had to get 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. TrailMormon Hollow, and Ashley Pond posts for previous examples).

This bonus site comprises portions of three major properties in Northfield: Northfield Town Forest, Northfield State Forest, and Brush Mountain Conservation Area. Whether you approach from the north (or technically, the west) via Northfield or the south via Erving/Orange, the parking area for this site is at the height-of-land on Gulf Road in Northfield (hence the name). The Metacomet-Monadnock (M-M) Trail / New England Trail (NET) crosses the road here. You can do out-and-backs on the M-M Trail, and there are two nice short loop options, one on either side of the road.

Northfield Gulf Road map -- click here to download a full-size pdf

From the small parking area on the west side of the road, where there is space for maybe 3-4 cars, cross the road and head east on the M-M Trail into Northfield State Forest. Follow the white blazes east about 0.1 miles, to a signed junction where a blue-blazed trail leads left. Go straight for now and follow the M-M Trail east for about 0.5 miles, crossing over an unmarked woods road and gently rising and falling a few times, to a junction with the eastern end of the blue-blazed trail. From here, you can continue north on the M-M Trail towards Hidden Pond and Stratton Mountain. The trail is quite good for running, but there is an initial steep descent via switchbacks and the eventual ascent to Stratton Mountain goes on for quite a ways. You can also access a very dense network of blazed trails in Northfield State Forest that way, but most of the trails are currently unmaintained (though the paint blazes were very fresh in spring 2016; ditto the blazed-but-overgrown network north of Alexander Hill Rd).

Go left at the junction and return to Gulf Road via the 0.9-mile "Over-the-Top" loop trail that climbs gradually up the forested slopes of the Bald Hills. It zig-zags over the crest of the ridge and then drops via easy switchbacks down the west side. Cross over the woods road and reach the junction you were at before, then go right to get back out to Gulf Rd. The only drawback is that it's over before you know it. Total mileage is about 1.5 miles.

this pretty stretch of the "Over-the-Top" loop trail on Bald Hills in winter has "flow"

Now go west from the parking area into Brush Mountain Conservation Area (the M-M Trail currently detours south here to avoid a closure near the summit of Crag Mountain). The trail parallels the road briefly, then arrives at an older trail/woods road. Going right would immediately pop you back out on Gulf Rd. Go left and pass by the foundation remains of the Swan Homestead. At a junction where the Brush Mountain Trail (and former M-M Trail) leads left up the slope, continue straight onto the yellow-blazed Town Forest Loop Trail. 

The Town Forest Loop Trail is a well-marked and well-built lollipop loop in Northfield Town Forest. To reach the loop part, head northwest and cross under some powerlines and then descend slightly on wide doubletrack trail to the junction. The loop portion can be done in either direction, and both ways are fun to run, though there are short sections of steep climbing no matter which one you choose. There are no views, but the woods are nice and in spring a waterfall cascades down a set of wooded ledges. The newly-cut singletrack portion (about half of the mileage) is especially nice. Make sure to make the turn at the part of the loop farthest from the parking area; an unmarked woods road continues downslope and off-property here. Total mileage for this loop is about 2 miles. 

a mossy seep in spring along the Town Forest Loop Trail

An optional extension that can be fun to run is the white-blazed Brush Mountain Trail (formerly the M-M Trail, which it is still signed as in places so it's OK to be a bit confused). About a quarter of a mile up from the junction with the Town Forest Trail, it passes over a long stretch of semi-open ledge that I call "The Ramp"; you'll get it when you run back down it (VERY fun). You can follow this trail for about a mile up and over the semi-open summit of Brush Mountain and then up and down along a northern portion of Crag Mountain. The blazes will come to a sudden end, however, and the land to the south is posted No Trespassing. The M-M Trail used to continue from here to the open summit of Crag Mountain, but it is currently closed and re-routed along Gulf Road. Stay legal, friends. 

"The Ramp" on Brush Mountain in Northfield, MA

Other good nearby trail running sites: Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center (site #30 in the book), Stratton Mountain at the top of Alexander Hill Road in Northfield (see upcoming Bonus Site post; I would advise against using the maps currently available either on the town's website or posted on-site), Wendell State Forest (site #32 in the book).

If you have any comments, complaints, corrections, praise, or suggestions about this bonus site or anything related to Trail Running Western Massachusetts, please comment below or drop me an email with your thoughts!