There’s nothing quite like the exhilarating feeling of mountain biking. The chance to zip down a narrow mountain trail across a shallow stream, to cruise along the banks of a river on a former railroad bed, or to ride on a dirt road through the farmland of Vermont, is a thrill. I never carry a map and I almost always get lost. This might sound foolish, but not knowing where you are in a New England forest is the equivalent to backpacking in Europe without the slightest care which city you head to next. You create your own route. New England’s parks and forests are compact and welcoming. Even within the larger state parks mentioned below, you’re never more than 2 to 3 miles from a dirt road and civilization. These are my favorites, but weave your own web.
Kingdom Trails, East Burke, Vt.
Just thinking about the Kingdom Trails in autumn, whipping through the red and yellow leaves on the maples behind the Inn at Mountain View Farm, makes me want to jump in my car. This 150-mile circuit, linking former farming roads with slender single tracks, offers the best of Vermont riding. One moment, you’re banking narrow turns on Coronary Bypass, the next you’re zooming through the pines in Webs. In fact, it’s such a glorious network that you’ll want to keep biking even when your legs are cramping and your CamelBak runs dry. www.kingdomtrails.org.
Millstone Hill Touring Center, Barre, Vt.
You might not have heard of Millstone because it’s only been open four years. But once word starts to spread about this unique 70-mile network, expect it to rival the Kingdom Trails as one of the top mountain biking hubs in the state. A century ago, Millstone Hill was home to more than 75 quarry operations. Today, single tracks weave up and down the forest leading to these quarry sites, where you can peer out over the water from atop a large rock pile. Novice riders will also find miles of old quarry roads offering far more moderate biking. Lodging and camping are available. www.millstonehill.com/touring.
Bear Brook State Park, Allenstown, N.H.
You can thank the Seacoast Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (www.nemba .org) for creating and maintaining some of the best trails here. Start with the easy Ferret Trail or the double-track Bobcat. Then move on to the silky smooth Pitch Pine or the root-studded, rock-littered downhill run called Carr Ridge. Bear Hill is a challenging climb, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a thrilling downhill. Afterward, take a bath in Bear Hill Pond to wash off the mud and sweat. www.nhstateparks.org/state-parks/alphabetical-order/bear-brook-state-park.
Grafton Ponds, Grafton, Vt.
One of the top cross-county ski destinations in the state, Grafton Ponds has always been blessed with an extensive trail system that winds through the heavily forested hillside, offering good views of the historic village. But now you can expect longer single-track runs and a spanking new terrain park, thanks to the hard work of director Bill Salmon. The park features several large jumps, a couple of gnarly switchbacks, and the first of three ravine runs to be built that sweep down a steep incline over several recently built wooden bridges. A local contingent of fat wheelers helped Salmon design the latest trails, used heavily in the summer during weeklong camps, so expect a challenge that will enhance your skills.
Bartlett Experimental Forest, Bartlett, N.H.
Contrary to popular notion, fall foliage is not restricted to Vermont’s borders. Just across the Connecticut River, New Hampshire has just as many types of trees and brilliant peak colors as its neighbor. This is one of my favorite spots in the Whites. Snowmobilers have created a vast network of trails that suit bikers well. The paths climb up and down the mountains and across numerous brooks. Park on Bear Notch Road, just outside Glen, and get ready to cruise on a springy single-track trail that gradually makes its way downhill through the dense blanket of pines and maples, over more than a few streams. It’s a spine-tingling run down the mountainside to Route 302. Unfortunately, you now have to make your way back up.
Carriage Path Trails, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
Off limits to motorized vehicles, these wide, hard-packed gravel trails lead bikers to some of the most secluded parts of the park. The 43-mile network is ideal for inexperienced mountain bikers. Start by circling the shores of Eagle Lake, Acadia’s second largest body of water. Under a forest of spruce, you steadily climb counterclockwise, only to coast downhill when Cadillac Mountain dramatically comes into view. Far more remote is the Amphitheater Loop, used primarily by local dog walkers. Park your car at the Brown Mountain Gate House off Route 198 and begin to pedal uphill, quickly getting glimpses of the ever-present Atlantic. The 4.4-mile loop is a magical up and down run through the dense woods. A highlight is the chance to ride across the Amphitheater Bridge, the longest of John D. Rockefeller’s original overpasses. www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm.
Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal, Maine
Your significant other wants to spend the morning shopping in Freeport and you can’t stand the thought. Great, drop him off and head 10 minutes inland to Pownal, home to Bradbury Mountain. If you want a technical climb to warm you up, start with the O trail. This leads to other fun trails like Fox East and Ragan. Across the street, near the camping area, there are some relatively new single tracks that will keep you on your toes. The short up-and-down runs lead to a series of switchbacks, perfect for a good three-hour spin. www.bradburymountain.com.
Savoy Mountain State Forest, Florida, Mass.
Starting at an elevation over 2,000 feet, this forest puts the mountain back into the state’s mountain biking. In an area of Western Massachusetts known for its abundance of green spaces, the large state forest offers the most extensive network of trails for bikers. Follow the Burnett Pond Trail across New State Road for a sweeping roller coaster ride through the deep woods. The challenging trail rolls up and down the hillside connecting with Kammick Road to the fire tower atop Border Mountain. This is a good place to relax and take in the vast countryside before biking back down to Burnett Pond. www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/western/svym.htm.
Arcadia Management Area, Hope Valley, R.I.
Situated in the western part of the state, the 13,817-acre Arcadia attracts bikers from as far as Boston and New Haven. Over 30 miles of single tracks, double tracks, and dirt roads snake through the forest. Hop on your bike and dip into a shaded thicket of pine, beech, and oak trees. You’ll quickly learn that this rural section of Rhode Island near the Connecticut border does indeed have hills. Ride along streams, pass forgotten fishing holes, eventually making your way to the yellow-blazed trail in the far right corner of the park that lines Breakheart Pond. Then get lost on a web of trails that branch off like spokes on a wheel. That’s the beauty about mountain biking at a place like Arcadia. Unlike road biking, where you always seem to be staring at a map or that car on your tail, mountain biking offers a feeling of spontaneity. Here, you’re free to wander with rarely another biker in sight and the only obstacle an occasional horseback rider. All the while, smelling the pines and listening to birds. www.riparks.com/arcadia.htm.
Pachaug State Forest, Voluntown, Conn.
Located in the eastern part of the state, Pachaug is Connecticut’s largest public space. The 23,000-acre state forest plays host to an incredible amount of single- and double-track trails. What does that mean to us mountain bikers? A chance to pick a trail, connect the dots, and pedal for as long as our legs can hold up. I usually ride past the H.H. Chapman and Mount Misery Camping Area signs, turning left at the small Mount Misery sign. I cruise up and down the small hill, then choose one of the numerous double tracks that fork off. Make your own loop, have fun, and go early, so you can make it out by sunset. www.ct.gov/Dep/cwp/view.asp?A=2716&Q=325068.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels.com.
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