Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hiking: Wachusett Mountain Via Bolton Pond, Semuhenna and Old Indian Trails | Princeton, Massachusetts

Wachusett Mountain is located in the north central area of Massachusetts, north of the City of Worcester and not that far south from the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border.  The small reservation offers a surprisingly varied number of hiking trails with opportunities to explore forests, streams, small ponds and there are great views from the summit area and a number of other overlooks.

The Wachusett Mountain State Reservation contains about 3,000 acres of protected land, including the summit of the mountain, along with about 17 miles of hiking trails.  The Wachusett Ski Area is also located on the mountain and there is an automobile road to the top for those who wish to drive instead of hike the mountain.

Getting to Wachusett Mountain

Access to the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation is mostly from Mountain Road, located in Princeton, Massachusetts.  The road runs along the base of Wachusett Mountain and provides access to a number of trails, the automobile road to the summit and the ski area.  There is also a visitor center located at 345 Mountain Road to introduce visitors to the area.  Fees are required during the summer season to access the auto road.

Wachusett Mountain Trails

With 17 miles of trails, you can find several different ways to climb to the summit of Wachusett Mountain from a number of different starting points   Our trip began in the north at the Bolton Pond Trailhead, but there are at least five other trailheads you could begin at.

Trails are generally well maintained and easy to follow, though compared to other locations there is little signage and the trail makers are not always easy to follow.  We were turned around at one trail junction because of a lack of signage and clear trail markers that we didn't realize until we had been walking for several minutes on the wrong trail.

The park publishes a simple brochure and map for the area that all hikers should have.  It provides trail descriptions, park information and the map provides enough detail for average hikers to enjoy the area.  Hiking without a map while never advisable, would be a big mistake here due to the lack of clear trail signage on the trails.

Wachusett Mountain trails are described in the Appalachian Mountain Club's Massachusetts Trail Guide guidebook.  This book makes a good reference and guide to the area's many hiking opportunities.

Wachusett Mountain via Bolton Pond, Balance Rock, Semuhenna, Harrington and Old Indian Trails

As you can tell from the list of trails above, in order to do a loop on Wachusett Mountain, you will likely be hiking on several different trails.  We began our hike at the Bolton Pond Trailhead, which is located at the north side of the reservation and is off of Bolton Road.  The trail begins on the south side of Bolton Road and begins by climbing steadily upward to Bolton Pond.  Bolton Pond is reached at about 0.3 miles and the trail turns to the left (sharply) before reaching the pond's edge.  Be sure to watch for the trail markers and the small sign, otherwise you may end up descending on another unofficial trail that leaves from the same area.  Bolton Pond is a small pond that offers some wildlife viewing and a nice spot for a picnic, especially on the northern shore, which is less wet and offers some open areas for relaxing.

From Bolton Rock, the trail continues climbing at a reasonable pace another 0.3 miles to Balance Rock.  This large balanced rock is left from the times when glaciers covered this area.  At this point, the Bolton Pond Trail ends and you now follow the Balance Rock Trail a short distance to Balance Rock Road (a non-public, dirt roadway used by the park).  There the Balance Rock Road ends and you are now on the co-located Old Indian Trail and the Semuhenna Trail.

Following the co-located trails and continuing to climb steadily, stay to the right and stay on the Semuhenna Trail when the Old Indian Trail leaves to the left.  Continue on the Semuhenna Trail, cross the automobile road, running near the top of some of the ski runs and past its intersection with the West Side Trail and its second intersection with the automobile road.  Through this area the trail passes a bog, small streams and several other interesting areas along the way.

From the second crossing of the auto road to the Semuhenna Trail's end at its intersection with the Harrington Trail, the hike is almost level as you follow a shelf on Wachusett Mountain.  To your right the mountain slopes down and to your left there are increasingly large rock formations as the mountain slopes steeply up to the summit.

You'll reach the end of the Semuhenna Trail at about 1.8 miles from your start.  Here you head up Wachusett Mountain on the Harrinton Trail.  The Trail begins to climb very steeply almost immedietely, climbing through and over several boulders and very rocky areas.  The steepness of the Harrington Trail moderates signficantly as you cross the auto road and make the short climb to the actual summit of Wachusett Mountain.

There is a small visitor center, parking area for the auto road and observation platform at the summit of Wachusett Mountain.  We found it to be a great place to have lunch.  On a clear day you can see from Boston to the mountains of New Hampshire.

From the summit, we followed the Old Indian Trail northward, slowly descending off the broad summit of Wachusett and then descendign more steeply just before you cross the auto road.  Following the auto road crossing, the trail crosses several of the ski area's ski slopes.  The trail can be difficult to follow in this area and we ended up having to walk up and down the ski slopes in a few places to figure out where the trail re-entered the woods to ensure we were on the right path.

Once back in the woods, the trail continues descedning and comes to the trail junction with teh Semuhenna Trail.  Follow the co-located trails down the mountain to Balance Rock Road and then follow the Balance Rock Trail to Balance Rock.  There take the Bolton Pond Trail to return to your vehicle at the Bolton Pond Trailhead.

All in all this loop offers about 4.5 miles of hiking in a loop with very little backtracking on trails that you have already hiked. We found it to be a really enjoyable way to spend about half the day and the summit of Wachusett made for a great place to enjoy our sandwiches and have lunch.

For more Information on Hikes and Walks in Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston Region

For more hiking and walking options in Massachusetts and the Boston region, the Appalachian Mountain Club publishes a Trail Guide for Trails in Massachusetts and a Trail Guide for the 60 Best Hikes Near Boston.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Advice: Our favorite summer hiking gear

What do you always bring on your hike in the summer?

While we could all fill our backpacks with all kinds of tools, gear and gadgets, especially nowadays with all the specialized hiking gear that is available, for us there's only a handful of items we always keep in our backpack or have with us when we are hiking in the summertime.

Most of our summer hiking is a series of day trips and there is just some gear that makes life easier, more comfortable and safer while you are enjoying the great outdoors.  Those are the kinds of things we always have with us.

How about you?  How many of these do you have in your backpack or with you during the summer hiking season? What do you bring that we don't?

Here's some of our favorite summer gear!

Suntan Lotion: It may not sound like much, but suntan lotion can mean the difference between a enjoyable hike or being burnt to a crisp and suffering from too much exposure to the sunlight.  Make sure the parts of your skin exposed to the sun always have at least some sunblock on.  We're always extra careful with our ears, face and if we aren't wearing a hat, our head!  You'll be surprised at what a difference it makes when you finish your hike and you aren't feeling like you've been burned by the sun all day.

Lightweight Hiking Boots: If you aren't camping overnight and you find them comfortable, the newer, lower cut and lightweight hiking boots are great choices for summer day hikes.  The lighter boot is more comfortable on your foot and there's a marked difference we find in just overall hiking comfort.  If you want some advice on picking out the right boot for you, check out our Hiking Boot Shopping 101 Guide.

Prescription Sunglasses: Having worn glasses for years and never really gotten on the contacts train, I always bring my prescription sunglasses with me.  They help cut down the glare on really sunny days and they help protect my eyes from too much sun exposure.

Quick-Dry Synthetic Shirts: There's a ton of different "hiking" shirts available, but we find that any well made quick-dry, synthetic shirt works well for hiking.  It's really about finding what you feel comfortable in.  We find some of the best deals and most comfortable shirts on the clearance rack at Target of all places!  Seriously though, these shirts wick sweat away from your body, keep you dry and make for a much more comfortable hike!

Headlamp: You never know when you might be getting out of the woods later than you expect and so I always keep a headlamp in my backpack.  Today's headlamps are small, lightweight, and easy to wear.  They offer crisp, bright, white lighting and take up practically no space and weigh only a few ounces.  When you are easily walking out to the trailhead with your headlamp on, you will not have any doubts why this is a must-have in your backpack!

Baseball Hat: Going back to the sun, for those of us with thin hair (or no hair), a hat is key to a comfortable hike.  It not only keeps the sun out of your eyes, it shades your head and helps prevent inadvertent sunburn.  We like full fabric hats, which while a bit warmer then mesh hats, offer more complete sun protection.

Zip-Off Hiking Pants: It is funny, but a pair of pants can make a real difference in how you enjoy your hike.  We love the synthetic zip off hiking pants that are available today (though we don't love the usually expensive price!).  These pants give you the flexibility to alternate between pants and shorts as the temperatures and conditions warrant and are built tough enough to stand up to rugged use on the trail.

Trail Seat: My guilty pleasure for hiking, but as I have gotten older, creature comforts have become more important to me. That is where a trail seat or pad comes in and saves the day. This small, self-inflating pad is so simple, yet makes being out in the woods so much more comfortable. It makes any lunch stop better, providing cushioning and insulation from the ground.  Want to take a nap? Just roll it up a bit and the pad makes a great pillow too!

Wide-Mouth Lexan Water Bottles: Old school on the water bottles huh? We have used water bladders and other bottles, but we always come back to the wide-mouth water bottles.  Just some of the reasons we love them: they are easy to store in the sides of our backpack; they are practically indestructable, the wide-mouth makes it easy to put in ice cubes or drink mixes; they are easy to fill on the fly; and they are easy to clean when you get home!

Need more hiking and camping advice?

Adventures in the Outdoors has a number of guides and advice columns on a number of different hiking, camping and outdoor adventure related topics, including our introductory guide to hiking, Hiking 101.

Browse our Advice Section for more information and to get out and start enjoying the great outdoors!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

News: Catskill Park Advisory Committee Approves Charter And Thanks Regional Fire Fighters

Catskill Park Advisory Committee Approves Charter - Thanks Regional Fire Fighters
Members of the Catskill Park Advisory CommitteeMay 12th, 2015 - ARKVILLE, New York---The Catskill Park Advisory Committee announced today the approval of its first organizational charter, establishing guidelines for its voting members and advisory groups. The organization, in operation informally for a number of years, was established by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, in consultation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Jeff Senterman of the New York - New Jersey Trail Conference and acting Committee Chair said, “The approval of Catskill Park Advisory Committee’s charter is a big step in bringing together diverse stakeholders from across the Catskill Park to collaborate on opportunities and face challenges together.  Since its creation, the Committee has been a forum to address issues important to the Park and an opportunity to have interdisciplinary discussions.  Many thanks to the agency representatives, organizations and volunteers who have helped create and grow the Committee.  I look forward to working with the Committee in the future.”
 “In response to one of the largest forest fires in the Catskills in recent memory, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers, State Police and the many, many volunteers from local Fire Departments deserve a huge amount of gratitude for their efforts.  They tackled a fire in very difficult terrain and worked together, bringing resources from a number of different agencies to contain the fire and prevent it from impacting residences and public recreation facilities.  It is my honor, both personally and on behalf of the Catskill Park Advisory Committee to say thank you to everyone who took part in fighting the fire on Hunter Mountain this spring.”
The purpose of the Committee is to provide assistance, advice and guidance to the Department, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other land managers in the management of the NY State Forest Preserve, the Catskill Park and recreational uses of watershed land.
Approval of the charter was the Committee’s first act, followed by an official act of gratitude towards our region’s firefighters, thanking them for the tremendous work they’ve done to control recent forest fires. The first of which had consumed roughly 150 acres near Heavenly Hollow. That fire was suppressed with assistance from the Office of Emergency Management as well as the New Brunswick Fire Department. We also thanked firefighters in DEC Region 3 who’d suppressed at least 2,759 acres of fire in the Shawagunks. Local volunteers were immensely helpful in controlling the fire, along with support from Red Cross and a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, that provided meals for the volunteers.
The Catskill Park Advisory Committee (CPAC) was established by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the New York - New Jersey Trail Conference in consultation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Committee seeks to provide assistance, advice and guidance to DEC, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and other land managers in the management of the New York State Forest Preserve, the Catskill Park and the Catskill Watershed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

News: Long Path and Shawangunk Ridge Trail Closed due to Forest Fire 5/6/15

May 6, 2016: From the Trail Conference and local media outlets, there is a a large area of the Shawangunk Ridge on fire between Ferguson Road near Summitville and Route 52 near Ellenville. This forest fire is burning through that entire area and there are no safe ways through.  Due to that fact, the Long Path and Shawangunk Ridge Trail is closed between these two points. The area to the south of the fire has already burned and the plastic trail markers have melted, making travel difficult, if not impossible.

Hikers going north on the LP/SRT will need to turn left at Ferguson Road and follow the road downhill to Summitville. Then turn right on Route 209 to Ellenville, then turn right and follow Route 52 east up the mountain. After a bridge which crosses a deep gully with a stream (South Gully) turn left and follow the trail into the woods.

For More Information on Hiking in the Shawangunks

Check out the Shawangunk Ridge section of our Adventures in the Outdoors Bookstore.

The Trail Conference publishes maps for portions of the Shawangunk Ridge on its Shawangunk Trails Map and maps for High Point State Park in New Jersey are included on the Kittainny Trails Map.  The book, Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks is a guide to trails of the northern Shawangunk Ridge area, as is Gunks Trails: A Rangers Guide and the Shawangunks Trail Companion.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

News: Free Introduction to Trail Maintenance Workshop on April 12 in Fleischmanns, New York

The Catskill Conservation Corps' and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference's Second Sundays at Spillian series continues with a free workshop on the basics of trail care and maintenance in the Catskills on Sunday, April 12 from 1pm to 4pm.

This workshop will provide participants with the skills necessary to properly clear, maintain and improve a hiking trail so it is easily passable for fellow hikers and the trail itself is harmonious with the environment. Through a few hours of field work, attendees will learn assessment of trail conditions, trail clearing, trail marking, proper use of tools and how to report any trail problems they may come across on trail that they ware working on.

Be prepared to spend a few hours on the trails around Spillian as part of this workshop.  Make sure to wear your hiking boots; dress appropriately for the outdoor conditions and trail work; pack plenty of water; and bring work gloves.

Refreshments will be served.  This event is free and open to the public. Please register on the Trail Conference’s website so they can maintain an accurate headcount for the event.