Catamount State Forest
The trail system is in Catamount State Forest and is entered in Colrain Massachusetts. The town of Colrain was originally settled in the early 1800's by a few loyal friends of a prominent Boston judge. These people all decided that the city life was getting a little nutty and headed west to find an area to call their own. Catamount hill (not to be confused with the ski area of the same name) seemed a perfect spot to settle.
They built a dam across the small stream and created a man made pond (McLeod pond today) to serve as a water source for the community. Over the hills land was cleared and planted. Animals were allowed to graze. The small community struggled with the hardships associated with taming new country.
But, the land was not easy to deal with. After many years of continuous struggle and loss, the area was abandoned just prior to the turn of the century. The severe winters with massive amounts of snow, the poor growing conditions in the rocky soil were simply not the hardships the children of the original settlers wanted to deal with.
Today, the farms are mostly overgrown. Stone walls and foundations in a dense hardwood forest are the only remaining signs of the little community. Well, that isn't all... The roads are still there. Badly eroded and unpassable by conventional transportation, it provides a playground for the off-road enthusiast.
Much of Catamount Hill Road is similar to a graded dirt road, but it is the sections which are not that attract many to this area. Steep hills and rocky passages provide many thrills for the beginner. It is, however, the trails off this main road that the experts and adventure seekers will enjoy. One set of trails climbs high to the top of the small mountain ridge. The vertical assents are steep and rock covered offering many difficult climbs. The flats although wide enough to fit a Jeep, are littered with rocks and the occasional bottomless mud hole. This series of trails wanders the length of the ridge to emerge at a spectacular ledge overlooking most of western Massachusetts. The towers of U-Mass at Amherst are visible to the east. To the west rise the higher Berkshire mountains. To the south, ridge after ridge of hills flow to northern Connecticut.
The other set of trails travel the wetter areas around the streams. Mud, rocks, roots, and trees all come together to provide challenge after challenge.
But this place offers far more than just a large network of challenging trails, there is history here as well. Visit the boulder caves which served the early settlers as a place of worship. Read the stone marker placed off the trail to commemorate the first raising of the US flag above a schoolhouse. Visit the Farley family cemetery and see the final resting places of those pioneering settlers.
Catamount State Forest is located north of Rt. 2 in the western part of Massachusetts about 15 west of Greenfield. Take Rt. 2 west to the town of Charlemont (the sign is on the left side of the road as you approach a bridge). A few hundred feet after the bridge, there is a gift shop on the right with a HUGE wooden indian in front. Turn right after the gift shop. This road winds back a while and then starts a long downward slope. About halfway down the hill, a field opens up to the left. It is much higher than the road surface, so you can't see much except the trees stop. Watch carefully for a road to the left. It is very well hidden. This is Old Colrain Road. The street sign is rarely up, so don't count on seeing one. If you reach the bottom of the hill at the bridge, you went too far.
There are 2 points of entry to the trails, Catamount Hill Road and Stacey Road. Once you turn onto Old Colrain Road, you will pass a few fields and then cross a very small bridge. Climb the hill after the bridge and you will see an intersection to the left. This is the bottom of Catamount Hill Road. This road is a nice graded but steep entry for stock 4x4 vehicles and will take you to one of several decent campsites in the area (primitive camping, no facilities, no cost). Continue down Old Colrain Road further and you will pass an old barn on the left and a beautiful log cabin on the right. After the log house, there is an old farmhouse on the right. Across the street is the entrance to Stacey Road. Stacey Road offers a more gradual climb, but the road is more washed out requiring either a slightly lifted 4x4, or an experienced driver to negotiate. Stacey road ends at McLeod pond and offers access to the BEST campsite in the area. From Stacey Road, Old Colrain Road descends a hill to the intersection with Rt. 112. At this point, there is a large area for parking non-4x4 vehicles. Be sure to lock the cars. I'm not sure who owns this land, but I've never had trouble leaving vehicles there in the past.
I know of no map which shows all the trails in the state forest, even the USGS maps only show Catamount and Stacey road in part. It is advised to travel with caution or with someone who knows the area. Motels are available in the area, but camping is truly the ideal way to enjoy this site. Total trail mileage is over 20, but since trails are spread out and provide different challenges based on direction, it is possible to travel much further. Be advised that since the trails were originally roads, 4x4 traffic is common and this is actually one of the best 4x4 trail systems in the state. Holiday weekends (especially Memorial Day) can find as many as 75 trucks in the woods.
I truly recommend arriving in a 4x4 (or designate a 4x4 to carry in supplies) and camp by the lake.
The climate is generally much cooler than the surrounding towns. Even summer nights can get chilly and storms can lash the hills with incredible power. Only advice I can give is to be prepared for almost everything.
I have been visiting Catamount at least two times a year for the past five years. I've been there in December with temperatures in the single digits and in the heat of August with the temps in the 80's. Spring time is very wet and muddy as the average five feet of snow melts. Fall is possibly the best time of all. Temperatures are comfortable during the day and cool at night (alright, sometimes its darn right cold), but the color of the trees is a sight not to be missed. The night sky when viewed from the pond is one of the most impressive sights of all. This place, protected on all sides by the hills has almost no light pollution at all. The number of visible stars is so great that there is generally too much detail to find any but the major constellations.
Fox, deer, black bear, owls and even the occasional bobcat are just a few of the animals which have made their presence known in the past few years. I see fewer now than when I first came to the area, but I'm sure they are still around.
To be honest, I have never biked the area, although some friends have. I used to take my Jeep as a support vehicle. Since my Jeep has been totaled by a drunk and I'm stuck with a stock truck, I can now only travel the harder trails by bike. Although I have a lot of off-road experience, there is no problem getting a stock 4x4 to the camping areas. One friend took a stock Isuzu Rodeo up there on his first off-road trip with no problems. Running boards are the only real problem as they will likely tag rocks.
Just recently the area has been covered with cellular service. The Templeton ham repeater is reachable via 2 meters. The Shelborn Falls State Police station is only a mile or so east on Rt. 2. Emergency medical and Hospital services are 15 minutes away in Greenfield although Shelborn Falls does have EMT service. The area's businesses are generally friendly to the off-road crowd (my 4x4 club and others do annual cleanups to maintain the peace). Davenport's service station, next to the state police, is a very friendly place and can stock you with most items from ice and beer to ketchup and munchies. These people have been a great help to me and my friends in the past and I can't say enough good things about them. Oh, and the restrooms are clean! Downtown Shelborn Falls is a wonderful little town, don't miss the bridge of flowers! The nearest bike shop is unfortunately in Greenfield and they don't open on Sunday.
Bring what spare parts you can as replacements are difficult to find. A portable repair stand is nice to have for both working on the bike and for cleaning it. The pond makes washing easy, just bring a bucket, sponge, and some Simple Green. A saw and ax are required for fire wood. Plenty of room for condo size tents. A few folding chairs make the trip easier on the backside. Trash and food are mainly safe. Raccoon trouble is low and the bears haven't bothered us.
The following update on Catamount was written by Christopher Siano on October 10, 1995.
One of the finest off-road areas in the state is now closed to all wheeled vehicles. Jersey barriers have been placed aross the access points and signs have been posted. According to the Town of Colrain, the roads have been turned over to the state and are now officially closed. The order states "all wheeled traffic", but no one I've talked to knows if that extends to pedal powered bicycles. Since hiking and equestrian use is permitted, I can only hope bikes are allowed.
Those not familure with Catamount will find this state forest in the towns of Colrain, Charelmont and Heath about 15 miles west of Rt 91 just north of Rt. 2. The hills and old town roads in this area are some of the best trails in all of New England. Groups from as far as Virginia have come up to run these old roads. Check the NEMBA homepage for detailed information. The Town has sited historical and environmental reasons for the closure, and have refused to hold hearings on the matter. They have given the roads to the state and it is now their issue. As with most state run land, it is unlikely the current status quo will change anytime in the near future.
Granted, much of the damage and trouble have been caused by motorized traffic, but an abutter to the trailhead has taken it upon herself to call the cops anytime someone goes up there. I was asked to leave this past weekend. I think this closure is illegal (blocking of an established right of way). Whatever it is, all we can do now is write the state and pressure them to hold a hearing on the matter.
One of the problems with blocking the roads into the forest is that there is no place to park anywhere nearby. This effectively closes the forest to all but local use. (and, to not put too fine a point on it, it is the locals who do all the dumping and damage up there)
I will continue to post updates, but right now, it looks pretty bad.
By Christopher Siano