Case Mountain State Park, Manchester
Perhaps one of the best-known rides in Connecticut is Case Mountain. It would be easy to assume its popularity is due to its location and accessibility right off route 384 in Manchester (close to the center of the state), but that's only half the story. The other half of the story goes something like "lung busting climbs, amazing views, extremely technical riding and hucks galore". A few years back Bicycling Magazine went so far as to rate Case as the best place to ride in CT. I don't particularly agree with that rating, but it seems fitting that they picked Case.
When I first started riding mountain bikes in the late 80's, Case was one of the first places we rode. Every time I ride there now I cringe a bit at how braided some of the trails have become, a victim of its own greatness I suppose. I am also happy to see that there is some level of trail maintenance being done and some of the problem area trails have been re-routed to make them more sustainable. I know it goes without saying, but please keep the singletrack single, if you can't ride something, get off your bike! Significant damage to hills has been done by tail draggers - use your front brake and stay in control - don't be a skidiot!
Though most mountain bikers know the ride as "Case Mountain", the parcel the town of Manchester owns, which is Case Mountain proper, is only a portion of the entire riding area. The Manchester Water Company also owns a portion of the overall area. Riding on their property is legal, but there has been some conflict in the past. It's important to ride respectfully to ensure future access to this parcel.
There are at least three distinct parking lots to access the riding, all on different edges of the area. During peak riding times, the parking lots can get full, but it is such a large area that once clear of the parking lot area, you'll likely only run into a few groups of riders during your ride. Be aware for hikers, especially when riding adjacent to Case Mountain - it's a popular spot for dog walkers and casual hikers. Speed is fun, but be sure you remain in control.
The nice thing about Case is that everyone from beginners through advanced riders can enjoy riding there. There are some carriage, dirt and fire roads that wind through the area so beginners can easily spend a few hours riding them without worry for the technical bits - assuming they don't mind doing a bit of climbing. Cross-country riders will find 20-25 miles of hilly, technical single and double track. The freeriders among us can find plenty of rocks and a few skinnies to play on - though you will have to pay a little XC dues to get there.
Being a technical cross-country rider I am never disappointed with a ride at Case. I have a 15 or so mile loop that I ride that incorporates what I consider the best of what Case has to offer: a mile long down hill with all the ramps and jumps you can handle, technical rock gardens, beautiful ledges, impossible slick rock climbs and plenty of steep rollers. There's a particular down hill section that is amazingly technical, the site of our "no-dab challenge" each time we ride there.
Contained within the ride are two summits, which offer impressive (by Connecticut standards) views, Case Mountain (734 feet) in Manchester and Birch Mountain (786 feet), which is on the Glastonbury side of the parcel. From the summit of Case Mountain you get a nice view of the city of Hartford.
Since Case is so popular it gets packed down relatively quickly in the winter, making it a place you can ride when other places have too much fluffy snow. Depending on the freeze/thaw cycle, that packing down can also mean very icy trails - excellent riding if you have studded tires. As popular as Case is as a daytime riding spot, it seems to be even more popular after work. Anytime I ride there on a Thursday evening I am amazed by how many people are out - it's a happening place!
Most of the trails at Case drain fairly well, due to the soil substrate being very sandy, however, the lower trails can take a long time to firm up in the spring and after protracted rains. I wouldn't consider Case a particularly good place to ride when it's been wet. Speaking of rain, there are several good-sized streams that course through the place. They are fed largely by run off, running strong, deep and cold in the spring, but by mid-summer most are barely running at all.
As with any place I ride in CT, free tours are available - just look me up on the NEMBA message boards!
Birch Mountain Road parking area- From Route 384 east, take exit 4. Go left at the end of the exit ramp and cross overe the highway. Go right at the light. Then go down the hill, go under highway and turn right on birch mountain road. You will see a dirt parking area on your right.
Line Street parking area From Route 384, take exit 3. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp. Turn right on Line Street after about 1.5 miles. Go about 3/4 miles and look for the parking area on the left side of the road.
By John Isch