October Mountain State Forest, Lee
October Mountain State Forest (hereafter, OMSF) is the largest state forest in Massachusetts. It's about 16,500 acres or 25 square miles in area. It lies in Berkshire County southeast of Pittsfield and east of Lenox. A DCR trail map is available at the campground or at the state forest headquarters immediately north of the campground. The best commercially-available map to give the big picture of the state forest and surrounding areas is Rubel BikeMaps for Western Massachusetts (bikemaps.com).
This ride description (map) starts at the state campground on the western boundary of the state forest. There are several possible start points for a mountain bike ride in OMSF, but this circuit takes advantage of the steep elevation changes between the Housatonic River and the interior or the state forest. If you don't consider that an advantage, you might want to start your ride elsewhere in the state forest (but, remember, this is called mountain biking).
Just in case you do want to start from another location in the state forest, let's talk about where you can drive a 2WD automobile. The roads around the perimeter of OMSF are fine for 2WD, except for the road north from the campground, which eventually becomes a 4WD road (Roaring Brook Road). There's only one road into the interior of the state forest that's suitable for a 2WD vehicle. That road rises from the Housatonic River a short distance north of the campground and gradually turns to the right to run southeast to Becket. The road that rises from the river is Schermerhorn Road--be careful, because some maps (e.g., DeLorme's) give it a different name. On top of the mountain, turn right at the "T" intersection, then go straight. Although the road changes names, one road flows into another, and you'll end up on County Road, which runs southeast to MA 8 in Becket.
More information about OMSF:
First, a plug for the campground. It's sunny, grassy, terraced and real pretty. It offers wonderful access to Lenox, my favorite town in the Berkshires. Try this on a nice summer weekday (unfortunately, it won't be as nice on a summer weekend): bike to Lenox. Ride your bike in John Drummond Kennedy park, which is a community park with remarkably good mountain bike trails. Go out the park's back door onto Reservoir Road/Under Mountain Road and visit Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Walk the grounds of Tanglewood(no bikes inside the grounds, so bring a lock) and listen to the orchestra practice for that evening's paying customers.
The terrain in OMSF rises very steeply about 800 feet from the Housatonic River. Once you're on top, elevation changes are gradual. On top, there's a surprising amount of wet terrain, so plan accordingly. ORV's can ride in OMSF, so some of the trails are rough. The AT, off limits to bicycles, runs within OMSF from the south to northeast boundaries. On some maps, the most prominent landmark within the state forest is Washington Mountain Lake, which doesn't exist: that lake's dam leaked, so it has reverted to a permanent marshy area.
Because of the Housatonic River and some railroad tracks, driving to the OMSF campground can be confusing. The directions in DEM literature to OMSF campground are, "Mass Pike to exit 2, Rte. 20 west, take right on Center St., follow signs." An alternative that avoids the center of Lee is to go east for 1 mile on US 20 from Exit 2. Turn hard left onto Maple Street, then bear right (no 90 degree turns) at subsequent intersections. You'll end up on Woodland Road, which runs by the campground. If you're driving from Lenox or Pittsfield, your best bet is a good map (e.g., Rubel BikeMap).
Finally, here's my recommended ride within OMSF. Turn right as you exit the campground and ride north on Woodland Road. About 1 mile north, turn sharply to the right to keep the water (the Housatonic River) on the left side. Ride past Schermerhorn Road on the right, which is paved, and continue north along the river on the 4WD road until you come to pavement and a crossing road, New Lenox Road. Turn right and the paved road soon becomes another 4WD road that climbs steadily. Take a right at a sloppy "T" intersection and pass Farnum Reservoir on your right. After you pass Farnum Reservoir, look for trailheads on the left side that you might come back to. Also, locate a smooth dirt road on the right side that is Schermerhorn Road. Continue straight until you come to a 4-way intersection with West Branch Road. This is a very distinct intersection with flat, nearly treeless terrain.
This 4-way intersection is the most recognizable landmark on top of the mountain and is your reference point for the rest of the ride. To return to the campground, you initially continue straight southeast from the 4-way intersection, but let's first look at some options for additional riding from this intersection.
If you reverse direction and ride northwest from the 4-way intersection and take the second right onto a jeep road/double-track trail, you can make a loop to the north by taking right turns at all intersections, then taking a final left to return to the 4-way intersection. On the Rubel and DEM maps, you can see that this series of trails passes Ashley Lake and Sandwash Reservoir on the left side as you ride the loop in a clockwise direction.
If you turn right (west) at the 4-way intersection, you can make a clockwise loop over to Schermerhorn Road by turning left onto Navin Road (now a wood trail--there's a sign in the tree) then right onto Spruce Trail. This loop circles what was to have been Washington Mountain Lake and brings you back to the 4-way intersection if you turn right onto Schermerhorn Road and right at the subsequent "T" intersection. Incidentally, if you continue west on Navin Road, it descends the mountain to the vicinity of the campground. However, Navin Road is very steep and very rocky--I'd classify it as an "expert" descent. I did it once, but I won't go that way again.
When you're done riding around on top of the mountain and want to return to the campground, ride southeast from the 4-way intersection. Take a hard right over your right shoulder at the next dirt road onto County Road (County Road also continues straight southeast from this intersection). Follow County road in a westerly direction until the smooth dirt road turns sharply to the right. At this point, bear left onto a rough road that becomes a steep descent along a stream bed. As best I can figure, this rough road to the left is the "old" County Road, which becomes Washington Mountain Road when it crosses the Washington/Lee town line. Caution: do not take this route during times of heavy stream runoff. There's a stream crossing at the bottom that may be impossible (i.e., impassable) during heavy stream runoff, and your only recourse would be to climb back up the mountain to find another route down the mountain (e.g. Schermerhorn Road).
Washington Mountain Road eventually becomes paved. At the stop sign, turn right onto a paved road that becomes Woodland Road and runs past the campground on the right.
You'll find additional trailheads at the south boundary of the state forest along Yokum Pond Road (Becket Road in Lee). There's a trail that runs counter-clockwise from the east side of Buckley Dunton Lake, but this trail can be very muddy. There are two other trailheads further west along Yokum Pond Road that run in a northerly direction towards Finerty Pond. The trail along the south shore of Finerty Pond is very pretty.
For those who share my enthusiasm for "transit" rides in and between state forests, my description of Pittsfield State Forest includes a transit ride from Pittsfield State Forest to the campground at OMSF via Lenox. Another transit ride from OMSF that includes a lot of dirt roads and wood trails is to continue southeast on County Road in the above ride description to MA 8 in Becket. Turn right onto MA 8 then immediately right onto Fred Snow Road. Go south to MA 23 in East Otis and follow signs into the campground and trail areas of Tolland State Forest. If you're really ambitious, continue south on dirt roads from Tolland State Forest to Granville State Forest, which boasts another campground and more great trails. Go south from Tolland State Forest on Schoolhouse Road, cross MA 57 onto Hartland Road and ride into Granville State Forest. Is this a great area to ride mountain bikes, or what?
By Jim Logan