Monday, August 4, 2014

A Weekend at Mohawk Trail State Forest

Mrs V and I packed the micro-SUV (that is to say, the Toyota Corolla) to the gills on Friday and motored northwest for a weekend of camping at Mohawk Trail State Forest. Charlemont and Hawley, which encompass a good part of the park, might not be as celebrated as their noted neighbors, North Adams and Williamstown, but this area is equally beautiful in a different way. Steep, tall hills intimately folded about the beguiling Deerfield River create alluring vistas and rewarding hikes.

I'd reserved a site in the park's car-free area, which entailed hauling our car-load of camping stuff down a steep hill (and back up on Sunday) in two loads with a cart the park provides. It was worth it, though -- the car-free area was occupied by like-minded campers who were quiet and respectful in a friendly way. To top it off, our site was at the very end of the car-free area, a huge spit of land with the Cold River (a Deerfield tributary) rolling by just down a hill at the edge of our site.

After setting up camp, we headed for the hills -- and how! We decided to try hiking the Indian Trail, the closest trail head in the park. Turns out it's also the steepest, scrambling and scrabbling nearly straight up for about a mile and a quarter over large boulders and huge rooty step-ups toward a supposedly rewarding look-out. We made the ridge, but it was getting late and we were pretty worn out, so turned around before the peak. 

Saturday morning, while we broke the fast, I improvised a way to heat the all-important coffee water (is there anything better than camp coffee on a chill morning in the woods?). 

We then set out for the centerpiece of the park: the Mahican-Mohawk Trail, a re-creation of an ancient foot-trail made thousands of years ago by Native Americans traveling between the Deerfield and the Hudson Rivers. The portion in the State Forest is a long, flattish meander from the park entrance (right off Route 2) along the Cold River to its junction with the Deerfield. We then followed the Deerfield closely along a dirt road/hiking trail, strolling by 18th century farm fields, idyllic shaded fishing spots, and a couple of perfect summer meadows.

At one resting place, we were startled by river tubers yelling in delight as they scooted by on the rapid current. The Deerfield is a very popular recreation river, and there are many guide companies established in the area to show visitors a good time. The hullabaloo was a bit out of sync with the peaceful vibe, but hey -- they were having a good time out in nature, and that's a good thing.

We turned back before the path turned significantly uphill toward one of the original (native-made) sections of the trail, because it looked like it climbed straight up Todd Mountain, much like the Indian Trail, but on the reverse side. We'd managed a few hundred yards of the original trail up on the ridge the day before, and decided to call that good enough. (If we had it to do over again, we'd do a short portion of some more moderate trail on Friday, and save our legs for Saturday so we could do the entire Mahican loop.)

Note that if you bring your mountain bike, you could do an easy out-and-back along the Mahican loop, or, if you're very fit and skilled, might even make it up Todd Mountain and around the whole loop.

All in all, a very rewarding visit to a glorious part of our fair state!

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