Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beyond the Minuteman: Landlocked Forest Unlocked

Paint Mine Area:  Good place for biking.  Not so good for flying kites.

A short time ago I lived in a world where an evening ride at the Landlocked Forest in Burlington, MA required me to first drive through rush hour traffic on Route 128.  Well I’m happy to say that the world as I knew it has ceased to exist. 

In its place is a better world.   One where you don’t need a car to go mountain biking; where you can ride for hours while avoiding busy roads with drivers who would rather make you a hood ornament than arrive at their destinations thirty seconds later;  and a world where you DON’T have to listen to Metallica on the way to Yoga class.

Welcome to the world just beyond the Minuteman.

Oops.  Forgot my shoes.
Gotta turn around.
The Landlocked Forest in Burlington is a relatively compact set of fast flowing singletrack trails that run along Route 3 in Burlington.  The trails are well-marked and some recent trail work has improved access through some swampy sections in the middle.  While it's no technical beast, it is a great place to ride if you're looking to stretch your legs and feel the flow.

Although the park is relatively close to my house, getting there has always involved jumping on Route 128, a busy eight lane highway.  This is especially unappealing during rush hour, or "The Parade of Angry Drivers" as we know it in Metro West Boston.

Only recently I discovered a traffic-free way to access Belmont Rock Park, which is just around the corner from my house, by using side streets.  I was amazed to discover that it took me only a couple minutes longer than driving to access the trails there.  If you add in the time it takes to load and unload my bike from my truck, I actually SAVE time.  This was a revelation.  If I could make it to Belmont, where else could I ride to without having to bike or drive on busy streets? 

Naturally, I set my sights on the Landlocked Forest.

The Minuteman Trail, which runs less than a mile by my house, also comes within two miles of the Landlocked Forest.  Obviously, any route between the two would rely heavily on the Minuteman.  I was already using the Minuteman to access smaller conservation areas near Bedford and Concord.  The challenge was how to get from the Minuteman to Landlocked without getting killed on Route 4, a four lane (but narrow) traffic filled byway.  As it turns out, this is easier, and more interesting than I thought.

Hartwell Ave., which intersects the Minuteman just after it crosses over 128, is a somewhat busy but generously wide street that covers most of the distance to the Landlocked Forest.  Its intersection with Route 4 has a light which can be used to cross to the far side.  

Wetlands behind Boston Sports Club.
You'll have to use the sidewalk for about 50 yards until you reach the Boston Sports Club parking lot after you cross Route 4. I find using the sidewalk here preferable to becoming a stain on someone's grill trying to make a left turn on Route 4.  Once you maneuver to the back right corner of the parking lot, a double track trail will make itself apparent.  This trail, overgrown in places, follows the powerline, and will get you to the next road crossing.  

On the far side of this road starts the Paint Mine Conservation Area.  While the name "Paint Mine" doesn't inspire images of serene natural beauty, the trails are a large improvement over the area behind the Boston Sports Club.  Rather than follow the powerline, they go into the trees on the right side, then cross over to the left, only to emerge again just below the climb to the next road crossing.
Trail through the Paint Mine area.

After this short climb, the Landlocked Forest, and fast flowy singletrack sit on the far side of this second road.  

A few words of caution:  If it has rained a lot recently the area behind Boston Sports Club may become downright miserable.  The best time of year to make this trip is late summer and fall, as the ground is likely to be drier, and you're less likely to need a ferry.

Trail in the Paint Mine Area.
Also note that the brush under the powerlines is FULL of ticks.  Even during my late season recon (July) I picked four ticks off my legs after crossing through this area.  

In sum, the link between the Minuteman and Landlocked is mostly wild dirt track with a short section on a busy (but very wide) street. Even with the ticks, and rough trail behind BSC, it beats an anger management session on 128.


  1. This could be a really nice way of accessing a really fun place to ride if that spot from the Boston Sports Club to the Paint Mine Area was more traveled... I hate that section. A few times last year I just hopped off the Minuteman much earlier on Revere St. and made a right. I took that to the end and made a left on Hancock St., then the first exit in the rotary (a right, but not a sharp right) onto Burlington St., and finally a left on Grove St. to just passed the Estabrook Elementary School, there's an entrance into the woods that gets you right into the Paint Mine Area. More road, but probably gets you to the only pleasant riding more quickly.

  2. Maybe we're approaching this all wrong. I'm going to start telling everyone I know that you have to park at the Boston Sports Club lot in order to properly access Burlington LLF. Pretty soon there should be some singletrack. In all seriousness, who do we harass to allow us to do trail work on that section?

  3. Thanks for this post! How far would you say (in miles) is it from Hartwell Ave to the beginning of the singletrack at LLF? Trying to get an idea of time/day light hours needed to make it there and back before dark. I'm coming from Davis Sq.

  4. It isn't that far. It is pretty much a straight shot along the power lines behind Boston Sports Club. I would put it at 1.5 to 2 miles from the intersection of Hartwell and the Minuteman to the parking lot at the LLF. I haven't been on that route yet this year so not sure of how much water/undergrowth is there to slow you down right now.

  5. Stumbled on this after my ride this morning- ended up turning around behind the BSC, couldn't really find a clear path through. Glad to know that my idea wasn't crazy though! Do you know if MTB is allowed under the powerlines further south? I'm coming all the way from 2A- looks like you could take trails there but not so clear

    1. Coming from 2A, if you enter that powerline corridor over by Katahdin woods there's a nice downhill section- plus you miss a giant mud pit that only dries out in late summer/fall. The Katahdin woods trails link up to the Minuteman on a trail that runs along 128 A more direct route goes through Katahdin and after crossing a parking lot,follows the doubletrack through the swamp bearing left until you dump out back on Hartwell Ave. just before the transfer station/dump.

    2. And I forgot to mention... there's a trail that will get you from the Battle Road to Wood Street. Start looking left after the powerline corridor/ large rock outcrop on 2A. There's a short but interesting section in there running along a stone wall that will eventually get you to Wood Street.