Tuesday, July 17, 2012

(Way) Beyond the Minuteman: Estabrook Woods (July 2012)

Somewhere between Concord and Carlisle, MA.
“You’re not lost if you’re not supposed to be anywhere”, I kept telling myself as I turned onto yet another unmarked singletrack in an unknown direction.  It was one o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday and I was wandering around Estabrook Woods somewhere near Concord, MA.   I was following my “inner compass” toward what I believed to be the ice cream stands of Carlisle, but without checking my GPS I wasn’t really sure where I might be headed.  In other words: I was having fun.

My adventures beyond the Minuteman were again bearing fruit.  The previous summer I had followed the two unpaved bike paths that extend from the end of the Minuteman Bikeway in Bedford, MA:  the Reformatory Branch Trail, which runs southwest into Concord, and the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail which runs northeast toward Carlisle.  I had even pushed beyond the ends of those trails, using short on-street sections to link to the trails around Walden Pond and extending the Narrow Gauge to the Greenough Lands and ultimately to Great Brook Farm.  However, each of these trips required that I backtrack for the majority of the route to return home.  And if there’s one thing I enjoy less than Boston road biking, it is backtracking.

A friend had linked Carlisle to Concord by following a “trail” through the Davis Corridor.  His descriptions of an overgrown, swampy, buggy, and root covered hell were not promising.  But the promise of a route linking the two ends of the off-Minuteman singletrack was too tempting.  I needed to see it for myself.

So on a hot July Thursday I set out in the late morning toward Concord to check out Estabrook Woods.  After lunch at the Trail’s End Café in Concord (excellent sandwiches), I headed for a short on-street section to what I hoped would be the start of the Estabrook singletrack.  I made my best guess as to where the trail began from GPS tracks I reviewed of some locals who had ridden the trails there.

I wandered for a short time in the Minuteman National Historic Park, until I found the unassuming entrance on a very suburban looking cul de sac.  Almost hidden, I passed the entrance once before finally noticing it, and set out on the trail.  Almost immediately, various single and doubletrack trail options paired off from the main trail to the left and right.  I cut onto the occasional trail, backtracking only slightly, but generally heading in the direction I thought might lead me to Carlisle.  I was amazed that even though I kept taking smaller and smaller trails, nothing seemed to dead-end or lead me out of the woods.  Eventually I reached a large un-paved rocky road running straight through the forest: Estabrook Road.  A view of the map reveals that this route is the most direct and fastest way through the woods to the Carlisle side.  Intent on discovering more singletrack I dove off onto another side trail.

Mink pond.  No swim for me.
Soon I skirted to the south of Mink Pond, sticking to a high berm that separates it from a smaller pond and surrounding swamplands.  Only a narrow stream cuts through this berm, allowing the wayward traveler to avoid most of the muck.

I again crossed Estabrook Road, this time heading to the northern reaches of the park where I eventually was dumped onto a set of large astroturf covered athletic fields.  I had already been biking in the park for well over an hour- taking various side trails, and this was my first “dead end”.  I finally pulled my GPS out of my bag and resolved to backtrack a short ways to a trail that seemed to send me in the right direction.  The section of singletrack that I found was some of the best I had seen all day.  It was mostly smooth with the occasional boulder placed just right for catching some air.  It also didn’t hurt that this section was mostly downhill.
Concord entrance at Red Coat Lane.

After connecting to Estabrook Road I followed it to its end, and then decided to head back and try to get into the Davis Corridor to explore the trails there.  So I backtracked again a short ways on the rocky road until I came to some singletrack headed southeast (and down).  This eventually led me to a set of marked trails which I followed toward Carlisle.  This area was well signed and I was given the option of heading for Bellows Hill Road or Woodbridge Road.   I chose Woodbridge as this drew me closer to the Davis Corridor.

Eventually I emerged from the woods and pulled out on Woodbridge Road.  I could have gone back to search harder for a passage into the Davis Corridor, but the closer I came, the more the surroundings resembled the swampy hell my friend had described.  So I continued toward Carlisle, and after a short ride on some very quiet roads I came upon the main route through town.  I crossed Route 225, and reencountered singletrack behind the Kimball Farm ice cream stand.  After one more short on street section I emerged onto the very familiar Tophet Loop at Great Brook Farm.  I claimed my frozen reward at the ice cream stand, mediated with some very lazy goats, and re-energized for my continued journey around Metrowest Boston.

From Great Brook Farm, a lengthy on-road section led me to the Greenough Land.  There I battled my least favorite segment of root filled singletrack and eventually crossed the Sudbury river to the far reaches of the Narrow Gauge rail trail. 

As I pedaled home on the Narrow Gauge, and eventually the Minuteman, my head was already racing with plans to return and explore the many unknown sections of singletrack at Estabrook. 

A nice part of the Greenough Land.
And as with any adventure, the mystery of “what’s there” was resolved just as new mysteries and dreams of new adventure emerged.

Suddenly a singletrack route to Acton seems possible.  If only there were more Thursday afternoons with nowhere to be.


  1. Wow nice job!!! Me and my friend Joe need to join you on some of these rides. We managed to put together a ride from Great Brook through Russell Mill, to Billerica, to Land Locked. If we could link all of this together that would make for one amazing ride! I'm on AlpineZone Prophet0426

  2. I'm definitely interested in finding a route from GBF to Land Locked using bike paths but avoiding the Minuteman. I'll send you a PM. Thanks for the comment!

  3. The trail head at Red Coat Lane is now closed with a chain and marked private as is the opposite end in Estabrook Woods.