Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lexington Singletracks (July 2012)

Not exactly a straight line.
The Minuteman Bikeway in MetroWest Boston is one of the most famous rail trails in the country.  And with good reason.  It provides a scenic and historic byway from Cambridge all the way to Bedford. Along the way it visits the town centers of Arlington and Lexington with their excellent restaurants and cultural attractions.  It is gem.  But it is also an attention whore.

On a Saturday afternoon you’ll be sharing pavement with rollerbladers, strollers, road bikers, comfort bikers, joggers, tricycles and an occasional radio flyer.  Even on weeknights it can be a busy place.  It is the antithesis of zen inducing singletrack, and is tolerated by most mountain bikers as a means to reach dirt trails without having to climb in a car.

You would think that the Minuteman was the only show in town.  You would be wrong.

Costa Rica or Lexington?
Like many suburban Boston communities, Lexington has dedicated conservation land.  But Lexington has gone beyond most with its commitment to setting aside oases of green.  If it wasn’t enough that they teamed up with Belmont and Waltham to build the Western Greenway, there are also large tracts of tree splitting singletrack north of Route 2. 

These singletrack routes are mostly abandoned in the shadow of the Minuteman.  Even Whipple Hill, with its healthy mix of techy rock gardens, smooth singletrack and convenient location (only a stone’s throw from the Minuteman) sees very little bike traffic.

Despite having lived nearby for more than six years, I only recently discovered a whole string of paths leading out to Concord from Arlington.   

My “A-ha” moment came when someone keyed me into Open Maps, a smartphone application.  This app, along with its website companion, Open Street Maps, is an open source mapping resource that shows bike paths added by other users.  While in some places this program wouldn’t be very helpful, in the Boston area there have been a lot of users who have added many of the various trails to the database. 

Tall grass.  Even the ticks go
 here to get ticks.
One visit to the site revealed a hidden network of local trails.  I quickly decided I could make it out to Concord by linking the various tracts of conservation land and hidden singletrack sandwiched between Route 2 and the Minuteman Bikeway.

I connected Sutherland Woods, West Farm and Daisy Wilson Meadow with a few relatively short on-street sections.  Sutherland had two interesting rock filled descents, while the mostly smooth West Farm trails provide a couple interesting drops.  These trails eventually led me to Dunback Meadows, which is really a large marshland that is made passable by ample crushed stone and wooden bridges.  Tall grasses surround you on all sides at the northwestern end of these trails until you emerge at a set of athletic fields. 

After a busy road crossing you’re back to the singletrack and into my favorite of the areas on this route: Hayden Woods.  There you’ll find a network of trails where you can put together several interesting loops.

At the far end, a quiet residential street leads you under Route 128 where there is a steep climb up a pine covered hill on the far side.  The path here looks more like a game trail than singletrack, and you might need to call on your Navajo tracking skills just to find your way to the other side of Cranberry Hill near the Minuteman National Historical Park

Just catching my breath.
Now the rumor is (and it is only a rumor mind you) that some unnamed person was allegedly able to link the Minuteman NHP to the Minuteman Bikeway via the Bates Road Conservation Lands and Katahdin Woods.  That person might have said something about the path being insanely overgrown and hardly worth the effort, but it is probably only a rumor given the dubious legality of the rights of way in that area. Luckily, the Minuteman NHP paths will take you to other singletrack options for looping back toward Lexington and you’ll never need to venture into that poison ivy and tick infested hell.

If you do decide to check out this inner loop, note that the paths on the map are not always correct, and no always strictly legal.  In fact, on more than one occasion I’ve arrived at a section marked on the map only to discover a fence or a sign indicating bikes aren’t allowed.  But it wouldn’t be adventure if everything went according to plan, now would it?

In any event, I found myself in Concord after traveling almost exclusively singletrack all the way from Arlington and without touching the Minuteman Bikeway. 

So don’t get seduced by the bikini clad girl doing handstands on the beach.  Her smoking hot cousin is probably sitting on her cross-country hardtail over in the trees, just waiting to show you the time of your life.


  1. Awesome. I love to dive in and find routes like this. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Excellent site! I've got a similar site for South Eastern MA.

    1. Thanks Jay. And thanks for mentioning your site, as I don't know much about the south shore trails and so it is nice to have a resource for reviews.