Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Daniels Road State Forest: Rock and Roll (July 2014)

If you're a beginner you may just want to wrap yourself in bubble wrap before leaving the parking lot.
There are some places that you go riding to unplug, relax, and let the flow lull you into a restorative trance.  And then there are the places where you make sure your life insurance premium is paid before you throw a leg over the top tube.

I used to think that Lynn Woods in Lynn, MA was as rough as it gets.  The rock gardens of Millstone near Barre, VT also left a marked impression.  But, there is a dark horse challenger for the gnar capital of the Northeast.  And fittingly, it is located just outside Saratoga, in the Capitol District of New York.

Daniels Road State Forest is a tech filled playground of exposed rock and roots.  I was travelling through the area when I stopped there on a recommendation from a Twitter friend and fellow blogger, Matt.  Luckily I had brought my long travel bike (Giant Trance 29er), which was the right tool for the occasion.  Bring a hardtail here and your ass will pay the price. 

The entrance was innocent enough, as I pedaled slowly up some the Carriage Trail doubletrack toward the bulk of the network.  It wasn't long before I was onto the singletrack and into the thick of it.  Looking at the map, my route took me loosely along Putnam Dam Trail, Backstretch, the Rookery, Main Trail and Ridgeline. 

On second thought, better add a second layer of bubble wrap.
Where the trails aren't running along exposed bedrock, they are criss-crossed with slick roots and blowdowns. The trails don't show much mercy for the timid or the weak.  Speed and power are the keys to success as you roll across gaps in the rock, or try to lunge up exposed climbs with no room to drop a foot if you fall short.

I took my lumps, flailing my rear wheel on a few rooty sections and eating the handlebars a couple times when I failed to get the front wheel over an obstacle.

The most enjoyable section of trail came as I rolled along the edges of a large pond/swamp.  The trail became relatively smooth and I was able to relax and feel the flow.  The respite was short lived, though, as I was thrust back onto the root and rock littered singletrack.

At the end of the afternoon, I rolled back to my car with a smile, and a new appreciation for my friends from the Capitol District.

So the next time you're rolling through the Saratoga area and have a few hours to kill, stop by the Daniels Road trails and get your gnar fix.  But bring your big boy (or girl) pants and a can-do attitude.

I'm going to stop and admire this rare section of smooth singletrack.

So this place got me thinking.  What would I rate as the gnarliest trails that I've ridden in the Northeast?  Without further ado, here's my top ten:

10. Michaux State Forest, PA
9.  Mt. Ascutney, Brownsville, VT.
8. Borderlands, Easton, MA
7. Fort Rock, Exeter, NH
6. Vietnam Trails, MA
5. Leominster State Forest, MA
4. Needham Town Forest, MA
3. Millstone, Barre, VT
2. Daniels Road, Saratoga, NY
1. Lynn Woods, Lynn, MA

What's on your gnarliest list?


  1. Thank you for riding our trails. I own a Trek X-caliber 7 and did get my rear kicked the first time I went here. You deff nedd to come here more than once in order to get a proper "feel". We are always clearing debris and making more trails, so you will find different things if you came back then when you went. Please visit again :)

    1. I will absolutely be back. I may have gotten an a** kicking, but sometimes I enjoy that kind of thing.

  2. I just rode there on a 3 day visit to Saratoga. I agree with your assessment, even though I only scratched the surface of what is there. It is exactly like a trail system near me in Carmel NY called Ninham mountain, except the lower hudson valley is much much hillier than the Saratoga area. Relentless rocks, roots, rollers, steep technical climbs. Almost all the manmade stunts have been torn down, so the focus lately has been maximizing the natural rock features and terrain for ungodly difficult riding. 5 to 6 inches is the sweet spot there, any less and you'll take a beating, any more and you'll be pushing all the climbs.
    Other honorable and just as technical mentions are Blue mountain reservation in Peekskill NY, Sprain Ridge park in Yonkers, and Trumbull in Connecticut.

    1. Thanks for the intel on your local stuff. We admittedly don't have any reviews from that area. It may be time for a road trip down there.