Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harold Parker State Forest: Merrimack Valley Meets North Shore

A Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of Mountain Biking
The trails of the North Shore of Massachusetts have a discernible character:  rocky, technical, bold, and with lines that have a high penalty for failure.  There is no better embodiment of this style than the trails of Lynn Woods.

To the west you'll find the trails of the Merrimack Valley: Great Brook Farm, Russell Mill and Lowell/Dracut. There you'll find majestic singletrack, which incorporates the occasional boulder, rock garden, or root, on a rolling journey through loamy soils.

In between these two very different worlds sits Harold Parker.

A couple weeks ago, Justin, Andres and I woke up early on a Saturday to ride the trails at Harold Parker State Forest near Andover, MA.

Can you spot "the flow" in this picture?
We set out on a route that was very familiar to me, heading south out of the main parking area at the end of Harold Parker Road.  I had ridden this trail many times before, mostly at night, with my buddy Gered.  Unfortunately, it had been several years, and I quickly lost my way.

A swampy backdrop.
This first section, immediately after ducking off of the fire road and onto the singletrack, presents quintessential Harold Parker biking.  The trail alternates between smooth windy singletrack, interspersed with rock gardens and small boulder drops and climbs.

Eventually we decided to follow the white blazes and were led to an area out near the gun range.  The trail leading out there was fast, fun singletrack, with little in the way of technical challenge.  This brought us to some technical climbs and into an area where hike-a-bike became an necessity.  These sections were shortlived, however, and we soon found ourselves rolling along rock bedazzled trails to the furthest corner of the park.  This northern corner was new to me, and we discovered some recently built singletrack which had the definite big line feel of the North Shore trails.

Humbled, we walked several portions of this new trail, staring in disbelief at some of the seemingly impossible drops.

Eventually we found our way back to the smooth singletrack, and then back to the car.

While we didn't get a chance to ride them that day, some of my favorite trails at Harold Parker run around Salem Pond, as well as those that run out around Bear & Bracket Ponds across Jenkins Road from the parking area.

Harold Parker was just as I had remembered.  Smooth and flowy in sections with many technical challenges and opportunities to try big lines.

While Harold Parker is where I can remember having some of my nastiest crashes, it is also where I remember my first big drops, steep boulder descents and hero lines.

The mix of singletrack and technical challenge is what makes this place special.  Just remember to pack your first aid kit.

Here's a map provided by NEMBA which shows an excellent route to follow to get a taste of all Harold Parker has to offer.

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