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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Massachusetts' Monroe State Forest

Tucked away in a New England corner is an old-growth paradise.

by: Thomas Lepisto

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Little-Known Fact: Some pines in this forest are giants, topping 140 feet.

As I hike, my boots crunch leaves, releasing an earthy, autumnal fragrance. A red squirrel chatters from a perch high in the branches of a white pine.

Though there's a wealth of state forests in this area, I decide to stay within the borders of Monroe State Forest on the 9.3-mile loop trail. Ascending and descending through hardwood and pine forests, the loop is composed of three connecting trails. Two vistas along the trail give you a chance for a bird's eye view of the surrounding countryside.

I continue past the Smith Hollow Shelter, taking a half-mile side trip to Hunt Hill. From Raycroft Lookout at the top, I can see Mt. Monadnock in southern New Hampshire, and to the southwest rises the dome of Massachusetts' 3,491-foot Mt. Greylock.

Beneath me, the slope drops 1,100 feet in half a mile to Deerfield River. This rugged slope has discouraged loggers for nearly 300 years, preserving a tract of old-growth forest.

Turning back from the canyon rim I pick up the Spruce Hill Trail, which ascends at moderate grades to my destination, the 2,730-foot summit of Spruce Mountain. After a break at the top, I descend a 2-mile stretch to Dunbar Shelter, my home for the night.

Long after I've doused my evening campfire, I have trouble falling asleep. Though I'm half-awake, I feel like I'm dreaming, hearing what seems like the murmuring of voices from centuries past in the babbling of Haley Brook.

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Pete Richardson
Jun 25, 2008

I hiked up Dunbar Brook To Raycroft Lookout. About three miles one way. The hike has all the elements I like. A deep valley with a trail side of the brook and a good climb up the ridge to a beautiful overlook. Didn't even see one person.


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