Massachusetts' Monroe State Forest

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

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.

Contact Information:

Monroe State Forest

Box 7

Charlemont, MA 01339

413/339-5504

You can also reach the Mohawk State Forest at the same address.

Location:

The forest is located in northwest Massachusetts, bordering on Vermont, 40 miles northwest of Northampton and 55 miles northwest of Springfield. North Adams is the closest town at 10 to 15 miles.

Getting There:

From Boston, Massachusetts, take MA 2 west past the town of Charlemont. Turn right just before the highway crosses a bridge over the Deerfield River onto a road marked with a sign for "Rowe-Monroe." Bear left at a fork 2.3 miles from MA 2 and go 8 miles to the trailhead.

Seasonal Information:

Summer temperatures are mild with daytime highs of 75 to 85 degrees F. In winter, temperatures may dip as low as 10 degrees below zero. Snowfall varies.

Wildlife:

Red squirrels, bears, deer, moose, foxes, raccoons, porcupines, hawks, vultures, and rabbits call the forest home.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Furrowed trunks of massive white ash tower over a switchback in the trail leading to a 1,500-foot climb to the summit of Spruce Mountain. These trees are just a few of many such giants protected in these 4,321 acres. Some pines in this forest top 140 feet, though these giants are old-field trees rather than relics of the virgin forest. Leaves flame in maple red, ash yellow, beech brown, and birch gold.

Facilities:

Camping is confined to three designated primitive campsites near the Smith Hollow, Dunbar Brook, and Ridge shelters.

Parking:

There is parking available off Raycroft Road near the Dunbar Brook Trail in the north, near Hunt Hill in the south, and off on River Road near the Dunbar Brook Trail in the east.

Permits:

No permits are required, but backcountry campers have the option of checking in and out at the Mohawk Trail State Forest campground on MA 2. This procedure is simply a safety precaution.

Policies:

Campfires are permitted, but use only downed wood, make small fires, and scatter your ashes. If it's a dry summer you must use a stove.

Hazards:

Be aware that Monroe is a large wilderness area.

Leave No Trace:

Stick to established trails and don't take shortcuts to avoid switchbacks.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to state forest headquarters for a trail map showing 100-foot contours and backcountry campsites. The USGS "Rowe, Massachusetts-Vermont" 7.5-minute topo includes all but the westernmost portion of the area, which falls on the "North Adams, Massachusetts" quad.

Other Trip Options:

  • Within a 15-mile radius of Monroe lies a total of almost 30,000 acres of sylvan backcountry laced with hiking trails in the Savoy Mountain, Mohawk Trail, and Dubuque state forests.
  • Green Mountain State Forest is just across the Vermont border.