Northfield Mountain Recreation Area <4.5/5>
Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, walking, canoeing, kayaking, recreation boat rental, camping, equestrian, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, misc group activites. (Note: water activities/camping take place on a satellite station not on the main mountain grounds. Also, winter activities require trail tickets) Rose Ledge rock climbing is also located here. Areas of the mountain are OPEN to hunting in season.
Hike difficulty: Varied from novice to moderately-hard. Plan your route using topo.
Hike terrain: Widely varied. Paved route to summit available. X-country trails during summer are road-wide and well-packed dirt occupy majority of trails. Snowshoe and "foot trails only" tend to be single-track, steeper, but still well packed dirt or solid rock.
Ski difficulty: Novice to moderately hard, no expert. A few techinical sections. A training/practice area is available. Cross country skiing only.
Snowshoeing difficulty: Moderate, with a few steep climbs.
View: 3/5 stars for the summit view, 10th mountain trail, and Rose Ledges.
Ammenities: Toilets are available year round, visitor's center to warm up in, outdoor picnic tables and outdoor public fireplace are available. The visitor's center is pretty top notch for a park environment. There is water available via fountains in the visitor's center, along with a snack machine. Cubbys are available for gear stowage. They do cater to school groups. A emergency phone is located outside the visitor's center for 24/7 access. Trails remain open even when visitor's center is closed, except during ski season.
I give this mountain an almost perfect 5/5 rating because of the wide variety of activities it offers for all age and ability levels. It is not often you come across a pace that caters very well to all these different facets of outdoor adventuring while still retaining that 'warm' non-commercial feeling.
October 23, 2007 - Northfield Mountain Recreation Area
Last week I went up to the Northfield Mountain Recreation Area in Northfield, MA. I must definitely recommend this as a place to go for all ages an abilities.
Northfield Mtn is actually a hydroelectric reservoir area owned by FirstLight Power Resources. They also own several other 'satellite' facilities up and down the nearby Connecticut River, with such activities as canoeing, camping, hiking, cross country skiing, and even riverboat cruises. The main visitors center has a pavilion and auditorium, both of which may be rented if you wish. A yurt is also available. Should you be cross country skiing, there is a halfway hut known as "The Chocolate Pot" which may be open to warm your insides up with chocoloate goodies and an outdoor fire.
Access to the main mountain area was free when I attended, but there is a trail fee should you come here in the winter to snowshoe or x-country ski. Hiking is also prohibited on the xcountry ski trails during winter as well. Also of note, the 10th Mountain Division of the National Ski Patrol has a home here. For links to cross country information, including their snow-phone, go to http://www.firstlightpower.com/northfield/ccski.asp
For the hiker in you, there are approximately 26 miles of trails to be had. Lots of them are also accessable to you mountain bikers as well, so there is plenty to go around. Some of the easier trails are hard packed dirt/grass, and as wide as a standard secondary road. Off of these trails you will find several snowshoeing trails (hiking in summer) and hiking-only trails as well. There are several ways to get to the top of the mountain...for beginner to expert. Steep to shallow. Heck, you can even follow the service road, which is paved, all the way to the top if you wish.
If you would like to check out a trail map (requires PDF reader), click HERE. (I would right-click link and open in a new window. Also, 2.2 meg download)
The route that I took was designed to hit most of the geocaches on this mountain. Obviously I did not get to hit all the trails, but I can describe the ones that I did take. Also of note, most of the major trail intersections are numbers uniquely on the map which match up with post-signs with the same numbers on the trail. This makes navigating for the novice very easy. All trails are VERY well labeled and blazed as well.
Starting at the visitors center, you are greeted with several different ways to go, but I chose to work the Jug-end xcountry trail first. This is a novice to more-difficult cross country trail, but an easy hike. From here, I followed a trail named "10th Mountain Division" Basically it follows the power lines in a North-South direction. There are some moderate to gently rolling hills along this trail, and the view is great in my opinion. 10th mountain has about 800 feet of total vertical climb.
After going and coming back on the 10th mountain trail, I decided to check out "Rose Ledge" trail. After the fact I found out that the Rose Ledges are a huge area rock-climbing attraction, which would explain all the geocaching-muggles around that made my geocaching adventure difficult. The Rose Ledges trail is moderate, and you are rewarded with an absolutely spectacular view of huge rock cliffs. Keep the reigns on the little ones! Rose Ledge trail will add some nice vertical to your journey.
Although I personally did not go an join the climbers, I beleive that you must take the Lower Rose Ledge trail to get to the climbing location. I could hear and see the climbers within about 150 feet of me, but couldn't quite see them, which would put them on the lower ledge trail.
If you reference the map, I continued up the Rose Ledge trail to intersection 33 and 29, steadily heading east until I got to the Northfield Mountain Summit overlook. 1100.49 feet elevation! My GPS was pretty darn spot on, telling me I was at 1095 feet ASL. This is averaged based on barometric pressure and GPS sat readings. (I calibrate the baro every once in a while).
After a short lunch, I checked out the view. You can actually see Haystack, Mt. Snow, the Mt. Hermon school campus, Hermit Mountain, and Pisgah Mountain from here. There are picnic tables here as you look out over the reservoir and rolling hills of the Green Mountains and beyond. Of note is that you do not hear any of the hydro generators or other mechanical do-dads up here. Everything, including the draw-down into the hydro unit, is underground!
I took several trails back, doubling back a few times to make sure I got all the geocaches I came up here to do. Of interest I came across an abandonded rock quarry, which has signage and a brief history plaque to let you know what it was used for. Also, I came across the "Chocolate Pot" which apparently is a warming spot halfway up the mountain for the cross country types. It looks like they have an outdoor fireplace here along with the ability to serve hot chocolate. In summer, it is closed. On a side note, if you are doing the geocache here "Behind the Chocolate Pot," don't overthink it too much...your GPS will wig on the signal, so just look in the most obvious place. You can't miss it. Well, I did for about 20 mintues until I literally sat down next to it...
On my next trip up here, I plan to check out more of the North side of the mountain, as I did not hit a lot of the trails up here.