Buffumville Lake – Charlton

We keep finding new places to go on our weekend hikes; today we decided to explore a US Army Corps of Engineers property I’ve driven by a few times called Buffumville Lake.

The lake there is part of a flood control dam project, and the area is named after a mill owner named Buffum from the 19th century.  After checking the trail map and based on the time we had, we decided to take the South Loop, which goes around the southern area of the lake, closely paralleling the lake shore.  The map listed it as 4 miles, but our GPS readings came in at 5.  We also learned from Facebook that the lake was currently a few feet low in an attempt to kill off some invasive aquatic plants.

The trail starts close to the lake, and is narrow and windy.  It hugs the shoreline from a few feet up, and there were plenty of times where we felt like if we slipped on the leaves or pine needles we would end up in the water.  Still, the lake is visible almost the entire time you’re hiking, which is quite a treat compared to some area trails.


For a short while, the trail winds near the dam through the disc golf course.  Here the trail is wide and easy-going, well-traveled by disc golfers and dog-walkers.




It was not long, though, until the rough and winding path returned.  The lake was always visible, and the trail often passed over small streams which fed the lake.  On most of those, small bridges had been built, though in a couple spots we hopped across on stones.


At one spot on the trail, someone had stacked up some fallen trees into a shelter.  It was worth a picture….018

All along the eastern edge of the long lake, the trail climbed up and down small hills and hugged the shoreline.  It made for frequent pauses to admire the scenery, even if the water was surprisingly low.  We were impressed by the amount of ice starting to encroach onto the surface from the edges.  When the wind died down, we could hear the ice forming, cracking as it moved, sending haunting low echoes all around.  It was fascinating.022

The trail continued past the edge of the lake into the system of streams which fed it.  Here we walked along the largest stream for some time, listening to it moving energetically over and under fallen trees.032

Soon after we began to wonder just how far south the trail was going to go, we came to a bridge and crossed the stream, and the trail began looping back north on the opposite side.  037

It was a completely different trail on the west side of the lake.  Here we were dozens of feet back from the shore, sometimes a hundred feet or more.  Instead of closely paralleling the shoreline’s many nooks and inlets, we moved more or less straight north.  We did have to climb many small hills, though, giving our legs a surprising workout.  At one point the trail bordered a quarry; I climbed up the separating berm to get a quick snapshot.


We picked up the pace on this side of the lake; we were behind schedule (remember, the map said four miles, not five!) and while we were sure we wouldn’t be late to get Evie from gymnastics, we didn’t want to dally either.  A few spots were worth pausing to take pictures though, including one area where the trail wound through a much younger area of forest with tons of small saplings all around.


The last surprise of the trail was that it exited on Oxford Road; we had to parallel the street back towards the parking area to loop back.  We could, of course, have continued north on the north loop but we didn’t have time for another 3 miles today….


It was a mostly-easy hike, with no real strenuous climbs or rocky sections.  But there were many spots east of the lake which were borderline treacherous, and I would not recommend trying to tackle that side of the trail in the winter.  I am sure the lake is much prettier in the spring and summer, but even in this weather a good chunk of the southern area of the trail was muddy; I imagine in the spring it’s a real challenge to navigate the mud (and dodge the no-doubt-plentiful mosquitoes).

We plan to return for the northern loop at some point.  We’re definitely fortunate to find ourselves surrounded by so many areas worth exploring within 30 to 45 minutes drive!

(Solo) Miller Forest Tract – Monson

This past Saturday, Jess was out of town with her mother, so it fell to me to take Evie to gymnastics and then fill a few hours on my own.  I made two important choices: I was going to pick up some beer, and get a hike in.

After packing a lunch, I first dropped off some growlers at Tree House Brewing in Monson.  Tree House is a world-class brewery which I’ve been following since they first opened in a barn in Brimfield in 2011 (they were brewing a test batch when the famous tornado struck; you can read about it here).  They’ve gone from being the area’s best-kept secret to being listed as the brewers of the world’s best American IPA by Beer Advocate. If you’re at all a beer fan, it’s worth seeking them out.  It’s worth browsing their site just to see their great beer photography.

With a few hours to wait before my growlers would be full (not so secret any more!), I had plenty of time to go for a hike.  Since I was already in Monson, I decided to return to Peaked Mountain, this time visiting the nearby Miller Forest Tract instead of the primary mountain property.  I chose this property because knowing I was “on the clock” and alone, I wanted a place with clear trail markings and known terrain.  As always, the Trustees of Reservations came through.


It was a chilly day. Some light snow had fallen recently and the temps in the shade were not really getting above freezing.  It was a good chance to try out my new Merino Wool socks (they worked great, by the way).  The trail begins alongside a huge field that borders the yard of a neighboring home.


I started by heading into the woods on the Forest Loop, and then continued along the Lunden Pond Loop.  The trail starts out wide and flat, an easy and well-traveled trail.  I saw plenty of evidence of recent hikers and dog-walkers on the first part of the hike.  Where the sun cleared the trees, the snow was gone, but in areas of denser shade the snow remained.


Lunden Pond is a beautiful spot; I was wishing I had saved my picnic lunch to eat here instead of at the car.  The trail first crosses over a small “arm” of the pond.  Here, the pond was enough in the shade that ice was beginning to form (you can see it below).


The trail then continues around the pond, and I paused frequently to admire the scenery and take pictures.


Others were doing the same; I saw several families, couples, and others all enjoying the sunny crisp day.


After looping around the pond, I cut over onto a less-traveled area of the tract, the Temple Brook Loop and Ridge Trail.  Things quickly got narrower and steeper, with much less evidence of human or animal traffic, but the trails were still easily navigated and clearly marked.


The trail went through some shaded areas which still held the weekend’s earlier snow, which made for some striking contrast to the sunny open areas near the pond.


I try to remember to look up periodically, especially in the woods.  I remember reading once that happy people statistically look up more frequently than unhappy people.  Even if you can’t trick yourself into being happy by checking out the sky more often, it can’t hurt, right?


Right before climbing the ridge from which the Ridge Trail gets its name, Temple Brook Loop parallels Temple Brook for a while.  It was a lively brook, splashing over rocks.  I didn’t test my theory that the water looked pretty chilly, though.  The quiet sounds of nature were somewhat overshadowed by nearby road traffic and the sounds of a leaf blower close by, however.  It’s part of the cost of having such nicely maintained trails so close to civilization, even if it’s rural civilization.


From the brook, I followed this loop up the ridge and then back down it.  I tried to capture the steep descent along the leaf-carpeted trail down into the shaded snow-filled area in the image below.  The trail was a little sketchy in a few spots, steeper, narrow, rocky and covered with leaves.  But overall it was still well-marked and not a trouble to navigate.


After circling both the pond and the ridge, I was left with a little time to explore some connecting trails.  Back in the more frequently-passed areas of the tract, I again started meeting families.  The sun was bright and had melted all the snow in this area.  I snapped one last picture to capture the feel of the day and the property.


With the clock ticking, I wrapped up the hike after 3 miles and headed back to Tree House (no samples, just growlers please…), and then to get Evie.  I enjoyed the quiet time in the woods, as I always do, but all I could think of was heading back here with Jess so she could see some of it herself.

I guess that’s a good sign, right?

I hope to get a few more hikes like this in before the snow really begins to cover the trails….

Peaked Mountain – Monson

You cannot ask for much better fall hiking weather than we had this weekend.  Mild enough that only a few extra layers were needed, no real wind to speak of, and a clear blue sky letting ample sun through to warm the air just enough.  There are two sides of November, and I love them both — this was without a doubt the “beautiful sunny late fall” side.

Last weekend while at Rock House, we picked up a trail map for Peaked Mountain in Monson.  It’s a bit of a drive (40+ minutes), but we knew we’d have enough time for a couple hours there if we packed a lunch.  With the weather so nice, we decided to give it a shot.

We went from Brookfield, into Brimfield, across Route 20 and on back roads through Wales and Monson.  It’s hilly rural country that was a joy to drive through (though the scars of the 2011 tornado still mar the landscape).  We suffered some minor GPS shenanigans (“You have arrived at your destination” indeed), but soon found ourselves at the parking area shared with a half-dozen other vehicles.  We took a look at the trail map and decided to take the most direct route to the summit and have lunch there before exploring the rest of the property.


We followed Roslyn’s Turnpike directly up, a steady but not-too-steep ascent up a wide rocky path that could have handled a small 4WD vehicle (some of these trails are old fire roads, and are named after the people who helped preserve this property after a forest fire).



The forest along this part of the mountain was widely spaced hardwoods with occasional boulders.  The walk was not technical or challenging, just a steady climb. We paused by a small pond to take some pictures.


After the long straight portion of the trail, it meets with a loop that tours the summit and hits some beautiful vistas.  We headed that way next and the trail got narrower but more level as it looped.  Then the trail headed up some rocks to a scenic overlook facing southwest. It was breathtaking and calm; the mountain is not that high but because it’s so alone it feels like you’re on top of the world.


We continued the summit loop as the terrain changed and we found more underbrush and thicker trees.  The trail got a bit more steep in spots too, requiring a little bit of climbing but nothing as severe as on Wachusett.


We eventually found ourselves approaching the summit, and the trail got a bit steeper and rockier for the most challenging uphill portion of the hike.


Finally, we ended up at another vista, this one facing east.  There, we stopped for lunch and talked about how wild the land still looked, even though we could see several houses.  It must have been an amazing thing to come to the New World from (relatively) crowded Europe.  Every time I look out on these kind of views I think back on the first interactions between the settlers and the indigenous Americans, and how things changed over time.


With lunch done and plenty of time remaining, we decided to walk around the summit a bit and enjoy the different views.  Others were here too, in small groups, doing the same thing we were.  There was something new to me here, as well — a trail registry.  In a metal mailbox in a clearing at the summit were two journals, one full, and one just beginning.  We stayed for a few minutes and read what people had said before us — one told a story of a young Halloween party-goer who walked off a night of excessive drinking here, while another older hand wrote of missing a long-loved and recently passed dog.

It reminded me of a bed and breakfast’s guest book, and I penned a few words there about the beautiful day, the quiet peace, and the majestic views.

From the top we took the long route down, following red blazes along an easy slow descent until we met the orange trail, which we followed long looping descent which started out fairly steep.  The descent was actually much harder on the legs than the ascent was; slippery leaves made for slow going, and halfway down a mild but stubborn pain developed in my knee.  I slowed my pace and tried to angle my steps; it never got any worse, but I was thrilled when our looping trail took us uphill again.


Soon, the orange trail reconnected with the red trail, which we followed briefly until we passed the pond we stopped at earlier.  There, we explored a side trail blazed in yellow.  We paused to admire the brilliantly blue sky and the occasional bursts of post-peak color on some of the trees stubbornly holding onto their leaves.



Before we knew it, we were back at the car, with plenty of time to spare before we had to rescue Evie from gymnastics.  We drove home slowly, pausing at an apple orchard and taking side roads we hadn’t explored before.

Peaked Mountain is a beautiful treasure close to home, with unique views to reward the sometimes challenging terrain.  There are multiple geocaches here which we did not search for; maybe we’ll return with Evie to find them. There’s also another few trails a half-mile north at Miller Forest Tract; maybe we’ll explore those soon as well.  We saw some other areas that might be worth looking into soon including the Conant Brook Dam which contains trails which connect to both Brimfield and Wales.

Rock House Reservation – West Brookfield

The weather forecast today was for temperatures in the low 40s, wind, and rain.  We briefly considered staying indoors, but we knew we’d regret it.  So we added some layers and headed west on Route 9. Nearly all the way through West Brookfield, right before Ware, is the Rock House Reservation.

This property, maintained by the Trustees of Reservations, is a favorite local natural retreat.  We’ve been here a half-dozen times with our daughter, exploring and geocaching, but this time we went because we knew we could get a few miles of hiking in on familiar trails (map available here) while being sheltered from the worst of the weather by the trees.  We’d also never come without her, and wanted to enjoy the scenery of the area at our own pace.

When we arrived, the lot was empty, and we posed for a quick photo in our still-dry rain gear before heading in.


We started at the Outer Loop, through lightly wooded rolling terrain dotted with boulders.  To our left was an area of the Reservation open to hunting, but on this lousy day even the hunters were staying dry.

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We followed this loop to Balance Rock and admired the view, and then forked north under the power lines, first through an open meadow area and then up the steeper wooded Summit Trail.


The Summit Loop crests a hill and then parallels a field near a neighboring farm before heading back into the woods.


It loops back to where it begins, and we continued our hike by following the Fullam Loop to the east.


All along the hike, the mixed forest changed around us — in some areas sparse, in others thick.  Sometimes we stood exposed to the elements, others under the quiet shelter of towering pines.  Periodically we paused to admire, through gaps in the trees, the beautiful post-peak New England foliage.


As the rain picked up, we returned to the Outer Loop that we began on, and skirted around Carter Pond on the Inner Loop trail.  The trail wove around and through giant boulders, and we felt like kids, dwarfed by the size of the rocks around us.  We stopped taking pictures here, as the rain became steady and heavy.

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We covered around three miles today.  We got half-soaked (maybe three-quarters), but we were laughing and content as we climbed back into the car for the toasty drive home (where the heat was promptly turned up, and coffee and tea made).  Nothing feels quite so good as warming up after being honestly chilled and soaked doing something fun….