Monroe State Forest


The small old growth forest around the Cascades on Dunbar Brook is the real attraction. The gigantic trees, lush forest, and serene brook made this area feel beyond Massachusetts.

Day 1 - 1.2 miles - 1 hour, 9 minutes

I arrived at this hike after driving through the beautiful remote roads of Western Massachusetts and following the dramatic Deerfield River. After leaving my car I encountered an arrangement of sticks that spelled “FOLLOW THE ARROWS” with an arrow pointing up a dirt road toward some power lines. Rain had just stopped, the air was heavy, no other cars were in the parking lot, and I was beginning to feel like I was in a Stephen King novel. Nevertheless I began my journey into these old woods as another arrow pointed into the dense woods and what appeared to be Dunbar Brook Trail.

The forest was lush and the flat trail followed Dunbar Brook upstream. Moss, ferns and hobblebush lined the trail and I reached a new bridge crossing Dunbar Brook after a half hour. I took note of Smith Hollow Trail to the left, where I would come from tomorrow, and crossed the bridge.

I quickly noted the size of some trees that were exceptionally large as part of this small patch of old growth forest. A white pine on the left of the trail is especially striking as it dwarfs the surrounding trees in both diameter and height. I quickly came upon Haley Brook, rock hopped across and found Dunbar Brook Shelter. The shelter looks regularly used but I was the only inhabitant this damp evening.

After setting up my camp and hanging my food I followed a spur about a quarter mile down to the Cascades on Dunbar Brook. The forest opened up around huge boulders and a big pool below the most prominent cascade. The small falls were nothing spectacular but the gestalt of this little place gave me peace. I quickly stripped down and plunged into the inviting pool and was surprised at the depth of the water which reached over six feet.

I explored Dunbar Brook Trail a little beyond the powerline corridor in search of my favorite place in the woods, a tree fallen over the brook to sit upon. The trail stubbornly remained up above the stream until I detoured to descend steep and soft soil to reach the brook about twenty feet below. I found my log, and melodramatically watched individual leaves slowly drop to the surface as I contemplated the soon arriving autumn season.

Day 2 - 9.8 miles - 7 hours, 18 minutes

I awoke hours before sunrise after being unable to sleep and hung out in my hammock reading by headlamp anticipating daytime. Once bright enough, I carried my stove down to the cascades and enjoyed a hot oatmeal breakfast with cashew butter while listening to the babbling brook.

I embarked upon my circuit of Monroe State Forest by heading northwest on Dunbar Brook Trail. I noticed lots of old birch trees and many more giant pines. In retrospect I wish I would have explored more off trail to find bigger trees. I did find the best fallen tree over the brook that was stripped of its bark and the resulting smooth surface was a lovely place to sit and have a morning stretch.

A noteworthy theme of the day was the bug situation. I did not encounter any mosquitos during my hike and was just barely bothered by a few horseflies. However the incredible amount of spider webs hindered the enjoyment of this hike. I am accustomed to clearing out spiderwebs as the first hiker on backcountry trails, but today was exceptional in this regard. After walking through dozens of webs I focused too much attention on using a stick to clear out the mostly invisible webs before me.

When I reached the unpaved Raycroft Road, I filled my water bladder since I wouldn’t see running water for the next six miles. I followed the road south for a quarter mile before Spruce Hill Trail began. The climb to Spruce Mountain is by far the most challenging portion of the hike as it climbed a thousand feet over the three miles from Raycroft Road, but was far from strenuous. There were a couple times the path was unclear but not enough to lead me astray.

When I reached the summit a small clearing provided a southward view of the beautiful hills including a ski mountain I assume to be Berkshire East. I hoped to have a place to sit and look out, but the view was best seen by standing and obscured otherwise. I continued in hopes of finding another lookout that was marked on a map at the base of the mountain, but I tragically left wanting. I decided to descend in hopes that Raycroft Outlook would offer better scenery.

After forty minutes of running/hiking I reached Raycroft Road. I followed a sign for Raycroft Outlook down a dirt road becoming a hiking path a half mile to the old outlook. It is a stone platform that is old and a bit rundown but did provide a nice view from a similar height to the surrounding hills. Some rocks served as a nice place to sit, enjoy lunch, and enjoy the beautiful late summer day.

By this point I had not spent as much time at any of the sights as I had hoped and decided that the pace of my trip did not require the second night I planned on staying. The thought of a hot sandwich, warm shower, and soft bed combined with my dreadful night of sleep was enough to cut my trip a night short. After returning up the lookout trail I turned right onto Raycroft Road instead of Smith Hollow Trail which ran parallel. I joined Smith Hollow Trail when it turned into the woods. It became quite steep as it descended into the Dunbar Brook valley.

I followed Dunbar Brook Trail back to my shelter and packed up camp. I couldn’t pass up one more chance to plunge into the pool at the Cascades on Dunbar Brook and rid myself of the layers of spider webs. From here I returned to the trailhead the way I came on Thursday with the Number 9 sub from D’angelo’s on my mind.