Section Hiking the Bay Circuit Trail

Bay Circuit Trail Map
Bay Circuit Trail Map

I didn’t plan to start section hiking the Bay Circuit Trail this winter, a 230-mile trail that loops around the Boston metropolitan area. But the prospect of hiking a long-distance trail that’s close to my home has proven irresistible and I’ve returned a half-dozen times to hike different sections over the past two weeks.

Boardwalk through Wetland in Mary French Reservation
Boardwalk through Wetland in Mary French Reservation

I’m still not certain exactly why I’m so taken with this trail. It’s still under development. The blazing is inconsistent, which can make the trail frustrating to follow. The maps aren’t any good for navigation and a lot of the walking so far has been on carriageways and forest roads instead of hiking trails. Camping isn’t permitted along the trail with a few exceptions, and most of my hikes have to be out and backs, which means I’m hiking the trail twice, not just once!

The winter has been quite cold but I have yet to encounter much snow.
The winter has been quite cold but I have yet to encounter much snow.

Still, the Bay Circuit Trail runs through a part of Massachusetts I’m not familiar with and it’s been interesting to learn about all the towns and trail organizations that have banded together to support it. The trail connects many state parks, conservation areas, and historic areas (which have their own trail system and are worth coming back to explore), much like an emerald necklace threaded with many jewels. While the route isn’t remote backcountry, the land it passes through is quite beautiful with forest, grassland, and wetlands.

Bradley Palmer State Forest
Bradley Palmer State Forest

While the hiking isn’t particularly challenging and there aren’t many steep hills to climb, it’s proven exhilarating to be able to take a six-hour walk, three or four times per week, in the winter sunshine and the cold. Despite the sometimes frigid weather, I’ve glad to get out of the house and spend the days outside, even if it means that I can’t camp out every night and have to drive home afterward.

Bay Circuit Trail Logo
Bay Circuit Trail Logo

The Bay Circuit Trail is broken into 14 sections along its length. While the length of each section varies, I’ve been hiking 10-14 miles per day (slightly more than 2 miles per hour) because there’s so little daylight during this part of winter. At this rate, I expect it will take me about 40-50 day hikes to finish the trail, or close to 450 miles of hiking to complete all of my hikes as out and backs.

Bridge turned beaver damn awash with icy cold runoff. I slipped off and fell in up to my knee on very cold day.
Bridge turned beaver dam awash with icy cold runoff. I slipped off and fell in up to my knee on a very cold day.

As a section hiker, I’ve had the luxury of not starting the trail its northern or southern terminus. Instead, I finished Section 3 first, and expect to finish Section 2 on my next day trip. I’ll finish hiking Section 1 after that and then resume hiking Section 4, heading south from there.

Steeple Chase Jumps in horse country
Steeplechase jumps in horse country

While it depends on the section, I’ve found that the blazing favors a north to south walk rather than the opposite direction. The trail description published by the Bay Circuit Alliance is also exclusively north to south and nearly impossible to read backward, so I’m going to make my life easier and hike in the ‘right’ direction. I’m sure a proper data book will be available someday, but I don’t have time to wait for it, or the patience to write it myself.

Roundtop Hill. The site of a army training encampment first used in the Revolutionary War.
Roundtop Hill. The site of an army training encampment first used in the Revolutionary War.

While I’m not entirely sure I’ll finish hiking the Bay Circuit Trail this winter before I head down to hike a big section of the Appalachian Trail in the spring, I do plan on publishing my trip reports as I finish sections of my Bay Circuit Trail adventure. There’s more to this trail than first meets the eye, and I plan to walk every foot (twice)!

For more information about the Bay Circuit Trail visit http://baycircuit.org.

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