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Monday, August 10, 2015

Monroe State Forest(Northern Berkshires)

Visited remote Monroe State Forest in the quiet northwest corner of the Berkshires near the Vermont state line this afternoon.  This forest is very wild and rugged covering over 4000 acres and has multiple rough woods roads as well as several maintained hiking trails.
My first stop was to a little known vista known as Raycroft Lookout near Hunts Hill.  It can be a bit tricky accessing this spot though because the roads may not be marked and can be in rough condition.  From Route 2 in the town of Florida, turn north onto Whitcomb Hill Road before turning left onto Monroe Road at the first junction.  Follow Monroe Road(it will eventually turn into gravel Raycroft Road) to the last house just before a small bridge crossing. I have a low clearance vehicle so parked my car at the bridge where the road climbs through a rutted, rocky area. 
 After about .4 of a mile on the dirt road, I arrived at a trail junction where bearing right leads you to Raycroft Lookout.
 A crossing under power line provides substantial views.
 Wildflowers blowing in the wind.
 Just after the power line crossing the woods road peters out to a foot trail and soon drops steeply off Hunts Hill towards the lookout.
After about .8 of a mile, I arrived at the CCC-built Raycroft Lookout.  This spot provides phenomenal views to the east.
Upper Reservoir Bear Swamp.
 The Deerfield River widens near the Bear Swamp Power Plant just below this vantage point. 
Awesome panoramic views to the east.  The slopes below this lookout drop nearly 1100 feet in about a half mile.
Returned .8 of a mile back to the car for 1.6 miles RT.  
My next stop was at the Dunbar Brook Trail along River Road.  A small parking lot is found on the west side of the road at the Monroe-Florida town line.  The actual trail starts by climbing up the small hill behind the kiosk pictured below before entering the woods.  A right brings you steeply down wooden steps to the Dunbar Brook Dam which is off limits and fenced in.
 The trail winds through an old growth eastern hemlock forest and is marked with blue paint markers.
 The trail climbs down toward the brook, which is found only feet away down a steep slope.
 Trees reach for the sky on the steep steep slopes above the trail.
 The pristine waters of Dunbar Brook make a perfect trail companion.
 A footbridge used to cross the brook, but has unfortunately been washed away.  The water was pretty low however, so rock hopping was pretty easy today.
 The trail continues through the deep woods before a small footbridge crosses Haley Brook, a tributary of Dunbar Brook.
 After 1.2 miles and just past Haley Brook is a lean to and fire pit.  This made the perfect spot to stop and relax, enjoying a true sense of nature, miles away from civilization.
After lingering at the lean to for about 20 minutes, soaking in the soft summer breeze, I headed back, retracing my steps along the brook.    Total mileage 2.4 miles RT and 4 miles for the day.

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