With the snow in the northern mountains disappearing into slush, I headed south and west to find dry, low elevation hiking last weekend. The trails were far from dry, but they were more than adequate to test out my legs on some long backpacking in preparation for this summer’s AT hike. So on Thursday night, I drove to western Massachusetts and camped at the Falls Brook Shelter on the Tully Trail, aiming to hike the entire 22-mile loop on Friday.
The Tully Trail was almost entirely new territory for me– for about a mile and a half it coincides with the New England Trail, which I’d hiked five years ago, but that short distance was fairly uneventful, aside from stopping at the same lean-to. The rest of the trail circles around Tully Lake and a few low mountains, stopping to admire several of the Trustees Of Reservations’ fine natural areas.
The first of these, on Friday morning with ice still forming in my water bottle, was Royalston Falls, a downright scary-looking waterfall flowing down a gorge not far from the shelter. The falls are less than a mile from the northern parking area for the Tully Trail, so they seem to be a fairly popular spot to visit. But the Tully Trail is in what may be the most remote corner of Massachusetts. Look at the area on the map, and you won’t see much of anything but forest, which is just the way I like it.
The trail continued along Falls Brook through deep, dark evergreens, until coming out onto old woods roads through more remote forests. Much of the trail for the day was re-purposed woods roads, probably from pre-19th century homesteading and logging. The trail is relatively flat compared to more mountainous regions, but the trail has its own set of challenges. As I soon discovered, several areas along the trail were partially flooded, making dry hiking nearly impossible. At 9 AM, before the crust of ice had melted from many puddles, I had to wade through ankle-deep flooding near a beaver bog. I guess it’s never too early in the season to hike with wet feet.
The next Reservation in the Trustees’ Easter basket was Jacob’s Hill, with two viewpoints across the Tully River valley, and another tall waterfall. By this point I’d hiked more than ten miles and seen not a soul, though the views from Jacob’s Hill and The Ledges looked out over miles of forest and wetland. Aside from the dam on Tully Lake, and a bench at The Ledges, there were no signs of humanity at all. This kind of wilderness isn’t something I usually imagine in Massachusetts, but if you search hard enough, you can find it.
More woods roads eventually brought me to Tully Lake Campground, and around the lake itself. I ran into my first people of the day there, a few of the campground staff working on getting the area ready for summer crowds. The lake is surrounded by recreational opportunities, with the campground, a picnic area, and boat launches, but on a weekday before the full season begins, it was a quiet as could be. I chatted for a bit with some of the campground staff before moving along the lakeside, imagining an easy part of the walk.
Instead, I found that much of the lake had flooded, submerging large sections of the trail around it to near waist-depth. As my feet were just beginning to dry, I opted not to wade. Instead I had to bushwhack, road walk, and rock hop around some flooded areas. So much for easy walking.
The last big scenery for the day came atop Tully Mountain, with a small cliff overlooking the valley below. I couldn’t quite pick out Jacob’s Hill, where I’d been earlier in the morning, but it was definitely out there. Tully Lake was easier to see, as was Monadnock, striking an imposing figure on the northern horizon. When viewed from any of the low mountains in the region, Monadnock is absolutely awe-inspiring. These mountains have a pastoral charm to them, but the rocky top standing above southwestern New Hampshire is every bit as rugged as the high peaks of the north.
The last ten miles of the day were quiet and uneventful, with more walks along old woods roads, gushing brooks, and forested hills. Part of this hike was meant as a wake-up call for my body as I prepare for a much longer hike in May and June. According to my GPS, the day’s tally was just over 28 miles after taking side trails and backtracking into account. I felt surprisingly good after that mileage, the longest day I’d hiked since early last summer, but I promptly fell asleep at 8 PM back at the lean-to. There were a few other people there that night, but I was out cold.
For most people, I’d recommend doing the trip in two halves, starting from Tully Lake Campground, hiking to the Falls Brook shelter on the first day, then back to the campground on the second day, since the shelter and campsite almost perfectly split the trip into two halves.