Labor Day is past — thank goodness! The noise and craziness of the traffic made me want to hide out. I wanted to go where I wouldn’t see tons of people and hear loud motorcycles.
Unfortunately, I was busy with work and family activities, so I didn’t get out on my bicycle. If I’d had the time, there’s a place I would have escaped to — Bartlett Experimental Forest — to spin on its miles of dirt roads. Once you turn off Bear Notch Road, a quiet forest envelopes you.
As part of our retro-ventures, we sometimes drive to Bartlett Village to explore roads and trails we rode back in the ’90s. Our first stop is Bartlett Experimental Forest gravel roads. If we have time and energy after, we visit trails on the opposite side of Bear Notch Road.
However, BEF roads offer 12 miles of riding, with steady climbing. Most of the time, that’s enough for us.
What is the Bartlett Experimental Forest (BEF)? According to the USDA Forest Service (fs.fed.us/ne/durham/4155/bartlett.htm),” Bartlett Experimental Forest is a field laboratory for research on the ecology and management of northern hardwoods and associated ecosystems.” In 1932, 3,200 acres of Bartlett forest were designated as experimental forest.
In 2010, it was expanded to 5,789 acres and now includes the upper elevations of Bartlett watersheds.
The Bartlett Experimental Forest’s maintenance and research are a partnership between White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, and NH Division of Forests and Lands, Fish and Game and N.H. Timberland Owners Association. Numerous educational institutions also participate in the research.
Where is Bartlett Experimental Forest? The BEF administrative site, including office, laboratory, conference room, bunkhouse and other quarters with facilities for up to 25 people, is located on Route 302 west of Bear Notch Road and the blinking light. After you cross the railroad tracks, look for buildings on the left.
If you’re looking for the forest trails and roads, drive up Bear Notch Road. The forest stretches out on both sides of Bear Notch. On the left, it goes all the way to Table Mountain and Bear Mountain. On the right or west side, it touches on Bartlett Haystack and then turns southeast to join Bear Notch Road near the height of land.
Just past the winter gate, look for roads coming in on the right. There are three of them in this 4 mile section all the way to the top of Bear Notch — Forest Roads B441, B443 lower, and B443 upper. There is limited parking at each access. If you start at the bottom (FR B441) and connect via FR B442 or FR B44E to FR B443, you can ride to the top and gain 900 ft. in elevation.
You can start your ride from any access road. However, I wouldn’t recommend beginning at the top. It’s fun to start with a long downhill, but you’ll pay with a very long uphill at the end when you’re tired.
Last spring, when Bear Notch Road was still closed, we came here to see if we could cycle through the snow to the top of Bear Notch using BEF roads. Parking in the snowmobile lot below the closed gate, we unloaded the bicycles. As we were getting ready, we were amused at the sight of disappointed motorcyclists turning around at the gate. Their GPS had lied to them.
With no plan, we just started riding. Turning off Bear Notch on FR (Forest Road) B441, we rode toward the water tower. Peter hadn’t been here since the area near it had been logged. He was astonished at the clearcutting. We detoured down Bartlett Ski Touring’s Trail #5 to view the rest of the cut. Though the landscape was stark, it did open up good views of Bartlett Haystacks and other mountains.
We continued to climb up FR B44C, opting not to turn left on B44E back to Bear Notch Road. Bypassing FR B441, which dead ends, we veered left on FR B442. At the junction with FR B443, we made a crucial decision. If we turned left, we could have an easy ride back to Bear Notch Road and back to the car. If we turned right, we had a long climb up to its end near the top of Bear Notch Road. That upper section is 3 miles of uphill — like climbing Bear Notch’s elevation on dirt.
Curiosity made up our minds. The upper section had been closed for over a year due to washout damage. We wanted to know if it had been fixed yet. Questioning if we could make it to the top and whether snow and or fatigue would stop us, we decided to see how far we could go.
As we cranked up the hills, we encountered recent road and bridge repairs. Massive culvert pipes, new bridges and fortified embankments had been built at two stream crossings. The streams looked small on Sunday, but obviously at flood stage, they were capable of washing the road out. New gravel covered the road bed.
After we reached the top, we turned around for a cool ride down. Back at the fork, we turned left on B442, and rode to the next junction. Turning left, we followed B441 to its end. We caught glimpses of a Bartlett Haystack in the distance. It was interesting to ride this road I skied last winter at Bear Notch Ski Touring. It has the same gradual climb and downhill cruise, but on a different surface.
Back at the junction, we turned left, heading downhill. Crossing the bridge over Albany Brook, we came to the water tower, Bartlett’s water supply. Staying on the main road, B441, we reached Bear Notch Road near the gate in less than a mile.
With all our out-and-backs, we logged almost 12 miles. The woods were quiet and full of interesting and varied old trees, the road surface well-packed. Though we were on mountain bikes, this would make a fine gravel road ride, if you don’t mind a little climbing.
The advantage of this road system is the different options you have for routes, starting places, and combinations. You can start at the bottom, middle, or top. You can ride all dirt, or combine the dirt roads with Bear Notch Road. If you’re using a mountain bike, you can combine gravel roads with single track trails on the other side to vary the routes.
Explore the Experimental Forest in Bartlett and discover its advantages for yourself. Ride away from the madding crowds!
For a map of Bartlett Experimental Forest Roads and trails, go to: topozone.com/new-hampshire/carroll-nh/park/bartlett-experimental-forest.