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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 though 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 afterwards.

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 mile 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 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
Steeple chase 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 backwards, 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 a 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 resports 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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25 comments

  1. Hey Phil, If you want to do parts one way or just want company I’d be please to join you on the Bay Circuit Trail. I’m mainly available weekends. TommyC1 at comcast.

  2. Hiking out and back is great. Remember, 50% of the best views are behind you.

    • I don’t mind it actually, I hiked the New Hampshire AT as and out and back and I’d do it again. It gives me a chance to see things I’ve missed and things I’ve seen before in different daylight.

  3. I’ve been meaning to do more of the BCT – I first ran into it mountain biking in Harold Parker State Park. That will probably be one of the nicer sections and someone has been out adding signage over the last year as well. I agree though, it is very hard to follow and the trail notes are almost comical “Come to a clearing for the powerlines and look for the old cart path on the right” etc.

  4. You’re great motivation and inspiration – each time I think “maybe they’re right, I shouldn’t go it alone” I come back here, read posts and comments and know for certain than “I can, and will”.
    Enjoy!

  5. Harold Parker State Park is only a few miles from house. I try to get out there about once a month for Mountain Biking and walks w/ my two year old. It has an interesting history and while it’s not challenging it’s a nice slice of nature in the midst of a major metropolitan area.
    I haven’t had a desire to hike the entire trail, but I’ll be curious for your feedback on it. I’ve always envisioned a series of road crossings and long stretches of street walking. Perhaps I’m wrong.

    • The Boxford section (setion 3) has a lot of asphalt road walking. It wasn’t very fun with the cold wind. It’s better in Rowley (Section 2).

    • Kevin O
      About 70 miles of the 175 miles I’ve done on BCT were pavement (road walks or rail trail). It’s not as bad as it sounds. Some of those miles are pleasant walks through quiet neighborhoods.
      Dan

  6. Steve Cockburn - Australia.

    Looking fit there Philip ! Well done .

  7. It sure is nice to have a long trail like that so close to home, it makes it so much easier to actually get out on a weekly basis and get some hiking in when you don’t have to drive 4 hours just to get to the trail head. I’m lucky enough that a good 40 mile segment of the Ice Age Trail is within a 30 minute drive from where I’m at. I literally have no excuse to not go on day hikes.

  8. Hi Philip
    The BCT is an undiscovered gem. I found most people never heard about the trail even if it passes through their town! I’ve run or section hiked about 175 miles from Plum Island to Borderland State Park. I’ve sort of put the southern section on hold since like you, I do the trail alone and got tired of the longer drives to and from the trail (I live on the North Shore). If you ever want company, I’d be very happy to join you on a Friday. I’m willing to do an out and back with you or spot cars if you want to do a longer one way hike and cover more ground. I don’t mind repeating the sections I’ve already done. I just love getting out there. Would definitely like to buddy up if possible for the final 60 miles to the southern terminus. I really want to finish the trail end to end. You can email me anytime.
    Dan

    PS I believe we live fairly close to one another.

    • Thats a great offer Dan. I’m inclined to push it off until it warms up though so we can to camp down there with special permission. I’m also going to be in NH on Fridays starting this week though March….I work a 4 day week. I’ll drop you an email.

      • There’s a campground on the trail in Hanson but I was unaware you can get permission to camp elsewhere. That’s good to know. I’m also lucky that I only work Mon-Thurs. Enjoy the Whites!

      • There’s a campground in Harold Parker too. I don’t remember how close it actually is to BCT, but it can’t be too far off the path.

  9. http://www.e-awakening.com/www.e-awakening.com/Home.html
    has been doing sections of theBay Circuit Trail & posting videos of each section for anyone interested.

  10. BCT is an excellent trail for trail running, too. And I suspect it’s nicer to hike this time of year than in the summer, when it’s really buggy.

    • It’s actually probably a betting trail running resource than a hiking or mountain biking one. You can even use the horse jumps up north as hurdles! Some really rich people on the north shore….

  11. It’s really nice to have a long-distance circuit so close to home. Sometimes untapped local gems can be appreciated more than the ones hours away.

  12. I know that exact “bridge” (beaver dam), and the horse jumps too! Beautiful country out there. I do a lot of my trail running along the BCT when I can. Enjoy your time on the trails (/roads/weird suburban pathways)!

    • It great to see how many people know the BCT.

      I actually fell off that bridge twice. A bit scary because I had wet boots, socks, and it was damn cold. Luckily I was pretty close to the end of my hike that day.

  13. Hi Phil. Can you use the Gaia app for this trail? Thank you!

  14. Looks like I made it to this post a year late! I’m looking at doing some section hiking the BCT this year, though I’m looking at doing one way trips with my wife and two cars.

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