Water at the Bottom

Mention Lake Whitehall in Hopkinton to certain people and their response is immediate: “Who’s bringing the beer?”

Back in the day, this 592-acre reservoir was the gem in the less populated Woodville section of town, therefore prime for parties and hanging out. There was never any question why it was “off limits” to me (per my parents).

But now it’s going to be tough to keep me away — for very different reasons.

The Friends of Whitehall have worked hard to establish a trail around the  perimeter of the lake, about a 6-mile loop following the inlets and promontories on the shoreline. In a word, it’s gorgeous. Last winter three of us hiked most of the trail in about two feet of snow, listening to the ice on the lake crack and expand. I hate to admit I’d never been in those areas before, through pine groves and hollows. While there are houses close to the trail in a few places, others seem as remote and quiet as the northern mountains.

just another beautiful view at Whitehall

But enough about how pretty it is there. The important part is that biking it is a BLAST. Mostly. Prerequisites include lots of carbs and good brakes because you’ll need both.

I started at the Wood Street (Route 135) boat landing parking lot and headed west, because I thought the western shore was more difficult than the eastern. More on that later. At first you go through a meadow that seems to be the backyards of several houses. Pay no attention. Shore access is public all the way around despite the presence, in places, of private canoes and kayaks near the water.

The meadow is a quick warm-up before you start hitting the hills. These hills roll on and on all the way down the western side of the lake. In some places your destination is obscured by branches or a bend in the trail, making the bottom an unknown thrill. But there’s always water there.

the bottom of the hill is often an unknown quantity...

this one was clear: a long descent and a quick decision about popping over that log

The town is definitely geologically and hydrologically gifted, having three large bodies of water (Lakes Whitehall, Maspenock, and the other reservoir, Hopkinton State Park). Yet the geology, topography and above all, accessibility at Whitehall make it my new favorite.

The trails vary from double-wide smooth beds of pine needles to skinny single track to mountain goats only. There are a few gullies to cross, some with wooden bridges. And that’s just the west side.

Around the south end of the lake there’s a town well. In here is some tough (impossible for me) vertical and some goat paths that wind so closely around trees and at such an angle that, well, it doesn’t hurt to try ’em…

the angle of the goat paths make them interesting to try

I can’t describe every part of every trail, so I’ll move on to the east side, a very different experience. I call this the east side because it’s the portion from Pond Street back north toward the Wood Street boat landing. I wasn’t ready for the level of technicality here. It was like riding in a completely different part of the state.

The west side had pine paths and whoop-de-do hills to swoop up and down. The east side has fewer hills and a LOT more rocks. The paths are narrower, and there are tons of little mud holes filled with sticky black mud. It was a tough transition to make. I spent a lot more time off my bike than on it, and the trail markers were a bit more difficult to spot. I am so glad I rode west from the parking lot than trying to tackle this first as I might have given up partway.

If I were interested in a technical trail run or moderate hike, the east side would have my vote. But like most people, I gravitate to the comfort of smooth trails and less underbrush, so the west side is far and away my favorite. In fact, I even ditched the east side about 2/3 of the way through. My legs were jelly, I was itchy from being raked by branches, and I was tired of getting on and off the bike so frequently. And the nearby road was just too tempting.

On either side, the water is always there, and it’s a little challenging to stay focused on the trails when all sorts of beautiful vistas open up as the trail winds from the tops of ridges to just feet from the water’s edge. All in all, Whitehall is an amazing biking destination. Bring lunch. Set a fishing line. And check your brakes first!

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2 Responses to “Water at the Bottom”

  1. Giulietta Says:

    Hi Alison,

    Great news! Jimmy and I have gone kayaking there. This new loop is tremendous. Thanks for letting the MetroWest world know. We can go after work. I love Ashland State Park, but I need some hoofing it diversity.

    I see you going in a whole new life/work adventure here.

    Giulietta

  2. Sibyl - alternaview Says:

    Alison: Sounds like a great adventure and a great journey. Thanks for sharing it. I felt as if I was there.

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