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Willowdale State Forest

Northeast Region, Massachusetts

Directions & description
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Location: Ipswich, Essex County, MA

Length/Configuration: 40 miles. Design your own loop or out-and-back mountain bike ride using network of unpaved forest roads and multi-use trails. Additional miles of mountain biking at Bradley Palmer State Park.

Terrain/Surface: From dirt and gravel forest roads to more rugged and eroded singletrack trails.

Technical Difficulty: Easy to moderate on Bay Circuit Trail and dirt roads. Possibly moderate to advanced on some sections of singletrack.

Elevation Change: Gently rolling hills.

Trail Use: mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing

Caution: Shared use. Avoid riding when wet. There are no developed recreational facilities in the Forest. Take appropriate precautions for the presence of deer ticks.  




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Note: The free trail maps on this website have been simplified to provide an overview with approximate locations of trails and special features. Read Full Disclaimer.


Willowdale State Forest is located in northeastern Massachusetts. From the south, take Rte.1 north to Topsfield. Turn right on Ipswich Road and follow signs to parking.


General Description:

Among the best places to mountain bike is Willowdale State Forest, located just an hour northeast of Boston. It's considered to have the best "wilderness" trail network in the entire area. The 40 miles of well-maintained trails take the rider through various natural habitats, offering both outstanding scenery and the possibility of sighting wildlife. Because Willowdale is lesser known and underappreciated, even summer weekends are uncrowded.

Willowdale is actually two sections. The Pine Swamp Area and Hood Pond Area exists as two separate parcels divided by Route 1. It lies adjacent to Bradley Palmer State Parkand the Ipswich River on the southeasetern side. The land was “Given to the people of Massachusetts as a place to enjoy the peace and beauty of river, woods, fields and hills” – Bradley Palmer, original owner. The forested glacial hills of the Pine Swamp Area make an excellent habitat for whitetail deer (beware of ticks!). Other mammals seen here are opossum, fishers and coyotes. The marshes and swamps are prime habitat for waterfowl, hawks and barred owls. The land here was formed by the Wisconsin Glacier 10-12,000 years ago. Sections of the Bay Circuit Trail within the Forest follow a series of eskers formed by the melting glacier.


The Trails:

Mountain bikers favor the Pine Swamp section of Willowdale State Forest. It is larger and offers more trail variety than the Hood Pond Area (west). In both sections, the trails are marked with frequent numbered posts. Get the best of both worlds and bike the entire area, crossing Rt. 1 into the Hood Pond section.  There is a nice foot bridge crossing the Ipswich River near Topsfield-Ipswich Rd. that connects the Pine Swamp section with Bradley Palmer State Park, which also has some excellent trails for mountain biking.  Bradley Palmer is also only a short distance from Appleton Farms Grass Rides, another area open to mountain biking with very nice old carriage roads through old forests.   Combined, one can spend many hours biking in this area.

For a Bradley Palmer/Willowdale ride, follow the signs from Rt. 1 in Topsfield to the main parking lot for Bradley Palmer, and accessing all routes from there.  There is no separate parking lot for Willowdale. 

in both areas of Willowdale State Forest, the trails range from easy, wide dirt and gravel roads to a maze of singletrack. Much of the singletrack is not technical. A few challenging sections include short rocky descents and the occassional log. Intersections are marked with numbered posts that correspond to points on the DCR forest map, making navigation fairly easy. These trails tend to be wet and muddy during the early spring or after periods of rain. Avoid riding at these times. 

Bay Circuit Trail: The Bay Circuit Trail traverses gently rolling uplands through Willowdale’s Pine Swamp Section to Route 1 at West Street. It then crosses Route 1 and continues through the Hood Pond Section. It is open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. The trail features a 160 foot boardwalk that connects  the east and west portions of the 2,400-acre Willowdale State Forest and offers fantastic views across the marsh.

The goal of the Bay Circuit Trail Alliance is to establish a trail through conserved greenspace for non-motorized recreation, from Newbury to Duxbury (180 miles). The effort to save open space and establish trails is an ongoing process.

The trail is marked with white rectangular blazes. Intersection numbers 1-12 on the official map available at the park, mark the Bay Circuit Trail.

In the winter, cross-country skiing is a popular activity on the trails. During spring or summer, try canoeing or kayaking on the beautiful Ipswich River for an adventure filled weekend. In the fall, the foliage in this Massachusetts wilderness is beautiful.



Historical Note:

Willowdale State Forest and Bradley Palmer State Park were once part of the private estate of Bradley Palmer, a wealthy lawyer and industrialist who lived during the first part of the 20th century.


For more information:

Willowdale State Forest
Linebrook Rd.
Ipswich, Massachussetts

Phone: (978) 887-5931
Website: Willowdale State Forest



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