Glastonbury, Connecticut: The accidental mountain bike town

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In the annals of the world's best mountain bike towns, Glastonbury, Connecticut, wouldn't make the cut. You won't even find it in a list of great places to ride in New England. That's because this suburb of Hartford isn't a mountain bike town—at least on purpose. While you won't find happy mountain bikers gracing the cover of the town's tourism brochure (or even a town tourism brochure), Glastonbury is quietly the center of some of the best riding in southern New England. The town is bordered by a 9,000-acre state forest to the south, a 640-acre recreation area to the north, and a 1500-acre state park to the east. While most of the riding is outside of the town's borders, many of the trailheads are in G-Bury.

Steve Dauphinais owns Bicycles East, a bike shop in downtown Glastonbury. His clientele, like most riders in Glastonbury, come almost exclusively from Central Connecticut. In other words, not a lot of people travel here just to ride bikes. But maybe they should. Here are a few places to check out.

Case Mountain:

Easily the most popular riding spot in the area, Case Mountain is 640-acre recreational area and an adjacent forest set aside by the town of Manchester’s water department. Spanning the border between Glastonbury and Manchester, Case features a stellar view of Hartford from Lookout Mountain, and the best maintained and marked trail system in the area. "Case Mountain offers a lot of variety," says Dauphinais. "It's a pretty large trail system that you can enter from a variety of places. [It's] very well-maintained, because it's getting a lot of riding and a lot of club activity." Much of the riding in Case is technical, including steep descents and rock ledges. "If you want aggressive trail riding, you've got the ability to do that," says Dauphinais. 

Meshomasic State Forest

Meshomasic-state-forest-map
The map of a roughly 10-mile ride in Meshomasic State Forest. The Nike site is just below the orange dot.

The second oldest state forest in the U.S., Meshomasic may have the best riding in the area. With 9,000 acres carved up with both sanctioned trails and unofficial singletracks that have been cut clandestinely, "Mesh," as the locals call it, offers a wide variety of options. It lacks organization and maintenance, however. "Mesh state forest is interesting because it's a state forest, and it's huge," says Dauphinais. "Riding-wise there are a lot of options there. The one challenge is the trails aren't as well marked as some other areas. If you're not riding with someone who knows the area, it's a little more complicated to navigate."

The forest has about eight miles of graded dirt road that creates a good reference for exploring the trails that criss-cross off of them. Many of the best singletracks branch out from the ruins of a Cold War-era Nike anti-aircraft missile site at the top of Del Reeves Road (behind a yellow gate). Most of these link back to either Del Reeves or Mulford Roads. With some basic advance knowledge of these roads and an iPhone, you can navigate a few loops from the Nike site and remain relatively safe from getting lost. "If you have an understanding of the main fire roads that go through there, then at least you can always get yourself back," Dauphinais says. There are also maps on bikerag.com, and Bicycles East does a weekly group ride on Sundays that often ventures into Mesh.

J.B. Williams Park

JB-Williams-Park-Ski-Lift
A singletrack runs down the remnants of an old ski area in J.B. Williams Park.

A 161-acre town park, J.B. Williams was also the site of a rope tow and ski hill in the '70s. One of the bike trails runs right through the old lift line, the remains of which are still standing, though they’ve been swallowed a bit by the woods. The riding here is much more mellow than in Mesh or Case, and the loops are shorter. It’s a great place for beginners, and more experienced area riders like J.B. Williams for night rides because the trails are smoother and less technical. "J.B. Williams Park can be a nice place to get started," says Dauphinais. "It has an outer loop that's pretty easy to do, so it gets somebody at least in the woods on a mountain bike. Then there are some trails they can go off on."

Gay City State Park                                                  

The trailhead for Gay City is actually in adjacent Hebron, but part of the state park stretches into Glastonbury. The site of an 18th century mill town, Gay City is another great beginner/intermediate riding area. The park is just over 1,500 acres, and can be linked up to the Case Mountain system. It can be a standalone ride, or a warm-up to a bigger day. "It's not quite as technical," says Dauphinais. "It's a little smaller trail system, and it's well-marked." According to local legend, the park is haunted.

Miscellaneous:

2 Hopewell is the best fine dining in town, and also has a cool downstairs tavern and patio. The Diamond is the locals' pub, and is conveniently located just down the street from Bicycles East. Robb's Farm is a homemade ice cream stand located near Meshomasic State Forest. If you stay somewhere with a kitchen, take advantage of the farm stands throughout town. There is a Homewood Suites and a Hilton Garden Inn on the north side of town, as well as a few bed and breakfasts.

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