Exploring Hardwood Mountain Wilderness

As with any adventure ride be sure that you or someone with you have wilderness navigation experience as well as the appropriate supplies to experience this adventure safely.
If you are unsure of the supplies to bring along on this ride, then you need to bring someone with the appropriate experience with you.

Just on the other side of Highway 232 from Groton state forest is a section of Vermont we’ve nicknamed Hardwood Mountain. So named for the peak near the top of the jeep trail/class 4 road that we often ride when the mountain bike trails are closed.

We’ve ridden many sections of this ride as parts of other rides which fed our ambitions of making a larger loop that connected all the interesting parts of those rides into one big loop.

You will find a map image with an overlay of the elevation profile at the bottom of this article. It is linked to a more detailed profile of the ride where you can also download a GPS file. Do not ride this route without a GPS and a working knowledge of wilderness navigation.

Our route map shows some of shoots where we took wrong turns or where we chose to explore a little during the ride. Our adventure that took most of the day and netted the results we were after; a 20ish mile loop of primarily car free roads and trails. We didn’t see a single car any of the sections we rode that day, including the short section of Hwy 302 we had to ride to make the connection. It was a great car free day.
Of note: This area of 302 has significant amounts of bicycle traffic and a wide shoulder, making the short 1/4 mile connection easy and safe.

The ride starts at the corner of Seyon Pond Rd. and South Branch Rd. There is no designated parking however it is common for folk to park on the side of the road. Make sure you are not impeding traffic or parking in the grass. Don’t be a weirdo, just park on the side like civilized people do and you will be fine.

Head South East on Sayon Pond Rd. to 302. It’s best to cross 302 and ride the should so you are riding with traffic.
Coming across a bicycle at 50 mph on the wrong side of the road can be a shocking surprise to drivers, don’t be that way, ride on the right side of the road.
A 1/4 mile down 302 you will see Hi Goodwin Rd. Head up this road for about .5 or .6 of a mile. This is the trickiest part, finding the old carriage road.
Facing North you will see the power lines running off to your right, the road becomes a driveway turning off to your left. Just to the left of the first power line tower through 100 to 200 feet of tall grass we just barely made out the clearing of trees that was the old carriage road. It might have been used as VAST in the Winter, most likely it was last used for logging, though it looked like that was 20 years ago at best. There is certainly some hike a bike in some short sections otherwise it’s a pretty cool and technical part of the ride. It’s on par with some of the old school black diamond trails at Millstone. At the end of the carriage rd you will come out to a clearing where logging happened a couple of years ago. With fat bikes we could have easily ridden across the brush had we known how quick and easy the connection was to an extension of Old County Rd. This part of Old County Rd is on private land, however, the landowners have left a sign on the gate for this road stating that  non motorized recreation is allowed.
I make it a point to leave a thank you note in a zip lock bag when I come across section or places that have clearly been cared for by volunteers or landowners who do exactly this sort of thing. I like to think that finding an unexpected note in such a remote place is a great way to brighten someones day.
Turn right on Old County Rd. and follow it downhill. Be careful! There are two “gates” on this decent, one is the real deal iron bar gate, the other is simply a cable strung across the road used to keep motorized traffic out. There is a sort of triangle of roads here formed by Ricker Mills Rd, Old County Rd, and 232. Turning right at Old County Rd off of Ricker Mills Rd.  and then making a right on 232 to get to the next section, the Groton Rail Trail.

You can see here we missed the turn and went back. Our goal was to make sure we road the route we were suggesting. If you miss the turn you can see it’s not a big deal, you will just make a right turn at 232 instead of left.

Follow the rail trail all the way up to Turtle Head Pond. You will pass Boulder Beach/Stillwater State Park and you will cross Hwy 232 again. Turtlehead Pond is the first major pond you come to after passing Laneboro Rd and the entrance to the Marshfield Ledge. We’re looking for a road Sometimes called Bailey Pond Rd. and sometimes Jerusalem Rd. We call this section Jerusalm Rd. as this is the label for the part of the road that we were looking for. It is at a crossroads at the North East end of Turtlehead Pond. It will be obvious from the very large boulders stacked on the road blocking motorized traffic from entering. It’s steep climb at the start and then relaxes a bit. The next section will require some serious attention to your GPS or map. If you are navigating this ride by map you should be an expert map navigator as this next section can be exceptionally tricky. The right turn onto Jerusalem Rd. proper is incredibly easy to miss. It is well hidden in the middle of a very fun downhill. With some experience with the route it can even be incorporate into the downhill without slowing down. If you’ve never ridden this section just go slow until you find the turn.

The entrance to this section is overgrown, however, someone who lives out here has clearly been riding this section with a motorcycle so the entrance is visible as long as you are moving slow and looking for it. If you end up in a swampy marsh you have gone way to far, turn back and wallow in your failure while you head back up to the road you’ve missed.

The descent from here is truly amazing and one of my favorites. It’s fast and technical, it rivals any proper old school New England downhill mtb trail. Boulders and roots and ruts lead give way to a gravel road.

Jerusalem Rd comes out to Laird Pond Rd. Make a left and begin the torturous climb that is Hardwood Mountain in Reverse. It’s 5 miles at an average of 9% grade. Not terrible, however after the last 17 miles it can be a mean climb. Laird Pond Rd leads up to Holt Rd which is where you will find the left turn to Hardwood Mountain Rd. proper.
It really is a pretty road. I prefer to descend this road, but that’s another ride.
We usually stop at the top at the beaver pond for a lunch. Oh yeah, there is a beaver pond with about 3 feet of water over the road at the top. You can ride through it, we usually walk over the two beaver damns on the side of the road. It is possible to get past it without getting wet. There are several other very big puddles on the road after this that are passable in the same way.

As you descend down Hardwood Mountain Rd you will want to be on the lookout for the unlabelled South Branch Rd. turnoff on the right.
If you miss it, it’s no big deal, Hardwood Mountain Rd comes out on 232 where you can cross and connect back to the rail trail and follow the route in reverse back to your car.
The climb up South Branch is an awesome proper mountain bike trail at times. And the descent back to the parking is a blast.

As with any adventure ride be sure that you or someone with you have wilderness navigation experience as well as the appropriate supplies to experience this adventure safely.
If you are unsure of the supplies to bring along on this ride, then you need to bring someone with the appropriate experience with you.

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