Avoid Spring Mud With These Wooded Walks
As the first buds break through cold soil and rain erodes the snowpack, we arrive at mud season, where too-wet earth pulls at our boots and splashes our calves. To prevent erosion, sodden mountain paths are best avoided in early spring. Instead, venture to one of the pine barren forests listed below. The sandy, nutrient-poor soils that support upland pitch pine-oak communities often drain faster than other soil types.
Like many northeastern pine barrens, this pitch pine-scrub oak forest is a result of glacial outwash. The 3,500-acre preserve in southwestern Maine has a network of trails on old woods roads that loop through fire-tolerant woodlands and around ponds of pristine water. Ticks are common, but so too are rare butterflies and moths, including the pine barrens buck moth. Paths may bisect areas recently burned as part of a management technique to improve the health of this forest type.
Distance: 14-mile trail network
Info: The Nature Conservancy
Ossipee Pine Barrens
The last intact pine barrens in the state contains a small cluster of pitch pines more than 150 years old. The Boundary Loop Trail offers a moderate hike from the Camp Calumet Conference Center. The path enters a vibrant pitch pine-scrub oak community, where evidence of fires remains. Take the Jackman Ridge Trail to a fine overlook of Ossipee Lake before you descend. If visiting near dusk in early summer, listen for the birdsong of the whippoorwill and the common nighthawk.
Distance: 1.35 miles (Boundary Loop Trail)
Info: The Nature Conservancy
Myles Standish State Forest
South Carver, Mass.
Thirteen miles of relatively flat hiking paths weave through 14,000 acres—New England’s largest pine barren community. The 3-mile Easthead Trail loop and 4.5-mile Bentley loops are adjacent to each other and can be combined into a single day hike. The diverse routes penetrate pitch pine-scrub oak forests, break out onto a series of meadows, and skirt three kettle ponds—round bowls of water formed by chunks of glacial ice that became embedded in the soil and then melted.
Distance: 7.5 miles
Info: Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
Pitch pines buffer an estuarine tidal flat on this thin arm of land. The trail enters the forest briefly before emerging on the Wellfleet Harbor shore. The salt hay that grows here was once farmed for cattle feed. Look for oyster shells and be mindful of fiddler crabs marching by. The trail punctures the pitch pines again until the Smith Tavern site, a former stopover for 17th-century mariners. A side trail leads to a bluff overlooking the harbor’s blue water lapping the mainland.
Distance: 4 miles
Info: National Park Service
Central Pine Barrens
Rocky Point, N.Y.
The Central Pine Barrens encompasses about 100,000 acres and feeds Long Island’s largest unspoiled aquifer. The Long Island Pine Barrens Trail extends for 50 miles from Rocky Point to Shinnecock Canal through myriad settings that include pitch pine woodlands, grasslands, swamps, and coastal ponds. At the Rocky Point Natural Resources Management Area, a portion of the blueblazed trail can be looped together with the red- and yellow-blazed trails for a pleasant hike through forest and field.
Distance: 8.5 miles
Info: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Central Pine Barrens Commission
Wells Mills County Park
Part of the 1.1 million-acre Pinelands National Reserve, this tract of land boasts a 16-mile network of trails through Atlantic white cedar swamps and forests thick with sassafras, blueberry, white oak, blackjack oak, and pitch pine. Begin on the Penn’s Hill Trail to Ridge Road and finish on Cook’s Mill Road. Along the way, watch for the northern flicker, which nests in the hollows of burned trees, and for the mountain laurel, sweet pepperbush, and wintergreen that grow beneath unburned oak and pine.
Distance: 6 miles
Info: Wells Mills County Park
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest
Four Mile, N.J.
The former site of Lebanon Glass Works, the 34,000-acre state forest is a classic example of New Jersey Pine Barrens. Begin on the Batona Trail for a loop that will return via the Cranberry Trail. The route enters upland forest dominated by red and white oak. Shortleaf pine and pitch pine soon take over, and the trail descends into lowlands of Atlantic white cedar. Look for insectivorous pitcher plants with purple-veined leaves near Pakim Pond’s shoreline.
Distance: 6.8 miles
Info: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection