As part of our retro-ventures to former mountain bike riding areas, we drove to Bartlett Village to explore roads and trails we rode back in the ’90s. Our first stop was the Bartlett Experimental Forest gravel roads. If we had time and energy after, we’d visit trails on the opposite side of Bear Notch Road.
But, after 12 miles of riding, we decided the roads were enough. We left the trails for another day.
What is the Bartlett Experimental Forest? According to the USDA Forest Service (fs.fed.us/ne/durham/4155/bartlett.htm),” Bartlett Experimental Forest is a field laboratory for research on the ecology and management of northern hardwoods and associated ecosystems.” In 1932, 3,200 acres of Bartlett forest was designated as an experimental forest. In 2010, it was expanded to 5,789 acres and now includes the upper elevations of Bartlett watersheds.
The Bartlett Experimental Forest’s maintenance and research are a partnership between White Mountain National Forest, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, and NH Division of Forests and Lands, Fish and Game, and NH Timberland Owners Association. Numerous educational institutions also participate in the research.
Where is Bartlett Experimental Forest? The BEF administrative site, including office, laboratory, conference room, bunkhouse and other quarters with facilities for up to 25 people, is located on Route 302 west of Bear Notch Road and the blinking light. After you cross the railroad tracks, look for buildings on the left.
If you’re looking for the forest trails and roads, drive up Bear Notch Road. The forest stretches out on both sides of Bear Notch. On the left, it goes all the way to Table Mountain and Bear Mountain. On the right or west side, it touches on Bartlett Haystack and then turns southeast to join Bear Notch Road near the height of land.
Just past the winter gate, look for roads coming in on the right. There are three of them in this 4-mile section all the way to the top of Bear Notch- Forest Roads B441, B443 lower, and B443 upper. There is limited parking at each access. If you start at the bottom (FR B441) and connect via FR B442 or FR B44E to FR B443, you can ride to the top and gain 900 ft. in elevation.
You can start your ride from any access. However, I wouldn’t recommend beginning at the top for two reasons. It’s easy to start with a long downhill, but you’ll have a very long uphill at the end of your ride when you’re tired. The second reason has to do with the “road closure” on the upper section. The road is barricaded at the top and bottom of this 3-mile section because of extensive road damage from last year’s Halloween storm. Half a dozen washouts and ditches on a fast downhill ride could catch an inexperienced or inattentive rider by surprise and cause a crash.
We thought it best to inspect the road damage by riding up it first. Starting in the middle, we rode up to the top. At a pull-off part way in on B443, we unloaded the bikes. Riding a short distance to the fork where B442 turned right downhill and B443 turned left uphill, we started our climb.
That upper section was 3 miles of uphill-like climbing Bear Notch’s elevation on dirt. On our ascent, we discovered numerous washouts we could ride around and remember to avoid on the descent. I talked with BEF personnel and found out that section of road is closed to vehicles until WMNF crews can repair it. It’s OK for bicyclists to ride, but caution is advised on the downhill because of those washout ditches.
After we reached the top, we turned around for a cool ride down, watching for ditches along the way.
Back at the fork, we turned left on B442 and rode to the next junction. Turning left, we followed B441 to its end. We caught glimpses of a Bartlett Haystack in the distance. It was interesting to ride this road I skied last winter at Bear Notch Ski Touring. It has the same gradual climb and downhill cruise but on a different surface.
Back at the junction, we turned left, heading downhill. Crossing the bridge over Albany Brook, we came to the water tower, Bartlett’s water supply. We pedaled a short distance, and turned right on B44E to loop back to the car. If we’d stayed on the main road, B441, we would have reached Bear Notch Road near the gate in less than a mile.
The way we traveled was slightly uphill but shady. On the left, we passed a contraption consisting of a small plastic trash can attached to a metal pole, looking like a forest “experiment”. That’s where BEF’s project manager puts her bat detector to keep it under cover, but still recording bat activity. Soon after, we rode past a UNH vehicle parked on the right. There were probably interns in the wood doing forest research. In about 2 miles, at another junction, we turned left to ride about a half-mile to check out the Louisville Brook bridge and the 2nd road to Bear Notch. Turning around there, we cycled back past the last junction and rode to our car.
With all our out-and-backs, we logged almost 12 miles. We saw no moving vehicles and only one walker.
The woods were quiet and full of interesting and varied old trees, the road surface well-packed. Though we were on mountain bikes, this would make a fine gravel road ride, if you don’t mind a little climbing.
The advantage of this road system is the different options you have for routes, starting places, and combinations. You can start at the bottom, middle, or top. You can ride all dirt, or combine the dirt roads with Bear Notch Road. If you’re using a mountain bike, you can combine gravel roads with single track trails on the other side to vary the routes. That’s what we used to do when we led trips here in the ’90s.
Explore the Experimental Forest in Bartlett and discover its advantages for yourself.
Sept. 8-9 (Saturday/Sunday): Coos Cycling Club’s Log Jam bike packing event. (bikereg.com) September 8-9 (Saturday/Sunday): Attitash Megabowl Downhill and Enduro Races (attitash.com).
Sept. 16 (Saturday): Bear Peak World Championship High-Performance Tricycle Grand Prix Race (redparkapub.com).
Sept. 26 (Wednesday): Fryeburg Academy Hosts High School Mountain Bike Race, 3:30 start, Stark’s.
Sept. 29 (Saturday): North Conway Library’s Bike for Books: “Bike for Books Mountain Bike Adventure Rides” is a day of mountain biking fun in the White Mountains and an annual fundraiser for the North Conway Public Library(northconwaylibrary.com).
Sept. 29 (Saturday): Bretton Woods Mountain Bike Fondo (brettonwoods.com).
Sept. 30 (Sunday): King Pine CX Race (bikereg.com).
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.