Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tully Lake, Royalston, Mass: A weekend in heaven

A couple of weekends ago, Emily and I loaded up the Corolla, threw a couple mountain bikes on the rack and headed out to Tully Lake Campground, in Royalston, Massachusetts.

We'd been meaning to check out this area for some time. As members of The Trustees (an organization that's been preserving natural and historic properties in the state for over 100 years) we'd been hearing high praise and seeing alluring pictures for a few years now.

Royalston is just north of Athol, Mass., a town with a somewhat unsavory reputation locally. However, once you get north of downtown and toward the Royalston border, the rolling hills and beautiful old houses make for views as beautiful as any in New England.

On our first full day, we hiked the 4.5-mile trail around scenic Tully Lake. The countryside was quiet and the forest felt like a gentle embrace. At the east end of the trail, we climbed up to Doane's Falls, a refreshing little hideaway.

Further along, we made a little friend, and came upon some artistic tree bark.

That afternoon, I did some fat bike exploration along dirt roads and trails not far from the campground.

Evenings were spent in our traditional camp manner: dinner and reading around the fire, and then early to bed.

The morning of the second day, I took Emily mountain biking for a while, then branched off to tackle the notorious Tully Lake Trail: seven-and-a-half miles of mostly gnarly rock gardens.

Though the technical level was above my advanced-beginner paygrade, I enjoyed the challenge (and became a better rider for it), and my efforts were repaid with handsome wilderness vistas.

After about 12 total miles, I returned to camp well and truly spent. After lunch and a dip (and the ritual hanging of the wet clothes)...

...I spent some restful pen-and-ink time by the breezy lake. Ringed by small mountains and evergreens, Tully is as lovely a body of water as you'll see.

You can come without a bike and still ride the trails, thanks to a new rental program the campground is testing. Keep in mind that the bikes are 27.5" hardtails, so tackling the very rocky trails with them might be a challenge to more rickety knees (like mine). I was glad I had my full suspension 29er with me.

The campground itself is a cut above par for Massachusetts. The sites are out on a peninsula in the lake, which allows no car traffic. Each site (particularly the waterside ones) is more beautiful than the last. There is a very sweet feeling to the woods right here, and being so close to the water allows for a nice breeze on hot days.

A few provisos: Many sites are far away from the parking lot, and you have to cart all of your gear to your site, so pack light. Bathrooms are equally far, and the only water source is on the side of the bathroom building, so bring a large water container with handles.

Also, TLC costs more than your typical state park campground. For a waterfront site, non-members of The Trustees pay $35 per night on weeknights and $37.50 per night on Friday and Saturday (which must be booked together). Members pay $28 and $30.

On the upside, the rangers were quite helpful to us on more than one occastion, and their small station is packed with nice things for sale. This includes very cold and unbelievably delicious SoCo Creamery ice cream in unique flavors. (I highly recommend the Mission Fig.) Kudos to the rangers for keeping it local; SoCo is made in the Berkshire mountains of our great state.

The Trustees also offer kayaks and canoes for rent, and, during the day, they dot the lake, making lazy progress among its inlets and alluring islands. Unfortunately, swimming was discouraged while we were there, due to the presence of cyanobacteria, an unhealthy strain that has apparently shown up there a few times this year. (Call ahead before you head out for the weekend if swimming is high on your agenda.) However, paddling went on unabated, and no one seemed extremely put out by the problem.

Neither of us are big paddlers, but the special feel of the lake and campgrounds, the kindness of the staff, and the challenges and rewards of the trails, all provided ample reward.

We'll be back, Tully Lake!

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