Bethel Community Forest and Bingham Forest, Bethel
Together, Bethel Community Forest and Bingham Forest encompass almost 3,400 acres. (The first is 980 acres, and the latter is 2411 acres.) They offer views, streams with many pools and cascades, mountain biking, and great hiking. There are also two trailheads: One for the large network of mountain biking and hiking trails at Bethel Community Forest, and one for the smaller network of hiking trails at Bethel Community Forest West, just down the road.
To access the larger of the two trail systems, drive up Locke Mountain Road (a bit dicey for low-clearance vehicles, but it’s not too long to the large gravel parking lot.) As soon as you step out of your car, you’re treated to a view. There’s also a set of bike tools and tire pumps anyone is free to use!
If you’re here to hike, you should turn away from the view and head off into the trail system maintained by Inland Woods + Trails. The trails are well made and well marked, and as of summer 2021, the trail signs had been charmingly handmade. While I stuck mainly to the hiking trails, the few bike trails I did check out seemed fun, smooth, and windy. Some of them also make for good walking, but be careful of fast bicyclists.
If you choose to take Summit Ridge Trail, it’s approximately 1.7 miles to the top, and at times the trail is steep. Enjoy the views along the way. I took the hiking path up and the summit access road down. Unfortunately, it was foggy when I visited, so I could just see the scantiest of views. The trail system will be expanded here in the future, according to posted signs.
The other long hiking trail here offers you a waterfall junket (of sorts)! If you take the Summit Ridge Trail 0.9 miles to the intersection with the 1.7-mile Bingham Cascade Trail west, you’ll eventually reach three side paths to several waterfalls: Chapman, Upper, and Library Cascades. Bring your suit, you might be tempted to swim in Chapman’s pools, or in the pool below Upper Cascades. The 0.5-mile trail to Upper Cascades is incredibly steep, with some views through trees on the descent. The waterfall right below the final one on this trail is the best one. The tour of waterfalls is a fairly long undertaking — from the main trailhead, be ready to walk eight miles or so if you check out all the cascades.
A few miles down North Road, you can reach the second trail head for Bethel Community Forest West, which is open just to hikers. Here, you start out on an easy, grassy track before turning into the forest, where the trail gets quite a bit steeper. The Red Pine Ridge Trail has switchbacks to its high point, Ellingeood Ledges, where there’s a view. Two other nice viewpoints have been noted on the trail system: Porcupine Panorama and the Prow — all are marked with signs so you know you’ve arrived at the right spot! The Prow, a high open ledge, is lovely — a great place to see the changing foliage, I imagine.
Directions: There are two trailheads. You can access the majority of trails from Locke Mountain Road, which has a large parking area. The turn onto this road from Daisy Bryant Road is marked with a small sign for Bethel Community Forest. If you want to hike at Bethel Community Forest West, continue on North Road for about 1.6 miles after the intersection with Daisy Bryant Road. The access into the large parking area is marked by a couple of signs.