Adventurers drawn to Valley hiking trails

By Ellie Rulon-Miller

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The town of Amherst lies in a beautiful area – arguably the most beautiful part of the state of Massachusetts: the Pioneer Valley. Just as the name dictates, the town is virtually surrounded by various levels of hiking and walking trails, all within a reasonable distance. There are even trails not included on the following list that can be found simply by getting off at the right bus stop on the way out of Amherst.

Mt. Norwottuck

Mt. Norwottuck is located in South Amherst and easily accessible from the Rt. 38 bus – which runs from the University of Massachusetts to Mt. Holyoke – or the Rt. 29 bus to Holyoke. Driving there is easy – the parking lot for this mountain, part of the Holyoke Mountain Range, is on the left and a short distance past Hampshire College and Atkins Farm. This will start hikers on the west side of the mountain. There is a visitors’ center and posted maps of hiking trails of various lengths, from short walks to more intense hikes.

According to many sources, including the guide “Hiking the Pioneer Valley,” a book of 25 hikes compiled by UMass geosciences graduate student Bruce Scofield, there is significant historical value to Mt. Norwottuck. It is believed that Daniel Shays and the men he led in Shays’ Rebellion sought refuge on the mountain in what has become known as the “Horse Caves,” located on the north side.

Longmeadow Flats

The Longmeadow Flats are great for a long stroll, with trails that will keep one walking as long as an hour and a half. According to Scofield’s guide, a big portion of the area has been turned into a wildlife refuge. The Flats are located just south of Springfield near the Connecticut River. The area used to be farmland, but after severe flooding in the late 1600s the town opted to relocate completely. According to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the area still floods from time to time and is indicative of it; swamps and still, ponded water exist in and around the Flats.

Mt. Tom

Located in both Holyoke and Easthampton is the Mt. Tom State Reservation. The peak, which is about 1200 feet high, offers trails varying in strenuousness. One trail will take a hiker to the summit in about half an hour, while a circuit hike will take about four and a half hours, according to Scofield’s book. The mountain is about a 20 minute drive from UMass, just off of I-91 south.

Mt. Holyoke

Even closer than Mt. Tom is Mt. Holyoke – not the college, but the peak after which the school was named. Mt. Holyoke stands in Skinner State Park in Hadley and can be accessed by driving down Rt. 9 towards Northampton and taking a left onto Rt. 47. After turning, bear right onto Lawrence Plain Road to stay on Rt. 47. The hiker will be looking right at Skinner State Park. (If one would rather just drive to the summit to enjoy the view, stay on Rt. 47 and take a left onto Old Mountain Road and follow it to the top.)

At the top of Mt. Holyoke is a white building, visible from I-91. According to Scofield’s guide, the building, which he refers to as the “Prospect House” but is presently called simply the “Summit House,” was the first mountain-top inn in the United States. Though it is no longer an inn, the building is still used, though it is currently closed for renovations, according to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation website.

Visitors can choose to drive to the summit, walk up the road, or take any of a number of trails which “crisscross the park,” according to the website. Scofield suggests a three-mile, two-hour hike in his guide, starting at the Halfway House Trail before switching to follow the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail to the top.

These are only a few of the local hiking spots – a number of other hiking guides have been written about the Pioneer Valley, several of which are readily available for borrowing at the W.E.B. Du Bois library. With so many locations to choose from, hikers will be hard-pressed to find themselves with nothing to do on any given weekend this spring.

Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected]