Explore the beautiful outdoors trails around Amherst

By Sarah Gamard


One of the best parts of living in Amherst during the fall semester is experiencing the gorgeous change in foliage. But with that comes the fast-approaching winter. So, before the weather disallows it, students should take advantage of the end of the summer and beginning of fall by taking hikes around the Pioneer Valley area.

In his famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost writes, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both.” Likewise, the typical Five College student will not have the privilege of time to hike the plethora of trails in the Amherst area. But even hiking down a trail or two will suffice for experiencing the beauty that is western Massachusetts in the fall.

There are 80 miles of trails in the famous system of Literary Trails that has been around since the 1960s. Amherst poets and authors who are lauded through the Literary Trail system include most famously Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. They are joined by a dozen other known writers including Jan Dizard, Robert Francis and Bob M. McClung. Together, these writers are commemorated with 14 different routes, all marked by white wooden signs with red letters and the Literary Trails logo.

Detailed maps can be found at local stores, the town’s website and at the Conservation Department Office, located on the second floor of Town Hall. More information can be found at www.amherstma.gov or by calling the department at 413-259-3045.

The Amherst Literary Trail System originated with the Robert Frost Trail, which is a massive 47 miles long. According to the town of Amherst’s website, the Robert Frost Trail – named RFT for short – is one of the five longest hiking trails in Massachusetts. It crosses through 10 towns, including Amherst, and is under prospective improvements by the state regarding placement of trails and upkeep. Motorized vehicles and camping are strictly prohibited, and horses and mountain biking are prohibited in certain sections.

The RFT runs through private property at certain sections, along with various other types of terrain like roads and watershed land, and there is a reminder to be conscientious and respectful of private property. The trail is marked by orange blazes, which separates it from the Amherst Literary Trail System’s red blazes. The trail’s guide, which can be found fully online, includes the location of the trails, starting and ending elevation, a general overview of the area and a detailed set of directions to ensure a pleasant hike.

Other major regional trails that intersect in Amherst include the K.C. Trail and the Norwottuck Rail Trail. The latter is popular for cyclists and hikers and runs through Amherst, Northampton and Hadley. It is great for biking, rollerblading, walking and cross-country skiing. Long-distance hiking is recommended mostly for the Robert Frost Trail and the Metacomet-Monadnock.

All trails in the area are open from dawn until dusk. If you are interested in hiking with a group of more than four people, the Kevin Flood Trail (near Puffer’s Pond) and the Kevin Chase Dimock Trail (near Larch Hill) are recommended. Snow shoeing is also allowed on all conservation area paths, for the brave-hearted who want to hike through the fast-approaching winter months.

The best way to soak in the beautiful summer and fall months in Amherst is to spend time outdoors. It’s cheap, fun with friends and can provide a new outdoors or spiritual experience for anyone looking for it. If that is not motivation enough, think about next semester, when you forget what it feels like to wear single layers of clothing.

Sarah Gamard can be reached at [email protected]