Five amazing places to get your foliage fix for the season

By Nadia Raytselis

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

During this time of year, most University of Massachusetts students are so overwhelmed with exams that they forget to appreciate the natural beauty of the Pioneer Valley. Yes, midterms are important, but so is taking the time to go outside to enjoy the crisp autumn air and dazzling leaf displays. Colors flourish that are usually unseen in nature. Rusty oranges, robust reds and vibrant yellows adorn the trees of Western Massachusetts like splattered paint across a canvas in these fall months.

According to several weather predictors, the peak of this season’s foliage in Western Massachusetts is almost over. Of course, the warmer days affect the foliage as well, causing a setback in the color-displays and a shorter period of time to view them. Consequently, it’s important to get out and see the leaves while they’re peaking, especially in the wake of the warmer temps we’ve been experiencing, as to not miss this natural wonder that only comes around once a year!

The following are some of my personal favorite places to observe during this season’s spectacular show, and all are within a short walk, drive or bus ride from campus. Bring some of your friends and plan a picnic, group photo shoot or casual hangout at any of the following aesthetic locations.

Norwottuck Rail Trail

Fall is my favorite time of year to walk, bike and run on the Rail Trail. Stretching 11 miles from Belchertown to Northampton, this path is the perfect place to see the fall foliage, without having to travel too far. The trail won’t disappoint, making one feel as though they are walking through a canopy of color. Entrances to the Rail Trail are located near Big Y, Amherst College and behind the Whole Foods on Route 9—all of which are just a short walk or bus ride from campus.

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Amethyst Brook

The foot paths that wind through the woods of Amethyst Brook are the perfect way to get one’s fall fix without having to stray too far from UMass. The trails are at the base Mount Orient, a 955-foot giant that provides fantastic views of the valley, a perfect panorama of color. This conservation area is located right off of Main Street in South Amherst along the PVTA’s route 30.

Puffers Pond

Puffers is a local classic, but not just in the spring and summer! In the fall, the rusty colored leaves and trees’ silhouettes reflect on the pond water vibrantly. The pond is a great place to take a short nature walk or even go fishing. When I went to the pond last week there were even a few brave souls swimming, enjoying the foliage from the water! Puffers Pond is two miles from campus on the PVTA 33 bus.

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Mount Sugarloaf

For an aerial view of the valley take a short hike or drive up Sugarloaf Mountain. The Connecticut river, UMass, all surrounding towns and a plethora of vivid warm-colored leaves are visible from the lookout point on the top of the mountain. Mount Sugarloaf is in South Deerfield, seven miles north of Amherst on the PVTA’s route 31.

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Take a walk around your neighborhood or campus!

As amazing as it can be to deliberately seek out the autumn arrays of Western Mass, there are magnificent trees everywhere that take no extra effort to see. Take a walk through the wooded parts of campus, near Orchard Hill, or in the surrounding neighborhoods. The trees outside of my house are currently an oxidized-orange color, and all I had to do to appreciate their beauty was walk out my front door!

Even if you think you’re too busy to make time to explore the Valley, force yourself to take a break from homework, go outside and experience the trees. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can actually improve one’s mental health and mood. It’s a win-win situation: more time spent in nature enjoying the season, and less time with your nose in a textbook.

Nadia Raytselis can be reached at [email protected]