Push your limits exploring the great outdoors

Discover the beauty of western Massachusetts


Collegian File Photo

By Olivia Monroe, Collegian Correspondent

Sticking around Amherst this weekend? Mix up your repetitive school schedule by getting outside and exploring the beautiful scenery of western Massachusetts. Taking time for your mental and physical health is very important as the middle of the semester approaches.

The leaves have started to turn and our time outside without our winter parkas is quickly coming to an end. Here in Amherst, we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful foliage and landscapes in the country. However, many students don’t find the time in their schedules to admire their surroundings. “We shouldn’t be concerned about trees purely for material reasons,” writes Peter Wohlleben, author of “The Hidden Life of Trees.” He continues, “here is the last remaining piece of Nature, right on our doorstep, where adventures are to be experienced and secrets discovered.”

Exercising outside provides benefits for your body and your mind. While you surround yourself with natural terrain to help tone your muscles, you are breathing in the fresh air that clears your head from daily anxieties. Amherst is surrounded with various mountains of different experience levels that are well suited for everyone. Whether you are someone who wants to race to the summit with a pack of your best friends or take a peaceful stroll in the woods by yourself, there are trails for every occasion.

Personally, hiking has always been an outlet for connection with a phenomenon that’s bigger than myself. Summiting a mountain gives me a unique rush that cannot be mimicked by much else. Hanging out with Mother Nature opens your eyes to your surrounding and helps reduce your mind’s tendency to fall into self-focused patterns. These self-centered thoughts are linked with anxiety and depression and are so easy to get caught up in while living in the same town with over 20,000 other college students. Taking a step outside, quite literally, can help reduce your stress levels, whether they are fueled by a mental illness, school, friends, family or combination of them all. Hiking can provide great personal therapy while still being friendly to our empty wallets.

So, here’s a guide for beginners and tips for those who are more experienced…

Whether you’ve grown up in the city or in the middle of the countryside, hiking to the summit of a mountain for the first time can be intimidating. Some people have never been exposed to hiking, so they don’t even know where to start! Well here’s a little pro tip: you don’t need to be outfitted like the people in Patagonia ads to go on a casual Saturday morning hike. However, you must always be prepared for bad weather or taking the wrong turn. This means always checking the weather before you go out and being prepared to get a little lost.

Tip No. 1: Don’t put full trust in your weather app because weather stations are usually at the base of the mountain, not the summit (hint: it can get very cold). Tip No. 2: Google maps doesn’t usually work to guide you through the woods, so use your intuition and take a screen shot of the trail map before you start! Tip No. 3: It is always smart to pack an extra warm layer to wear when you are climbing to higher elevations. Tip No. 4: Bring some protein-packed snacks like nuts, peanut butter, tuna, beef jerky or some energy bars, because you’ll be burning lots of calories!

And some more general tips? Make sure you always have at least two water bottles with you. Tell a friend or roommate where you are headed if you are going alone. Wear supportive shoes and warm socks. And lastly, try to stay away from cotton clothing, because when you sweat you will feel clammy and it will cause chafing. Try out dry-fit or synthetic materials!

Next: where should I go?

Starting from beginner to intermediate, Mount Sugarloaf (300 Sugarloaf Street, South Deerfield) is located only eight miles away from UMass campus. Mount Sugarloaf is an easy-going hike with picnic tables and a spectacular view of the UMass campus and the Connecticut River at the top. The most traveled trail, “The view of the Valley,” gives you the best “bang for your buck.” The trail is only 1.4 miles, but the steep grade gets your heart rate up in no time.

Bare Mountain (1500 West Street, Amherst) provides a beginner-to-intermediate climb that shows a beautiful view of the Holyoke Range State Park, which extends for seven miles of mountain line ridge. The parking lot and trailhead are located at The Notch Visitors Center in Amherst.

Down the road in Holyoke, Mount Tom (125 Reservation Road, Holyoke) offers a climb to an observation tower that showcases the best view of the Mt. Tom range. Parking access is only $5 per car for Massachusetts residents and $10 per car for non-Massachusetts residents. There are multiple trails you can take to the summit. Some of my favorites include the Bray Loop Trail, which is a 2.1 mile easy-to-moderate loop. The trailhead is located at the Lake Bray parking area off Reservation Road, which will start you on the Universal Access Trail and verge right onto Bray Loop Trail. Second is the Goat Peak Loop, which brings you to the observation tower. This trail is 3.4 miles of moderate hiking. The trailhead is located behind the Mt. Tom Visitors Center. Start at the Dynamite Trail, proceed to the John McCool Trail on your left and then verge onto New England Trail that will bring you to the summit of Goat Peak.

For both your mind and body, a walk in the woods may be tough to beat.

Olivia Monroe can be reached at: [email protected]