Conquering the great outdoors

Hiking in the Amherst area


Image via Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation Facebook

By Emma Ryan, Collegian Staff

If you’ve moved back to the Amherst area this fall, you’ve probably noticed how challenging it can be sometimes to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Especially with remote learning, it’s so much easier to lay in your bed all day doing schoolwork or watching Netflix, but getting your body moving and getting outside is more important than ever for your health and wellbeing.

Chances are, during your time in the Pioneer Valley, someone has recommended a hike to you or you’ve seen a breathtaking view on social media. When you don’t hike a lot, the idea can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There are tons of amazing hiking spots in the area, a lot of which can be done in just a few hours. With most gyms being closed, being cooped up doing remote learning and the weather being beautiful, there’s no time like the present to take advantage of what the outdoors has to offer.

Mount Sugarloaf, located in South Deerfield, boasts a stunning view of the Connecticut River and the Sunderland area. Fair warning, getting up the mountain is guaranteed to tire you out. This hike isn’t a long one, only about a mile to reach the summit, but it’s a steep mile at that. At certain points of the windy trail, there are even wooden supports to give you places to put your feet.

Now, this sounds miserable, and if hiking doesn’t interest you to begin with then it might actually be miserable, but the view at the top makes the half hour of cardio worth it. The view from the top of the 800-foot mountain quite literally looks like a painting. You can see miles of patchwork-like fields and beautiful foliage from the observation deck, not to mention if it’s a clear enough day you can pick out trademark buildings like Du Bois Library, Lederle Graduate Research Center and the Southwest Residential Area towers resting on the horizon. Even the area immediately surrounding the mountain is incredible with steeples of churches peeking out from the trees, and cars and people that look like toys. It really makes you appreciate the vastness of the world around you.

If you’re looking for something a little longer and a little less intense, check out Mount Skinner which is located a quick 20-minute drive from UMass in Hadley. This mountain is shorter than Mount Sugarloaf, sitting at about 450 feet above sea level, but still shows off a spectacular view. From the base of the mountain, you can start on a trail that brings you through the woods to the halfway point up the mountain. From there, you can continue up the same trail to the summit or branch off on one of the many other marked trails the mountain has to offer. The first half from the base of the mountain is a leisurely walk, not too steep but still beautiful. The second half of the trail is bound to challenge you a little bit since it gets steeper closer to the summit but just like with Mt. Sugarloaf, the view is totally worth it.

The observation deck at the summit overlooks the Connecticut River again, but instead of facing Amherst, you look out over Easthampton and Holyoke, which offers a completely different perspective. As you look down the side of the mountain, you see long stretches of foliage that meets the river where boats often pass by from the nearby marina. The other side of the river has the same patchwork effect as Mount Sugarloaf because of the stretches of fields and farmland.

While both of these hikes are definitely physically challenging, the nice thing about them is that they don’t require a lot of preparation or time. It’s more than enough to show up with yourself, a good pair of sneakers and some water and just enjoy being in nature and moving your body. While hiking doesn’t have to be like you’re conquering Everest, it’s still a good workout and it’s okay if it’s not for you. There are plenty of other ways to get your body moving and get outside, it’s the effort that counts.

Emma Ryan can be reached at [email protected]