A surprisingly challenging but doable hike
Challenging | 9.4 mi (probably includes elevation changes, so 7.8) | 5 hours
Every time my wife and I make it out to Western Mass, we try to sneak a decent hike in (3 miles or more of uneven terrain). Lately, we’ve been favoring Skinner State Park and Holyoke Range Park. The views are great, plenty of parking, and they’re easy to get to. Mt. Holyoke is a favorite of ours – multiple trails to the top, excellent views of the Connecticut River and Northampton (even better from the top of the Summit House, though it’s currently closed for renovations). Interestingly enough, Mt. Holyoke proper is located in Skinner Park, the Holyoke Range park is to the east. I didn’t take many pictures on this hike, so I’ll have to talk and post maps.
(I don’t know why these maps are not centered, either Google or WordPress is breaking the HTML code).
In the map above Rt. 116 divides the range in two – Skinner Park to the west of 116, Holyoke Range to the right. The divide is called The Notch, that’s where the Notch Visitor’s Center is located. The Metacomet-Monadnock (M&M) trail runs across the whole ridge; this OpenStreet map shows some of it. Previous, we’ve done about 4 miles round-trip westbound, but this time we wanted to go a bit further. You begin in the visitor’s parking lot, cross 116, and immediately begin your ascent up Bare Mountain. The climb is pretty steep, but not terribly difficult. There’s one spot full of falling basalt pieces where you have to be careful:
The climb to Bare Mountain is, likely, the shortest climb to any mountain in the Pioneer Valley that I’ve done. Even the Mt. Sugarloaf hike takes 20 minutes. This one took 15. The trail is well-traveled and this place can get crowded – you are 15 minutes away from a nice northerly view of the valley. Unlike on top of Mt. Holyoke, I haven’t encountered much wind here, it’s a pretty good place for a picnic.
Continue following the white blaze of the M&M trail, and you’ll quickly realize just how tiring this trail will be. For approximately the first half of the trail you’ll encounter numerous gullies, maybe a ravine or two, so you’ll be doing a lot of climbing up and down. If you start getting tired and want a good point to turn around, about 40 minutes and 1.3mi out is Mount Hitchcock, which is a good place to stop and have a snack, pose for a picture…
or shoot a panorama:
If you decide to continue on the trail, you’ll be glad to find out that around 2.7 mi it gets a bit flatter. Our round trip was 9.4 miles long – which may or may not include elevation gain/drop. I used MyTracks to log this one and I’m not sure what it does, but the total gain/drop was 1.6 miles, so I’ll claim that straight-distance it was 7.8 miles round-trip. A couple hours into the hike I looked at the map and realized we were around 30-40 minutes walking distance away from the summit of Mt. Holyoke. So we decided to go for it, which in the end was a painful but worthy decision.
The whole trek took 5 hours. We saw maybe 4 or 5 groups of people during those 5 hours, including 2 crazy teenagers skidding (with locked brakes) down some of the hills. I wouldn’t even call that mountain biking. I have to say, using trekking poles really helped my knees here. Next time, we’ll have to do M&M eastbound, though it seems to be less-traveled with more potential for snakes.
ParkingNotch Visitor Center, 1500 West St, Amherst, MA
Parking is free. The lot fills up on nice days, but there’s space on the grass. You can also follow M&M eastbound in the Holyoke Range.
Follow white for the M&M trail.
Holyoke Range – Mt. Norwottuck.