Get out! (and enjoy the Pioneer Valley)

  • Published
  • By James Bishop
  • 439th Airlift Wing
Whether you’ve just arrived or lived in the Pioneer Valley for years, you’ll find a wealth of free activities that can take your breath away, or at least leave you heaving for air. Here are three suggestions for enjoying the area after work. 1. Skinner State Park in South Hadley offers a stunning view of the Connecticut River Valley. Sure, you can drive to the top, but don’t. Miles of connected trails allow you to approach the summit of Mt. Holyoke. Try starting at the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail along Old Mountain Road for a beautiful approach. The elevation of Mt. Holyoke is only 942 feet, so it’s not a strenuous climb. You’ll see farmland and maybe get a flyover from a stately red-tail hawk. At the summit, the historic, newly-renovated Summit House offers tours for a fee in season. You can download a trail map and get a self-guided geology tour and other info at The address is 10 Skinner State Park Rd., Hadley. Parking is free at the bottom. At the top, it’s $5 for residents and $10 for non-residents (determined by the car’s license plate). The park is closed in winter, so check the website before you go. Hard-core hikers should do the six-mile Seven Sisters trail from Skinner to The Notch, located at Mt. Holyoke Range State Park on Rt. 116 in Amherst, our second recommendation. 2. The Notch. A popular destination from The Notch, part of the massive Mount Holyoke Range State Park, is the short, steep climb to Bare Mountain. The summit gives you views of Westover to the south and the UMass towers in Amherst to the north, along with miles of lush forest and valley. Their website describes other hikes, including the more ambitious hike from the Notch Visitor Center to Mt. Norwottuck at Bring your mountain bike to the Notch, which has biking trails with the ominous names of Rollercoaster and Serpentine. Parking is free at the Notch, which is located at 1500 West St. (Rt. 116), Amherst. As with Skinner State Park, the visitor center closes in the winter. 3. Norwottuck Rail Trail. This paved bike trail runs from Belchertown to Northampton. It’s beautiful, and friendly for bikes, pets, strollers, and walkers. The gorgeous trail runs through bird sanctuaries, near malls, and crosses the Connecticut River on a former railroad trestle bridge. There are numerous entry points. Although the Norwottuck trail is 10 miles long, it connects with both the Manhan Trail to Easthampton and the Northampton Trail to Look Park, for many more miles of smooth riding. The trails go through downtown Northampton and Easthampton, so bikers can hop off the trail, grab lunch, and bike off the calories. This trail is open year-round. There are numerous points to start. A popular spot is near the Connecticut River Bridge at 446 Damon Rd. in Northampton. Another parking area is on Station Road in Amherst. Visit their website at for more info. There are many more great places to visit. If you have a favorite spot to go, send it with a brief description to