trail & schedule information updated February 2005
||Trail Markers on the way to Rattlesnake Knob
M&M (white); Robert Frost (red); Ken Cuddeback (blue);
and Piliated Woodpecker (hole).
There are many good hiking possibilities in and near Amherst
that people can get to by bus.
link to UMass Transit Services for bus schedules
Be sure to dress for the weather, including rain gear and a sweater or jacket.
Definitely bring water and, for the longer hikes, lunch.
Long loops - full day hikes
Mt Holyoke Range State Park
The true inspiration for this: "Find Yourself in a State Park," which has been an intriguing and charming sign on PVTA buses for years. The signs have been on the buses because it has been possible to get to a local state park by bus: the Mt. Holyoke College route has a stop at the Notch on Route 116, which is the headquarters for the Mt. Holyoke Range State Park. These buses do run on weekends, although at a reduced frequency, so head on out! Stop in at the Park headquarters for a trail map, because it is quite easy to get confused about which trail you are on, and the Range, while not high, has trails that are quite steep and can be very tiring.
Most people hike up the Metacomet-Monadnock trail to Mt Norwottock, then down to the Horse Caves and around and
back by the Robert Frost Trail (RFT). If you're ambitious and in good shape, you can extend your hike quite a ways east,
and try various of the side trails that don't have names.
Just remember that you need to get back to the Visitor's Center bus stop in time for the last bus.
the Norwottuck Rail Trail
The other State Park in town is what we generally call the Rail Trail or the bike path. As some towns around us continue to reject rail trails as somehow a major threat to the public safety and morals, I grow increasingly glad that, thanks to forward-looking people and the fact the state already owned the right of way, we got one.
The UMass Bikeway connector goes from South West to the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
Or, since many PVTA buses have bike racks on them, you can get your bike to the Norwottuck Rail Trail without having to ride on busy streets. Or you can just take yourself there, and walk the Trail (or roller blade).
The closest bus stop is on the South Amherst route, at Memorial Drive on South Pleasant Street. Then go up the hill a little to the Rail Trail entrance at the Amherst Farmer's Supply / Snell Street.
On a bike or with roller blades, you can do the whole 10-mile Rail Trail in two or three hours (go one direction, return, and do the other one). Walking, I think the best choice is to walk to the eastern end in Belchertown, which has lots of scenic wet woods, a beaver pond, and a view across the Lawrence Swamp toward the Mt. Holyoke Range. If you want to take a different route back to the center of town or UMass, you can turn off the Rail Trail on either the Robert Frost or Ken Cuddeback Trails (in order of their appearance, east to west) and head off toward the Belchertown Road bus stops. Unfortunately, both include a good deal of suburban development; but the Frost trail also goes through some nice woods near a pond that the town recently bought near Old Belchertown Road. Both the South Amherst and Belchertown Road buses run very frequently during the week and almost hourly on Saturdays and Sundays during semesters. Check the schedules!
Robert Frost Trail
The Robert Frost Trail from Amethyst Brook Conservation area on Pelham Road to either of a couple of places in North Amherst: Cushman common, or, if you're up for a longer walk, the Mill River Recreation area. This route starts in one of the favorite conservation areas, walking along the lovely Amethyst Brook, then climbs up to the Mt. Orient overlook in the Pelham hills, from which you can see much of south Amherst and neighboring Belchertown and the Mt. Holyoke Range.
Bus routes (weekdays only): Gatehouse Road to Amethyst Brook (get off at the Thayer Street stop) Buses leave Amherst center at 7:25, 8 and 8:25 am. The Pine Street/Mill Hollow route stops at the Cushman common at 4:47 and 5:52. Or, from the Mill River Recreation area, walk through the North Amherst main intersection and south on North Pleasant to the bus stop for the Sunderland bus that comes by every 20 minutes during the middle of the day on weekdays and every 10 minutes beginning around 3 pm until almost 5:30.
Watch out: on these outlying routes, buses are infrequent,
and the last buses are not very late.
However, if you get as far as the UMass campus, you can then get one of several buses on the South Amherst or Belchertown Road routes that go into the center of town.
Misty Bottom and Upper Fort River Trails
The South Amherst / Belchertown Road bus route combination also offers a delightful shorter loop: the Misty Bottom Trail to the Upper Fort River Conservation area. Get off the South Amherst bus at the first stop on East Hadley Road. Cross South Pleasant Street and walk up Mill Lane to Groff Park; enter the Park and head toward the Fort River - you'll see the beginning of the Misty Bottom Trail. The trail goes along the Fort River along fields and through woods for half a mile or so, then comes out on Mill Lane almost at South East Street. You can walk west on the Rail Trail and head back toward South Pleasant Street; or, if you have more time, you can cross South East Street and go down to the entrance to the Upper Fort River Trail (that's in the little meadow next to the River on the north side of the Rail Trail bridge over South East Street). After going through woods along the River, the trail comes to a branch where you can go straight to a bridge over the Hop Brook, or turn left across the field. If you have time, enjoy the view from the bridge, then go back and take the trail through the field. Cross the railroad tracks (look for trains - this is a living railroad), go through the gate, then turn left into the next field and go north toward the Pelham Hills across some other fields. You may lose a trail here in the fields - just head for the trees you can see on the other side. They are around what we usually call Harkness Pond; the Cambodian garden is to the west of the pond. Go between those gardens and the pond, and you'll find yourself on an old dirt road that goes around the end of the pond then along its northern edge to Old Farm Road Turn left along the road and walk out to Belchertown Road; the bus stop back to the center is on the other side of the road, a little to the east of the intersection.
Get off the South Amherst bus at Memorial Drive, and walk downhill a couple of blocks to the entrance to Larch Hill Conservation area, the Hitchcock Center, and the Common School. The trails on the conservation area include great views and a link to another nearby conservation area, Larch Hill North. From there, you can follow an informal trail to the Rail Trail; head right (north east) toward the center of Amherst again and you can leave the Trail where it goes under South Pleasant Street and head back to the bus at Memorial Drive. Or, since we're walking, walk into town and enjoy a well-earned snack!
Podick Conservation area
Podick and Katharine Cole Conservation areas in North Amherst: get off the Sunderland bus at Annie's Greenhouse, then walk back toward Amherst (fortunately, Route 116 has wide shoulders) to the entrances to the Podick / Katharine Cole conservation areas opposite the place where Sunderland Road comes in to Route 116. Both conservation areas have nice loop trails within them. No doubt you noticed that the bus stop is near Bub's Barbecue, so there's no need to go home starving.
Mill River and Eastman Brook
The closest bus stops to the Mill River Conservation area are on the Pine Street/Mill Hollow route (at the Mill Hollow Apartments, Summer Street, or the automobile repair shop across from the little shopping center on Montague Road). On weekend days you can walk north from the Sunderland bus stop near the North Amherst center to the Mill River Recreation area. The Conservation area isn't large, but it is wonderful, with trails wandering along the small river and off into the woods. If you want a longer walk, go toward Puffers Pond, then find the entrance to the Robert Frost Trail a little north of the pond on Pulpit Hill road; that trail goes around the north side of the pond and then heads north over private land (with permission) to the Eastman Brook Conservation area on the border of Amherst and Leverett.
Robert Frost Trail in Echo Hill
If the weather has been dry, it's a good time to try the stretch of the Robert Frost Trail through Echo Hill. Be prepared for a usually wet trail. Because of the relative frequency of the bus service, let's start at the Pelham Road end. Take the Gatehouse Road bus to the Thayer Street stop. Go up Ward Street to the trail entrance. This trail wanders around in the woods and wetlands between Pelham Road and Belchertown Road. It comes out in Echo Hill, where you can walk down to Belchertown Road and catch a bus back to town and campus. Or, if you have more time, walk along Stony Hill Road to the entrance to the Harkness Brook Conservation area, and explore that area. Stay on the Robert Frost Trail, and it will take you out past the Amherst Landfill to Belchertown Road again. The closest bus stop is the Logtown Road stop, a little to the west (to your right, toward town). The Belchertown Road buses run very frequently.
Of course, you can make short in-and-out trips out of parts of any of these loops. And if you're willing to walk further along roads even more opportunities present themselves. Maps of Amherst conservation areas and trails are available in several stores in town, including Hastings (take the South Amherst bus to the stop across from the Common and head north a hundred feet).