Located in the Pioneer Valley, UMass is lucky to be surrounded by many beautiful hiking spots for students to enjoy in their free time. This weekend, my boyfriend and I took advantage of the extremely nice weather (65 degrees!) and hiked at two spots only about 15-20 minutes away from campus.
First, we started at the Notch Visitor's Center in Mount Holyoke State Park and followed a short, 0.75 mile trail called the "Laurel Loop." It was a pretty trail, but I was slightly underwhelmed due to how short it was. In the future, I'd like to go again and try the 3.4 mile Mount Norwottuk and Horse Caves trail. This trail takes you first to the summit of Mount Norwottuk, the highest peak in the Holyoke Range. It then brings you to the Horse Caves, a series of rock outcroppings which are rumored to have been used as shelter by Daniel Shays during Shay's Rebellion in the time of the Revolutionary War.
Next, we drove over to Skinner State Park in Hadley, which, confusingly, is where Mount Holyoke is actually located. Conveniently, you can reach the summit of Mount Holyoke by both road and hiking trails. The auto road was not open for the season yet, but we wanted to hike up ourselves anyways. Since it rained the day before, and there are still some icy patches on the trails, we decided to take the road up to the mountain. Despite certainly being the easier option, it still took at least 45 minutes to reach the summit; there were a few somewhat strenuous sections due to the elevation. Once we did reach the summit, I was amazed by how much you could see from the Summit House. It directly overlooked the breathtaking Connecticut River (as pictured above) and you could even see the Southwest towers and DuBois Library in the distance!
I highly recommend any UMass student who enjoys hiking to check out both Mount Holyoke State Park and Skinner State Park during the school year's nicer weather. The surrounding mountains are some of the best parts of being located in western Mass, so it would be a shame not to go explore. Happy hiking!