Exploring the Norwottuck Rail Trail

Western Mass has its share of winding country roads, the sort that open onto unexpected vistas, full of hills and trees and meandering rivers.

Bike Trails

But it also has an extensive network of bike trails. There you can find those same kinds of vistas, leaf-strewn in fall, glowing green in summer – but at a slower pace amenable to thorough exploration. It’s such a big network, in fact, that you could spend a good while exploring any of several towns with trails – Northampton, Easthampton, Amherst, Hadley, Greenfield, Turners Falls – you get the picture.

The stretch of rail trails around Northampton are particularly compelling.

Grab a map here.  Because they wind along very near, even alongside, major thoroughfares like busy King Street, but offer a more contemplative alternative route for the intrepid two-wheeler. That proximity to the streets offers another advantage: plenty of destinations to add to the pleasant voyage itself. It’s worth noting that there are bike shops nearby should you find yourself in need of a repair. In Northampton, there’s Northampton Bicycle, a little up Pleasant Street from the path, and these days, there’s even a mobile shop called Speed and Sprocket Cycle Works.

It’s easy to pick your starting points by places you’d like to visit, and today we’ll look at a Northampton-centric ride ending in Hadley – a three mile stretch along the Manhan and Norwottuck rail trails. Any ride requires fortification, and you can keep it fancy if you get provisions for your expedition at, well, Provisions. Skip the wine and beer for improved steering, but if you’re the sort who like a good cornichon, a hunk of unusual cheese, or maybe a salami, this is the place.

Meander on down the path a bit (it runs along the back of a big parking lot, across from Northampton Brewery), and you cross Pleasant Street. Downtown, of course, has more than its share of diversions of every sort, and you’ll soon find yourself near Resinate, an outpost of the booming Massachusetts cannabis industry and home to locally grown leaf.

The "Truck-Eating Bridge"

The trail heads north from downtown, crossing over Main Street, just beside the town’s famous “truck-eating bridge.” It tracks parallel to King Street, a little light on scenery, but with at least one useful stop if you’re in need of supplies, Foster-Farrar Hardware. A little farther north, you can take a left to head toward Florence and points west, or duck beneath the railroad tracks to head eastward toward Hadley. This section of the trail is just what you hope for in a bike trail: uncrowded, quiet, and enclosed by trees, a pleasant oasis between the well-trafficked King Street and Damon Road.

After you cross Damon, you get the major payoff: the trail crosses the old rail bridge over the Connecticut River. It’s quite high, and the views northward offer all the beauty the Valley can stuff into the frame, with the sparkling river, distant hills, and a wide-open sky.

Arcade Games

After you’ve taken in the charm, keep heading eastward to our final stop. If you think the only way to improve an ’80s arcade would be adding craft beer and creative food, The Quarters may be your paradise. It’s got old-school arcade games for days, and with indoor and outdoor seating, offers a perfect place to rest your legs.

And, to be clear – that’s only a short segment of the bike trail system that weaves through Hampshire and Franklin Counties. There’s plenty more to discover.

Go back