On The Trail: Mount Tom

Hiking is a big deal around these parts.

Ask someone why they like living in the Valley, and odds are high you’ll hear something about outdoor recreation. To be sure, trails wind their scenic ways all over our region, from flat bike trails to challenging uphill rambles. There may not be a lot left unexplored,  but the Valley’s hiking gems offer plenty that’s rewarding.

Since we’ve had a look at bike trails, this time around we’ll look at some forested, hilly hikes. The Valley’s prominent peaks offer great starting points, with rewarding views at the top, and refreshing destinations nearby.

Mount Tom State Park, which offers a lovely backdrop to Easthampton, has lots to offer, so we’ll start with this imposing peak. The most-obvious trails run along the long ridge at the top, ending at the antenna arrays visible from miles away. Those trails are fairly easy, since they start high on the mountain and stay there. You’ll find plenty of scenic stops overlooking Easthampton and environs. Thanks to Mount Tom’s significant elevation, the views are among the best in the region.

Historic Destination

Elsewhere on the mountain, there are easy walks taking you near vernal pools and through forested areas (particularly nice on hot, muggy Valley summer days). At the opposite end from the antenna-covered summit, there are less-traveled trails, and an unusual, historic destination. The Eyrie Hotel, built in the mid-19th century, offered visitors a grand place to stay, until a fire destroyed it in 1901. What remains (atop what is technically Mount Nonotuck, not Mount Tom proper) is a modest, but extraordinarily castle-like set of ruins – well worth the hike to get there.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, a funicular railroad line stretched from Holyoke to the summit of Mount Tom. The peak held a summit house for day use, but after it suffered a fire as well and business declined, the railroad was replaced with a road around 1940. There’s little left, but here and there you can catch a glimpse of a support structure from the long-gone railroad.

There’s not a lot near the trailheads, since they’re mostly well inside the boundaries of Mount Tom State Park, but the restaurant at the high point of the road between Easthampton and Holyoke – The Tavern on the Hill – has stunning views (particularly at sunset) and good food and drink to enjoy while you take in those views.

Easthampton - Down the Mountain

Drive down the mountain, however, and all sorts of diversions await in Easthampton itself, from a centerpiece of activity, Cottage Street, to the busy former mill buildings farther from the Mount Tom. There’s no way to cover all of the great place to go in one post, but there are a few that work well after a hike that are well worth a mention. On Cottage Street, Mount Tom Ice Cream offers plenty of flavors and an old-school candy-shop vibe, for all your sugary needs. For a coffee break, head for Pleasant Street and Big Bear Used Books and Cafe, home to coffee and plenty of interesting volumes. And if you’ve really worn yourself out, don’t miss Go With the Float, where you can restore your tired muscles in a tank of water and half a ton(!) of epsom salts, so you’ll be ready for our next blog entry on where to wear out the hiking muscles next.

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