Are you new to hiking? Perhaps you live in MA and don’t feel like driving for hours to get to the trail head? Either way, Mount Holyoke, within Skinner State Park in Hadley MA, is one of the best hikes you will find just about anywhere.
Where: Skinner Sate Park
Distance: M+M Trail is 1.6 miles each way
When: Right now, this is a great hike to do in every season
Mount Holyoke, at just over 1000 feet, is part of the 400 acre Skinner Sate Park and is the western side of the Mount Holyoke range. At one point Mount Holyoke was one of the most important tourist destinations in the United States, second to Niagara Falls, due to its amazing views and accessibility to civilization. A hotel was constructed on the summit, dubbed the Summit House, which serves a reminder to this past and is now a museum. Also, the view from this summit was made famous by Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting “The Oxbow” which can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (DCR) To put it simply, you won’t find many 1000 foot mountains with this much history.
Mount Holyoke has many routes to the summit. You can take the road, the M+M Trail or at least 3 other routes. I chose the M+M trail as it follows the ridge, offers the best views and gets to the summit in only 1.6 miles. The trail immediately starts with a significant climb that will get you warmed up quick and provide a fantastic view of the valley. From there, the trail follows a ridge that is pleasantly wooded and scenic. This trail gives you the feeling of being in the woods but there are enough reminders to let you know that civilization is not that far away. There also seems to be a viewpoint every couple hundred yards that lets you gaze over the pristine Hadley farmland, the Connecticut River, or the University of Massachusetts. There are several very steep climbs along this route but none are too long or hard to discourage new hikers. However, each steep climb will reward you with a view from a different vantage point. The hike finishes with one of the trail’s steepest climbs to the summit of Mount Holyoke.
All of your climbing efforts will be paid back in full upon reaching the summit. You will get a 360 degree view of the pioneer valley that extends all the way to Vermont, New Hampshire and Hartford. There is a reason this mountain is so famous; few mountains of any size can match its scenery. The summit house still stands as a reminder of the peak’s tourism heyday. It is currently being repaired but the museum inside provides an interesting perspective on the area’s historical and culture. The summit area is very spread out with picnic areas, grills, and fantastic views form every angle.
Skinner State Park is all about options. At this point you can go back the way you came or take one of the many other trails back. You can even hike the entire Mount Holyoke range, known as the Seven Sisters, for an approximately 6 mile hike; look for a trip report on this soon.
DCR. (n.d.). Department of Conservation and Recreation . Retrieved 2010, from J.A. Skinner State Park: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/skinner/history.htm