MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL; NORWOTTUCK EAST

AMHERST-NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS

-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-

Last Updated:       December 12, 2015

Length:                 Mass Central Rail Trail: Norwottuck East; 10.7 miles

                               UMass Bikeway Commuter Trail (Swift Way); 2.1 miles. [Loop; 3.5 miles]

Difficulty:            Easy. Flat, paved rail trail. 

Directions:

To start from the Spoke (King Street; Routes 5 & 10) or Elwell State Park; 

From I-91:

Northbound: Take exit 19 and continue straight off the ramp across Route 9 onto Damon Rd. On your right is Elwell State Park (Central). Note; This parking lot fills up quickly during the summer months and weekends. To start from King Street (Western End); Continuing along Damon Rd, you travel under I-91 and come to Routes 5 & 10 (King St) at the light. Turn left on King St and follow until you come to the Stop & Shop Kingsgate plaza on your right. As you turn right into the plaza look left to spot a spur trail. This trail runs through the parking lot and connects to the trail near where it crosses King St. 

Southbound: Take exit 20 to Routes 5 & 10 (N King St) south. To start from King Street; Continue straight on King St and follow until you come to the Stop & Shop Kingsgate plaza on your right. As you turn right into the plaza look left to spot a spur trail. This trail runs through the parking lot and connects to the trail near where it crosses King St.  

To start from Wright Road (Eastern End); Take Route 9 for about 6.5 miles from Elwell State Park. Take a right down Southeast St and a left onto Station Rd after about 2 miles. Less then a mile you will pass the Station Road parking lot on your left. Continue on until you come to Wright Road on your right. The parking lot is less then a mile down the road.

Three rail trails Spoke out from the east side of King St (Routes 5 & 10). The Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck West crosses King St and heads northwest past Look Park, through Leeds Village towards Williamsburg. The Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck East will (as of Dec 2015 construction has not yet begun on the new tunnel) travel underneath the active rail line heading east along the former Central Mass Branch of the Boston & Maine RR Line that connected Northampton to Boston. The Manhan/New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail North travels south along the former New Haven & Northampton Railroad through downtown Northampton to East Hampton where it intersects the Manhan Rail Trail, then continues along the Manhan/New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail South to the Southampton town line. For more information visit;  NORTHAMPTON TRAILS .

The Mass Central Rail Trail is a planned 104 mile trail from Northampton to Boston along the former Central Mass Branch of the Boston & Maine RR Line, which was abandoned in 1938 after the 38 Hurricane shattered the line. The trail today exists in many unconnected sections and with differing surfaces. Starting from Northampton heading east the sections that are complete include the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck East, Mass Central Rail Trail: Belchertown , Mass Central Rail Trail; New Braintree-Hardwick , Mass Central Rail Trail; Barre-Rutland , Mass Central Rail Trail; Holden-West Boylston & Mass Central Rail Trail; Sterling in the towns of Belchertown, Braintree, Hardwick, Barre, Oakham, Rutland, Holden, West Boylston and Sterling. Outside of Boston, the town of Wayland has plans to convert their section of rail bed in 2016. In Cambridge the last section of the Mass Central Rail Trail has been completed and is referred to as the Fitchburg Cutoff . It connects to another Spoke of trails that all radiate out from Alewife T Station: See; Minuteman Bikeway , Alewife Brook Greenway , Fresh Pond Loop Trail and the Somerville Community Path .

Starting from the Elwell State Park parking lot; A map board is located here.

Note; To access the  Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck West and Manhan/New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail North head left across Damon Rd via the cross-light. The trail then takes you underneath I-91, through residential Northampton and to an active RR line where the trail currently ends after 0.6 miles. The trail will travel underneath the RR tracks via a tunnel, however, as of December 2015 this section has not been constructed. To access the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck West and Manhan/New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail North you need to detour left on-road along Woodmont Rd. Turn right on North St which then bears right underneath the bridge and railroad tracks. Turn left up a paved path which brings you to the Manhan/New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail North after 1 mile. Head left to reach the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck West trailhead or right for downtown Northampton.

The trail crosses over the Connecticut River on an old railroad trestle that spans close a third of a mile. As you cross the bridge, you will see Elwell Island below. It is currently 60 acres and is one of the largest islands in the Connecticut River. Definitely a highlight of the trip, this 1,492 foot iron bridge was built in 1887. After crossing over the bridge, note an old granite Whistle Post marker on the right side of the trail. There are many of these old markers along the trail, as well as old granite mileage markers, that reflect the history of this old railroad bed. Note; the mile marker signs posted along the trail relate to the distance to the Station Rd parking lot. The 1 mile section to Wright Rd is the newest addition to the trail and not reflected in the markers. As you ride along the trail you will also notice a series of earthen dikes to your left. These flood control dikes were constructed in 1938 after two devastating floods swept through the valley. After about 1.4 miles you'll pass by a Bike Station containing a water fountain and air. Next you cross the historic Hadley Common. This Common is over a mile long. You then encounter a cafe in the former Hadley Railroad Station at mile 1.8. You travel through a tunnel underneath Route 9 at 3 miles. You can spot a Bison Farm located across Route 9 just after you emerge from the tunnel. About 3.8 miles will bring you to the Mountain Farms Mall parking lots along the left side of the trail. Another mile of level trail then gives way to a slightly steeper grade. You pass alongside a golf course and eventually come to the start of the UMass Bikeway Commuter Trail (also called "Swift Way") on your left at 5.8 miles.

Note; The UMass Bikeway Commuter Trail/Swift Way is a spur trail to the UMass Amherst campus where you may also loop back to the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck East through Amherst Center (quaint shops & restaurants) and only bypass 0.2  miles of the trail. See below.

Just past the UMass Bikeway Commuter Trail you will spot a line of boulders on the right, leading to a small field with picnic tables. Continuing along the trail, it finally crests and starts a more downward grade. You then travel underneath Route 116 at the 6 mile mark and come to the former Amherst Railroad Station, which now houses a lumber yard.

Note; If you go north up Route 116, you can check out Amherst College. Very scenic campus on top of a hill. You can also go downtown for a variety of restaurants and shops.

At just over 7 miles you cross two bridges over the Fort River and East St. The trail is fairly level again. You pass through several conservation areas and swamps including the Brickyard Conservation Area, Poor Farm Swamp and Lawrence Swamp. You reach the Station Road parking lot after about 8.6 miles. Map board located here. You can see the active rail line to your left as it now begins to parallel the trail. This is the New England Central Railroad, which runs from New London, Connecticut to the Canadian border and passes through Amherst. The trail passes through deep woods before ending at Warren Wright Road parking lot after 10.1 miles. This is the border with Belchertown. Currently the trail ends here. Future plans call for continuing the trail through Belchertown where another section of trail has been developed. See; Mass Central Rail Trail; Belchertown .

UMass Bikeway Commuter Trail/Swift Way Loop:

From the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck East; This paved spur trail travels down to Route 9 where a cross-light will get you over this busy road. The trail then travels alongside University Drive (commercial). You'll pass by the HAMPSHIRE BICYCLE EXCHANGE before crossing Amity St and passing the South Gate to UMASS; Amherst at 0.8 miles. The Warren McGuire Alumni Stadium is along your left. After passing the Southwest Residence Halls the trail bears right and brings you to Mass Ave after 1.6 miles. The trail then heads up a slight hill alongside Mass Ave, passing by the Visitor Center, before ending after 2.1 miles at N Pleasant St. To continue the loop back to the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck East  turn right and follow the bike-lane along N Pleasant St. Turn right along E Pleasant St and follow the bike-lane through downtown Amherst Center. Lots of shops and restaurants. After passing through the center of town you'll head downhill past Amherst College. Just past Hitchcock Rd on your right you'll pick up a paved path that will bring you down to the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck East after 3.5 miles. If you head left (west) you'll return to the start of the Swift Way after 0.2 miles. 

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CLICK HERE FOR MAP

CLICK HERE FOR REGIONAL TRAIL MAP

CLICK HERE FOR MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL MAP

CLICK HERE FOR OLD RR MAP

 

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