MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL; NORWOTTUCK BRANCH

AMHERST-NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS

MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL; WILLIAMSBURG BRANCH

NORTHAMPTON-WILLIAMSBURG, MASSACHUSETTS

-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-

Last Updated:      October 09, 2022

Length:                Mass Central Rail Trail: Norwottuck Branch; 10.8 miles

                               Hadley Dyke Trail; 1.5 miles   Loop; 2 miles

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

                               Mass Central Rail Trail: Williamsburg Branch; 5.5 miles

                               Look Park Loop Trail; 1.5 miles

Difficulty:            Mass Central Rail Trail: Norwottuck Branch; Easy. Flat, paved rail trail. 

                               Hadley Dyke Trail; Easy. Flat, hard packed dirt & grass.

                               Mass Central Rail Trail: Williamsburg Branch; Easy. Paved rail trail with slight grade one direction.

                                Look Park Loop Trail; Easy. Flat paved trail.

Directions:

From I-91:

Northbound: Take exit 25 and continue to the Route 9 traffic circle. Take the Damon Rd exit. On your right is Elwell State Park (Mass Central; Norwottuck Branch Central Section). To start from King Street (Mass Central; Norwottuck Branch Western End/ Mass Central; Williamsburg Branch Southern 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 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 Mass Central Rail Trail; Williamsburg Branch near where it crosses King St. You need to head left across King St to reach the "Spoke".

Southbound: Take exit 26 to Routes 5 & 10 (King St) and come to your first intersection. To start from King Street (Mass Central; Norwottuck Branch Western End/ Mass Central; Williamsburg Branch Southern End); Continue straight on King St and follow until you come to the 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 Mass Central Rail Trail; Williamsburg Branch near where it crosses King St. You need to head left across King St to reach the "Spoke". To start from Elwell State Park (Mass Central; Norwottuck Branch Central Section). Turn left on Damon Rd. Just before you reach Route 9 the parking lot will be on your left.

To start from Wright Road (Mass Central; Norwottuck Branch 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.

You can rent bikes in Amherst. See; VALLEY BIKE SHARE for locations.

The Mass Central Rail Trail is a planned 104 mile trail from Northampton Massachusetts to Boston. It will follow the old Central Mass Branch of the Boston & Maine RR that ran between the two cities. The railroad split into two after the1938 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 Branch, Mass Central Rail Trail: Belchertown , Mass Central Rail Trail; Ware-Hardwick- New Braintree , Mass Central Rail Trail; Barre-Clinton , Mass Central Rail Trail; Wayland-Weston & Mass Central Rail Trail; Boston-Cambridge . For more information check out;  MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL , EAST COAST GREENWAY & NORTHAMPTON TRAILS .

In Northampton the Mass Central Rail Trail is a "Spoke" for 3 Trails.

  In Cambridge at Alewife T- Station, a stop on the commuter rail line into Boston is a Hub for 5 Trails (plus interconnecting Trails). 

Starting from the "Spoke" off King Street; Three rail trails "Spoke" out from here. The Mass Central Rail Trail; Williamsburg Branch travels northwest across King St. The Manhan/New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail travels south through Northampton. The Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck Branch starts out north to a tunnel underneath the active RR tracks, before heading east. A granite RR Mileage Marker here reads New Haven 97 miles/Boston 109 miles.

Note; Straight takes you out and across King St to the Kingsgate Plaza parking lot, where you can also access the Mass Central Rail Trail; Williamsburg Branch.

Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck Branch:

Travel EAST through the tunnel from the "Spoke" where you'll enter a wooded residential corridor. Cross Bates St before traveling underneath I-91 and coming to cross-light at Damon Rd.

Note; Right, a paved Spur Trail takes you alongside Damon Rd to the Route 9 traffic circle. Heading right leads to the Bridge Street BIKE LANE. If you follow the traffic circle left it will take you to a path over the CT River via the Bridge Street Bridge.

Crossing Damon Rd brings you to Elwell State Park after 0.7 miles. A Map Board is located here, along with a BIKE STATION and Porto-Potty. 

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. Granite Mile Markers are located every mile along the route. Come to Cross Path Rd at 1.4 miles.

Note; Left is the start of the hard packed dirt & grass Hadley Dike Trail Loop that travels atop a flood control dikes. These flood control dikes were constructed in 1938 after two devastating floods swept through the valley. This trail follows above Cross Path Rd before crossing Cemetery Rd where it continues north to the Connecticut River at 0.6 miles. Here the trail heads east above the river. Come to the Alexandra Dawson Conservation Area parking lot off North Ln after 1.5  miles. From here you can Loop back to the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck Branch by heading right on-road (residential) along North Ln. This brings you to the historic Hadley Common. Continue left along North Ln and rejoin the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck Branch  after a 2 mile Loop.

Continuing east from Cross Path Rd you'll cross the historic Hadley Common at 2.2 miles. This Common is over a mile long. You then pass by a Porto-Potty and Map Board before coming to the former Hadley Railroad Station at 2.5 miles. You travel through a tunnel underneath Route 9 at 4 miles. About 4.5 miles will bring you to the Mountain Farms Mall parking lots along the left side of the trail. Cross S Maple St and come to Range View. Here you'll find a Map Board and picnic tables. Views of the Holyoke Range. 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 6.5 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 Branch 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 7.7 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 9.3 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 10.8 miles. This is the border with Belchertown. Currently, as of Oct 2022, a gap exists between here and another section of trail that has been developed in Belchertown. See; Mass Central Rail Trail; Belchertown .

UMass Bikeway Commuter Trail/Swift Way Loop:

From the Mass Central Rail Trail; Norwottuck Branch; 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 Branch  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 Branch after 3.5 miles. If you head left (west) you'll return to the start of the Swift Way after 0.2 miles. 

Mass Central Rail Trail; Williamsburg Branch:

Starting from the "Spoke" off King Street in Northampton; The Mass Central Rail Trail; Williamsburg Branch travels northwest across King St where you'll find a Map Board/mileage chart. These signs are located all along the trail. Next you'll pass an intersecting trail on your right after 0.2 miles that travels through the Kingsgate Plaza parking lot and back out to King St. The paved trail begins an assent as it travels alongside the Barrett Street Marsh on your right. The trail travels an uphill grade the whole length. You'll travel underneath the Jackson Street Bridge at 0.7 miles where a ramp leads up to Jackson St and another Map Board. Come to the first of several low volume road crossings via Prospect St at 1 mile. You travel along a high berm and cross two more streets before coming to an adobe bench under a wooden lean-to. Here you'll find an BIKE STATION for public use. Their is a "Lending Library" here as well. Just after crossing Chestnut St, look to your left to spot an old RR Semaphore Arm. The trail levels out as you come to N Maple St at 2.2 miles near downtown Florence, a section of Northampton. Places to shop and eat. Just past N Maple St on your right is the FULL CIRCLE BIKE SHOP. When you reach Bridge St, the old rail bed continues across the street, but follow the paved trail through the roundabout and across N Main St (Route 9). This brings you to the entrance for Look Park at 2.9 miles. 

Note; Look Park is a great park for kids. Open year round during daylight hours with reasonable entrance fees and picnic site fees. Visit; LOOK PARK  for more information on fees and amenities such as pedal boats, bumper boats, miniature golf, water spray park and even a mini train that runs inside the park. The 1.5 mile Look Park Loop Trail loops through the park connecting all areas together. At the entrance to Look Park is a parking area you may start from, unless you plan on visiting the park, in which case the Loop Trail within the park will bring you back to this parking lot. 

The trail enters the park, traveling past the gatehouse and passing by the miniature golf course. When you reach the park road, the trail turns right. Straight takes you along the parks trails. The trail skirts the park before turning right and heading back out of the park and back to the paved rail trail at 3.4 miles.

Note; If you head right, the trail brings you back out to N Main St and the entrance for Look Park.

Head left along the trail as it travels above N Main St on your right and the park on your left. You'll cross over two wooden bridges, the second over Arch St and head back into the woods. You'll spot the Mill River below on your left. Come to Mulberry St at 4.3 miles. Down to your left is a nice old brick mill building along the river in Leeds Village, a section of Northampton. Crosswalk over Mulberry St. This section is referred to as the Mill River Greenway. The trail travels only a short distance before the pavement ends at 4.5 miles. On your left is an old stone dam across the river. Waterfall created by the spillway. Be sure to check it out. The river is a popular swimming spot in the summer. Clear water. The trail continues along the river, but consists of a stone-dust base. Come to a spur trail at 4.8 miles.

Note; This paved spur trail heads right uphill to Grove Ave, a residential dead end road. 

The trail becomes paved as it continues north alongside the river crossing a wooden bridge over Beaver Brook. Left is a nice sandy swimming hole. The trail then turns off the rail bed taking you down to S Main St after 5.5 miles as you enter Haydenville. The plan is to continue north on-road along S Main St to Main St (Route 9). A paved trail will then be built alongside Route 9 heading northwest to Williamsburg. This will occur when the state rebuilds Route 9 possibly in 2025. 

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CLICK HERE FOR REGIONAL AREA MAP

CLICK HERE FOR MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL MAP

CLICK HERE FOR OLD MASS CENTRAL RR MAP

 

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