How to pack for an outdoor adventure in the byways region? You’ll want a bike, rollerblades, kayak, fishing pole… Hiking boots are a must. Better yet, pack camping gear for the whole family and stay for a while. Definitely bring binoculars. In the winter you’ll want skis, ice skates and snowshoes. Most important is a sense of adventure for exploring by land, water or even ziplining through the sky.
Hikers have hundreds of miles of possibilities in the byways region, from half-mile nature walks to weeklong treks. The Midstate Trail is a 95-mile scenic footpath through Worcester County. The New England National Scenic Trail (also known as the MMM trail—Metacomet-Monadnock-Mattabesett) encompasses traprock ridges, mountain summits, forested glades, vernal pools, lakes, streams and waterfalls. The northern section of the trail runs from the New Hampshire border at Royalston Falls south through Erving past Montague. The southern section starts near Pelham and crosses the Holyoke Range into Hadley and then turns south through the entire length of Connecticut. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail parallels the western border of Massachusetts, and intersects the Mohawk Trail, Mount Greylock and Jacob’s Ladder Trail Scenic Byways.
The 12-mile Connecticut River Water Trail runs between the Turners Falls Dam in Montague and the boat ramp in Hatfield and offers gentle, scenic paddling. The Westfield River, a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, is a challenging whitewater destination after snowmelt or rain. There are some gentle segments for novice paddlers, and Class II, III and IV rapids for more experienced canoers and kayakers. The annual Westfield River Whitewater Race is a chance to test your skill, or just cheer on racers from viewing spots along the course. Diehard rafters take note: The Deerfield River offers the only summer whitewater rafting in Massachusetts, with several outfitters to accompany you.
Well-maintained but sparsely traveled roads with a scenic view at every turn provide some of the best cycling in the world. Haven’t been on two wheels for years, or have young kids in tow? Hop on one of the region’s rail trails like the 11-mile Norwottuck Rail Trail that connects Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and Belchertown; or the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail that runs 12 miles through Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams. Want to make a day of it, maybe add some challenging hills? The Great River Ride Bicycle Tour in the Westfield River Watershed is a 100-mile tour through hilly terrain with lots of flatlands in the valley. Looking for something off-road? There are extensive mountain biking trails in DAR State Forest in Goshen and in and around the Town of Huntington. Near the Long Pond section of the Tully Trail north of Athol is a 6-mile mountain biking loop. Remote wooded roads and select trails in the Savoy Mountain, Mohawk Trail and Kenneth Dubuque Memorial State Forests redefine the term deep woods.
Many hiking trails are great for snowshoeing in the winter, and rail trails become wide cross-country ski tracks. Canterbury Farm in Becket, Maple Corner Farm in Granville, and Stump Sprouts in Hawley all groom trails specifically for cross-country skiing and offer equipment rentals. Notchview in Windsor has 25 miles of ungroomed trails specifically for Nordic skiing, skate skiing, and even a 1.2-mile loop for skijoring—cross-country skiing with dogs. Back-country skiers will find opportunities in October Mountain and Chester-Blandford State Forests. Experienced alpine skiers can try their luck at the backcountry Thunderbolt Trail on Mount Greylock’s east slope. Thunderbolt was built in the 1930s and is a thrilling 2-mile run down a fast, ungroomed trail. You’ll also find several downhill skiing and snowboarding areas, snowmobiling, and a long ice-fishing season.
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