There’s good reason that magazines such as Outside and National Geographic have repeatedly recognized Northampton, Massachusetts, and the small communities surrounding it, as one of the best places in America for outdoor activities. The three counties hugging the banks of the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts boast easy access to dozens of state forests and parks, a national scenic trail, dramatic views and, of course, the ever-present river, threading through the center of the Valley.
Getting outdoors here on foot, in a kayak (or even in your car) is sure to provide numerous opportunities to connect to nature and the pastoral landscape that is as central to the region’s heart as pavement is to a major city. But, if you really want to experience the soul of the Valley, explore it by bicycle.
The Connecticut River valley is rich with beautiful cycling routes. Whether you prefer rolling along gravel roads into forgotten villages, a leisurely ramble through river valley farm fields and meadows, or cruising along a protected bike path on the banks of a canal, the region offers options to fill a day, a long weekend or a week-long visit. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some options to explore on your own (including one of our favorite routes) and some fun organized events. In addition, we’ll point you to some places to learn about accommodations and other visitor activities.
On Your Own
Northampton Area Bike Trails
The Northampton area offers a delightful network of paved bicycle paths connecting Easthampton, Amherst, Florence, and Haydenville. They include the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail, and the City of Northampton’s excellent network of trails connecting parks, neighborhoods, and the vibrant Main St. The Friends of the Northampton Trails and Greenways has produced some great MAPS and you can find paper maps in bike shops like Northampton Bicycle (you can rent bikes there too!)
Franklin County Bikeway System
The northern portion of the Valley boasts the amazing Franklin County Bikeway system. These mapped and signed routes total approximately 240 miles in length and cover all of Franklin County, with connections to bordering counties and states. Much of the bikeway network consists of on-road or shared roadway sections that make use of predominantly low-traffic roads passing through pastoral farmlands and small hill town communities. There are several off-road bike paths as well that provide connections suitable for all riders. You can pick up maps at many of the local bike shops and the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
One of our Favorite Rides
Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route
The Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route rolls along the quiet back roads and pathways in Sunderland and Montague. The 23-mile route offers lovely views of a working canal and the Connecticut and Sawmill Rivers and features three impressive waterfalls. It also passes by a charming old bookshop and café, the perfect spot to grab a snack or lunch during your ride. With only 650 feet of climbing, this route is one that many cyclists can enjoy. Because it’s an “out and back” ride, the Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route presents opportunities to begin at either end or even somewhere in the middle. We recommend beginning near the bike path entrance on First St. in Turners Falls, Massachusett. Learn more at the Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route.
River Valley Ice Cream Ride
The River Valley Ice Cream Ride blends the best of summertime fun—bikes, gorgeous roads, and ice cream. And, it supports Pioneer Valley organizations working to strengthen our communities, build our agricultural economy, and enhance biking in the region. Three routes (Kiddie Scoop Loop, Single Scoop Loop, and the Double Scoop Loop) offer options for young families, casual cyclists, and advanced riders. All participants are treated to delicious Bart’s Ice Cream along the route and at the riverside festival with a summer-fresh buffet of locally-sourced foods, kid’s activities, and live music at the starting point in Turners Falls.
The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee or D2R2 was conceived in the 1990s as just a favorite dirt road loop in the hill towns of Franklin County, Massachusetts. Since its birth as an organized event in 2005, the event has attracted as many as 1500 riders and has been hailed as the hardest, most beautiful, most fun, most traffic-free, most unique, and overall best ride that they have ever done. The route uses the narrowest, oldest, twistiest, quietest, and most-scenic roads available and offers options for novices as well as the world’s strongest riders.
Bikefest & Tour of the Valley
The Northampton Bikefest & Tour of the Valley is a bicycle tour and festival occurring in September each year. The event offers seven marked routes ranging from 8 miles to a full century (100 miles). The event also includes a fun festival with post-ride buffet, local craft beers, kid’s activities, and live music.
Off The Bike
The Valley area offers plenty to do after you get off your bike as well. Northampton is one of New England’s most vibrant small cities bustling with restaurants and shops along its broad Main Street. Or visit the 18th century homes along “the Street” in Historic Deerfield or stop by the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls to learn about the natural history of the Connecticut River, an ever-present companion throughout your visit here.
Two of the local chambers of commerce highlight outdoor recreation activities among their offerings and provide connections to overnight accommodations, restaurants, shopping, and other visitor activities:
Franklin County Chamber of Commerce
Northampton Chamber of Commerce
About River’s Edge Cycling
Gary and Maureen Briere at River’s Edge Cycling began introducing cyclists to the exceptional bicycling available in Western New England in 2014. Since then, they’ve welcomed thousands of cyclists from around the world to discover the scenic back roads and charming small villages hidden from the views of most area visitors. They’re offering seven bicycle tours in 2020 ranging from single day events to week-long, multi-state cycling adventures. They also offer custom tours for families and corporate clients. Learn more at River’s Edge Cycling.