Massachusetts Hikes: Mt. Tom
Are you a flatlander from the Connecticut shore looking to do some leg burning in the mountains, but either can’t get up to the high peaks of Vermont or New Hampshire or can’t afford the trip? Or maybe you are a 3 Seasons hiker that isn’t yet ready to do winter wilderness snowshoeing but want to try it?
If you answer ‘yes’ to either of these questions, I’ve got a really nice alternative for you – Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts. This State Reservation, located just north of Springfield, has over 2100 acres of outstanding and varied terrain. The highest point is just over 1200 feet elevation. There are 22 miles of blazed trails ranging from a simple loop around Lake Bray at the park’s entrance to a wonderful and sometimes challenging 4 mile section of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail that follows the upper park ridge. All of the trails were well marked, clear of blowdowns and nicely laid out. You can get more information about the park and a detailed trail map by going to the website.
I decided to make the under 2 hour drive from Southeastern Connecticut because I was in snow withdrawal. It was January and it was green in Niantic. I needed to walk in the snow! Mt. Tom was the closest hike with measurable snow.
The park is easily accessed from I-91 by taking Exit 17, then following Rt. 5 north for 4-5 miles. As a warning, don’t take the turn when you see the big “MT. TOM” sign. Follow the road another couple miles north until you see the sign for the State Reservation. There is plenty of parking just beyond the entrance.
For today’s hike I decided to take the T. Bagg trail from the parking area to the intersection of the Metacomet Trail. There was 4-6 inches of snow throughout the park. Not quite enough for snowshoes, but just right for micro-spikes. The T.Bagg trail is typically straight uphill for a mile through beautiful evergreen forest for about 400 feet elevation gain. The trail meanders as it traverses around rock outcroppings and wetlands. At the Metacomet Trail intersection I went south and hiked again uphill another 200 feet elevation rise until I reached the upper park ridge at the Goat Peak lookout tower (elev. 825’). This is a great spot to stop and take in the views. The tower takes you above all the trees and gives you outstanding views in all directions. From this point I followed the Metacomet south trail along the ridge toward the radio antennae that give this mountain its distinctive look. After about another ½ mile the Metacomet trail crosses the paved park road, which is closed in winter. Just after this intersection the trail makes a very steep climb as it follows the ridge south. You will pick up well over 300 feet elevation gain in the next ¼ mile. This section is reminiscent of some of the leg burning trails in the White Mountains. Be very careful on this section if the trail is icy! One of the nice features of the Metacomet Trail along the upper park ridge are the numerous clearings that afford outstanding views to the west and north. You will have a bird’s eye view of the town of Northampton, some 1100 feet below. Being conscious of the time of day and the distance back to the car, I decided that I could not comfortably make it all the way south to the radio towers, so I took the D.O.C. trail to the Keystone trail. These two trails will take you 2 miles back to the entrance.
My hike today was 5.0 miles altogether with an elevation gain of 900 feet. This hike satisfied my goal of providing a big mountain feel without having to travel 3+ hours. And there was some lovely snow throughout the park, a far cry from the green grass of Niantic.