Hiking Mt. Holyoke Range and J.A. Skinner State Parks

Discover pastoral views and rustic cabins in Massachusetts.
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Daylight is beginning to burn off the morning fog, opening the views beyond the oxbow below and into the Berkshires and Vermont. Here, in western Mass, where valleys slope down to the Connecticut River and brick storefronts, it’s all very bucolic. But then: The Mt. Holyoke Range and its slew of 1,000-foot peaks flash across the horizon like a lightning bolt. You can traverse the rippled ridgeline in 9 miles across two state parks, or, like I do, as an out-and-back after a night in a rustic cabin beneath Mt. Holyoke. As I’m doubling back, I get to once again see summer’s mountain laurel and hear the songbirds, and yet the view feels completely new. 

Turn-by-Turn from Harris Mountain Road

1) Take the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail 4.2 miles west across Mt. Holyoke Range State Park to MA 116, tagging five knobs on the way.

2) Enter J.A. Skinner State Park via the Bare Mountain trailhead and continue 3.8 miles west to 940-foot Mt. Holyoke.

3) Circle around the Summit House, then proceed on the M-M Trail, which barrels downhill along a former tram line to the Mt. Holyoke Outing Club Cabin near mile 9.3.

4) Head back to Harris Mountain Road for an 18.6-mile out-and-back (or hike .1 mile out to a shuttle car on Old Mountain Road).

Campsite: Mt. Holyoke Outing Club Cabin (mile 9.3)

Do the hike east to west so you can take advantage of this old outpost. Find the humble wood cabin ($35 for the whole thing) nestled into the hillside as the descent starts to mellow out. Inside, snag one of four cots, and enjoy a woodstove and electric lights.

High-Style Finish

Summit House opened in the 1850s as a mountaintop retreat for tourists and creative types. Acquired by the state in 1940, the restored structure now offers a culture fix for hikers: Explore a museum with artifacts from the hotel’s past, or, on Thursday nights in summer, linger for folk and blues concerts ($10) as sunset rays flood the balcony.

Birds

The range’s east-west orientation makes for a powerful windbreak. Mountain slopes convert northwest gusts into updrafts—and ideal hunting grounds for birds of prey. Look up to spot broad-winged hawks, kestrels, and even the occasional bald eagle. Solo flyers drift through in spring and summer; migration traffic peaks in September.

Water

There are no reliable creeks on this route, but you can top off at the Notch Visitor Center (mile 4.2) and the Summit House (mile 8) between May and October.

Do It: Trailhead 42.3075, -72.4709; 7 miles east of Hadley on Harris Mountain Rd. Season May to October Permit None