United States

Amherst & Northampton, MA

A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Places to Run in the 'Five College' Area & Pioneer Valley

Amherst College

The New England towns of Amherst and Northampton are the heart and soul of the Pioneer Valley, which borders the Connecticut River just east of the Berkshire Hills. Also referred to as the “Five College” area, this zone is home to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Smith College, and Mount Holyoke College. The influence of the colleges has promoted an artistic and socially progressive atmosphere throughout the Pioneer Valley, and while the eclectic downtown centers thrive with diverse eateries and arts venues, the surrounding area has remained true to its agricultural roots. Running in Amherst and Northampton is a great mix of historic towns, paths through bucolic college campuses, quiet country roads passing through by farms, and some popular multi-use paths.

These eco-friendly towns are well connected with bike paths, sidewalks, and quiet back roads through rolling farmland offer scenic vistas of the Mount Holyoke range looming above the river. In addition to running tours of the UMass, Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, and Mount Holyoke campuses, we’ve mapped some excellent loops through the lively downtown centers, and a tour of Northampton’s colorful and quirky historic homes. There’s also miles of excellent, accessible trail running throughout the area, especially in the Mount Tom/Holyoke RangeArcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Amherst College Wildlife Sanctuary, and Amethyst Brook along the Robert Frost Trail.

Thanks to the Five College network, Amherst and Northampton are well connected by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) bus system. Frequent shuttles link the two towns and run along main routes servicing the schools, residences, and shopping areas. Otherwise, a car is needed. Runners should also note that winters are cold and snowy, which might affect the runnability of some of the area’s paths and trails. The main bike paths in the area are plowed in winter!

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This area has warm summers and cold winters. In summer, average high temperatures are in the low 80s (27C), with nights that can cool off. Winters are cold – high temperatures are around the freezing mark, but lows dip into the low teens (-10C). It snows, but not that abundantly. Fall is gorgeous for running, with crisp temperatures and great colors.

There are a few hotels in downtown Amherst, including the Hotel UMass, the Lord Jeffery Inn, the University Lodge, the Allen House/Amherst Inn, and the Black Walnut Inn.

In downtown Northampton, visitors will find the lovely historic Hotel Northampton, the Autumn Inn, and a Fairfield Inn.

There are also several economy and name-brand hotels along the commercial strip of Route 9 in Hadley, which connects Amherst to Northampton.

It’s worthwhile to do a search for countryside inns and B&Bs, which are common throughout the area.

Marathon Sports in Northampton is the area’s go-to running store, but runners can also find gear at local outdoor shops like Eastern Mountain Sports and Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters in Hadley,

As for running groups, check out the Amity Hill Running Club (which exclusively runs the Amity Street Hill), Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, and the Marathon Sports Run Group which takes off Thursdays at 6:30 pm. For students, each campus also hosts running groups.

The Happy Valley Half Marathon and 5k, the Amherst Half Marathon and 5k, and the Hot Chocolate Run are perhaps the areas most popular races, but you can find a full list of upcoming races here.

For a challenge, sign onto the tough but scenic Seven Sisters Trail Race.