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 Range, Arcadia 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!