Best Hiking Near Boston: Mount Holyoke Range State Park

Traverse the entire Holyoke Range and spot rare flora and fauna in this mountain wonderland.

It’s not often that you can hike a whole mountain range within a single afternoon—and rarer still that you can accomplish it without ever leaving the grounds of a pristinely managed state park. That’s the magic of Mount Holyoke Range State Park: Encompassing 3,000 acres of forested mountain-scape in Western Mass, the park surrounds almost the entirety of the Holyoke Range. (The rest is contained within the adjacent Joseph Allen Skinner State Park). Hikers are treated to a 7-mile ridgeline, which rolls out near-constant views of the surrounding valleys. 

During the summer, the high elevation provides a welcome respite from the muggy valley heat. And in fall, there’s no better vantage point to take in Western Massachusetts’ world-famous fall foliage. Here’s what you need to know ahead of your first visit.
 

Seasons

Mount Holyoke Range State Park is open year-round. Each season paints the landscape in wildly different colors, giving the scenery a near-constant refresh. Between the seasonal variability and the range’s vast array of ecosystems and forest types, it’s easy to visit several times a year without ever feeling like you’ve been to the same park twice. 

  • Spring: Cool temperatures and newly leafing trees make spring a gorgeous time to visit the park. Flowers begin blooming as soon as the snow starts to melt and continue through late June.
  • Summer: Massachusetts summers can be sweltering, but the higher peaks of the Holyoke Range are nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, offering some respite from the heat. Be sure to bring plenty of water: The highs in July frequently climb into the mid-80s.   
  • Fall: Mount Holyoke is one of the best spots to view New England’s famed fall foliage, which generally peaks around mid-October. Autumn is also the season for hawk-watching: Several different hawk species migrate through the park between September and November. 
  • Winter: With cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling all on offer in the Holyoke Range, winter is a magical time to visit. While temperatures tend to be relatively moderate (usually with daily highs in the 30s), damp conditions are almost guaranteed. Pack a waterproof shell and plenty of layers.  

Recommended Hikes 

With 15 miles of hiking trails and gorgeous scenery everywhere you go, there’s no wrong way to hike the Holyoke Range. Still, here are a few classics to get you started. 

  • Laurel Loop: Only about 0.75 miles, the Laurel Loop is a great option if you’re short on time. It traces shady, wooded trails just northeast of the Notch Visitor Center where the trail begins. Go in June to catch the trail’s namesake mountain-laurel bloom.
  • Horse Caves Loop: Explore the Horse Caves, a series of ledges and alcoves just off the New England Scenic Trail, on this easy 3.4-mile loop hike. Start and end at the Holyoke Range parking lot. 
  • Seven Sisters Trail: This 8-mile out-and-back trail tackles several prominent summits, including the park’s crown jewel: Mount Holyoke. You can hike it from either direction, but the Notch Visitor Center is the traditional start. 
  • Mount Holyoke Traverse: Just shy of 10 miles, this full-range traverse is the area’s hiking test-piece. To do it, start at the Long Mountain Trailhead off Harris Mountain Road. Gain the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail and head west, following the ridgeline all the way to the top of Mount Holyoke at the far west end. Pragmatists can hike down to the Mount Holyoke trailhead from there. Completionists can hike the extra mile southwest to the range’s true east end (leave a shuttled car at the parking area on Mountain Road).  

 

Other Activities

While most visitors come to Mount Holyoke Range to walk the trails, day-hiking only scratches the surface of the park’s adventure offerings. 

  • Leaf peeping: At the top of Mount Holyoke, you’ll find the Summit House, a former 19th-century hotel that’s now a historic site. In the summer it hosts live music and other events, but in the fall, its wraparound porch serves a higher purpose: affording visitors a 360-degree view of the brilliant red and gold foliage carpeting the slopes below. 
  • Mountain biking: The Holyoke Range is home to an intricate web of mountain biking trails. On the northern slope, you’ll find Earl’s Trails, a tight network of mostly beginner- to intermediate-level singletrack. On the south slope, the Batchelor Street Trails offer more technical lines and enough terrain variety to entertain riders of all ability levels. 
  • Birding: Because the park encompasses everything from freshwater marshland to oak-conifer forest, it hosts a vast number of bird species, from warblers and waterthrush to eagles and ospreys. It’s also an important stopover point for migratory hawks, kestrels, and other birds. It’s even got the Audubon stamp of approval to prove it: Mount Holyoke Range State Park is within a designated Important Bird Area (IBA)
  • Backpacking: If you’re itching for a longer trip, consider plotting a route along the 200-mile New England National Scenic Trail or the 47-mile Robert Frost Trail, both of which cross the state park.  

 

Getting There 

Holyoke Range State Park is located on the ancestral lands of the Nipmuc and Pocumtuc peoples, about an hour and a half from Framingham and two hours from Boston proper. Take the Turnpike (Interstate 90) west to Exit 54 in Ludlow. Take your first right onto Center Street, then hang a left on Rood Street after about a mile. From here, you’ll connect a string of small rural roads, bearing north. Once you get onto Amherst Road (MA-116 North), you’ll spot the parking area (free) on your right after about a mile. 
 

More Info

For trail maps and other resources, check out the state park webpage: mass.gov
 

Refresh & Refuel 

On the way home, be sure to stop at Iron Duke Brewing for craft brews and food-truck fare. Its location—right on the banks of the Chicopee River in Ludlow’s historic mills complex—gives it a rustic, hometown vibe. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.