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Rail Trails Rock!

Well, really, they roll, but it's all music to my ears anyway! I love riding the rail trails, and yesterday was no exception. After a business meeting, my trusty companion and I decided to check out part of the extensive bike trail system in Northampton, Massachusetts. As luck would have it, there was a trail head right behind the building where we had our meeting, so we were able to hop onto the Mass Central Rail Trail right there!

This part of the trail is still undergoing some improvements, so we had to jockey around some clearly marked city streets for several blocks as part of the trail. When the signage wasn't as clear, we just followed some other folks ahead of us, and ended up cycling on a very small piece of timeworn rocky dirt trail that was formed by people finding the easiest way to get to the New Haven and Northampton Canal Line from the Mass Central Rail Trail while a bridge is under construction. A friend had forewarned us of this little section, so I was very grateful I had my commuter bike instead of my road bike for this ride!

My bicycle at a trail head

My commuter bike at a trail head


Before long, we made our way past all of the little obstacles and were happily cruising south along the section of the New Haven and Northampton Canal Line known as the Manhan Rail Trail. The Manhan trail is very well maintained and marked, and there are several interpretive signs along the way to explain the cultural and economic history of the area.

Manhan Rail Trail Interpretive Sign

Manhan Rail Trail Interpretive Sign


Some of the trail's signs were attached to metal posts that appeared to be miniature replicas of the trusses used in railroad construction. We were impressed with the level of thought and care that went into the trail's development to include this architectural detail.

Support post for interpretive signs along the trail


The trail provides something for everyone in the way of visual stimulation. Going southbound, it passes through downtown Northampton (or "Noho") and Easthampton, and goes past parks, playing fields, a wildlife sanctuary, old mills and a place called the Abandoned Building Brewery, before it ends at the Southampton town line. There are several ponds along the way as well, and Mt. Tom's striking cliffs can be seen in the distance through the trees that border the trail. There's even a mural in downtown Easthampton, welcoming riders, skaters, and walkers alike to enjoy the Manhan Rail Trail!

Easthampton Mural, center
Easthampton Mural, panorama

Manhan Rail Trail Mural in downtown Easthampton, MA


Once it leaves Noho, the Manhan Rail Trail is interesting and peaceful, with just birdsong and wind as accompaniment to the background hum of bike wheels spinning, and the occasional percussion of changing gears. The only discord occurred when a car driver or two chose not to respect the rules of the road by stopping for us to cross at the crosswalks at a couple of the road-trail crossings along the way. But we didn't let that destroy our otherwise great ride!


The Manhan trail itself scores a 4 out of 4 bikes for its excellent access to trail heads (1.0), trail signage (1.0), interesting scenery (1.0) and trail condition (1.0).

Overall, the combination trail that includes the Mass Central trail rates a 3.25 out of 4 bikes, but only because of that crazy ad hoc connector people use to get from one trail to another in Noho. Once the construction of the permanent connector is complete, I am confident that the trail will meet all my expectations! The specific ratings for the combination trail are shown below.

  • Easy access to trail heads: 0.75

  • Trail signage: 0.75

  • Interesting scenery: 1.0

  • Trail condition: 0.75


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