Rollin’ on the River

  • Visit North Central

History and Foliage Combine for a Great Cruise
photo by John Burk

Whether you’re looking for a hiking or cross-country skiing adventure, an easy family walk, or a scenic riverboat cruise, the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center is worth a visit in any season.

The Center, which is owned by FirstLight Power, offers a variety of activities and facilities, including four-season outdoor recreation, interpretive displays and educational programs such as animal tracking and snowshoeing. It is situated at the base of Northfield Mountain, one of the highest eminences of the Connecticut River Valley. One of the mountain’s distinctive features is a 300-acre artificial reservoir (closed to public access) that was built on the summit during the 1960s to store water from the Connecticut River for hydroelectric power.

Take the River Boat
For a unique perspective of the upper Connecticut River, take a cruise aboard the historic Quinnetuket II, a tour boat that has been in service for more than 30 years. The Center offers trips three times daily on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from late June through mid-October (October 19 is the last day in 2014). On-board naturalists provide expert information about the river’s natural and cultural history.

The 12-mile round-trip begins near the base of Northfield Mountain and leads downstream through the dramatic French King Gorge, passing 135 feet below the famous French King Bridge. It continues to Barton Cove, a scenic backwater above the Turners Falls Dam that is well-known forits wildlife, including nesting bald eagles, waterfowl, and swans. The tour is especially picturesque in October, when colorful fall foliage adorns the gorge walls.

A Three-State View
Northfield Mountain’s trail network includes more than 25 miles of footpaths and multiuse trails. These are open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding from the end of ‘mud season’ in early spring through autumn. At the summit is an observation deck with three-state views that include the reservoir, nearby Brush and Hermit Mountains, and the southern Green Mountains of Vermont. Thanks to the low valley elevation, you can enjoy fall foliage along the trails through late October.

One recommended hiking route is the Rose Ledge Trail, which leads to rocky ledges with fine views across the upper Connecticut Valley. From the visitor center, the trail briefly follows the Hidden Quarry Trail, then turns right and continues at a moderately steep grade up the southwest slopes to the ledges at 0.9 miles. Hikers have the option of continuing to the Summit Trail, which reaches the observation platform 1.8 miles from the visitor center.

In winter, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There are options for all levels of ability, ranging from easy routes on the fields and lower slopes to steeper, advanced trails such as the 10th Mountain Trail and Tooleybush Turnpike. The hiking trails are open to snowshoeing during this time. Ski and snowshoe rentals and lessons make it easy to learn winter adventure skills, and a cup of hot cocoa while relaxing around the pellet stove in the yurt is the perfect way to end the day.

On a Quest
The Center also manages another recreation area at Barton Cove that includes a seasonal campground, canoe and kayak rentals, and a nature trail. The trail follows ridges along the perimeter of the peninsula, passing an observation deck, rocky outcroppings, and an abandoned dinosaur track quarry. A geologically-themed ‘quest’ brochure, available near the parking area kiosk, offers clues to many exciting discoveries along the way.

Outside of the 1,500-acre recreation area, the mountain’s broad summit ridge includes 1,067-foot Rattlesnake Mountain (also known as Farley Ledge) and 1,260-foot Hermit Mountain, the highest point.

An interesting segment of the New England National Scenic Trail (the historic Metacomet-Monadnock Trail) in Erving leads to a high seasonal waterfall on Briggs Brook, rugged side trails to Farley Ledge and the Hermit’s Castle cave, and a ledge with a spectacular view of the Millers River Valley. The trail may be accessed from Briggs Street off Route 2, or at its upper end where it crosses Mountain Road. The Mountain Road trailhead offers a fairly easy walk to the overlook and Hermit’s Castle.

— by John Burk