The Manhan Rail Trail wends its way between Easthampton and Northampton, with a spur trail leading out The Oxbow near Mt. Tom. Easthampton is a typical New England factory town brimming with commerce and community, as well as historical and natural sites galore. Located in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, the 9-mile trail follows two former railroad corridors: New Haven Railroad's Canal Division and Boston & Maine Railroad's Mt. Tom Branch. These lines used to compete for business from the thriving textile mills, but by the 1970s, changes in environmental laws and relocation of the industry to southern states led to a decline in manufacturing and subsequently the rail.
Starting from South Street, the trail is characterized by a forested landscape, which makes for a cool, shady journey. (There are plans to extend the trail south from here to Coleman Road in Southampton.) About 0.5 mile from the trailhead an underpass provides student commuters access to the private Northampton Williston School. This part of the Manhan trail passes behind residential areas; entrances to the trail from neighborhood streets will give you a sense of the rail-trail's popularity.
At 0.9 mile, you'll find trailhead parking and a water fountain on your right, followed soon after by the colorful Manhan Rail Trail Millennium Mural. The colorful example of public art stands opposite an old train depot.
Crossing Ferry Street in Easthampton's business district, the trail splits; the right spur heads due east on the old Boston & Maine corridor, soon opening up to a spectacular view of a Connecticut River tributary. Old mill buildings flank the trail to the left. On the right you'll find a skateboard and basketball park with picnic tables. Just past the park, you'll find additional trail parking and access. The trail passes more old mill buildings before reaching a scenic overlook of The Oxbow in the Connecticut River. This stretch keeps birders busy. Off to the right is the E. Florence Smith Nature Trail. Managed by the Pascommuck Conservation Trust, this short spur leads to the site of a 1704 conflict between settlers and Native Americans.
Nearing trail's end, you'll pass a residential area with parking and trail access on the right, and lovely open meadows on each side. You'll soon emerge at the small trailhead parking area on North Street/US 5.
If you take the left spur from north of Ferry Street, you'll carry on into Northampton, paralleling Lovefield Street for ways before heading into the heavily wooded Arcadia Sanctuary. The trail then passes through a few outlying neighborhoods before entering a more commercial area of Northampton. After crossing King Street (US 5/SR 10), the trail ends at the junction with the Norwottuck Rail-Trail (Francis P. Ryan Section)
, taking you another 2.6 miles to Bridge Road.
To reach trailhead parking on Ferry Street from the Massachusetts Turnpike/Interstate 91, take I-91 north to Exit 18 and head south on US Hwy. 5 to Easthampton. Turn right on East Street, then right again on Ferry Street. The trail crosses Ferry Street near the Pleasant Street intersection. Look for the parking lot on your left. Limited parking is also available at the Route 5 trailhead, a.k.a. Mt. Tom Junction.
Parking is also available at Veterans Field park off West Street south of Northampton.