Thru and Long Distance Hiking: From the Sea to the Summits!
Completing the entire 215 miles of the New England National Scenic Trail (NET) is no easy feat! It is a big undertaking, so make sure you are prepared. A traditional thru-hike, like what might be done on the Appalachian Trail, is currently not possible on the NET. Please do not expect the NET to have the same infrastructure or thru-hiking community that the Appalachian Trail has. The NET is special and different and offers its own unique experience.
- A typical thru-hiker can complete the trail in 2-4 weeks.
- The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. Apart from several road walks, the single track trail winds its way along traprock ridges and forested areas. However, it can be rugged in some sections with thru hikers experiencing a net gain of just over 30,000 ft. The highest elevation is Mount Grace, at 1617 ft and the lowest elevation is the Long Island Sound, 0ft.
- New England has varied and extreme weather, please choose the timing of your hike appropriately. Although the trail could be hiked year round, many choose to hike in the spring and fall, as summers tend to be humid and buggy and winters are cold and icy.
- The Trail primarily follows the Metacomet Ridge and water sources are very limited, particularly in the Summer and Fall. Some overnight sites do not have a reliable water source. You will need to plan accordingly.
- After deciding when and where to begin and registering your thru-hike, you will need to plan your resupply points and know camping regulations along the NET.
- Overnight camping is only allowed at designated sites along the trail. Where there is no campsite, thru-hikers are expected to leave the trail to find overnight accommodations. See below for a list of nearby accommodations.
- In addition to these logistics, physical and mental preparations are important factors in a successful long hike. Learn more about all of this below!
- No fees or paid permits are required to use or access the NET. However, some overnight sites have a suggested donation to help with upkeep and repairs.
Northbound- Guilford CT → Royalston MA.
- Some thru-hikers begin their trek at the Southern Terminus of the NET at the Long Island Sound, located in Guildford’s Chittenden Park. The southern Terminus is located just a few miles south of I-95
Southbound- Royalston MA → Guilford CT.
- Some hikers choose to hike southbound, beginning at the Northern Terminus located in Royalston MA. The northern terminus is more remote, it is 0.7 miles off of Hwy. 32, in the woods surrounding Royalston Falls. Please note, there is no major public transportation to Royalston, MA.
Traveling to the trail:
- By Plane: Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, Boston’s Logan International Airport and TF Green Airport in Providence are all within reasonable distance from both NET’s southern and northern termini.
- By Train: Amtrak offers easy access to the trail in Guilford, CT, as well as to Springfield, MA.
- By Car: Please note, if you leave your car overnight at any trailhead you are doing so at your own risk. Consider contacting the local police department so that they know you are leaving your car and are aware of your plans, otherwise they could assume that you haven’t returned from a day hike. Parking near the Southern Terminus is available at the Guilford Amtrak station. Parking near the Northern Terminus is available at the trailhead located on Athol Richmond Rd in Royalston MA. This trailhead is located approximately 1 mile from the NH/MA border. The next road crossing and parking available on the trail is located approximately 1 mile into NH at Green Woods Rd. If beginning near Mt. Monadnock in NH, please refer to the Mt. Monadnock State Park Website for information about parking and local amenities.
Although the New England Trail ends at the New Hampshire/ Massachusetts border, some hikers elect to continue their travels north into New Hampshire. From the NH state line, the Metacomet- Monadnock Trail continues 18 miles to reach the summit of Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, NH. From there, thru-hikers will sometimes pick up other trail systems that can take them as far north as Canada or west towards Minnesota. If continuing to Mt. Monadnock in NH, please refer to the Mt. Monadnock State Park Website for information about parking and local amenities. To learn more about the NH M&M trail please visit nhmmtrail.org.
The NET has a unique sign marker throughout its length to help hikers stay on the path. This is a sample of the marker. In addition to NET trail markers, the entire 215 miles of trail is marked (blazed) with painted or nail-up rectangles. These blazes are white in MA and light blue in CT and can be found on trees, poles and rocks where appropriate and as needed. The standard blaze is at eye level and about the size of a dollar bill. You may also see plastic triangles in blue (hiking), red (equestrian) or orange (snowmobiles) to denote various trail use in MA.
Printed maps are useful for planning a thru-hike and, in the case of an emergency, are a good source of information on how to get off the trail, nearby amenities and access points. For those using our interactive map on their smartphone, be aware that cell phone service is limited on some parts of the trail. The New England Trail Map and Guide is a two-map set divided along the MA/CT border. It can be purchased in several bookstores and equipment retailers along the trail or online from the AMC bookstore or CFPA bookstore. using the links below. *Please be aware that several reroutes were completed after the printing of the map. Follow blazing in areas where the map and trail differ. Visit the interactive map to learn more.
Registration of your thru-hike is voluntary. However, by registering your thru-hike you are providing the managing organizations (AMC, CFPA and NPS) with important data that can be used to inform trail projects, overnight site improvements and the addition of thru-hike resources. Voluntary registration enables you to enhance the NET experience and enables us to better manage the NET. The voluntary thru-hiker registration also helps prospective thru-hikers share their dates with other hikers in order to avoid overcrowding of overnight sites and to mitigate the social and ecological impacts of overcrowding on the trail. In addition, those who register their hike are eligible to receive the NET thru-hiker patch and submit photos of your journey! Register Here.
Much of our trail crosses over private land. Please respect the landowners that grant us access to this beautiful landscape and resource by following the practices of Leave No Trace. The 7 principles of Leave-No-Trace are Plan Ahead/ Prepare, Travel/Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Water Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife and Be Considerate of Other Visitors. For a full explanation of each principle visit the Leave-No-Trace Webpage.
Overnight camping is only allowed at designated sites along the trail. For a list of sites and to make reservations where applicable, visit the Overnight Sites page. Where there is no campsite, thru-hikers are expected to get off the trail to find local overnight accommodations. Please keep in mind that much of the Trail is on private property and “stealth camping” is not permitted as we rely on the cooperation and partnership of private landowners.
Whether you’re pitching a tent at a designated tentsite or staying in one of our lean-tos or cabins, minimize your impacts and know the camping regulations on the NET. We promote Leave-No-Trace backcountry ethics and hope overnight hikers and backpackers leave a site better than they found it. Be wildlife-aware and hang your food and toiletries at night so wildlife do not congregate at overnight sites. Not all overnight sites have their own water source, be prepared. Where there is no permitted overnight site, thru-hikers are expected to get off the trail and travel to a nearby hotel, airbnb or campground. To do this, most thru-hikers have used Uber, Lyft or have pre-arranged pick-ups. Campfires: Campfires that are not built or cared for properly can cause harmful wildfires that may impact the New England landscape for generations to come. Campfires are not allowed at overnight sites in Connecticut, and only at existing designated fire rings in Massachusetts. Check out the Leave-No-Trace page for further campfire considerations.
Thru-hikers typically leave the trail to periodically resupply in nearby towns, carrying roughly enough food for 3-7 days. There are roughly 100 road crossings along the length of the NET. This, combined with the length of the trail and limited amount of overnight sites, makes resupplying not prohibitively difficult. Unfortunately, since there are limited thru hikers and there is not a strong community of trail angels to shuttle hikers to nearby stores, most use Uber and Lyft to travel to stores for resupply.
The NET crosses and features many rivers, intermittent streams, reservoirs and lakes, but the trail also hugs high ridges and ledges. There are long stretches of the NET where water is seasonal and limited. Currently there is not a guide to available water sources on the NET and backpackers should have a water plan in place for their trip. It is recommended that hikers plan to pack in their water to overnight sites (many do not have a reliable water source) and treat or filter all water collected.
There are several major roadwalks along the NET where hikers will have to travel along a road to reach the next portion of trail.
Roadwalk Safety Tips:
- Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals.
- Walk on sidewalks whenever they are available.
- If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.
- Keep alert at all times; don’t be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road.
Below is a description of the major roadwalks you will encounter in Massachusetts, listed south to north. Road crossings and roadwalks of less than half a mile have been excluded.
Westfield River Crossing/Sikes Ave
The Westfield River is often crossable on foot, however, there is a volunteer who is available to drive people when the water is too high. To arrange this with a few days notice, please email Heather. Otherwise, hikers will need to hike a 3-mile roadwalk west on MA 187, then east on US 20 to cross the Westfield River. The trail then continues North onto Old Westfield Rd and Sikes Ave for a short way before cutting back into the woods below the Pioneer Valley Sportsman’s Club. These roads are heavily trafficked and caution should be taken.
While not a road walk, hikers should be aware of the unique experience of crossing under I-90. Heading north, the trail will come out of the woods onto a grass path directly paralleling I-90 heading west. Follow the white-blazed posts for a short way until you come to the wide gravel access road to the quarry. Follow the road north through the 1-90 underpass tunnel. You’ll then cross the Pioneer Valley Railroad train tracks and head up a small embankment onto Old Holyoke Rd where the trail continues into the woods.
Connecticut River Crossing
There is no pedestrian crossing of the Connecticut River where it currently meets the NET. Wading or swimming across the Connecticut River is not possible. It is far too large and the current too strong. No river crossing is provided, thru-hikers must hitch a ride across by boat, use a car or hike around. To circumnavigate the river on foot, a series of roadwalks along US-5N and MA-47 N is possible but not suggested due length and high vehicle traffic. This route will add 10.2 miles. If you are traveling Northbound, the trail picks up again on Old Mountain Road near Skinner State Park. Southbound, the trail picks up again at 2-98 Underwood Ave, Easthampton, MA 01027
Federal St/Gulf Rd Belchertown
This roadwalk is the result of a trail relocation from the historic Metacomet-Monadnock trail route following the NET’s designation. Total length of roadwalk is 2.7 miles. Both Federal St and and Gulf Rd are moderately trafficked by motor vehicles and caution should taken.
Section 12 – 14
Sections 12 – 14 wind primarily along gated logging roads on state land in the towns of Pelham, Shutesbury, New Salem, and Wendell. These sections are part of trail relocation from the historic Metacomet-Monadnock trail route following the NET’s designation. The total mileage for these three sections is 14.3 miles, with the bulk of the mileage on logging roads, and a short stretch of quiet residential roads as you approach Lake Wyola.
Rt.2 – Farley Rd and Farley Village
At the end of Section 15 as you leave Mormon Hollow Brook you’ll take Farley Rd North onto Bridge St where you’ll cross Route 2 into Farley Village before entering at Cross St into the Northfield Mountain Reservoir area. Extra caution should be taken when crossing Rt.2. Total length is 2 miles.
There are two major water crossings on the trail; the Westfield River in southern Massachusetts and the Connecticut River in Easthampton/South Hadley. Many thru-hikers opt to use a ride-sharing service to drive around each river. Uber and Lyft have a presence in the area and generally cost $15.00 – $30.00 depending on time of day.
- Westfield: (~ Mile 113 Northbound or 95 Southbound) The depth and flow of the Westfield can change at any time so please take care to cross safely and check the conditions ahead of time. At times the water is knee or ankle deep and not flowing strongly, while at other times it is hip height and the current is moving quickly. At low levels it is possible to cross the Westfield River on foot. Otherwise, please arrange a ride around or hike along a series of roadwalks to get to the other side. The road walk is 3.7 miles via MA-187 and Hwy 20 E. To arrange transport with a few days notice, please email Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Connecticut: (~Mile 132 Northbound or ~ 75 Southbound) Wading or swimming across the Connecticut River is not possible. It is far too large and the current too strong. No river crossing is provided, thru-hikers must hitch a ride across by boat, use a car or hike around. To circumnavigate the river on foot, a series of roadwalks along US-5N and MA-47 N is possible but not suggested. This route will add 10.2 miles. If you are traveling Northbound, the trail picks up again on Old Mountain Road near Skinner State Park. Southbound, the trail picks up again at 2-98 Underwood Ave, Easthampton, MA 01027.
Thru-hiking is open to anyone who can travel the trail by foot and has the time and desire to make the trip! However, thru-hiking is no easy feat and requires physical and mental preparation. The terrain is rugged in some areas. Check out a local course on backpacking and camping preparedness. Post questions to past thru-hikers on our NET Facebook page. Our online community has a wealth of trail knowledge and first-hand experience!
Hikers sometimes come in contact with bears along the NET. Black bears, though, are generally docile and shy creatures that avoid people. However, we ask that you be careful with your food and waste as you thru-hike, carrying out what you carry in. The ridges and ledges that the trail follows do have copperhead snakes and hikers should be watchful and keep their pets leashed. One of the most common threats on the trail are ticks, which can transmit Lyme Disease and other pathogens. Be sure to check yourself for ticks regularly while hiking. Learn more about tick-related diseases and self-care to protect yourself while hiking.