Alton's Way Trailwalk

Hiking Trail in the WoodsAbout the Area

Alton McDonald (the namesake of the Alton's Way Trail) was a city boy who fell in love with, and married, a country girl (Helen Brosch) and also fell in love with Wilbraham, serving our town well as police sergeant, fire commissioner, etc. since moving to Wilbraham in the 1930s. He loved this land and took over farming it as his father-in-law (Anthony Brosch) aged. Alton lived on the tractor trails which ramble through the open land and through the woods between the McDonald barn and the Wilbraham Middle School. Alton farmed the current soccer fields and the other hay fields until his late 80s.

There wasn't an inch of those trails that Alton didn't know, use, and love. He would be so pleased to know that, not only was this property named the McDonald Nature Preserve, but that the main tractor trail is now known as Alton's Way. One of the nice aspects of the Alton's Way Trail is that it is a living lesson in ecological succession. The pond on the trail is changing to bog on its edges. Its fields are showing a change from pine to hardwood (aspen, birch, cherry, and a lot of alder because the area is wet). The trail really is a "lesson" trail. It displays the process of succession very nicely.

  • Facilities:
    • South End -Parking on right side of middle school, no toilet facilities
    • North End -Parking at entrance to McDonald property, no toilet facilities
  • Features:
    • wide open vistas of hay fields
    • impressive stand of pine trees
    • beautiful woodland walks
    • the McDonald barn
  • Activities Permitted: All passive recreational activities are permitted. Please be careful not to leave litter and not to deface the property. Please park in designated areas and be respectful of neighborhoods in the area.
    • Hiking
    • Cross-country skiing / snowshoeing
    • Educational studies
    • Nature observation
  • Trails: This list starts from Wilbraham Middle School. Overall, most of the footing is easy to traverse, but there is a small stream to cross and some matted grass areas. The elevation is mostly flat with a few small, rolling hills. As there are many trails along the way that meander off to the right into the Cedar Swamp area, it is important to follow the directions below as closely as possible. Use of a GPS to track the way points below is advisable.
    • First part is matted grass (prepare for possible ticks)
    • Next section is a well worn trail which meanders through hay fields and crosses under the Western Mass Electric Company power lines
    • Then skirts the wood line of the Cedar Swamp
    • Trail then turns north into the woods for a half mile (Note the stand of hardwood trees in this area.)
    • Trail exits the woods onto a perpendicular path just before a stand of pines; turn right onto path for a short distance (As you exit the woods, do not take the trail that continues straight across.)
    • Exit woods, turn right, take the next left
    • Final trail portion meanders through a breath-taking section of woods (In the winter, houses from the Marilyn Drive area can be seen off to the right in the distance.)
    • Continue to follow trail, bearing left
    • After 2/3 of a mile, keep lookout for barn to left (If your trail does not lead to a field with a barn, backtrack and take another trail until you're on the right one. At this point, the trails are short anyway, but a GPS would be helpful.
  • Location:
    • South End - Wilbraham Middle School, Stony Hill Road, Wilbraham, Massachusetts
    • North End - McDonald Farm, Washington Road, Wilbraham, Massachusetts
  • Elevation Factors: The trek starts at the 300 foot level and is mostly downhill with slight rises and declines until it bottoms out at 270 feet in the power line area. It then begins rising back up to 310 feet with a dip down to 290 feet and then the biggest rise up to 315 feet. From the two mile point to the end, the trail stays around 290 feet.
  • Directions:
    • To South End - From Crane Park on Main Street in Wilbraham, take Springfield Street to Stony Hill Road. Take a right on Stony Hill Road and proceed one mile to Wilbraham Middle School on the right. Park in the soccer fields parking lot on the right side of the middle school.
    • To the North End - From Crane Park on Main Street in Wilbraham, proceed pass Wilbraham and Monson Academy down Main Street to Boston Road (Route 20). Take a left onto Boston Road. Spec Pond will soon be on your right. Take a left onto Grove Street (which is next to Jake’s Restaurant) and continue for one-fourth mile to Manchonis Road. Take a right onto Manchonis and then the first left onto a narrow dirt road called McDonald Way. Finally, take another left onto Washington Road. The McDonald Preserve is at the end of the road.
  • Map: View the map (PDF).

Hiking Directions

1042° 07.971 N072° 27.486 WWalk from the Wilbraham Middle School gym to the soccer fields parking area to start.
2042° 07.931 N072° 27.463 WTurn left in the lot and walk out to the path that turns right at the north end of it.
3042° 07.939 N072° 27.320 WThis path takes you through the first hay field.
4042° 07.921 N072° 27.315 WFrom there, you move through the second hay field and turn left at its end onto a path.
5042° 07.807 N072° 27.231 WProceed down the path and make the brook crossing.
6042° 07.824 N072° 27.141 WAt the fork, take a right. Hay areas are to the right and left.
7042° 07.825 N072° 27.088 WEnter the Western Mass Electric power lines area.
8042° 07.854 N072° 27.025 WContinue on the path across the power lines.
9042° 07.924 N072° 26.965 WLeave the power line area as you continue on the path.
10042° 08.013 N072° 26.895 WThe third hayfield will be on the left, and the wood line will be on the right.
11042° 07.998 N072° 27.040 WSeveral paths meander off to the right. Stay on the path that skirts the wood line.
12042° 08.012 N072° 26.893 WEnter the woods via the path on the right.
13042° 08.294 N072° 26.740 WExit the woods and turn right on the path. (Do not go straight.)
14042° 08.404 N072° 26.480 WTake the next left onto a path.
15042° 08.460 N072° 26.588 WContinue to bear left and follow the path. This way point represents a small dip in the trail.
16042° 08.533 N072° 26.500 WAt this point you see the McDonald barn on the left. There is also a trail to the right that heads out to Lake Drive.
17042° 08.609 N072° 26.497 WThis is the way point for the McDonald Preserve barn.
18042° 08.701 N072° 26.468 WThis is the way point for the entrance to the McDonald property on Washington Road.

Note: The Cedar Ridge parcel includes the path between way points 13 and 14. Access to the path here was granted in an easement by Mile Oaks to the Town.