From zip-line thrills to world-class culture, there’s far more to this Massachusetts destination than its famous scenic drive.
By Yankee Staff
Oct 01 2022
Fall visit to Historic DeerfieldPhoto Credit : Courtesy of Mohawk Trail Association
Sponsored by the Mohawk Trail Association
Spreading through the Connecticut River Valley and into the Berkshire Hills, the 30-plus towns that make up the Mohawk Trail Region of northwest Massachusetts are home to arts and culture, recreation, history, and rolling vistas of fields and woodlands. Along the namesake Mohawk Trail — the famous scenic byway whose roots trace back to a footpath used by indigenous peoples — you will find everything from the preserved 18th-century village of Historic Deerfield to one of the nation’s largest contemporary art museums, Mass MoCA, along with outdoor adventures such as hiking and whitewater rafting, and plentiful shopping, dining, and lodging opportunities.
In short, there’s a lot packed into this lively, lovely corner of Massachusetts — and when the forests are wearing their brilliant autumn colors, there may be no better time to start sampling the Mohawk Trail Region than right now.
One of the best ways to get your bearings — not to mention an eyeful of splendid foliage — is to head out on one of the many scenic drives in the Mohawk Trail Region, which you’ll find described in detail in this handy online guide.
Among the highlighted routes:
To get up close with the landscape, though, nothing beats adding an autumn hike or two to your itinerary. State parks are an excellent starting point, and the Mohawk Trail Region has some of the best in Massachusetts. Take the 6,000-acre-plus Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont, where you can hike a portion of the original Mohawk Trail footpath (the Mahican Mohawk Trail). To the west is Savoy Mountain State Forest, home to over 50 miles of trails as well as the stunning 80-foot Tannery Falls. And to the north, Monroe State Forest blends amazing views of valleys and waterfalls with reminders of history in the form of 19th-century cellar holes and stone walls.
Fans of summit treks can hit the heights in Mount Greylock State Reservation, whose namesake mountain is the centerpiece of some 12,500 protected acres and an unbeatable challenge for adventurous leaf peepers. But you can sidestep the exertion of summiting Greylock while still getting its terrific views by hiking from the summit road to the Stony Ledge outlook, which offers a majestic panorama of the Bay State’s highest peaks. Another favorite for families and less-experienced hikers can be found in Mount Sugarloaf Reservation, home to what Yankee has called the “best beginner hike in Massachusetts,” the 1.4-mile South Sugarloaf Trail.
Anchoring the arts and culture scene in the Mohawk Trail Region is a trio of first-class art museums, all within a short drive of one another. The biggest is Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), which opened in 1999 in a shuttered 16-acre factory complex in North Adams, and is now one of the best-regarded museums of its kind in the world. Just next door to North Adams is the college hamlet of Williamstown, which boasts the stunning Clark Art Institute, home to European and American paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and more, and the Williams College Museum of Art, whose 15,000-plus holdings include the world’s largest collection of work by the post-Impressionist artists Maurice and Charles Prendergast.
History buffs can enjoy a bit of time-travel at Historic Deerfield, a museum of history, art, and architecture along a mile-long street laid out in 1671 and still lined with 18th- and 19th-century houses on their original sites. Another preserved gem is the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams: The c. 1781 Federalist home where the future social reformer and women’s rights activist was born in 1820 has been renovated, restored, and filled with artifacts and exhibits related to her extraordinary life. And in Turners Falls, a complex of old mill buildings now houses the Great Falls Discovery Center, a museum that explores the natural, cultural, and industrial history of the Connecticut River watershed.
In terms of performing arts, the best-known attraction on the Mohawk Trail Region may be the venerable Williamstown Theatre Festival, founded on the campus of Williams College in 1954 and known for drawing such A-list talent as Blythe Danner, Bradley Cooper, and Nathan Lane. While the festival runs only in summer, its home — the ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance — offers theater and dance performances throughout the year. Mass MoCA, too, is a leading performance venue, with more than 40 weekends of live events staged year-round, including popular music, world music dance parties, documentary films, avant-garde theater, and more. The Clark Art Institute, meanwhile, invites the public to enjoy its intimate classical concerts and live, high-definition cinema simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.
For those who enjoy two-wheeled exploring, the Mohawk Trail Region has trails to suit both mild and wild excursions. The 12.7-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is an old railroad track converted into a 10-foot-wide paved trail that’s ideal for bikers of all ages — pedestrians, skaters, and joggers, too. It runs from Cheshire to Adams, and offers prime leaf-peeping as it passes through the Hoosic River Valley, between Mount Greylock and the Hoosac Mountains.
Mountain bikers, meanwhile, can challenge themselves at Thunder Mountain Bike Park at Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont. Widely considered one of the best in New England, it has a diverse network of trails that go from beginner to expert to pro and even include a number of cross-country trails, too.
For high-flying fun above the foliage, check out the region’s zip line offerings, which continue into November. Berkshire East Zip Line Canopy Tours, at Berkshire East Mountain Resort, has been featured by USA Today as one of the top 10 zip lines in the country. Also in Charlemont is Zoar Outdoor, where the first zip line canopy tour in southern New England made its debut in 2009. Its guided three-hour zip line tour takes you through 11 zip lines, two sky bridges and three rappels through the beautiful fall canopies of the Berkshire region.
Last but not least, whitewater rafting is one of the most thrilling adventures to be found in the Mohawk Trail Region, thanks to the Class III and IV rapids of the Deerfield River and Zoar Gap. The season runs from May to early October, with trips offered at Zoar Outdoor, Berkshire East Mountain Resort, and Crab Apple Whitewater — all based in Charlemont.
Wondering where to dine, shop, and stay on your getaway to the Mohawk Trail Region? A great place to look is the online directory of the Mohawk Trail Association, which spotlights tried-and-true businesses across the region:
A number of these places have also been singled out by the editors at Yankee magazine in their travel articles and annual Best of New England awards. They include:
For more information on visiting the Mohawk Trail Region, go to: www.mohawktrail.com