Fall Foliage in Massachusetts’s Upper Pioneer Valley | Peak Perfection

In the Upper Pioneer Valley, stunning foliage comes with a side of culture for both residents and students at the region’s five famed local colleges. Learn more, plus our picks for the area’s best scenic route, photo op, fun for kids, and where to eat and shop.

By Yankee Magazine

Aug 13 2018


Strolling the graceful campus at Mount Holyoke College.

Photo Credit : Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
Strolling the graceful campus at Mount Holyoke College.
Photo Credit : Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

College Towns to Fall For
Massachusetts’ Upper Pioneer Valley | Middle Peak

It’s a postcard-perfect fall morning. A bluebird sky. A slight chill in the air as the rising sun tickles the Pioneer Valley’s undulating swath of woods and farmland along the Connecticut River. Breaking the spell, the bells at Mount Holyoke College’s Mary Lyon Hall peal to announce Mountain Day: a surprise day each autumn when classes are canceled and students head for the hills, Mount Holyoke being the obvious choice. The tradition, dating back to the late 1830s and also celebrated at Smith College across the river, is a nod to how profoundly the landscape shapes life in the so-called Happy Valley for both residents and the 30,000 students at the five famed local colleges: Mount Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire, Amherst, and UMass Amherst.

In turn, the schools keep the region—centering on the towns of funky, bohemian Northampton and bookish Amherst—awash in arts and culture. It’s college-town charm, cranked up to 11. As the fall semester gets under way, “all of a sudden, there are a million things to do and choose from,” says Northampton poet laureate Amy Dryansky, who works at Hampshire College. “The students bring their own energy.” This isn’t the place for leaf peepers looking for languid walks and sleepy B&Bs. Here, stunning foliage and panorama-laden hikes come with a side of indie music, film screenings, book readings, and, to keep it all humming, artisanal coffee.  —Courtney Hollands

Learn more in “Peak Perfection,” our guide to where to find peak foliage color in New England from mid-September until the end of October.

A Pioneer Valley riverscape, seen from Mount Sugarloaf.
Photo Credit : Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism


Even as October fades into November, the Pioneer Valley gives autumn lovers one last bite of the apple with Franklin County CiderDays (11/2–11/4). Held in towns throughout the county, this hidden-gem harvest festival pays tribute to the ultimate fall crop with cider workshops, orchard tours, apple cooking demonstrations, hard cider tastings, and more. 413-773-5463;


Scenic Route
Hit the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which offers bikers and walkers a nine-mile canopy of color from Northampton to Amherst.
mass.govPhoto Op
Drive or climb Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield, where the observation tower affords sweeping views of the Happy Valley and beyond.
Refueling Stop
Gourmet picnic nibbles—washed-rind cheeses, pâtés, crispy baguettes, local brews—can be had at Provisions, just off the main drag in Northampton. Fun for Kids
Ooh and aah over the slew of whimsical illustrations by William Steig, Maurice Sendak, and others at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, an Amherst landmark.

Shopping Break
New York Times best-sellers, Tibetan crafts, Brooklyn-made handbags—Northampton’s beloved Thornes Marketplace has it all (and Herrell’s hot fudge sundaes).