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For some, summer is all about flip-flops, beaches and barbecues.
For plenty of others, though, the nicest months of the year are a bit more about getting out, about and experiencing something different.
Those in the latter camp always have plenty to choose from, particularly in Western Massachusetts, which teems with unique sights and nature’s verdant best. And one of the top places for an escape, especially if you’re the adventurous type, is the Connecticut River Scenic Byway.
Stretching from Bernardston, MA in Hampshire County down to Holyoke, MA in the Pioneer Valley, the Connecticut River trail isn’t the best known Massachusetts vacation spot, but it’s great for a relaxing trip. If you’re thinking through a summer foray that’s bigger on hiking and biking than time on the beach or in the city, this route is a perfect fit.
Bernardston & Greenfield
The scenic byway begins in Bernardston, a Massachusetts town of around 2,000 that hugs the border of Vermont. A rich network of rivers and streams flow through hills and peaks, which are offshoots of Green Mountain range, creating some of the best agricultural soil in the country, as well as some mighty lush landscapes.
Photo: Bernardston House by Rawn Fulton
Scenery isn’t the only ambrosial part of Bernardston, either. The Kringle Candle Company, located right in town, fills more than 18,000 square feet of space with candles that take fragrant inspiration from spices, desserts and everything in between. Peony and Tranquil Waters are two of the most popular varieties, which you can explore in full here.
Photo: Candles in Kringle Candle Company
Moving south into Greenfield, the opportunities for outdoor exploration abound. The Highland Park/Temple Woods Trail System form a combined loop of more than three miles, with ample space for walking and hiking, as well as some mountain biking and fishing. The view from atop Highland Park is worth the work, with a panorama of the surrounding area greeting those who ascend.
Photo: View from Highland Park in Greenfield, MA by Evan Gregg
After sightseeing, shopping and exercising, some dinner, rest and relaxation will probably sound pretty good. Hope and Olive in Greenfield offers great meals, and to rest up, make a stop at either the Deerfield Inn or Bela’s B&B in Deerfield before the trip continues.
Amherst & Northampton
After another half hour on the road moving south, travelers will arrive in the idyllic town of Northampton, one of Western Massachusetts’ most recognizable cities. Long known as a hub for the LGBT community, Northampton is also one of the premier artistic communities in New England. The city’s renowned Academy of Music theatre plays home to a variety of shows, while the Smith College Museum of Art showcases a broad swath of accomplished work, which you can see for free on certain days.
Photo: Main Street in Northampton at dusk
Amherst, so often mentioned in tandem with Northampton, is right across the river, and it offers plenty to explore as well. For any families, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the only full-scale museum of its kind in the country, is a must-see, featuring picture books and illustrations from all around the world. The Emily Dickinson Museum, where the legendary poet lived most of her life, is another scintillating historical stop. For a little time outdoors, head for the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, a part of the New England National Scenic Trail with walking and hiking opportunities aplenty.
Photo: A look inside the Eric Carle Museum
Both Amherst and Northampton are known for their funky cuisine, which is reliably delicious and often a little out of the ordinary. To grab a tasty unconventional meal in town, swing by the Black Sheep in Amherst or Lhasa Café, Northampton’s authentic Tibetan eatery. To stay in the area, put your feet up at The Autumn Inn or The Lord Jeffery Inn.
Hadley & Holyoke
If the trails outside Greenfield and Amherst leave you with a hankering for more exploration, the entrance sign to Hadley, which is situated between Amherst and Northampton, will be a welcome sight. J.A. Skinner State Park in Hadley gives adventurers prime access to the N.E. National Scenic Trail, as well as The Summit House, one of the region’s first tourist attractions, which sits perched atop Mount Holyoke. For those who would rather paddle their way around, the park also has canoe launch points that lead to the Connecticut River.
Photo: Canoe alongside the Connecticut River by Lynne Graves
To see another interesting tidbit of Massachusetts and American history in Hadley, make a stop at Porter-Phelps-Huntington House Museum, the county’s oldest and largest farmstead. Surrounded by 350 acres of protected land, the house contains the possessions of six generations, giving visitors a glimpse back at centuries past.
At the end of the byway, travelers will reach Holyoke and Mount Holyoke College, the southernmost of the schools in the Five College Area. Like its contemporaries along the Connecticut River Scenic Byway, Holyoke has its own unique attractions, including the Volleyball Hall of Fame, which honors the birthplace of the sport and its premier practitioners.
Photo: Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, MA
Outside of the volleyball hall, Holyoke is also home to the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, one of the country’s oldest collegiate art museums, and the memorably named Wistiriahurst grand estate and gardens, which is a nice spot to spend the day outdoors. For some overnight rest, make your way to Homewood Suites or D. Hotel and Suites, both of which are a short drive from the center of town.
For even more on the activities, sights and scenery that connect the Connecticut River, just click here. You can also find more information on what there is to see and do across Western Massachusetts here.