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21 things to do in Western Massachusetts

Everything from Norman Rockwell to a staple of the Gilded Age

A field of purple wildflowers. Shutterstock

It’s probably impossible to overstate the amount of cool stuff to do in Massachusetts’s western half. This list runs down just such attractions, including museums, Gilded Age mansions, hiking routes, a scenic train, a murder mystery dinner, and an idyllic bookstore.

As far as getting to all of them them, a car is probably best—though getting to Western Mass. itself can be achieved via myriad modes of transport. Also, this list does not include lodging. That’s covered here and here.

And, should you want to set down sticks for a bit and really explore, try this guide to the key small towns of Western Mass.


Eric Carle Museum

Amherst

You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate this museum dedicated to children’s picture-book art. The institution says its mission is “to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books,” with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

The 50th anniversary celebration of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is open until March 2019, and worth checking out if you read the book as a child, read it to your kids, or just appreciate good illustrations.

The museum takes on a socially conscious perspective in choosing which books to highlight. Visit the Coretta Scott Illustrator awards to see highlights from African-American authors and illustrators, or the LGBTQ representation in picture books exhibit.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can sit in on a class and try your hand at illustrating.

New England Peace Pagoda

Leverett

Inaugurated in 1985, this Leverett Peace Pagoda is a testament to the local community.

The Buddhist caretakers boast that this location is one of the best examples of local integration and support of a Peace Pagoda. The structure is a memorial containing a relic of the Buddha, but it’s open to people of all faiths.

Alongside the main pagoda, the community has been building a new temple since 2011 for prayer and living space for monastics. The area is open from sunrise to sunset year round.

A bridge spanning a body of water. The bridge has various assorted shrubbery and trees on it. There is a walkway for pedestrians. Corbis via Getty Images

Bridge of Flowers

Shelburne Falls

This bridge started out with a more typical purpose in 1908: Connecting passengers and goods between Shelburne and Buckland. As cars became more popular and the railway stopped maintaining the bridge, weeds overgrew it.

The local women’s club raised money to repurpose the bridge into a community garden in 1928, and in the 1980s, updates to the garden brought it up to its current condition. Now, it blooms from April through October.

Consult the website to learn which flowers you might see during your visit, and stop by late in the season to enjoy the bridge with a background of colorful leaves.

Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation

South Deerfield

For a moderate hike, try the View of the Valley trail up South Sugarloaf Mountain via Pocumtuck Ridge Trail. This easygoing outing leads you to a pavilion at the summit where can see the Connecticut River, the Pioneer Valley, and the Pelham and Berkshire Hills.

If hiking isn’t your thing, don’t worry. You can drive up South Sugarloaf on a seasonal road, open from late spring to late fall foliage season.

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

Easthampton

If you’re looking to spend one of the warmer days of winter outdoors and away from the dreariness, check out Arcadia. Thanks to the evergreens that populate the area, this wildlife sanctuary is green year-round.

Maintained by Mass Audubon, Arcadia has trails, grasslands, and marshes spanning 724 acres in Easthampton.

If you’re lucky, you might spot some animals, including painted turtles and the great blue heron rookery. Check out the annual winter solstice bonfire, which includes a play and music.

Children’s Museum at Holyoke

Holyoke

As far as children’s museums go, this is one of the best. Exhibits focus on interactivity and play, making this museum a great place to wait out a rainy or a snowy day.

The new World of Motion exhibit, which teaches STEM ideas through pulleys and levers, keeps kids entertained for an afternoon and is visually interesting for adults.

Outside, the Holyoke Heritage State Park is worth stopping by, too. Take a ride (only $2!) on the antique carousel and admire the hand-carved horses.

A large red brick building. There is a green and white striped awning on the outside of the building. Shutterstock

Ventfort Hall

Lenox

Home to the Museum of the Gilded Age, this Jacobean Revival-style mansion was built in 1893 for J.P. Morgan’s sister. In what was once a popular resort destination in Lenox, the home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Restoration is still in progress, but the first floor and much of the second floor are open to the public. The site is beautiful and a resource to learn about the lives of the very wealthy in the Gilded Age, but also notable for its events.

Frequent lectures and reading series from academics draw in locals, and “Murder Mystery Dinner Theater” evenings often sell out.

Hoosac Valley Train Ride

Adams

If you like trains, history, or views of beautiful foliage, take a ride on the Hoosac Valley Train. The hour-long trip takes you on a 10-mile loop between North Adams and downtown Adams in a vintage 1955 Budd Rail Diesel Car.

The Fall Foliage rides are available on weekends in September and October. The crew dresses in period-appropriate attire to provide historical facts and narrate the trip.

From the car, you will see the Hoosac River, Mount Greylock, and the Hoosac Mountain Range.

Yankee Candle Village

South Deerfield

The Yankee Candle flagship store in South Deerfield is, maybe surprisingly, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Massachusetts, western or otherwise, with more than 3 million visitors a year.

It’s no tourist trap, though, and may be your best bet to get into the holiday spirit. While you’re there, there are several exhibits to check out along with a candlemaking museum.

In Yankee Candle’s Bavarian Village, it’s Christmas all year long. Kids can visit Santa’s workshop in the Nutcracker Castle, and snow falls every day. At Wax Works, try making your own jar candle.

In the flagship store itself, you can find all the current scents, along with some discontinued ones if you’re missing an old favorite.

Mohawk Trail

Millers Falls

Established in 1914, the Mohawk Trail is one of the oldest auto touring roads in the United States and can be a weekend in itself [link].

Driving the 63 miles of this scenic byway will take you through some of the best foliage Massachusetts has to offer. Pull off the road in Gill to go over the French King Bridge and take in views high above the Connecticut River.

A large white house with a staircase. UIG via Getty Images

The Mount

Lenox

Once the home of prolific writer Edith Wharton, today the Mount is a National Historic Landmark, cultural center, and museum. While living here, Wharton wrote The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.

Don’t skip out on the tours of the main house or the gardens, especially the sunken Italian garden. If you’re interested, you can book a private tour for two of the library, which contains Wharton’s personal book collection with her original annotations.

For a less literary experience, reserve a ghost tour and let a guide take you throughout the grounds at night to clue you into the potentially haunted bits of the Mount.

Norman Rockwell Museum

Stockbridge
Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.” Norman Rockwell

Containing the largest collection of the late artist’s work, this museum offers the chance to see famous pieces, including those featured in the Saturday Evening Post, with more than 900 illustrations on display.

Rockwell’s drawing studio, which was moved to the museum, is open to visitors from May through October. There they can see his paintings, furniture, and the environment where he worked.

Be sure to check out his later work with Look, when he began to focus more on civil rights and the war on poverty.

To get the most out of this museum, wander around Stockbridge itself to see the community that inspired many of Rockwell’s works [link to small towns piece]. Or, if you really want to be authentic, try out his bike route through Stockbridge.

Bartholomew’s Cobble

Sheffield

This 100-foot-high bedrock offers a unique landscape and mountain views. You can tour the twin rocky knolls (the namesake cobbles), trees, and beaver ponds.

Different hiking paths offer moderate and strenuous hikes. Ledges Trail takes you through two caves for some exploring. If you’re into panoramic views of the Housatonic River valley, make sure to trek the 1,000 feet up Hurlburt’s Hill for the perfect picture.

The visitors center is open all year, so visit in April and May to see spring wildflowers, and in September and October to catch hawk migration.

A building with tan brick. Tony Luong

MASS MoCA

North Adams

Situated in a former 19th-century factory, MASS MoCA is the largest space for contemporary visual art in the country. The campus spans 250,000 square feet in a loop following a 2017 expansion.

The New York Times calls it “a weird and wonderful place,” and most buildings are devoted to displays, including a long-term virtual-reality installation by Laurie Anderson.

The museum aims to be a place for art novices and lovers alike, so everyone can find something to pique their interest.

MASS MoCA should also be one of your go-to destinations for performing arts. In 2010, it added a concert venue that can hold 10,000 people. Check out the annual bluegrass festival.

Misty River Ballooning

Florence

Sure, you might have driven or hiked through the beauty of Western Mass., but have you seen it from a balloon?

Misty River Ballooning Company will pick you up from one of several locations in the Pioneer Valley. If you get lucky with a clear day, you’ll be able to look over the Connecticut River to see the Berkshires as well as the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.

After your trip, Misty River will provide you with a Champagne toast. Prices are steep at $250 per person, but this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the region in a unique way.

Springfield Museums

Springfield

One admission price gives you access to five separate institutions.

If you’re into art, check out the 19th-century Middle Eastern carpets at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, or the art deco-inspired Museum of Fine Arts.

The Science Museum’s planetarium has the oldest operating star projector in the country.

If history is more your thing, stop by the automobile gallery in the, well, history museum.

Also, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is definitely worth a visit. As the only museum dedicated to Dr. Seuss, it explores his Springfield roots and many of his personal belongings. The newest of the quintet, it can get a bit crowded, so step outside for a breather in the sculpture garden inspired by his books.

Four chairs facing a field and buildings. Tony Luong

Hancock Shaker Village

Pittsfield

The Shakers called their village the “City of Peace,” and you can spend a day experiencing their lives in the place where almost 300 Shakers lived during the village’s peak in the 1800s.

Walk through the heirloom vegetable and herb gardens, complete with a collection of farm animals.

There are 20 buildings total, plus a nature trail and store. Be sure to eat at Seeds, the on-site farm-to-table restaurant that uses ingredients from the farm.

Berkshire Botanical Garden

Stockbridge

One of the oldest public gardens in the Northeast, the center features 15 acres of exhibits. The tree collection, Pond Garden, and Daylily Walk, among other exhibits, offer a chance to wander around or sit and contemplate in the gardens. You can also stop by year round for lectures, workshops, and displays in the three greenhouses. Classes are loosely related to gardening and plants in some way, such as an upcoming course on making fall pasta and herb sausages. Display gardens are open to visitors May through October.

Monument Mountain/Great Barrington Reservation

Great Barrington

The 503-acre Great Barrington reservation is an easily accessible (and easy on the eyes) hiking and picnicking destination.

Right off Route 7, a few miles south of Stockbridge, you will find yourself with several trail options, from easy to strenuous, to climb Squaw Peak. From there, you’ll behold views of the Housatonic River Valley, the Taconic Mountains, the Berkshires, and the Catskills.

If you decide to stop for a picnic, you’ll be in good company: In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville did the same, and had a conversation that inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick.

Hungry Ghost Bread

Northampton

Northampton’s Hungry Ghost Bread has been nominated for several James Beard awards in the outstanding baker category, and it’s no surprise why.

The bakery specializes in sourdough, following a weekly schedule of different types of bread, including French, rosemary, and eight-grain made with local wheat. It also serves pizza Wednesdays through Sundays and pastries daily.

Check out the Wonder Not! Bread Festival, where each September the bakery, along with other vendors, sponsors a parade, live music, and, of course, delicious bread. The festival is intended to promote understand of food sources and appreciation of local ingredients.

The Montague Book Mill

Montague

This converted old mill on the Sawmill River draws book lovers from points near and far—some regulars routinely make the 90-mile trek from Boston.

The store claims to have 40,000 books under the slogan “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find,” but this hidden spot is worth seeking out.

The shop feels homey, like you could spend the day wandering the aisles and browsing upstairs. Chairs and couches throughout add to the comfy vibe, so feel free to hang out and check out something that interests you.

Order a brie, apricot jam, and marinated apple sandwich from the adjoining Lady Killigrew Cafe, sit in view of the waterfall outside, and enjoy your new books.