LEAF PEEPING IN WESTERN MASS
Savvy foliage fans (OK, like me) know where you go is also as important as when you go, and there are two distinctive schools of thought on routes and trails: Either 1) Stay on the main highways and cover lots of ground fast, or 2) Wind the byways and slowly savor what you find. If you favor the macro highway approach, Western Mass has totally got that. It’s hard to argue with a route that includes I-91. It’ll zip you along the genuinely scenic course of the Connecticut River, with plenty of lovely hillsides seemingly afire in scarlet, tangerine and lemon in the near and far distance. Add in side jaunts using more medium-speed roads like Rt. 9 west from Northampton, Rt. 20 West from Springfield, Rt. 141 through Holyoke & Easthampton and your odds of spotting fabulous foliage approach 100%.
Rest stops here and there will allow you to stop and drink in the color – or grab a bite – when the mood strikes. But OK, maybe you’re thinking of getting micro, with visions of uncrowded, gently twisting byways lined with bursts of lit-up leaves at every quirky turn.
One of my favorite stops is The Log Cabin right there on Rt. 141 at the top of the mountain overlooking the beautiful foliage in rural Easthampton. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a fall wedding up there, RSVP YES! If not, stop and grab a coffee at their adjacent coffee pit-stop, Mountain Joe. Then relax and sip while you enjoy the brilliant fall colors.
Perhaps you plan to travel on two wheels. Or two legs, even. Well, this region’s absolutely got that too! One terrific route starts with Rt. 57 in Agawam, just across the river from downtown Springfield. In a matter of westbound minutes, you’re through Feeding Hills en route to Southwick. Stay west on 57 and soon you’re wending gently upward toward teeny Granville. This place is cool – its country store is famous for cheese and the Noble and Cooley drum factory is a delightful curiosity.
Another worthy micro-route begins in Chicopee on Route 116 North.In just a handful of miles you’re at the center of South Hadley, home of Mount Holyoke College; check out the cluster of shops nearby for a coffee or pick up a picnic lunch. From here there are two can’t-go-wrong choices. Pick Rt. 47 for a rolling ride back toward funky college town Northampton (good for lunch or dinner) and an easy connection to I-91 back home. If time permits, stay on 47 another dozen miles or so and experience the one-of-a-kind Montague Book Mill, whose puckish motto is books you don’t need in a place you can’t find. I love that place.
If a short hike with a spectacular view sounds good, it should. Continue out Rt. 116 a few more miles to Amherst (another funky college town) and the Notch Visitors Center. A well-marked trail here leads up Mt. Norwottuck, about a 40-minutes to the summit. In high foliage season, what you’ll see at the top will be worth a lifetime of memories.
If you have the mountain bikes along, there are many two-wheel trails nearby. And right nearby is Atkins Farms Country Market, famous for its cider donuts. Get some. Seriously. You’ve got the idea now; back roads abound in this part of New England. If you’re feeling confident, create your own off the beaten path foliage route. Glance at a local map, bring a snack and trust your instincts. Barring that, trust your GPS app!