Massachusetts Foliage Driving Tour
Hill Towns of Western Massachusetts
by Jan Voorhis
Submitted by Richard Burrows
Submitted by Mike Okenquist
Submitted by Brandi Fisher
Submitted by Susan Bonaceto
Submitted by Jack Willett
JUST EAST OF the traditional pleasures of the Berkshires lies an area known as "the hill towns." Though often overshadowed by its showier, better publicized neighbors, this region of New England offers the best of both city and country.
These hill towns are thick with creative arts, rural beauty, cultural diversity, and great music and restaurants fueled by the area's dense cluster of colleges and universities. This two-day fall-foliage ramble takes you from the Vermont border through breathtaking countryside for a night's stay in the Shelburne Falls area, then down to Northampton for a night in the "city."
OK, we're not yet in Massachusetts, but we couldn't resist starting this tour in the hamlet of Jacksonville, Vermont. From Brattleboro, take Route 9 west (the Molly Stark Trail) to Route 100 south. Antiquers will enjoy a stop at Marillas Antiques & Country Goods, a charming multidealer shop located in an old house overlooking a lively stream in the center of town. The shop carries a variety of small and large antiques at prices that should make it easy for you to justify taking home a treasure. Up the hill, on Gates Pond Road, is the well-regarded Stone Soldier Pottery, featuring a large variety of hand-thrown stoneware pieces and other crafts. The business is run by the Burnell family.
As you head south, ready your cameras for the next stretch of 112 as it winds through the bucolic North River Valley toward Colrain, Massachusetts. After about five miles, the river flows for a spell between the steep granite walls of Halifax Gorge. Look for several turnouts on your right. Trails from these parking areas lead down to the gorge.
About nine miles out of Jacksonville is a farm (on the right) with the quintessential weathered gray barn and a resident gray horse to match -- a classic New England photo op.
From the village of Colrain, Massachusetts, head up the hill on Greenfield Road, which becomes the Colrain-Shelburne Road toward Route 2. Any children in tow would appreciate a stop at Pine Hill Orchards on the left to pick your own apples (adults can taste the offerings of the nearby West County Winery). Several miles farther along the road is Orchard Hill Antiques, owned by Jeffrey Bishop, occupying an 1811 house and a barn annex full of period country furniture, lighting fixtures, clocks, and tools.
You'll come out onto Route 2. Turn left to head east on Route 2. The first building on your right is home to the Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, perfectly placed for an infusion of coffee, cookies, and pastry.
Stretch your legs amid some lovely scenery on the trails at High Ledges, a 586-acre Audubon sanctuary in Shelburne. Point your car west on Route 2, take a right onto Little Mohawk Road, and bear left at the junction onto Patten Road. Continuing on Patten, go left at the next junction and then bear right. The sanctuary entrance is approximately a mile on the left, a twisting, turning half-mile-long dirt road (take it slow!) that empties out onto a small, grassy parking area.
Follow signs to the cabin, where trails are posted, one of which winds up to the 1,350-foot-high ledge, affording a sweeping view of the Deerfield River valley, Mount Greylock (the highest mountain peak in the state), and the village of Shelburne Falls. The story goes that the last pair of wolves in western Massachusetts made their den somewhere among these ledges, ravines, and forest. The wolves are gone, but keep your eyes peeled for the many varieties of orchids (a number of species line the sanctuary's extensive trail system) and ferns, as well as yellow-bellied sapsuckers, as you make your way through the lush forest.
Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.