The diverse landscape of western Massachusetts includes many scenic roads that showcase the region’s abundance of natural features and historic sites. While the Mohawk Trail and historic Route 7 are well-known, other less-travelled routes such as the byways below offer an additional wealth of attractions off of the beaten path for photographers, hikers, and tourists. While scenery may be enjoyed from the roads, visitors are encouraged to take time to explore the region’s many hiking and walking trails.
Jacobs Ladder Trail (Route 20), Russell to Lee
Less-known than the fabled Mohawk Trail, the Jacobs Ladder Trail is similar in that it follows a historically significant east-west route across the Appalachian Mountains. From its east end, the byway, reached via Massachusetts Turnpike Exit 3 in Westfield, follows the high rolling hills of the Westfield River Valley, then winds over the southern Berkshires. Recommended stops include Chester-Blandford State Forest, where trails lead to features such as the cascades of Sanderson Brook Falls and abundant spring wildflowers, and the historic Keystone stone arch railroad bridges, which are a short detour from the main route in Middlefield.
Connecticut River Scenic Byway (Routes 47 and 63), South Hadley to Northfield
From rugged low mountains with outstanding views to pastoral farm fields, this route showcases the scenic upper valley of the Connecticut River, New England’s longest waterway. A short distance north of the college town of South Hadley is the Mount Holyoke State Reservation, where an auto road and hiking trails offer moderately steep but fairly short routes to Mount Holyoke and the crest of the Holyoke Range. In Hadley and Sunderland, the byway leads past farms, riverside views, historic villages, and Mount Toby. A brief detour on Route 116 in leads to Mount Sugarloaf, where panoramic views across the Pioneer Valley await. At its north end, the byway follows Route 63 to the junction with the Mohawk Trail, then continues past Northfield Mountain to the New Hampshire state line.
Lost Villages Scenic Byway (Route 122), Orange to Paxton
Named for towns that were taken over by the state and abandoned during the 1930s during the Quabbin Reservoir and Ware River water supply projects, the Lost Villages Byway connects the Mohawk Trail to the hills near Worcester. From the junction with Route 2 in Orange, the road winds through wetlands at the northern tip of Quabbin Reservoir, then reaches the photogenic Petersham town common. A short distance beyond another extensive area of conservation land along the Swift River is the busier village center of Barre. Further south is a 25,000-acre wilderness in the Ware River watershed and Moore State Park in Paxton, where diverse attractions include colorful rhododendron gardens, a historic sawmill, and pond, forest, and meadow trails.
~ John Burk
John Burk is the author of several books and guides related to New England, which may be viewed on his Amazon page.