One of the many lovely vistas on the Mohawk Trail
This historic trail is on the US National Register of Historic Places and is perfect as a Weekend Getaway and to view Fall Foliage
The US boasts an incredible variety of different terrains and scenery, wonderful National Parks of all kinds, and many national treasures. To enjoy some of them, there are numerous great scenic drives, from coast to coast, past mountains, valleys, forests, canyons, coastlines: think of the Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia, North Carolina), San Juan Skyway (Colorado), 17-mile drive (Carmel, California), the Overseas Highway (Florida Keys), the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) in California past Big Sur, Route 66, and the Great River Road along the Mississippi River.
“Hail to the Sunrise” in Mohawk Park
Rod M and “Hail to the Sunrise”
These are the ones traditionally on the list of “most scenic drives” but you can find beautiful stretches of highway just about anywhere you look.
New England has numerous drives, especially lovely during the fall, and one such is the Mohawk Trail through the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. This large highland region is a broad plateau dissected by hills and peaks and cut by river valleys. Geologically very old, it’s linked to the higher Green Mountains of Vermont. The main North Berkshires region (according to the local map we got) is around the towns of Williamstown, North Adams and Adams.
We were there one weekend in October for a family wedding and found it
View from Whitcomb Summit Inn to the Elk statue
enchanting. It’s a very pretty part of the country and the fall colors were gorgeous. It’s not densely populated, with little towns strung out along the river valleys. It’s interesting to know that this is where Indian tribes used to live and hunt and that as we drive along the Trail we are, in a way, following in the footsteps of the first people in this area.
The Elk statue
The Mohawk Trail began as a trade route for the Native Americans of the Five Nations and connected Atlantic tribes with tribes in Upstate New York, hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. They used it to pass between the Connecticut and Hudson Valleys. It followed the Millers River, Deerfield River and crossed the Hoosac Range in the area that is now northwest Massachusetts.
These days, the Trail is part of Routes 2 and 2A, following much of the original Indian trail for about 69 miles, from Williamstown (home of Williams College) in the west, to Greenfield in the east. When it was incorporated in 1753, Greenfield was the northern frontier before the Canadian border. The Berkshire Mountains are easily visible from some places and many people think this is the most beautiful drive in Massachusetts. There are stopping points along the way, with scenic viewpoints, roadside attractions (notably the “Hail to the Sunrise Statue” at Mohawk Park in Charlemont—a tribute to this Native American heritage), and gift shops.
The famous hairpin bend
Golden Eagle restaurant at the hairpin bend
The Trail is very tourist-oriented now, but you can imagine those old traders passing through. The road is narrow and winding, and the multiple layers of rolling hills, ablaze with color at this time of year, are generally quite gentle, although there is a steep climb up to Mount Whitcomb, the highest point of the Trail at 2173 feet. On the western side of the summit is the popular hairpin bend and look-out at Western Summit (called Spirit Mountain by Native Americans) over the city of North Adams and to the Taconic Mountains. On the eastern side the highway descends steeply down the slope of the Hoosac Range, following the Cold River and then the Deerfield River. Note the “Elk on the Trail” statue at Whitcomb Summit.
Walking on the trail in Natural Bridge State Park
Each new vista around a sharp corner had us all “oohing and aahing”. The prettiest section (we thought) was between North Adams and east to Charlemont, where often the road is winding along the edge of the Deerfield River. If you stop at some of the roadside lookouts next to the gently gurgling river the sound of water is very soothing. The river is gentle now, but gets much fuller in spring and summer—full enough for tubing and whitewater adventures, popular pastimes. Many of the outdoor activities were not open now, as it’s out of season, although winter sports season will begin soon. In summer, camping, hiking, horse riding, fishing, zip-lining etc are offered. We passed a couple of ‘Bear Crossing’ signs, and wondered how often bears are still seen around here.
It’s a spectacular drive, always lovely I’m sure, but especially now. We tried to absorb the scenery, to imprint it on our minds, as we know it’s fleeting and will be gone in a few weeks. Perhaps it’s that transitory/fleeting element that makes it even more precious.
Part of the gorge in Natural Bridge State Park
Rod M pointing out part of the natural arched stone bridge
Besides the recreational and nature possibilities and fall foliage tours, the Berkshires (Hills or Mountains) are popular with tourists because of the vibrant visual and performing arts and music scene. There are a number of good museums (for example, MASSMoCA in North Adams); performing arts institutions like Tangelwood; America’s first and longest-running dance festival, “Jacob’s Pillow”; and it’s the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to name but a few.
The name Berkshires came from Sir Francis Bernard, the Royal Governor in office 1760-1769, who named the area “Berkshire” to honor his home county in England.
Besides the Native American history, this area has other interesting
Susan B Anthony Birth House in Adams
historical tidbits. For example, during the American Revolution, a Continental army force under Henry Knox brought captured cannons from Fort Ticonderoga by ox-drawn sleds south along the west bank of the Hudson River from the fort to Albany, where he then crossed the Hudson. Knox and his men continued east through the Berkshires and finally arrived in Boston. This feat, known as “the Noble train of Artillery” was accomplished in the dead of winter, 1775-1776.
Adams is also the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony (in 1820), the famous suffragette, and you can visit her birth house.
If you only have a few days, here’s what we suggest.
Where to Stay:
—at the Whitcomb Summit Retreat, 229 Mohawk Trail (about 15 minutes out of North Adams, and just next to the Elk statue). You can easily drive to places from there. www.whitcombsummitretreat.net Their logo is “stay at the top” and the views out are spectacular.
—or you could stay in North Adams at the Holiday Inn, 40 Main Street.
Where to eat In North Adams?
A good breakfast place is Renee’s Diner, 780 Massachusetts Ave (on
FaceBook). A lovely coffee shop is Brewhaha, 20 Marshall Street (on FaceBook).
We had excellent meals at Public Eat and Drink, 34 Holden Street in North Adams (www.publiceatanddrink.com ), and at the Golden Eagle, right on the famous hairpin bend, at 1935 Mohawk Trail (www.thegoldeneaglerestaurant.com ). MASSMoCA has a café, called Lickety Split, and a restaurant called Gramercy Bistro.
What to Do:
First, do the drive between North Adams and Charlemont and stop to visit the “Hail to the Sunrise” statue, a memorial to the Mohawk Native Americans, sponsored by the Improved Order of the Redman. Also stop at the Elk Memorial on Whitcomb Summit.
If you have a clear day, visit the Natural Bridge State Park, just outside of North Adams. It’s an easy, pretty walk and well worth the view of the only natural water-eroded marble bridge in North America, created by the Hudson Brook. It’s about 550 million years old, and is 30 feet wide, spanning a chasm about 60 feet deep.
Drive a little south to Adams and visit the Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum, 67 East Road, Adams, www.susanbanthonybirthplace.org
An amazingly detailed mural
In North Adams, visit MASSMoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the largest Contemporary Art Museum in USA), and then check out the colorful murals on the wall nearby, on the underpass of Route 2.
A must-see is the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, right in the center of North Adams. This freight yard district has been restored and has a variety of historical attractions, including an exhibit on the building of the Hoosac Tunnel.
North Adams was a railroad and manufacturing hub, using power generated by the Hoosic River (producing textiles and shoes), with many huge old mill buildings (MASSMoCA is in the largest now). Many of the others have been converted into art spaces, galleries, and little shops (most closed during winter).
North Adams has a Fall Foliage Festival at the end of September/beginning of October, and there’s a Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, close to the MASSMoCA.