Roadtrip Bucket List: The Mohawk Trail

Ah, if wishes were horses—I’d be on the road shooting all of the time! (Well, maybe not during holidays, but you get my drift.) Last week, thanks to a New York Times article, another American road trip made its way onto my radar and thus my bucket list: Massachusetts’ Mohawk Trail.

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Covering 63 miles on Route 2, the Mohawk Trail—so named for the victorious tribe in a ginned-up conflict between the Mohawk and Pocumtucks—was not only America’s first automobile-ready road, but one of the oldest and most-travelled roads in the country, period. A popular trade route before Europeans arrived, what was once a footpath through the Berkshires was soon widened for wagons and carriages; it didn’t take long for the curving, climbing road to be graded so the new wonder of the age, the automobile, could more easily travel the route. By 1914, this portion of Massachusetts’ Route 2 was designated as a scenic tourist route by the state legislature; today, it is still considered one of the loveliest drives in the state. National Geographic Traveller even chose the Mohawk Trail as one of the 50 best scenic routes in the nation (a list I fully intend to look into more deeply), so it must merit our attention!

Via the New York Times,

When it opened in 1914 the gravel road was just 15 feet across, about the length of a Honda Civic. Paved and widened to more comfortable proportions, the road, a top honeymoon destination in the ’20s, still recalls an era of 20 m.p.h. speed limits, goggles, scarves and lap robes. Signs once advertised “ice cold tonics,” “refreshment for man and motor” and “De Luxe, all-electric” cabins.

Sold.

Unlike the west-bound roads, where wide-open expanse is the order of the day and towns often spread far apart, the jewels along Route 2 in the bay state (and other old eastern highways) are close together, sometimes blending into one another in the way east coast and midwestern towns do. This is the case with Route 2, so I suppose there will never be fear of not finding a restaurant when you’re hungry or a rattlesnake-free restroom.

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The Quabbin River

Though this is only a 63-mile journey, I would encourage you—as always—to take your time and not plan too much ahead (that includes hotel room booking). It would be such a shame to have to rush through things or miss a place because “we have to check in at such-and-such tonight”! Reading through some of the articles and tourism guides regarding the Mohawk Trail, it seems to me that this is the sort of road trip that lures you into relaxing—something we all need to do, particularly these days. So whether it’s having all the time you need to meander through art galleries, hit every antique shop in town, immerse yourself in the history of old homes and at museums, or simply pulling over at one of the many overlooks to drink in the beauty and even picnic and read a book while out in the fresh air—or all of the above!—don’t allow yourself to be zipped through things. That’s hardly relaxing, and not at all enjoyable! Believe me: there’s no such thing as giving yourself “too much time” for a road trip. You’ll find ways to fill it!

It’s slightly difficult to write about a place one has never been to, so I’ll just make note of the things I think we’d all find interesting.

Souvenir Hunting & Local Arts

As one might expect in New England, there are antique shops galore. Since it is New England, I’m not sure if they’re mostly antique-y antiques—colonial, federal, and Victorian-type things—or if there’s a mix that includes MCM, Depression-era, and WWII-era goodies as well. And since the area is so steeped in the history of Native Americans, there are many shops devoted exclusively to their art—places like the delightfully decked-out Native Voices (formerly “The Big Indian Shop”) in Shelburne Falls—I love the proud fellow standing outside the doors!—and the Mohawk Trading Post in Shelburne.

There are many craft shows and art fairs, as well as locally-focused art galleries, all along the trail; clearly the area’s great natural beauty has drawn and inspired many. I must say, though—the North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival has me a little intrigued. I’ll bet someone selling mint candies could make a…well….you know! (For the record, I love garlic.) Roadside art abounds, too, so keep your eyes peeled; it seems that the most famous such piece is a statue of a Mohawk, just above the Deerfield River, gazing skyward with his arms raised—”Hail to the Sunrise” (Charlemont).

Eat!

Historic-Deerfield-09

All of that visiting and supporting local businesses and artists is bound to make anybody hungry. Whether you’re staying at hotels or in a campground (there are several along the route for RVers!), you’ll find farmer’s markets all along the way, some running from mid-May through as late as October 31, allowing you to get a real taste of local bounty as you travel. It can’t hurt to chat up the farmers as you shop for fruits, veggies, deli meats & cheeses, and baked treats, either—they will probably be able to recommend great places to eat, stay, or check out while you’re there.

There appear to be plenty of local restaurants to hit instead of the bland and ubiquitous chains (they’re the big box stores of food, aren’t they?); the NY Times travel article recommends several; my research shows there are plenty of local places to choose from for every taste and budget. That said, though, as a celiac, I have to be a bit more careful about where I dine, but The Farm Table in Bernardston not only has oodles of gluten-free foods (this is very exciting, trust me), but it’s pretty AND has enormous red rooster out front. Eats, mild kitsch at the door, and loveliness (it looks quite nice inside)—what more could one want? There’s also the well-regarded Hillside Pizza in South Deerfield, Brick Wall Burger and The People’s Pint in Greenfield. Good local food is, let’s admit it, a big part of travel, but for celiacs and those with a gluten intolerance, finding it can be frustrating and even a bit frightening (who wants to get sick or end up in the hospital while on vacation?), so I was happy to find a few local spots that serve celiacs; there may be more, but between these two restaurants and the many farmer’s markets, at least we won’t be entirely left out!

If you have a sweet tooth, no worries: there are independently-owned soda fountains, chocolatiers, and ice cream parlours all along the route. This is America, after all. I think we must consume more sugar than anyone!

History

Oooo, my favourite thing. And as you can imagine, with these parts of Massachusetts having been Indian territory for a long time and with Europeans settling here as early as the mid-1600s, there’s tons of it along the Mohawk Trail! Indeed, an entire website is dedicated to it, and no doubt that just skims the surface.

Personally, though, I’d be hard-pressed to keep away from the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Bill of rights, to say nothing of George Washington’s own copy of the Federalist Papers at the Williams College of Art in Williamstown (which boasts a fine art collection, too, but what’s that compared to Washington’s Federalist Papers—presented to him by Madison and Hamilton, no less?). A portion of Deerfield has been turned into a living museum, where you’ll find events taking place year-round. In Gill, you’ll find the 1932 French King Bridge, which is not only lovely in and of itself, but offers gorgeous views of the river.

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The Bridge of Flowers—I’m guessing this is spring, before everything is in full bloom!

Adams is not only home to the Quaker Meeting House (built between 1782-1786), but the birthplace of famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony, whose home has been maintained as a museum.  A ways down Route 2 in Shelburne Falls you’ll find the world-renown Bridge of Flowers just above Salmon Falls—when trolleys stopped running through town in 1929, the Women’s Club turned the defunct bridge into a garden which blooms from spring through autumn! And in Leominster, you can pick apples or hike at Sholan Farms—birthplace of Johnny Appleseed.

The Mohawk Trail is also home to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s first achievement—and the nation’s first organized preservation effort—embodied in the “Old Indian House” which survived a 1704 attack (Deerfield), purchased by the citizens in 1847-48; the 1798 Deerfield Academy building was purchased in 1877 and turned into the nation’s first museum—it is dedicated to “both Indian and Puritan” inhabitants of the valley—with period rooms. Indeed, there’s a wealth of museums of all sorts along Route 2; there’s the MASS MoCA (contemporary visual and performing arts) and the Clark (a fantastic collection of Old Masters, American paintings, and French Impressionists); a trolley museum (I love trolleys!); the aforementioned Williams College Museum of Art; the Aviation Toy Museum; Turners Falls offers a natural history museum, a historic district of its own, and also boasts of a Our Lady of Czestochowa Roman Catholic Church—its windows were imported from Poland, as was a cannon ball fired on a monastery by German soldiers within. (The monks withstood the siege.) There are quite a few architectural wonders along the way, too, many of them beautiful old churches.

Finally, whether or not you have the crumb-crunchers with you, Dave’s Farmland might worth stopping at. From spring to fall, you can find yourself petting baby farm animals, helping out with farm tasks like collecting eggs and bottle-feeding newborns, take a hayride, enjoy the waterpark (!), pick fruit, and more.

Natural Wonders

There’s much to see along the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts, but it seems to me that it is richer in natural beauty than anything else—and whether you wish to hike, ski, or whitewater-raft through it or simply stand and absorb the blood pressure-lowering wonders of nature, it’s accessible to road trippers of all sorts. There are so many scenic vistas to pull over and see I can’t even begin to list them—even the Hairpin Turn (they’re not joking) of North Adams offers stunning views. North Adams is also home to the only natural water-eroded bridge in North America—it’s estimated to be 550 million years old—which you can enjoy at Natural Bridge State Park.

Not too far away from the Mohawk Trail proper is Mount Greylock, the highest point in the state (though roads are closed for the winter and Sandy may have caused some obstructions to hiking trails). In fact, there are summits all the way across, and several are accessible via car if you have mobility issues (or non-hiking shoes!). In April and June, you can watch fish migrate upstream at the Turners Falls fish ladder (no recent bear sightings, sorry, though I think watching a bear fish—from a safe location—would be a treat); no salmon have broached Salmon Falls in Shelburne Falls, but they are still beautiful—and you can check out the glacial potholes (and you thought Suburbans were bad for the roads!) while you are there.

Whew!

Well, I hope that’s a good flavour of what the Mohawk Trail has to offer. If you have three or four full days, that should be enough time to enjoy yourself—and maybe even enjoy a concert or theatrical performance in the evening along your way (there are many opportunities for this, too!). With everything there is to see, it doesn’t surprise me that this was a favoured route for honeymooners of earlier generations; if you’re seeking out a romantic trip, this looks like a great option.

For some suggested driving itineraries, be sure to check out the Mohawk Trail tourism website; I appreciate their having a wonderful press page full of photos, some of which I used for this post. At least ’til I get to travel it myself! This TLC article has a few suggestions as well, and of course there’s the New York Times article that got me looking into this in the first place!

What do you think? Anything you wouldn’t be able to resist? If you’re familiar with the area (Mod Betty, I am looking at you), did I miss anything?

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6 thoughts on “Roadtrip Bucket List: The Mohawk Trail

    • Oh, great! Thank you, Betty—I knew you’d be able to add something. Would you believe I’ve never even so much as driven through the Bay State?! I’ve always wanted to visit Boston (all that history)—this adds fuel to the fire.

      Thanks again!

  1. There are so many destinations that sound like they’d be right up my alley. While a don’t know that we’ll ever find our way there, I do thank you for sharing them. As always you’re posts are so generous in details. I love American history. That might surprise you because we’re Canadian. But your history is so well documented. Alberta only became a province in 1905…so by comparison, our history is still in it’s infancy.

    • It is funny, I consider Canadians semi-cousins just the way I do the Brits. Besides, we tried to take over a couple of times, early, if I recall correctly! 😉 It is rather remarkable how young much of Canada and the United States are, really—when we were in Oklahoma for my Route 66 shoots, I kept thinking about the fact that they’ve only been a state since 1907, and New Mexico and Arizona were both preparing to celebrate their centenary (1912) this year. This really is the ‘new world’, even now, isn’t it? I read about European history and then look at us—we are whippersnappers!

      • True that, we were in Europe in 2008 and any home less than a century old in Salzburg is considered new, LOL. I didn’t realize Oklahoma only became a state in 1907. I knew native americans participated in the Civil War from those states (or not yet states). It’s all fascinating really. Thanks for the additional info Jen.

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