The Mohawk Trail opened in 1914 as one of the first auto-touring roads in the country. This 69-mile scenic byway meanders through deep forest and historic towns, passing world-class art museums, early 20th-century tourist destinations, scenic hikes and dramatic vistas, all the while criss-crossing and paralleling five major rivers—the Millers, Connecticut, Green, Deerfield, and Hoosic.
The byway’s origins date back more than 10,000 years, when Native Americans first began hunting and trading via footpaths along the rivers. But the road as we know it took shape in the early 20th century when it became the state’s first designated scenic autoroute. Several Native American–themed souvenir shops, tourist cottages and restaurants from the era are still open today. Hikers can travel 34 miles along the re-created Mahican-Mohawk Trail on rail trails, woodland paths and rural roads.
At the western end of the byway, after the famous hairpin turn at Clarksburg, you’ll descend into the Hoosic River valley at North Adams. When the Sprague Electric factory closed in the 1980s, it devastated the local economy, but since the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art opened in the former Sprague buildings in 1999, North Adams has emerged as a leading arts destination. Art galleries have sprung up throughout the walkable downtown. A few miles farther down the byway is Williamstown, a picturesque college town that is home to both the Williams College Museum of Art and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Shelburne Falls, near the byway’s midpoint, is home to many small galleries and has a reputation as a center for innovative glass art.
Millers River runs near the entire eastern section of the byway, and parallels it through the town of Erving. In Gill, the French King Bridge rises high above the Connecticut River. A small parking area offers access to this dramatic view. Nearby Barton Cove is home to a bald eagle’s nest, great canoeing and a one-mile nature path that passes an abandoned dinosaur footprint quarry. Use the spotting scopes at the Eastern Summit in Florida or the Western Summit in North Adams for views of the valleys and far-off mountain ranges. Farther west along the Deerfield River in Charlemont, several outfitters offer whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking trips, and equipment rentals. For a truly unique way to view the Deerfield River valley, try a zipline canopy tour. It’s an unforgettable way to experience the valley’s fall colors.
River-powered mills helped towns flourish all along the byway during the 19th century. Historic buildings and districts include Orange Center Historic District, a 19th-century railroad depot and freight house in Erving, and almost 100 architecturally important buildings in downtown Greenfield that are on the National Register of Historic Places. There you’ll also find places to eat, stroll and shop. Greenfield’s Museum of Our Industrial Heritage is a great place to learn about the people and the work that shaped the region. The Turners Falls Historic District in Montague has funky salvage stores, restaurants and galleries. Shelburne Falls and North Adams offer two of the byway’s most artistic downtown areas, with galleries, cafes and thriving arts communities.
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