From the 25,000-acre Quabbin Reservoir and watershed to 3,491-foot Mount Greylock, Western Massachusetts offers broad and breathtaking panoramas of unspoiled wilderness and natural wonders. The byways crisscross a region that encompasses hundreds of square miles of protected open space that is home to species like moose, bobcat, grey fox, bald eagles and herons.
With five major rivers and countless brooks running through rocky, glacial terrain, it’s not hard to find waterfalls. Just for starters: Wanamaker Lake in Northfield is home to a small but striking waterfall that’s visible from Route 63. Spectacular waterfalls tumble down Gunn Brook and Roaring Brook at Mount Toby in Sunderland. At 150 feet, Glendale Falls in Middlefield is one of the highest and longest in the state. You’ll find falls along the 22-mile Tully Trail in Royalston, Orange, Athol and Warwick. And Mount Greylock has many trailside waterfalls such as Money Brook, March Cataract and Deer Hill Falls. Off the Jacob’s Ladder Trail in Chester-Blandford State Forest are two spectacular falls, Sanderson Brook and Goldmine Brook.
For tens of thousands of years, rivers have left their mark on the landscape. Deep gorges make for dramatic views whether you’re crossing over them at the French King Bridge in Gill, or hiking through them on the forested slopes of Cold River Gorge in Charlemont’s Mohawk Trail State Forest. On the Deerfield River in Shelburne Falls, more than 50 glacial potholes—some no more than six inches across, some almost 40 feet across—dot the former riverbed. Just outside of North Adams is Natural Bridge State Park, featuring an impressive marble arch that spans a dramatic gorge.
One of the largest manmade lakes and ecosystems in the country was established in the 1930s when the state flooded the Swift River Valley—displacing the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. This created the Quabbin Reservoir, which provides fresh water to Boston and surrounding towns, and dramatically reshaped the area around Route 122. Today the reservoir, forests and wetlands are home to black bears, moose, coyotes, bald eagles, osprey and hundreds more species. The Quabbin Reservoir Visitor Center is located off the byway on Route 9 at the southern end of the reservoir in Belchertown.
Birch, beech, hemlock, oak, hickory, maple, pine… Western Massachusetts has many state forests and protected lands that are beautiful year-round, but when the first colors of autumn start to fire up the landscape, the views become truly breathtaking. The New England National Scenic Trail becomes rugged as it traverses Mount Holyoke range’s “seven sisters,” a series of basalt ridgeline knobs, giving views to the large expanse of forests and farmlands below. The Mohawk Trail and Jacob’s Ladder Trail fill with “leaf-peepers” in the early fall—together their 100 miles are a riot of color during peak season. Mount Greylock has many rare trees and plants including several stands of old-growth red spruce. And the Route 122 Scenic Byway is an ideal foliage destination, with acres of pristine forests and fields surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir. For those who want to learn more about these spectacular views, the Fisher Museum in Petersham has exhibits and dioramas about the history and conservation of forest lands.
While many natural wonders of the byways region require a little hiking, there are plenty of trails and views that are accessible to visitors with mobility challenges. The summits of Mount Greylock, Mount Sugarloaf and Mount Tom are reachable by car from June through October, giving everyone access to sweeping views of the byways region. DAR State Forest in Goshen has a half-mile stone dust trail along Highland Lake with benches and three accessible fishing piers. In New Salem, a wide gravel path provides vehicle access to “The Lookout” with views of the Quabbin Reservoir. Visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation website for information on accessible trails, fishing and boating, cycling, and winter sports throughout the state.
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