Family farms, historic town centers, panoramic views of rolling hills, forests, and pastures dominate the Massachusetts stretch of the Connecticut River National Scenic Byway. Hikers, paddlers, anglers, history buffs and art lovers will all find plenty of reasons to get out of the car and explore, or stretch this leisurely afternoon drive into a longer road trip.
Even before the colonial era, Norwottuck peoples farmed the rich soil of the Connecticut River’s floodplains. Farmers have since harvested corn, wheat, flax, tobacco, apples, maple syrup, onions, asparagus, strawberries and more. You’ll see many farms that date back more than 100 years, including the Mount Toby Dairy Farm in Sunderland. And the town of Hadley still has the most acreage of active farmland in the region. Seasonal produce stands and harvest shares embody the “farm to table” movement and let you purchase directly from local farms. It’s not all fruits and veggies, of course. You can also indulge your sweet tooth at bakeries and ice cream shops all along the byway, such as the summertime favorite Northfield Creamie.
Outdoor recreation options abound. J.A. Skinner State Park in Hadley offers access points to the New England National Scenic Trail, a 215-mile hiking trail with sections in Massachusetts and Connecticut. At the peak of Mount Holyoke, which is in the park, you are free to explore The Summit House, a 19th-century hotel that was one of the region’s first tourist attractions. Canoe launch points in Sunderland, South Hadley and Hadley give access to easy flat-water paddling on the Connecticut River. Northfield Mountain Recreation Center offers upriver canoe shuttles and riverboat cruises. Mount Sugarloaf in Deerfield, Mount Toby in Sunderland and Mount Holyoke in Hadley all offer hiking opportunities with spectacular views of the valley. Portions of the 240-mile Franklin County Bikeway and Norwottuck Rail Trail are accessible from the byway. You’ll find links to bike maps in the More Info section below.
A historic must-see along the byway is the 1752 Port-Phelps-Huntington Museum in Hadley, the largest area farmstead in its day and the first built outside the town center. Today the house contains the possessions of six generations and portrays the lives of the family, artisans, servants and slaves. It’s surrounded by 350 acres of protected land, including river frontage. Several communities along the byway have nationally designated historic districts, where you can get a small glimpse of what life may have looked like in 18th and 19th centuries—Northfield Main Street, Montague Center, Sunderland Main Street, North Hadley Town Center, as well as Hadley Center and Hockanum in the town of Hadley, and Woodbridge Street in South Hadley.
Sunderland’s famous “Buttonball Tree” is the largest American sycamore in Massachusetts and was alive at the time the U.S. Constitution was signed. Because of their longevity, sycamores were often planted as “bride and groom” trees in front of a newlywed couple’s home to wish them a long and happy life.
The southern end of the byway is adjacent to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts’ Five Colleges area, also the home of Amherst, Hampshire and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts. These schools bring a constant flow of energy and culture to the region, and host world-class institutions like the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, one of the oldest collegiate art museums in the U.S. with a strong collection of art from around the world.
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