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Western Massachusetts is a full service tourist destination. The area’s virtues range from idyllic to erudite and include hiking and biking trails, used bookstores, museums and art galleries, and delicious food and drink prepared with fresh, local ingredients. Given the bountiful options, visitors to Western MA may have trouble knowing where to start!
Big Red Frame, Park Hill Orchard, photo credit: Pat Brough
Those looking to narrow their focus can begin with the three areas in which the region shines: bicycling trails, arts attractions and breweries. It’s easy to make a day of all three, using bicycles for fun, environmentally-friendly transportation to towns and museums and ending the day with good food and beer.
Both Hampshire and Franklin County offer bike trails that connect many of the Western MA’s best attractions. Starting in Northampton, cyclists can ride the Norwottuck Rail Trail west to Haydenville or east to Amherst, or take the Manhan Trail south to Easthampton. In Franklin County, cyclists can explore the Franklin County Bikeway, which includes the Riverside Greenway bike trail in Greenfield, and the Canalside bike trail in Turner’s Falls. Out of town visitors can rent bicycles and get more information about routes at Northampton Bicycle in Northampton, Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst, and Bikes Unlimited in Greenfield.
Autumn bike ride, photo credit: Paul Franz, The Recorder
Our dynamic art scene includes a rich landscape of local artists. Northampton is home to several galleries showcasing local work. Visitors must see the R. Michelson’s Gallery, a grand storefront with a central location on Main Street, and won’t want to miss galleries such as The APE Gallery, featuring contemporary art installations, and the William Baczek Fine Arts. Over the past few years, Easthampton’s vacant mill and industrial buildings have been taken over by artists, making the town an exciting place to see local work. Eastworks, a multi-use building adjacent to the Manhan Rail Trail, is a mainstay of the up-and-coming Easthampton art scene.
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, photo credit: Seth Kaye
The art community is anchored by several museums, most of which are accessible from the Norwottuck Rail Trail. There’s something for everyone in the selection. In Amherst, families can visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which is right next door to The Yiddish Book Center, a great destination for lovers of history, language, and literature. Amherst is also home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, another must see for literary types. The Smith College Museum of Art, The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, and the University Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of Massachusetts round out the museum offerings with permanent collections and regular exhibitions.
The Yiddish Book Center
With all this creative energy in the air, it’s not surprising that local beer makers are also making creative choices, and are busy experimenting with new ingredients and flavors. Chris Sellers of The People’s Pint in Greenfield, characterizes the Western Massachusetts brewing community as one that “continues to push the boundaries of excellent brewing,” and O’Brian Tomalin of the Sierra Grille and Building 8 Brewery, both in Northampton, agrees, describing a “new guard” of brewers who aren’t “afraid to take a leap, or move around the dial in terms of style.”
Abandoned Building Brewery, photo credit: Lynne Graves
Founded in 1997, Northampton Brewery is one of the oldest brewpubs in New England. It brews its own beer on site, while also offering a full service menu and a roof top beer garden. But many of the smaller breweries, which may not have the space or budget for a full service restaurant, are getting creative, not only offering tastings, but also bringing together food trucks and live music on the weekends.
Fort Hill Brewery, photo credit: Lynne Graves
In the past five years, several new breweries have opened in the Northampton and Easthampton area, all of which are accessible from the Norwottuck and Manhan Rail Trail. In Easthampton, beer enthusiasts can ride their bikes to Abandoned Building, New City, and Fort Hill Breweries. In Northampton, cyclists can head west on the Norwottuck to the Florence section of Northampton, where they will find Brew Practitioners and Building 8.
Fort Hill Brewery, Pedals2Pints, photo credit: Lynne Graves
In Franklin County, there’s The People’s Pint, a full service restaurant and brewery is a Greenfield institution. Element Brewing Company in Miller’s Falls offers tastings, along with pool tables, food trucks, and pop-up kitchens on Friday and Saturday, while Brick and Feather in Turner’s Falls is directly adjacent to the Canalside bike path.
This is a great time to visit Western MA as the vivid fall foliage provides the ideal backdrop for exploration and fall festivals, including the Paradise City Arts Festival, are in abundance. Check out Visit Hampshire County or the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce website for more ideas and information.
Fall foliage, photo credit: Lynne Graves
Feature photo, woman biking, photo credit: Lynne Graves