Visiting Western Massachusetts

My last article was a general overview about planning your trip to Franklin county.  I included two websites that may be helpful in planning your visit and stay here in this naturally beautiful region of the state.  If you have not read through that posting you can access it on this blog post Planning your visit to Western Massachusetts.

This time I want to take a deeper dive into what to do and see in Franklin county. Franklin county is the least populous county in Massachusetts( not always a bad thing!), with an estimated 70,180 head count on the 2019 census according to Wikipedia.  That means that there is a lot of green space.  There is space to spread out and space to go for a hike in the woods or a nice long bike ride.  It’s a region that is known for stunning views, state forests, good breweries, and nice people. (map courtesy of Franklin Regional County of Governments).

The Top 5 things to do in Franklin County

I am calling this article  “Top 5 things to do in Franklin County”, creative right?  There are of course more than five things to do around here so limiting it to just 5 is not easy. I have cycled to each of these attractions numerous times, often linking 2 or 3 together to form a nice tour.  Most of the these can be biked to in just 20-30 miles and when their is a coffee or cold beer involved now that is a treat!  Whenever friends come see me, we always hit up a few of them. 

These destinations are chosen for their views of the surrounding hills or because they offer a glimpse of what locals like to do as well.  What is great about many of these places is that they are mostly free of charge, often family and kid friendly(especially the swimming holes) and all are reachable by bike which can make them even more rewarding.  So without further ado, I present my top 5 things to do in Franklin county Massachusetts!

Let’s get rolling….

5) Canal Side bike path and Great Falls Discovery Center.  Starting my list is a short but pleasant bike path stretching along the canal of Turners Falls.  Turners Falls is an old mill town with an historic and active downtown.  Actually a village within the town of Montague, Turners offers a nice selection of eateries for a bite to eat after your walk or bike ride along the canal.  A fun place to start and end is Unity Park on the shore of the Connecticut River.  You will follow the canal for roughly 2 miles before returning.  The canal bike path is wide enough to allow for cyclists, walkers and runners.  There is a continuation of the path that leads to my #1 attraction in Franklin County. 

If you are in the mood for a beer, stop at Brick and Feather brewing on 11th Street.  Coming back to the park you may want to stop in at Great Falls Discovery Center (not open due to Covid).  The Center is dedicated to representing the “natural, cultural and industrial history of the Connecticut River watershed”.  Read more about it by clicking on the link above.

4) New England Peace Pagoda.  Located on Cave Hill in the town of Leverett, the Peace Pagoda is closed for public services and events.  While the beautiful grounds remain open it is not possible to enter the buildings or partake in prayer services.  In full disclosure, I have only been here twice to look and marvel at the wonderful gardens and temple.  For those who are spiritual or interested in Buddhism I recommend looking at their website to see what you can do here

3) Deerfield River Rafting.  Outdoor enthusiasts start drooling!  I recently rafted down a portion of the Deerfield when a college friend came to visit a few weeks back.  It was my first time and it was a blast.  Read about tubing and rafting on the Deerfield by clicking the link above. The journey starts under the Bardswell Ferry bridge in Conway and often ends at Stillwater Bridge in Deerfield.  You will want to set aside around 3 hours for the trip.  There are numerous places to stop and picnic, rest or go for a swim.  While the river is rather shallow, there are spots that are 8-12 feet(in my estimation) and are very suitable for swimming.  As you get closer to the final bend, there is a small cliff off the left where the cliff jumpers congregate.  Stop for a bit and if you are up to the challenge, climb up the cliff and jump off!  (Make your own judgments. I am not responsible for your actions).

2) The town of Shelburne Falls.  These last two of the ‘Top 5’ list are hard to decide between, as they all are honestly!  My number 2 of the Top 5 things to do in Franklin County is visit Shelburne Falls. One of the prettiest and quaintest of towns in the area, and a true gem of summer travels and autumn leaf peeping!  This town impressed film producers so much they filmed  portions of The Judge here.  What I like is its walkability and diversity of shops.  There are artists and potters, a bookstore, a wine shop, and brewery(actually in Buckland) and a bakery, small arts theatre, a French inspired restaurant, glacial potholes, etc etc.  I can go on and on. 

The highlight of the village is of course The Bridge of Flowers, which is unfortunately closed as many things are to tourists.  You can see the bridge and admire all the beautiful flowers and shrubs but you are not allowed to enter.  Before you leave for town, cross over the bridge and order some beer from Floodwater Brewing.  It is a small, 2 year old brewery, fulfilling orders online.  Great beers, fun owners and instagram worthy views(when open). 

And the #1 thing to do in Franklin County……..

1)Historic Deerfield  Topping out the list is the museum town of Historic Deerfield.  This is my #1 because it has a 350 year history in the region, starting in 1673.  To learn about the full history of the people that lived here and the reasons why they started, and then had to leave, you need to visit this open air living museum(and call ahead to make sure  you can!!)  Set on a quarter mile stretch of town road, each house is representative of people that called the area home in the 17th century.  Many of the homes are rebuilt or extensively renovated, however each of the 12 preserved homes represent the style and architecture as it was originally.  At the south end of the street is the Flynt Center for Early New England Life.  You may want to stay at the Deerfield Inn which is located in the center of this living outdoor museum.  In full disclosure, I love to bike through here on a regular basis just to admire its beauty and the care that has been taken to preserve the homes.

Let’s Recap

I hope you have enjoyed my list of the Top 5 things to do in Franklin County.  It was not an easy list to narrow down; there are other enjoyable natural and man-made attractions in the county.  You can bike to each of these locations easily.  Even better a two day tour would be able to hit each of them while exploring and enjoying cycling in Western Massachusetts.  But if cycling is not your thing, you will still enjoy a visit.  I highly suggest that you call ahead to make reservations and to be certain that you can visit certain locations.  The coronavirus has completely changed how we live for the time being.  Please do your part to check ahead on what is accessible.  Wear your mask when visiting.  If you are a cycling enthusiast, get in touch and we can plan a tour!