Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway – MA
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length69 miles
The Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway is rich in natural, historic, and cultural resources. It travels through a landscape of distinct natural beauty on the way from the Connecticut River Valley to the Berkshire Mountains in northwestern Massachusetts. The route is historically significant, originally as a footpath traveled by Native Americans and later as the state’s first designated scenic auto touring road. Travelers experience its diverse features and attractions including dense forests, historic villages, cultural institutions, scenic vistas, and an abundance of recreational activities.
Story of the Byway
The Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway story celebrates the history, heritage, and natural beauty of an important regional travel route. The Mohawk Trail is steeped in regional and local history and provides a backdrop for the region's broader history. The route is a significant east-west travel route in northwestern Massachusetts. It follows the walking route used by Native Americans to travel between the Hudson River and Connecticut River Valleys. Native Americans occupied the area approximately 12,000 years ago after the retreat of the last glacial ice sheets. Later, the European settlers used the route and eventually upgraded it to support travel by horse and cart. As the use of automobiles increased, the route became more popular, and the road was improved for vehicles.
The Mohawk Trail is historically significant as a Scenic Byway because it was one of the first to be constructed as a scenic auto touring route in the early years of car travel. It was approved by the Massachusetts Highway Commission for construction in 1912 and completed in 1914. The completed highway was officially dedicated at a ceremony at Whitcomb Summit on October 22, 1914, with a crowd of approximately 1,800 people in attendance. This commissioned section of construction included the 13 miles from the base of Hoosac Mountain in North Adams to the Deerfield River in Charlemont, including the Hairpin Turn in North Adams and over Whitcomb Summit in Florida. To the east, the original route followed local roads along the Deerfield River Valley. The road was an instant hit as an automobile touring route, and within a few years, souvenir shops, overnight cabins, restaurants, and gas stations were established. The road became a popular destination for travelers during the early auto touring days of the 1920s and 1930s, and its popularity increased as automobiles became more common.
From 1919 to 1929, many improvements and upgrades were made to the entire route from North Adams to Greenfield. During the early years of the Mohawk Trail, the road was shoveled by hand and often remained closed for long periods during inclement weather. In the mid-1930s, the State assumed the responsibility for winter upkeep and began to maintain the road year-round. It was one of the earliest Scenic Byways in New England when it received its official designation by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1953. The Mohawk Trail remains a popular route for travelers and particularly during the fall foliage season.
Byway travelers experience scenery and sites from all periods of history. There are historic villages, structures, and sites along the route that provide insights into the Byway and broader regional history. The Byway travels through some of the most beautiful scenic areas in Massachusetts. Stretches of the Mohawk Trail follow the Millers, Deerfield, Cold, and Hoosic Rivers. A significant section parallels the Mahican-Mohawk Trail, a former Native American trail linking the Hudson and Connecticut River Valleys. This original walking route is currently being reestablished as a recreational trail in Franklin and Berkshire counties.
The corridor also retains the feel of the auto-touring era. Although many of the original businesses are no longer operating, there are sites and resources along the route that highlight the rich history of the auto-touring era. Vestiges remain of the roadside cabins, motels, souvenir shops, restaurants, and fueling stations on the route. In addition to these reminders of the auto touring days on the Byway, the Mohawk Trail travels through and near towns and villages that grew during the industrial revolution and have retained the character of this important heritage. It travels through a landscape of distinct natural beauty on the way from the broader Connecticut River Valley to the Berkshire Mountains in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts. The Byway corridor is rich in natural, historic, and cultural resources that provide the Byway traveler with an enriching experience. The rural character of the region and natural features are prominent along the Mohawk Trail today. The corridor is especially rich in natural resources, which attract visitors to the abundance of outdoor recreation.
The Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway is 69 miles long. The byway travels east-west in the northwestern section of Massachusetts. It travels through 3 counties (5 miles in Worcester County, 45 miles in Franklin County, and 19 miles in Berkshire County). It travels through the towns of Athol, Orange, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Shelburne, Buckland, Charlemont, Savoy, Florida, Clarksburg, North Adams, and Williamstown. The byway travels primarily on Route 2; however, two sections of the byway divert from Route 2 onto Route 2A as it travels through the town centers of Athol, Orange, and Greenfield.
Points of Interest
Millers River Blue Trail and Nature Areas
The Millers River Blue Trail is a 6-mile water trail that connects the Alan E. Rich Environment Park in Athol and the Riverfront Park in Orange Athol and Orange on the Millers River which is a prominent feature in both town centers.
Main Street in Greenfield
The Byway travels through downtown Greenfield on Main Street (Route 2A) and passes the Main Street Historic District which includes prominent historic buildings including the Leavitt-Hovey Housed designed by Asher Benjamin and built in 1798.
The Bridge of Flowers
Built in 1908 as a trolley bridge to connect the village across the Deerfield River, but the line was discontinued in 1927, and in 1929 it was transformed into the Bridge of Flowers.
The Village of Shelburne Falls
The Village of Shelburne Falls is comprised of the village centers of the neighboring towns of Shelburne and Buckland and was first known as Salmon Falls for its reputation as an important native fishing grounds.
Mohican Mohawk Trail
planned 100-mile long-distance trail from the Connecticut River Valley to the Hudson Valley that follows the corridor of the historic Native American path.
Access to the Appalachian Trail in North Adams
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) is one of America’s most celebrated and respected hiking trails, and it crosses the Mohawk Trail in North Adams approximately two miles west of the center of town at Phelps Road.
Panoramic views in all directions with the Hoosic River Valley and the city of North Adams visible to the west, the summit of Mount Greylock visible to the south, a view beyond the valley to the west of the Taconic Range that straddles the Massachusetts and New York state borders, and the Green Mountains and Vermont are visible to the north.
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is a contemporary art museum in a former mill on the Byway in North Adams that includes a stunning collection of indoor and outdoor performing arts venues that display music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, theater, and boundary-crossing works of art.
Western Gateway Heritage State Park
A former railroad yard in North Adams, this urban park uses historical artifacts and exhibits to bring to life the controversial and danger-filled construction of the Hoosac Tunnel, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century.
Main Street is a wide promenade that was planned by B.S. Olmsted of the famous Olmsted firm as a linear town common, lined with the architecture of Williams College and majestic shade trees. The Clark Art Institute, Williams College Museum of Art, and the Williamstown Theater Festival are nearby.
View of the Connecticut River from the French King Bridge
The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England and flows 410 miles from its headwaters in northern New Hampshire to the Atlantic Ocean at Long Island Sound. There are spectacular views of the River from the Bridge. Rest areas at either end of the Bridge allow travelers to park and experience the view from an outstanding vantage point.
View of the Deerfield River in Charlemont
The Deerfield River is a striking scenic feature in Charlemont where it runs parallel to the Byway. The Deerfield River flows 70 miles before draining into the Connecticut River. The rolling currents can be seen from the Byway at many locations in Charlemont. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, the Deerfield River has been harnessed for power.
The Eastern Summit
The view from the Eastern Summit extends for 65 miles on a clear day and Byway travelers can see the Deerfield River Valley below, the rolling Green Mountains of Vermont, and the majestic peak of Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire.
Whitcomb Summit is the highest point on the Byway with an elevation of 2,185 feet. From this location, there are long-range views of the Green Mountains to the northeast and the Hoosic Range to the southwest.
The Western Summit
The Western Summit has vast panoramic views in all directions and historic motel cabins that date from the 1930s and a shop.
Traverse the Mohawk Trail
Starting your journey in Orange, you will immediately have the opportunity to experience both the history and the beautiful scenery that this Byway is able to capture. Orange has its own historical district that allows you to learn about the culture and history of the area, and it also is home to Orange Riverfront Park which is located right on the bank of the Millers River. Heading west from Orange along the Byway, you will soon pass the historic and beautiful Connecticut River. There are recreation areas galore in this area that can give you the best way to experience this gorgeous area.
This Byway will take you right through the city of Greenfield where there is no shortage of possibilities to have fun. There are farmers markets, museums, and parks at just about every corner in this city, making it the perfect stopping point along your journey. After your stop in Greenfield, you must stop by the village of Shelburne Falls. This wonderful area provides scenic views of the Deerfield River and the quaint architecture which will make you want to spend an entire day here.
From there, continue west while taking in the gorgeous scenery of the area. Near the town of Charlemont you will find the Thunder Mountain Bike Park, which has many intertwining bike trails for all of you thrill seekers. After that you will be passing through the Mohawk Trail State Forest, which has hiking trails throughout the area no matter what point you stop at. You can end your journey here or pass through the towns of Williamstown and North Adams if you want to continue!
Update this byway information today!