Between Worcester and the Berkshires is the hidden gem of Western Massachusetts, also known as the Pioneer Valley. This area is rich with great things to enjoy like Six Flags New England, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and MGM Grand. There are some amazing places flying under the radar. These places don’t seem to get a lot of press or exposure like those mentioned above, but definitely shouldn’t be missed. As someone who lives in the Pioneer Valley, guest author, NJ Rogner shares her top recommendations for things to do in Western Massachusetts.
5 Unique Things to do in Western Massachusetts
Michelson Galleries, Northampton
Nestled in downtown Northampton, this is a can’t miss spot on your visit to Western Massachusetts. R. Michelson Galleries hosts a wide array of fine art. But the hidden gem is in the back of the gallery where you’ll find a large collection of illustrations from your favorite children’s books. We’ve seen the book art from Paddington, Mo Willems, Dr. Suess, Beatrix Potter and more. It’s a can’t miss. There are pieces for sale as well as collections on display. Northampton lunch recommendation: Local Burger.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst
We all know and love Eric Carle and his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And while The Eric Carle Museum is on the smaller side, it is a place everyone should visit at least once. There you’ll find pictures, books, and art. There are three art galleries of illustrations from picture books, one of which almost always features the work of Eric Carle, a hands on art studio and a library of books to sit and enjoy. Younger children may not enjoy the art on the walls, but they’ll love exploring the library and art studio. The best time to visit is on the weekends because they often have special story times in the library with authors. Amherst lunch recommendation: Judie’s Restaurant.
The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round
The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round and The Holyoke Children’s Museum are my top my number one recommendation for families coming to the Pioneer Valley. Both are located at Heritage State Park and you can easily walk between the two.
The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is steeped in Massachusetts history and first resided at Mountain Park, on Mt. Tom in Holyoke. Built in the 1920’s, this carousel is absolutely beautiful. When Mountain Park closed in 1987, the owners received an offer of two million dollars for this carousel, but agreed to sell it to the city of Holyoke for $875,000. The city had one year to raise the funds and rallied the community to raise it. At $2.00 a ride, it’s really budget friendly and everyone who visits the Pioneer Valley should experience a piece of art in motion. This ride is not for the faint, it spins very fast!
The Holyoke Children’s Museum, Holyoke
The Holyoke Children’s Museum is a spot my family has enjoyed for years. This museum may be smaller than the Boston Children’s Museum, but it utilizes the space well and inside you’ll find a three-story curvy climber, a large water table station, a full size ambulance to explore, a grocery store station, pizza station, fire and police department, an imagination playground stocked with large foam bricks, blocks, tubes and channels for open-ended building and more. It is designed for creative play, however, my tween still enjoys the spot. There is no wifi in the building and I’ve had a hard time even accessing data on my phone. So bring a book or plan on just enjoying the time with your kids. The museum shares a building with the Volleyball Hall of Fame, so check that out if it’s open too. Holyoke lunch recommendation: Holyoke Hummus.
Ashley Reservoir, Holyoke
Each time we have out of town guests come to stay with us, we make sure to take them to Ashley Reservoir for a hike. The paths are wide and paved, making it perfect for hiking, biking, and strollers. The trail loops are breathtaking and while they don’t offer mountain views, they cut through the reservoir, making it a really unique experience. It can be a little hard to find because it is off of the beaten path- park at the Holyoke Elk’s Lodge and use entrance near their parking lot. Holyoke lunch recommendation: Nick’s Nest.
Yankee Candle Flagship Store, South Deerfield
Yankee Candle is a household name, but their flagship store in South Deerfield offers so much more than just candles. In addition to all of their traditional candle products, you’ll find flagship store only specials as well as themed rooms full of other specialty products.
Their Christmas room experience includes a 25ft Christmas tree full of ornaments for sale, Christmas village pieces on display, a 6ft tall Nutcracker, a room where it “snows” bubbles every three minutes and more. Santa can almost always be found at Yankee Candle, either in his Toy Workshop (which is an adorable toy store) or in other areas of the store. He’s available for photos year round and very engaging. The flagship store also features a General Store area with model trains running along the top of the walls. This is a place the entire family will enjoy together, from grandparents to toddlers. South Deerfield lunch recommendation: Wolfies.
Thanks to NJ for writing this post for us!
NJ Rongner loves where she lives in the heart of the Pioneer Valley. She’s passionate about families enjoying all the area has to offer and shares the best of the best in Western MA on her website, A Cookie Before Dinner. Connect with her on Instagram @nj.rongner.