Foliage, Fantastic Roads and Food Await in Western Mass.

12 Oct

Fall foliage is reaching its peak throughout the majority New England this week. Sure, its a beautiful sight to see, but with the cornucopia of colors comes countless car fulls of leaf peepers searching out the best locations to see the changing of the seasons. However, this can lead to frustration in the form of slow moving drivers more concerned with looking at the leaves than the speed limit. What if you just want to take a nice long drive, all the while enjoying the excitement of driving spiritedly and enjoy the slight and sounds of autumn?

If this sounds like your cup of tea take a drive to Western Mass. for the day, or make it into a short vacation by staying the night. Although the Western part of the Bay State is well-known for producing breathtaking scenery this time of year, you don’t have to follow the masses like a lemming. Below you will find a list of restaurants and yes, even some touristy locates to visit during your stay. Many of these locations are in and around the small town of Amherst, home to the flagship university in the state system, UMass Amherst. But first you have to rear your destination, and here’s how to do it.

Heading to Amherst?

If you are traveling from the Northeastern part of Mass., Southern New Hampshire or even Maine and want to head into downtown Amherst before setting out for other surrounding areas be sure to come into town the right way. If you’re taking major roads and highways you will travel along Route 2 and Route 202 after exiting I-495 South. Route 202 will treat you to the ups and downs of large hills, and if you’re driving a manual transmission vehicle this is an excellent place to test the power and torque of your car. The speed limit in this area varies between 35-55 miles per hour so may sure you don’t exceed it, especially on the downhills.

As you move closer to Amherst you will be forced with a decision and two different routes into town. Pay attention. This is  important if you use a GPS to aid in your travels. From my experience (using a Garmin-brand unit) you will reach a point where the GPS instruct you to take a left onto a steep grade called Prescott Road. Make sure you take this route. After all, you want to have your foliage and motor themed cake and eat it too. Right? And you can’t do that if you continue straight.

The rolling, more elongated hills of the highway are nice, but of all the places on Route 202 where you can see how your vehicle handles hills, this is it. Throw it into second gear and head up towards the tiny downtown of Shutesbury, Mass. The elevation will continue to increase for approximately 1.5 miles until it levels off. As you reach the crest of the hill let off the accelerator. In this area lead footed drivers need not apply as your travels will take you directly by the Shutesbury police department and more populated areas with residential homes.

As you make your way out of town the road will begin to drop and you will enter the most visually stimulating and trilling part of the drive into Amherst, fondly known by some as the “Shutesbury Shute.” The relatively short, but perfectly sublime section consists of a series of beautiful rolling esses, allowing you to test out the agility and handling of your car. Directly next to the “shute” is a picturesque stream that runs parallel to the road. After your adrenaline rush the road will gradually become flatter, unless of course you turn around and drive back uphill, looking for one more rush… I stand guilty as charged.

Rolling Esses define the portion of Shutesbury Road known as “The Shutesbury Shute.”

The final few miles into downtown are less exciting as back roads and lush forest make way for residential neighborhoods, the UMass Amherst campus and finally downtown Amherst. With Amherst being a college town home to over 25,000 students there’s no shortage of delicious and cheap eats. Here’s some of them.

  • Bueno Y Sano – Massive, freshly-made burritos, quesadillas, tacos and salads. They have tons of choices of topping and options for anyone looking for some of the best Mexican food in the entire area.
  • Antonio’s Pizza – Think you’ve seen crazy pizza toppings? Think again. Antonio’s has dozens of combinations they serve by the slice. It doesn’t cost much and the slices are very large.
  • The Hanger – This franchise started out in Amherst. If you’re in the mood for bar food; wings, nachos and tons of beer then go here. Just like the other establishments listed, the portion are huge and you and a friend can leave stuffed on bone-in or boneless wings and beer for around $20.
  • White Hut – This family-owned business has been dishing out tasty burgers, hot dogs and french fries at their main location in Springfield for 72 years. The one-year-old Amherst location does just the same.
  • Joe’s Cafe – This tiny hole in the wall Italian restaurant is not in Amherst. It’s in nearby Northampton and definitely worth the 10 mile drive. Not only is the food superb and atmosphere cozy and inviting, but the prices are so low you might think they messed up the bill. (Opens at 4 p.m.)

If you get to Amherst, eat lunch and have the rest of the day to explore check out these neighboring towns and attractions. Also, if your staying for more then one day, you might want to save some of these for the second day.

View from the top of Mt. Sugarloaf with fall foliage and the Connecticut River below. Photo courtesy PVlocalfirst.com

  • Mt. Sugarloaf – The ideal location to look upon the entire Pioneer Valley and see the foliage from an elevated location. However, this is a prime tourist location this time of year, so expect a good amount of people.
  • Yankee Candle Company – Right up the road from Mt. Sugarloaf this is one of the most visited tourist locations in the state, and with good reason. It offers everything from well…candles of every shape, size and scent to food and gifts of all types.
  • Downtown Northampton Northampton offers a great downtown with a host of unique stores, plenty of restaurants and lots of places to see. The Smith College Museum of Art and Smith Botanical Gardens are two places worth checking out.
  • Mt. Toby State Forest – If you want to physically BE in woods amongst the foliage, and have a vehicle capable of handling off-roading then Mt. Toby is a must. Trails are accessible from multiple locations, with trails ranging from easy for stock, non-modified vehicles and even some more difficult and challenging ones that will required such things as bigger tires and suspension lift.

Off-Roading in Mt. Toby State Forest can be a perfect way to see foliage up close, all the while testing the limits of your off-road vehicle.

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