Driving the Mohawk Trail: Everything You Need to Know

A road along the Mohawk Trail

One of the most scenic drives in Massachusetts is undoubtedly the Mohawk Trail.

This jaw-dropping route traverses 42 miles in Massachusetts’s westernmost section of Route 2.

It consists of winding roads up high peaks that showcase majestic views extending for miles. Along the journey, you’ll also cross through multiple small towns and a state forest.

But before you grab your keys and hit the road, you should first know a few things about the Mohawk Trail.

Below, we’ll provide an overview of this scenic route so you can customize the perfect outing.

What is the Mohawk Trail?

Centuries ago, Native Americans traveled this path as a trade route from east to west, generally from the Deerfield to the Connecticut River valleys in Massachusetts.

Today, it’s a state-designated scenic route, providing spectacular scenery with windy curves and vast vistas. Surrounding part of the trail is the Mohawk Trail State Forest, which offers camping, hiking, and other recreational activities.

The history of this scenic route begins in 1914 when the state improved the road and promoted it as a tourist destination. The marketing strategy worked, and almost immediately, tourists flocked to the Mohawk Trail to take in the views.

Given the route’s popularity, the state legislature approved the purchase of over 5,000 acres to create the Mohawk Trail State Forest in 1921. As was hoped, this made the region even more popular – attracting visitors across the United States and Canada.

Today, visitors still flock to the Mohawk Trail, especially during the fall foliage season when bold colors can be seen along every curve and for miles in the distance. The Mohawk Trail is so special that it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The famous hairpin turn along the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts
The trail’s famous hairpin turn on the border of North Adams and Clarksburg MA.

Where does the Mohawk Trail start and end?

This would seem to be a straightforward question to answer. However, the agreed-upon start and end points of the Mohawk Trail have changed over time and depend upon whom you ask.

Generally speaking, however, the Mohawk Trail is almost entirely on Route 2, starting in Williamstown MA, and ending around Greenfield MA. This section of Route 2 contains some of the most dramatic scenery (see below) and winds through quaint villages and towns. It also passes through the Mohawk Trail State Forest, which hosts camping and a variety of other recreational activities.

It’s worth noting that some sources say the trail begins as far west as New York State and as far east as Erving or even Phillipston, MA. While these areas may have historical significance and contain their own beauty, the real draw of the route is contained within the borders mentioned above.

What is the most scenic portion of the trail?

Undoubtedly, the most dramatic and picturesque views of the Mohawk Trail begin in North Adams and extend east to the Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont.

Before this scenic section of the trail (traveling east), you’ll be driving through the charming village of Williamstown, followed by a stretch of Route 2 with a few roadside shops and stores. North Adams is next, and as a former mill town, it’s still an up-and-coming city (be sure to check out Mass MoCA while there!) and is set against rolling Berkshire Hills in the distance.

Once you leave North Adams, the fun begins. Soon after you depart downtown, you may wonder if you’ve been transported to hilly San Francisco as the roadway climbs straight uphill. Soon, you’ll encounter the famous hairpin turn – a sharp bend in the road atop the Western summit. Expect to pull over here, step out of the car, and take in the incredibly gorgeous views of the Hoosac Valley that extend for 90 miles!

The view from the hairpin turn along the Mohawk Trail
The majestic view of the Hoosac Valley from the hairpin turn.

As you continue east, you’ll soon encounter Whitcomb Summit, the highest point in the drive – coined “America’s Switzerland” – which showcases vistas of rolling hills, mountains, and surrounding towns.

Twists and turns comprise the next section, often reminiscent of mountainous drives in the western United States.

Starting at the Mohawk Trail State Forest, the landscape becomes flatter but still picturesque. You’ll drive through several quaint towns and villages here and can end your journey by pulling over in Greenfield MA to wander through the downtown or grab a bite to eat.

How long is the Mohawk Trail, and how long does it take to drive?

The trail is about 42 miles long from Williamstown to Greenfield. Extending the journey to Erving, MA, adds another 15 miles, and to Phillipston, it adds 32 miles.

Driving from Williamstown to Greenfield without any stops, the journey should take approximately one hour and ten minutes.

An old postcard from the Whitcomb Summit
An old postcard (circa 1930-1945) illustrating the view from Whitcomb Summit. The summit is now considered to be in Florida, MA. Image credit: Boston Public Library

When is the best time of year to do this drive?

The Mohawk Trail is most popular during the leaf-peeping season, as the colors pop along the windy hills and vast vistas. Expect to see more traffic than usual, especially on weekends.

Summertime is also an excellent opportunity to drive the trail. Although the views are green instead of multi-colored, there’s still ample beauty to behold. The warm summer weather also lends itself to taking advantage of more outdoor recreation along the way.

Views will be more muted in winter months, and driving conditions can be extremely challenging in some of the windy and hilly sections of the trail when ice or snow is at play.

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What is there to do along the trail?

While taking in the beautiful scenery is the top attraction, there are several other things to do along the Mohawk Trail, and you’ll want to allow some time to take advantage of them.

Heading east, Williamstown is the starting point of the Mohawk Trail, and this charming town has a lot to offer.

First, there’s Williams College – a quintessential New England campus set against the Berkshire Hills that’s easily walkable. You can also pick up lunch, a snack, or coffee in Williamstown’s small downtown and browse a few of its shops. Art lovers will want to carve out some time to visit The Clark Museum just south of the college campus, featuring works from  Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, and Edgar Degas, to name a few.

See related: Top 15 Best Things to Do in Williamstown Massachusetts

As you continue along Route 2 and enter the town of North Adams, you’ll want to carve out some time to visit Mass MoCA, the country’s largest museum of contemporary art. Even if you typically don’t enjoy contemporary art, the exhibits here are unlike anything you’ve seen or experienced and are worth visiting.

Leaving North Adams’s downtown, you’ll soon encounter the famous hairpin turn with the Golden Eagle Restaurant nestled at the tip. Be sure to stop here and take in the scenery. Further down the route is the Whitcomb Summit, with stunning views into the valley below.

A trail marker from the Mahican Mohawk Trail

A few miles further, you’ll arrive at one of the more popular things to do – the Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont. Here, you can hike the trails, including the Mohican-Mohawk Trail (also known as the Mahican-Mohawk Trail), which extends for 100 miles and is the historic footpath of Native American tribes.

Shortly after you leave the state forest, the windy curves of the road grow slighter and the hills are less pronounced. Thrill seekers may want to stop at the Thunderbolt Mountain Coaster, a combination alpine slide and roller coaster. On the same property, you’ll find rafting, a zip line, a bike park, and skiing in the winter.

During the summer, flower lovers will want to stop in Shelburne Falls to see the town’s Bridge of Flowers – a historic bridge showcasing a garden of flowers pedestrians can walk through.

And finally, make a stop in Greenfield to wander through the downtown, grab a bite to eat, or drive to the Poet’s Seat Tower to see the city below. If you’re up for even more adventure, take a 7-minute ride south to Deerfield MA, and explore the community’s living history museum.

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A photo of Kerry Flatley leaning against a wall

About Kerry Flatley

Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.

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