Colorful Car Tours
- Matthew Myers
Fall is a great time to explore the country roads of North Central Massachusetts.
But it’s hard to appreciate Mother Nature’s palette when you’re cruising along at 55 on the highway! Take an exit, slow down, and enjoy this short-lived, color-packed season along the back roads of Johnny Appleseed Country.
Route 62, Clinton to Barre
The east end of this route features scenic views from the Wachusett Reservoir dam in Clinton. At Princeton’s picturesque town common, you can detour on Mountain Road to Wachusett Mountain, or follow Route 31 to the nearby Leominster State Forest. Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary on Goodnow Road has ponds, wooded hills, and meadows frequented by migrating monarch butterflies.
In Hubbardston and Barre, the drive passes through the largely undeveloped Ware River watershed. Barre Falls Dam Recreation Area offers river views, picnic areas, a boat launch, and access to the Midstate Trail. At the highway’s west end, the Barre town common includes a small park and several places to eat.
Route 110, Harvard and Bolton
This relatively short drive passes farms, country homes, and protected land along the Nashua River. Thanks to the valley’s mild climate, the foliage often lasts until early November.
In Harvard, Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge on Still River Road offers an easy loop trail with fine views of the river and its associated wetlands if you want to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Head up Prospect Hill Road for scenic views across the countryside to Wachusett Mountain. Fruitlands Museum, at 102 Prospect Hill Road, includes a historic farmhouse, Native American and Shaker collections, and walking trails.
Route 119, Groton to the Border
From the Nashua River to Mount Watatic, this pleasant drive links rural towns and natural areas in the hills along the northern Massachusetts border. Groton’s numerous conservation lands include Chestnut Hill, Scarlett Hill, and Gibbett Hill, where short trails lead to foliage views (visit grotontrails.org for details).
At the Nashua River, make a side trip on Route 111 to the Pepperell Covered Bridge on Groton Street. Back on Route 119, Townsend’s attractions include a spacious town common and the Squannacook River, a great spot for paddling if you’ve brought your kayak or canoe.
Heading into Ashby, Willard Brook State Forest offers roadside picnic areas and wooded trails, including a short walk to Trap Falls and a pleasant path along Willard Brook.
In Ashburnham, Mount Watatic features spectacular views to Wachusett Mountain, Boston, the Berkshires, and southern New Hampshire. The Midstate, Wapack, and State Line trails form a 2.8-mile loop to the 1831-foot summit and Nutting Hill. At the state line, there are nice views of ponds at the base of the mountain.
The four-mile Wachusett Mountain auto road passes scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and hiking trails en route to the 2,006-foot summit, the region’s highest peak. In addition to sweeping 360-degree views, the summit is an excellent place to see migrating raptors. The road, reached from the state reservation entrance at 345 Mountain Road in Princeton, is open 9 am to sunset through the last weekend in October ($5 fee for Massachusetts residents, $10 out of state). (Tip: to avoid crowds, visit on weekdays.)
Route 122, Orange to Barre
The northern portion of the Route 122 Scenic Byway winds through miles of protected forests and wetlands in the watersheds of the Millers and Swift Rivers. The ‘Lost Villages’ section is named in part for the communities abandoned during the creation of Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s.
From downtown Orange, the byway leads south past the Millers River and the junction with the Mohawk Trail. Branching off Route 202 in New Salem, the drive continues along the northern tip of Quabbin Reservoir past ponds that are especially colorful when red maples peak in early autumn.
There are many trails to explore at the reservoir and the Federated Women’s Club State Forest.
At the junction with Route 32, make a short detour to Petersham’s photogenic village green (Tip: The Country Store is a great lunch stop). South of the town center are more conservation areas along the East Branch of the Swift River, including scenic Connor Pond. In Barre, Carter Stevens Farm has pumpkin displays and a view to Wachusett Mountain. From the Barre town common the byway continues south to the Ware River and Worcester.
So pick a road, any road, and head out on an adventure filled with eye-popping color around every bend.
Story Written By: John Burk