15 Best Things to Do in South Hadley (MA)
On the east bank of the Connecticut River, the town of South Hadley is best known as the home of the historic Mount Holyoke College.
This prestigious women’s liberal arts college, dating back to 1837, has what may be the most beautiful campus in New England.
It’s worth coming to savor the august brick architecture, the fall foliage, the mosaic of gardens, and attractions like the exceptional Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and the Skinner Museum, an engrossing cabinet of curiosity in an old church.
South Hadley is walled to the north by the traprock ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range, with two state parks in easy reach for hiking and gazing in wonder at the views from the ledges.
1. Mount Holyoke College
Established in 1837, this private liberal arts women’s college is central to life in South Hadley, and is the oldest of the Seven Sisters—a group of highly-selective liberal arts schools in the Northeast.
The 800-acre campus merges with South Hadley Center and is regularly named among the most beautiful in the country.
With mature hardwood trees and brick 19th-century architecture, the campus was landscaped by Olmsted and Sons across 16 years up to 1922.
A botanic garden is woven into the grounds, and you can go on a student-narrated self-guided tour with the help of the Guidebook App, downloaded from the college website.
As we’ll see there are numerous reasons to pay a visit, not least for the heartwarming annual Holiday Vespers show, held at the Abbey Memorial Chapel since 1899.
2. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum
A member of the Museums10 consortium in Western Massachusetts, the art museum on the Mount Holyoke College campus dates back to 1876 and is among the oldest teaching museums in the United States.
The permanent collection is noteworthy, spanning Classical Egyptian, Greek, and Roman pieces, Medieval and Renaissance art, Islamic art, African art, art of the Ancient Americas, coins and numismatics, and contemporary art from the United States, Asia and Europe.
You can come to view selection from this amazing inventory, as well as cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions. Recent solo shows have featured renowned artists like Martine Gutierrez, Katrien Vermeire, Lenka Clayton, and Rosamond W. Purcell.
3. Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden
The entire campus of Mount Holyoke College is encompassed by a botanic garden, featuring a tapestry of venerable gardens, an arboretum and the historic Talcott Greenhouse.
A few of the gardens to track down are the Bullard Garden (Chapel Garden), with shrubs, trees, and herbaceous perennials, the Virginia “Timmy” Craig ’31 Rhododendron Garden, and the Drue Matthews Garden, comprising alpine and rock garden plants.
Ensconced in the arboretum, the Talcott Greenhouse was built in 1899 after its predecessor was destroyed in a fire. One tradition associated with the greenhouse is the firstie plant giveaway, in which first-year students are given a free houseplant to nurture during their time at the college.
4. South Hadley Center
The town’s commercial district mingles with the Mount Holyoke College campus on its northwestern edge. At its heart is the triangular South Hadley Commons, with a bandstand for community events like an outdoor concert series on Thursdays in summer.
There are some historic brick commercial blocks here, but despite appearances, much of the architecture is new.
On the west side of the green is the college-owned Village Commons, a compact lifestyle center with independent businesses.
This has little walkways between quaint clapboard buildings, housing a cosmopolitan assortment of restaurants, a clutch of other service Businesses, as well as a much-loved bookshop and movie theater, which we’ll talk about in more detail below.
5. Skinner State Park
Always visible on South Hadley’s northern boundary is the Holyoke Range, a prominent ridge of traprock peaks. Running west to east, these summits are a sub-range of the Metacomet Ridge that runs for 100 miles from Long Island Sound, through the Connecticut River Valley to the northern end of Franklin County.
A 110-mile trail follows the ridgeline, and this passes through Skinner State Park, which contains the western portion of the Holyoke Range.
The park’s highest peak is Mount Holyoke at 935 feet, with an inspiring view of the Connecticut River Valley, and reachable by road.
If you’re feeling spritely you can hike to the top, which is what Mount Holyoke College students have done since 1838 on Mountain Day.
Held in fall, the date of Mountain Day is secretly picked by the college president, and with the sound of ringing bells from the Abbey Chapel, classes are canceled for the day and students are invited to hike to the mountain summit.
6. Lady Bea Boat Rides
Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day you can take a trip along the spectacular Connecticut River aboard this cruise boat docked at Brunelle’s Marina in South Hadley.
This is a family operation, and the Lady Bea is named for the early 20th-century matriarch. During the season there are cruises Thursday through Sunday, and these depart at 1pm, 4pm and 6pm, with an additional 7pm on sunny days at the height of summer.
With entertaining and interesting narration, full of historical titbits, you’ll travel upstream to Northampton and back, taking in the magnificent views.
The Lady Bea is also available for private charters, parties and company excursions, and has a fully-stocked bar with drinks and snacks.
7. McCray’s Farm
For close to half a century, this local dairy farm has welcomed the public for a variety of activities and events. In fall, the hayrides are the big attraction, taking you out to the pumpkin patch or for some stargazing afterdark.
Accompanied by a scare park, the haunted hayride on October weekends has been one of the top Halloween attractions in Western Massachusetts since it was launched in 1991.
McCray’s Farm also has a mini golf course, a play area for kids and a Petting zoo with sheep, cows, ducks and goats that can be fed. Food-wise there’s a big choice of ice cream flavors, and a range of sandwiches, from burgers to melts, wraps and hot dogs.
8. Skinner Museum
The silk magnate Joseph Allen Skinner (1862-1946) was an important benefactor of Mount Holyoke College, and deeded his highly varied collection when he passed away.
This is in the care of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, and presented in an unforgettable setting at the old First Congregational Church (1846) of Prescott, MA, as a traditional cabinet of curiosities.
Filling every square inch of available space are Native American artifacts, maritime objects, rare books and documents, minerals and fossils, 19th-century mementos, fine glassware, ceramics, historic lighting, Oceanic ethnographic items, and much more besides.
9. Tower Theaters
In a sweet gabled building at the Village Commons there’s a two-screen movie theater that has been open since 1989. Tower Theaters is a boutique kind of place, but you’ll have plenty of room in the auditoriums, which have large and comfortable seats.
As a small business the service is a big improvement on corporate multiplexes, and there are lots of endearing touches like freshly popped popcorn and refills on most drinks.
Typically you can watch first-run Hollywood releases here, along with indie films and occasional cult and classic movies.
10. Odyssey Bookshop
A necessary stop at Village Commons is an independent bookstore that has been in Business since 1963.
Odyssey Bookshop is the exclusive purveyor of textbooks for Mount Holyoke College, but also has a top-notch children’s section on the ground floor, a must for parents.
If you’re based in South Hadley then you can make the most of the frequent purchase Booklover Program for discounts.
One of the remarkable things about the store is how busy the events calendar is, with several author appearances every week for readings, Q&As and signings.
11. River to Range Trail
Within a mile of South Hadley center you can head off on a scenic little excursion along a mile-long accessible trail.
The parking lot for the River to Range Trail is next to the Mount Holyoke College boathouse at 280 Ferry Street.
From here you’ll enter the Bachelor Brook/Stony Brook Resource Area, starting on the margins of a hayfield with lovely views of the Connecticut River.
Then you’ll pass through a wooded area overlooking the tributary, Bachelor Brook. The trail has a crushed aggregate surface, and has four places to sit and enjoy the peace along the route.
12. Buttery Brook Park
South Hadley’s main public park is in the very south of the town, about three miles from the center.
This land on the namesake brook, which meanders through the park’s large open field, was deeded to the town in the late 1950s and was used by the fire department until the 1990s.
A major draw for families in the summer is the wonderful splash pad, and a few other amenities include an extensive playground, a pavilion, a basketball court and new pickleball courts.
Buttery Brook Park has a lively social calendar, with a ton of summer events including car shows every Friday and the Big Rig Day in late July when kids can climb aboard a host of public vehicles like police cars, ambulances and fire trucks, and meet the people who operate them.
13. ValleyBike Share
Over the last decade South Hadley has put a lot of work into its infrastructure to make it safer for people Traveling on two wheels.
One thing already going for the town is the relatively low volume of motorized traffic. You might notice that Route 116 and Route 202 have designated bicycle lanes, with smaller shoulder space along Morgan Street and Lyman Street.
Against that backdrop, the first bikeshare program in the Pioneer Valley is available in South Hadley, with stations located at the police department and town common. You can pay by the ride, or become a member to enjoy unlimited 45-minute rides, daily, monthly or yearly.
14. Ledges Golf Club
Close to the eastern bank of the Connecticut River, this public 18-hole course is in a beautiful and varied landscape. Some of the holes are open, with a links-style layout incorporating natural wetlands, while others bend through hilly mature forest.
There are numerous elevated tees and greens on this track, giving you privileged views of the surrounding hills.
You can choose from four sets of tees to suit your level, and, as well as the woods, the main hazards are the 78 bunkers known to punish even the most experienced players.
Among the amenities are a driving range, a short Game area, accessible clubhouse, a golf shop and the Sunset Grille, to unwind after your round.
15. Mount Holyoke Range State Park
If Skinner State Park whets your appetite for more cinematic views and unique rock formations, the eastern half of the range can be discovered at the Mount Holyoke Range State Park.
There’s another 3,700+ acres of wilderness here, crossed by the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, which continues for several miles along the ridge.
If you’re hiking east to the highest point in the range, at Mount Norwottuck (1,106 feet), the Notch Visitor Center is the ideal place to take a pit stop and get your bearings.
Away from the ledges, the park has miles of trails through woods and wetlands, and has some of the best terrain in the area for mountain biking, along the Serpentine and Roller Coaster trails.
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