by Kim Foley MacKinnon
Not even two hours west of Boston is a region so varied that one minute you can be eating ice cream at a local farm and the next minute find yourself in a world-class museum. You can be racing alongside your child in a go-kart in the morning and in the afternoon standing still as a statue as you wait for a trained hawk to land on your arm.
Hampshire County, home to Northampton, Amherst and dozens of other small towns and cities, is a blend of natural beauty, rural country charm and quirky college towns. The Connecticut River runs through the area and the Berkshire Mountains rise above. The activities for a family to enjoy are seemingly unlimited, but we’ve picked some of our favorites.
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
If you’ve read The Very Hungry Caterpillar not once, not twice, but a thousand times to your kids, then you know how much of an impression Eric Carle and his books have made on millions of families.
This wonderfully accessible museum aims to do the same. While the three galleries – one with Carle’s works and two others with rotating exhibits – are fun to explore, the hands-on and special programs really get kids excited. Storytelling, puppet shows, films, music, live theater, and arts and crafts workshops are offered year-round, underscoring the impact of picture books on our lives.
125 Bay Road, Amherst; 413-658-1100; www.carlemuseum.org. Museum admission for adults is $9; children under age 18, $6; family admission, $22.50.
Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College
While there are three floors of exhibits and more than 1,700 specimens on display, you may not get farther than the ground and first floors. As you enter on the first floor, you’re greeted by free-standing fossil skeletons of a mammoth, mastodon, dire wolf, saber-toothed cat, giant Irish elk and cave bear. On the lower level, you’ll find the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks (primarily from the nearby Connecticut River Valley), plus skulls of a tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops.
11 Barrett Hill Drive, Amherst; 413-542-216; www.amherst.edu/museums/naturalhistory. Admission is free.
Emily Dickinson Museum
Touring homes of famous historical figures sometimes poses a challenge for parents with young kids in tow but not so at The Homestead and The Evergreens, two homes that make up the Emily Dickinson Museum.
The famous poet spent most of her life here. “This Was a Poet,” a 45-minute guided tour, is a great introduction to Dickinson and covers her family, her education and her poetry. Kids love the story of Emily lowering a basket full of “pirate booty” (gingerbread) through her second-story window down to her brother’s three children and seeing her iconic white dress with its special pocket for her pencil and scraps of paper for when she was inspired to write.
280 Main St., Amherst; 413-542-8161; www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org. Admission to guided tour is $10; ages 6-17, $5; ages 5 and under, free.
by Kim Foley MacKinnon
This privately owned zoo in Ludlow features exotic animals, such as bears and ostriches, but there are also animals to pet and feed, including miniature horses and goats. There’s also a playground and a tiny train to ride. Hands-down, though, the crowd favorite is Geoffrey the Giraffe. Feeding him lettuce leaves from a raised platform is an activity that the kids will adore.
62 Nash Hill Road, Ludlow; 413-583-8370; www.lupazoo.org. Admission is $10; ages 2-12, $6; children under age 2, free.
New England Falconry
New England Falconry founder and owner Chris Davis fell in love with falcons as a child. He’s the first master falconer in the country to offer hands-on lessons. During a 45-minute introductory falconry session, guests walk with Davis on a 13-acre field as he talks about the raptors he breeds and trains. Davis is very patient with kids as he helps them to position their arms just right and offer a treat that’s rewarded with an up-close and personal visit from a hawk.
115 River Drive (Route 47), Hadley; 413-259-1466; www.newenglandfalconry.com/index.cfm. Introductory session is $65 per person; $15 for those just watching instead of handling a hawk.
More than 4,000 butterflies flit around the 8,000-square-foot glass conservatory at Magic Wings Conservatory and Gardens, guaranteeing that you’ll never leave the attraction without getting your fill of these beautiful, delicate creatures.
They land on your arms, fly around your head and alight briefly on the tropical plants that fill the conservatory. Staff members also bring out animals, such as turtles and birds, to visit with guests throughout the day.
281 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield; 413-665-2805; www.magicwings.com. Admission is $14; children ages 3-17, $10; ages 2 and under, free.
Frank Newhall Look Memorial Park
The 150-acre Look Park has something for everyone, from bumper boats to miniature golf. Kids especially like to ride the tiny steamer train, which does a one-mile loop by a small zoo, and then visit the zoo animals afterward. Other activities include a water spray park, tennis courts, playgrounds and pedal boats.
300 North Main St., Florence; 413-584-5457; www.lookpark.org. Entry to the park is $5 on weekdays and $7 on weekends and holidays, with extra fees for activities.
by Kim Foley MacKinnon
Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting
Kids as young as 10 can get behind the wheel at Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting and go head to head with mom or dad in a go-kart race around the 1,000-foot track – after watching a safety video and donning a neck brace and helmet, that is.
The facility has eight karts specifically designed for kids ages 10 to 15 with adjustable seats, pedals and steering columns. Usually, juniors will be matched with other juniors, but there are special family race hours, too.
10 West St., West Hatfield, 413-446-7845; www.pioneervalleykarting.com. Admission is $20 per race, per person plus a $10 monthly membership fee.
Candles Galore and Much More …
Can a candle shop really be a family destination? Yes! And you’ll find out why when you visit Yankee Candle Village. The 90,000-square-foot facility is Yankee Candle’s flagship store and features all the candles you could imagine. Plus, it has themed rooms – like a Black Forest of decorated trees; the Bavarian Christmas Village with thousands of ornaments; the Nutcracker Castle; and even a workshop for Santa, who makes appearances year-round.
A giant animated glockenspiel sings the hours, and snow falls inside at regular intervals. Kids can make wax impressions of their hands or design scented rainbow-colored candles at the interactive section of the store called Wax Works. An enormous toy store and a candy shop with a fudge counter, popcorn stand and bakery are also tempting stops.
5 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield; 413-665-1277; www.yankeecandle.com. Admission to the Village is free, but there is a charge to make candles, ornaments and other items at the Wax Works.