steamer train at Look Park in Western MA
Steamer train at Look Memorial Park in Western Mass

Spending an hour and a half in the car (each way) with a toddler is something a lot of parents avoid. (Doing it alone is seen by some as absolutely certifiable.) But the western half of our state is absolutely worth a visit, whether it’s an autumn day trip, a winter weekend road trip, or a long summer vacation. Here are six (and a bit) suggestions of things to do in Western Mass that are worth the trek — snacks in the car, and the “Frozen” soundtrack blasting on repeat!

The Botanic Garden of Smith College :: Northampton, MA

Featuring both permanent and temporary exhibits that provide incredible educational opportunities — plus two annual flower shows (fall and spring) — this sprawling 127-acre garden includes a conservatory, arboretum, and many outdoor gardens. Admission is free and open year round to the public, and it’s a plant-lover’s heaven with lots of space for little ones to roam free! 

The Botanic Garden at Smith College in Western MA

Look Memorial Park :: Florence, MA

With multiple playgrounds, a walking path, a lake, a stream, a wildlife center, and a train ride — plus seasonal fun, like soft-serve ice cream, a splash pad, and pedal boats — you can easily spend a full day here. With so much space to run around, even the crankiest of carseat riders will be able to stretch their legs and explore — they may even zonk out for the drive home. Be sure to bring a picnic! Passenger vehicles are just $10 on the weekends — an affordable family outing.

Look Memorial Park in Western MA

Amelia Park Children’s Museum :: Westfield, MA

With hands-on exhibits that are designed with children in mind, plus a newly designed library and dinosaur dig and outer space areas, this museum will keep your young ones happy, active, and learning.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art :: Amherst, MA

Before you even enter the museum, you can see the giant hungry caterpillar through the glass doors! When we walked in for the first time, my daughter held up her caterpillar stuffy and showed him that he made it home! The museum is small and manageable (three gallery rooms, an art studio, an auditorium, and a library room) and full of art, books, and characters any toddler is sure to recognize. Walk through the galleries, play with dolls and puppets along the way, listen to a book reading in the library, make art in the art studio, and watch a nine-minute “movie” in the auditorium. There is also an outdoor space, which is extensive. 

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary :: Easthampton, MA

Featuring an incredibly diverse terrain (forest, meadows, grasslands, marsh, and wetlands), this Mass Audubon treasure will keep the whole family engaged and excited. Look forward to an extraordinary variety of wildlife, fun family programs and activities, a nature play area and guided quest, bird watching, and four miles of trails.

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Western MA
Photo courtesy Kristin Foresto for Mass Audubon

Hitchcock Center for the Environment :: Amherst, MA

The Hitchcock Center is free and open to the public, and while the visitor center (and bathroom) hours are limited to Monday through Friday and some Saturdays, the grounds and trails are open daily from dawn to dusk. Stop by and explore the grounds, smell the flowers, go for a walk, play in the mud kitchen and willow den, or simply have a picnic. The tranquility and upkeep of the center is amazing. The yard features a garden filled with flowers, bees, butterflies, caterpillars, and some veggie plants. There is also a sandbox with lots of playthings, a wood-log climbing structure, and a gazebo. So much for a toddler to explore, touch, and experience! Check the calendar for an array of wonderful children’s programs, like seasonal nature, science, and animal programs on select Saturdays for families.

Child Chair at Hitchcock CenterWestern Mass has so much to offer! Be sure to check out what else might be going on in the area while you’re visiting — the Garlic & Arts Festival each fall, the Hadley Asparagus Festival in the spring, the Easthampton City Arts Cultural Chaos, and so much more…

Michal Biletzki
Michal is a Single Mother by Choice to a double-donor miracle baby, Alma born in 2020, who was conceived in the Ukraine on March 10th, 2020 (you remember THAT week). Originally from Israel, Michal has been in the USA since 2004, with 9 of those in the Boston area – six as a grad student (many lifetimes ago) and three as a mom, non-consecutively. Getting to motherhood a little later in life, Michal holds a PhD in Political Science from Boston University and has been working in non-profit fundraising since 2011 – currently at Northeastern University, where she is setting her sights high (and far), planning to work there long enough to be able to get Alma through college for free! Michal and Alma live in Waltham, right next door to Alma's grandparents, with their beloved mutt, Grizzly. Michal loves the door motherhood has opened for her in building her and Alma’s community, surrounding them both with new friends and is excited to share her experience and diverse perspectives with the larger Boston Moms community!