Searching for a family road trip that weaves together creativity and literature? One that works for toddlers and teens? Steer to the I-91 corridor that slices through central Massachusetts to find museums, natural wonders, and sports stars all within a 50-mile radius. Threaded by the Connecticut River, the region that locals call the Pioneer Valley is lined with verdant fields and graced by wooded hills. Mix and match the following for a unique itinerary with the family-friendly stops in Springfield, Northampton, and Deerfield highlighted here.
Seuss & Sports in Springfield
At Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, Horton the Elephant and the Cat in the Hat leap off the page to stand tall behind their creator, Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel. Joined by sculptures of more than two dozen familiar characters, they all dwell amid Springfield’s museum quadrangle. In June 2017, a new museum expansion will explore the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss with his artwork, his original studio completely reproduced, and interactive opportunities to create your own stories. Stop by on March 4 for the daylong celebration of the author/artist’s birthday.
Step into superstars’ supersize footprints in the lobby of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and check if famous NBA, WNBA, or NCAA shooters are in the house. Donated jerseys, medals, film clips, and game balls tell basketball’s history in the city where the sport was born. Under a three-story sphere, everyone takes a shot at hoops that hit the right height for preschoolers and pros. There’s inspiration galore, with photos and bios of familiar players, coaches, and sportscasters. Make sure to check out the array of gear, from Shaquille O’Neal size 23 1/2 sneakers to one of Larry Bird’s game balls—and, of course, a shop that sells all things basketball.
Noteworthy Near Northampton
Art by the author/illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is always on view at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, along with changing exhibitions of children’s books. Celebrate Bill Martin’s Brown Bear turning 50 until March 19, then Kay Thompson’s Eloise gets the spotlight until June 4. After viewing the child-height exhibitions, everyone takes home his or her own handmade projects or snuggles quietly reading favorites among 4,000 books in the museum’s in-house library.
Discover three floors of informative collections, including 1,100 dinosaur footprints—many of them Jurassic-era imprints found in the fossil-rich Connecticut River Valley—at the Beneski Museum of Natural History. Amherst professors have also dug up Ice Age mastodon and mammoth skeletons, which are on display. Recently, an exceptional Dryosaurus dinosaur skeleton (pictured above) was donated to the museum. Don’t miss the meteorite and mineral exhibits, either.
Dainty & Dynamic in Deerfield
Enchantment meets education at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy & Gardens, where you and your family can witness butterflies from around the globe emerge from their cocoons. While sitting surrounded by flowers, trees, and water features, guests can watch as Citrus Swallowtails, Zebra Longwings, Orange Tips, and dozens more species flutter about and perch on shoulders. Up to 3,000 graceful creatures live in the 80-degree warmth of the enclosed tropical garden. Also on view are birds, reptiles, and fish, which make this place an indoor nature adventure. After sleuthing on scavenger hunts, look for bountiful books and butterfly gifts in the shop.
Every Sunday at 3 p.m., it’s story time at Yankee Candle Village. Nestled in their Bavarian holiday forest, Santa welcomes everyone all year round. Create a handprint candle, or fill a jar with sweets at the Yankee Candy store. At the Chandlers Restaurant, kids eat dinner free on Wednesdays and turn into chefs with cooking classes.