Three Road Trips to See Amazing Public Sculpture Gardens across New England
From a topiary garden to a Dr. Seuss park and more.
From day trips to weekend getaways, our biweekly Traveler newsletter shows you the best of New England and beyond.
Claude Monet had his water lilies. Georgia O’Keeffe couldn’t quit the deserts of New Mexico. And here in New England, our mountains, woodlands, meadows, and beaches have dazzled generations of artists. But sometimes, the landscape itself serves as the gallery for New England artwork. From the Connecticut Coast to the Appalachian Mountains, sculpture gardens and outdoor art collections are among New England’s most illustrious recreational offerings. Why not pay a visit to these rustling realms that have inspired and hosted centuries worth of art? These regional road trips will take you to some of the most enchanting outdoor art galleries in our neck of the woods.
Trip #1: Boston to Williamstown, Stockbridge, and Springfield MA (317 miles)
Take Route 2 for a more scenic drive into the hills and valleys of Western Mass. Stop for sandwiches and salads from Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters in Shelburne Falls and take your lunch to the Bridge of Flowers, where gardeners turn seasonal blooms into a colorful work of art along an old trolley bridge over the Deerfield River.
Climb into the Berkshires via the hairpin turns of the “Mohawk Trail” byway and drive west to the Clark Art Institute. Nestled in the verdant hills of Williamstown, the Clark boasts a hefty collection of European and American paintings, prints, and decorative art. But just as impressive are the institute’s woods. Gentle trails will take you to permanent and rotating sculpture installations on the Clark grounds like Thomas Schütte’s alien-esque Crystal structure before bringing you back to the beautiful reflecting pool in the museum’s courtyard. Come sundown, drop your bags at the Williams Inn, where The Barn offers a tempting gastropub menu with standouts like vegetable-laden kombu dashi ramen and plenty of seasonal libations.
The next morning, drive south on Route 7 along the Berkshires’ spine to Stockbridge and tuck into a Greek omelet at the Main Street Cafe before exploring Chesterwood. The lush estate of the late American sculptor Daniel Chester French spans 122 acres and features paths through perennial gardens with sculptures, reliefs, fountains, and decorative benches designed by French. Be sure to leave time for a stop in Springfield for peppery burnt ends at Theodore’s and a more contemporary display of outdoor art—the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, where you can behold a life-sized Lorax and reflect on the power of the natural world.
Trip #2: Boston to Lee, Cornish, and Brookline, NH (333 miles)
Set the GPS for New Hampshire, but instead of taking the I-93 straight-shot to Concord, head for the sleepy seacoast village of Lee—hometown of Robert Eggers, director of The Northman and The Witch—and step into Bedrock Gardens, where eerie sculpted figures made of metal and scrap materials inhabit the pines of the aptly-named “Dark Woods.” This gothy little sculpture garden is a neat tribute to New Hampshire’s literary and cinematic history as a setting for woodland horror.
Leave the haunting forest behind by heading northwest toward Concord, swing by Col’s Kitchen for a lunch of nourishing plant-based fare like chana masala, and continue on I-89 North to the Connecticut River as it runs along the Vermont-NH border. Here, in the hills of Cornish, you’ll find Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, the estate of the Civil War-era sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (he crafted Boston Common’s Shaw memorial featuring the all-black 54th Regiment of Mass.) The sun-splashed lawns and preserved studios of the estate feature some of Saint-Gaudens’ most prized bronze and marble sculptures, posed against a killer view of nearby Mount Ascutney, and the adjacent woods contain a charming path into the ravine where Saint-Gaudens used to swim in a pool beneath several cascades.
As the magic hour paints the landscape in gold, backtrack to the New London Inn, grab a cozy room, and enjoy savory pub fare, frothy craft ales, and sundown mountain views at The Flying Goose. You’ll want extra fuel for the next morning, when you’ll grab coffee and pastries from Blue Loon Bakery before heading south through the woods of the Merrimack Valley and wandering the trails of the Andres Institute of Art, where nearly 100 sculptures are staged around the mossy woods of Big Bear Mountain, which founder Paul Andres purchased in 1996.
Trip #3: Boston to Coventry and Old Lyme, CT and Portsmouth, RI (272 miles)
Cross into Connecticut on I-84 South, but leave the New York crowd behind and drive south into the hills and farmlands of Tolland County for a serene stroll amid the David Hayes Sculpture Fields. Named for the Hartford-born sculptor whose colorful works of welded steel works have appeared in galleries at the Guggenheim and MoMA, the sculpture fields are essentially pastures for Hayes’ creations, which now preside over hayfields, a pond, and an old orchard that are open to the public for wandering.
From here, things escalate as you drive south and detect the briny sea breeze of Connecticut’s beaches and coastline. Veer west for Old Lyme, refuel with hearty focaccia sandwiches or pastas at Sapore Pizzeria Italiana, and once you’ve savored the last morsels, enter the leafy expanse of Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds, where 66 contemporary artworks by Gilbert Boro and a rotating roster of visiting artists are installed in courtyards and gardens along the Lieutenant River. As dusk begins, stick to the water with an eastward drive along the coast to Mystic for a dinner of maritime morsels at S&P Oyster Restaurant and Bar, and fall asleep to the sound of lapping water at the Steamboat Inn, located right on the Mystic River.
The return journey to Boston begins with a Westerly, Rhode Island pullover at Christina’s Place for decadent diner fare like Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. But rather than staying on I-95, cross the Claiborne Pell Bridge to Newport and experience a living form of outdoor artwork at the Green Animals Topiary Garden, where around 80 king-size creatures have been clipped and manicured for your gawking pleasure.