New England's coolest potholes are no mere pits in the pavement. Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, is home to more than 50 glacial potholes. These natural outdoor "pools" were several hundred million years in the making. How fascinating to contemplate the fact that the last Ice Age, which ended about 11,700 years ago, left behind a free attraction that's still one of the reasons travelers turn off the Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway, one of the most scenic drives in Massachusetts, to explore this little village.
You'll find the glacial potholes right in the heart of the village at the end of Deerfield Avenue. They are just a short walk from the Bridge of Flowers: another Shelburne Falls must-see, which blooms from spring through fall.
What Are Glacial Potholes?
To a geologist, these carved rock pools are known as "kettles." They were created as the great glaciers melted and receded, leaving behind big hunks of ice. As those stranded ice deposits melted, and stones and dirt were swirled in the depressions by meltwater streams, round "potholes" were carved in the gneiss.
According to local geologist Richard D. Little, who is frequently interviewed and asked to speak about Shelburne Falls' unique pothole collection, these rock formations should really be called "post-glacial potholes" because they were not carved out by the glaciers, but formed after the ice retreated. And the largest of the "pothole"? Well... it's actually a plunge pool, created by the force of the waterfall that adds to the beauty of this spot.
Can You Go Swimming in the Shelburne Falls Potholes?
There's so much old-fashioned mystique to the notion of cooling off on a sticky, steamy New England day by taking a dip in a "swimming hole." And the glacial potholes in Shelburne Falls are as old-fashioned as you can find: an estimated 14,000 years old. But... don't get your hopes up, as you can't go swimming.
This wasn't always the case, and years ago, it was common to find dozens of people sunning themselves on the rocks and cooling off in the smooth, shallow swimming holes at the base of Salmon Falls on the Deerfield River. The glacial potholes were, however, closed to swimmers in 2002 due to village officials' concerns about injuries and liability.
Now, people being people... there are still a few folks who manage to find their way down onto the rocks. But reports like this indicate that there's a really good chance that local police will shoo you away if you attempt to access what was once a natural water amusement park.
Are the Potholes Worth Visiting Anyway?
Of course! You can still view the potholes and take pictures. The shadings in the ancient granite caused by the swirling of water and stones as the glacial age began to "melt down" are a picturesque geological sight in a region that is truly a geology buff's dream.
There are more than 50 potholes to see, ranging in size from 6 inches to 39 feet in diameter. This is one of the largest known concentrations of potholes and the location of the largest pothole on record, as well. There is no charge to observe the potholes from a viewing platform. Water levels may vary based on weather conditions and operation of the dam, so you may see tranquil pools or a rushing waterfall.
What Other Geologic Attractions Are Nearby?
While you're in the Mohawk Trail Region of Massachusetts, be sure to visit Natural Bridge State Park in North Adams, where you can stand on the only marble bridge in North America. This 15-foot-thick formation spans 30 feet across a chasm, and you'll love snapping photos of the craggy marble gorge that drops for 60 feet below. These fascinating rock formations are estimated to be 550 million years old. As the glaciers that covered New England began their northward retreat, they carved intricate patterns and created the Natural Bridge. A one-time marble quarry, the site became a Massachusetts state park in 1985. There is a daily parking fee in-season, from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.