A Curious Fissure: Ice Glen, Stockbridge, Mass.
AMC Outdoors, September 2005
The Trip: A short walk through a gorge of boulders, caves, and ancient pines and hemlocks.
Length and Intensity: A moderate out-and-back hike of 1.4 miles with 275 feet of elevation gain.
Best Time To Go: Year-round; dazzling fall foliage.
Just southeast of the village of Stockbridge, the narrow Housatonic River floodplain ends at the foot of the Beartown Hills. At the northern end of the hills is the gorge called Ice Glen. Nathaniel Hawthorne called it “the most curious fissure in all Berkshire.” He was more correct than he knew. The streams around Ice Glen all flow south to north, while it is aligned east to west. The glen’s deep ravine and the boulders calved from the gorge walls are evidence of flowing water. Yet no stream runs through here.
So how did Ice Glen come to be? The answers are in the glen. Find the trailhead sign at the end of Park Street. (This is also the start of the newly opened, accessible Mary Flynn Trail). Marked with yellow rectangles, the path crosses a bridge and a railroad track before it enters the woods and heads uphill into a stand of white pine, hemlock, and ash. These massive trees are approximately 170 years old, and are not technically considered old growth, but they are nonetheless spectacular. Beneath the canopy grow smaller plants—hobblebush, striped maple, and maidenhair fern—whose delicate fronds contrast with the towering trees overhead.
The trail proceeds easily up the slope, weaving around the occasional old giant tree that has fallen by wind and time. Just before the half-mile mark, Laura’s Tower Trail leaves left, and the path to Ice Glen proceeds right, quickly approaching the V-shaped mouth of the glen. Here you’ll find a rock face with an inscription covered over by a thick layer of emerald-green moss, embuing an atmosphere worthy of a Hawthorne novel. Ice Glen is not a large place—the ravine runs less than a quarter-mile. Yet each turn reveals another cave or more stacked boulders or ancient trees. The hemlocks (one of them New England’s tallest at 130 feet) provide a blanket of shadow even on the brightest day.
The path offers nice views of the many boulder caves that litter the floor of the glen, marking the spot of a long-dry glacial lake. In an impressive finale, the path passes through a narrow fissure with huge boulders and deep caves all around. Then just as dramatically the ravine yields to open woods. Before turning back, enjoy one more treat. A few yards farther on grows an enormous white pine estimated to be 300 years old.
—The Smiths are writers in western Massachusetts.
From Mass Pike (Lee exit): Take a left off the exit ramp (MA 20) and immediately take a right onto MA 102 west. Follow to Stockbridge and junction with US 7. Turn left onto US 7 and travel 0.2 mile to Park Road. Turn left onto Park Road and follow it to its end.
Adapted from Discover the Berkshires of Massachusetts by Charles W. G. Smith & Susan A. Smith ($16.95). Order through www.outdoors.org or call 800-262-HILL. AMC members save 10 percent on AMC books and maps.
To visit Laura’s Tower, from which three states are visible, head from the trail junction at the half-mile mark up the short, steep hill to Laura’s Rest. The lovely spot is named for the grief-stricken daughter-in-law of David Field, the man who left this land to the Laurel Hill Association in 1891. After the untimely loss of her husband and children, she would come here often for solace.