This is the second in a series of posts about great hikes with children around the Northeast, describing accessible summits, classic fall hikes, and rambles to remember. I started in the north country with 8 kid-friendly hikes in the White Mountains. This post takes us south into Massachusetts, to the celebrated Berkshires.
One of the best descriptions of fall in the Berkshires was written 90 years ago by novelist Edith Wharton:
[T]he hills took on their first umber tints [. . .] Day by day the flame of the Virginia creeper spread to the hillside in wider waves of carmine and crimson, the larches glowed like the thin yellow halo about a fire, the maples blazed and smouldered, and the black hemlocks turned to indigo against the incandescence of the forest.
Nature, history, and culture are deeply intertwined in the Berkshires. Each of the 5 hikes below, going north to south, demonstrates that interconnection in a slightly different, and approachable, way.
Stone Hill, Williamstown. Here’s a hike that mixes the outdoors with art, architecture, and a college-town vibe. Stone Hill is the backdrop to the Stone Hill Center at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. It’s also the name given to a network of trails maintained by the art institute. A museum pass is not required to hike the trails, but why not follow a ramble on the several miles of trails with visit to “Through the Seasons: Japanese Art in Nature,” one of the current exhibitions at the museum (through October 18)? Or combine a hike with visit to the Williams College campus.
Spruce Hill, North Adams. The first reward for this relatively short hike (2.6 miles roundtrip) in the Savoy Mountain State Forest is a rocky perch (2,566 feet) with views of Mt. Greylock, the highest summit in Massachusetts, and the Taconics in New York. Better: on a clear autumn day (ideally after a cold front passes through), the chance to observe dozens or even hundreds of migrating hawks as they glide down the valley along the Hoosac range. Best: combining views and raptors with fall foliage.
Shaker Mountain, Hancock. A trail maintained by Boy Scouts starts and ends near a famous round stone barn in an historic Shaker community. Be sure to walk the trail counterclockwise to follow the Boy Scout blazes, which are green triangles inside white circles. Also be sure to check the schedule at the village: Among the autumn events are a county fair on September 26 and 27; and guided hikes on September 19 and October 10 that explore the history and daily life of the Shakers.
Ice Glen/Laura’s Tower, Stockbridge. Old-growth hemlocks and white pines tower over a rocky cleft. Nathaniel Hawthorne called the deep ravine and mossy boulders “the most curious fissure in all Berkshire.” Children may not want to leave the magical glen, which is a short walk (less than 0.5 mile) along the trail, but the full hike (1.9 miles roundtrip) reaches a 30-foot tower with panoramic views of the region. An AMC Outdoors article gives more details.
Alander Mountain, Mt. Washington. The splendid open rock summit of Alander Mountain, 2,250 feet, offers wide-ranging views of other peaks in the southern Berkshires, as well as the Catskill Mountains, the Taconics, and the Hudson River valley in New York and Connecticut. The 5.0-mile trail through Bish Bash Falls State Park well illustrates the transition from the mixed hardwoods and softwoods of the northern forest to the oak-hickory forest of southern New England. You’ll find the zones overlapping here — the deep greens and bright reds of white pine, hemlock, and sugar maples mixing with the yellows and browns of oak, beech, and black cherry. It’s an artist’s palette that combines all the colors of a New England autumn.
My next post moves deeper into the oak and hickory forests of southern New England, covering hikes with children in Connecticut. Southern New England has its autumn reds, too, but they’re primarily at ground level, with sumac and Wharton’s Virginia creeper.
You can find detailed descriptions of these hikes in AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires by Rene Laubach.
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.