Bring your family to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts for bountiful summer wildflowers, rambling hikes and bicycle rides, and real dinosaur footprints that will fascinate young T. rex fans. Here are four suggestions for your next outdoor getaway.
Ice Glen and Laura’s Tower in Stockbridge, Mass.
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne called Ice Glen, which is just southeast of the village of Stockbridge, “the most curious fissure in all Berkshire.” This gorge of boulders, caves, and spectacular trees—including hemlocks more than 300 years old and white pines reaching 200 feet—holds pockets of ice into summer. It can be 25 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than a shaded spot in the nearby parking lot, so consider bringing an extra layer to wear. While not a large place—the ravine is less than a quarter-mile long—it is magical. “Truck- and cabin-sized boulders are green with moss and topped by ferns,” writes Rene Laubach in Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires. “It is so cool that atmospheric moisture condenses to form an eerie ground fog.” Laura’s Tower, a sturdy, 30-foot tower with a steel staircase to its viewing platform, can be visited by a spur trail and offers near-panoramic views. Access to the trails is free. There are no restrooms at the trailheads.
Dinosaur Footprints in Holyoke, Mass.
Kim Foley MacKinnon, author of Outdoors with Kids Boston, says, “For younger kids or dinosaur lovers, Dinosaur Footprints is worth a visit. The unlikely location, next to a busy highway, boasts more than 100 fossilized footprints preserved in sandstone.” There’s no fee to visit this Trustees of Reservations property, which is open from April through November and offers at least half an hour of exploration (more if you have rabid dinosaur fans in your group). There are no bathrooms.
Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Lanesborough, Cheshire, and Adams, Mass.
This popular rail trail is a good option for parents pushing strollers, families riding bicycles or looking for an easy walk, and birders who come early in the day. The stretch from Lanesborough to Cheshire and back offers a flat 7.4-mile ride or hike, with the Cheshire end providing benches, picnic tables, and a restroom building along the shore of the Cheshire Reservoir. The trail runs between the Mount Greylock and the Hoosac Mountain ranges and alongside the Cheshire Reservoir, the Hoosic River, and associated wetlands, which provide habitat for abundant wildlife. Laubach recommends looking for mallards, wood ducks, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, painted turtles, various species of frogs, and perhaps a great blue heron. The starting point for the southern end of the trail is near the entrance to the Berkshire Mall, and a restroom building and kiosk will greet you. Access is free.
MacKinnon recommends High Ledges, a Mass Audubon sanctuary, for a hike. It’s famous for its large numbers of wildflowers in season, as well as more than 20 species of orchids and 30 species of ferns. The one-mile Sanctuary Road Trail leads to the cliffs that give the location its name. Exercise caution at the top. Your kids may enjoy the lovely views of Deerfield Valley and Mount Greylock. Visitors are asked to make a small donation; Mass Audubon members may enter for free. There are no bathrooms. Nearby in Shelburne Falls, MacKinnon recommends the Bridge of Flowers, an “unusual attraction” that is open to pedestrians (but not dogs) for free from April to October. A former trolley bridge, the structure was transformed into a pedestrian garden by the local women’s club in the 1920s. You can find numerous eateries nearby.