When it comes to fall foliage, it’s hard to go wrong anywhere in New England. But neither is there any need to go farther than the compact and easily accessible Berkshires of western Massachusetts, as authentic a slice of classic New England as anywhere further north.
Stretching from Connecticut to Vermont, the Berkshires occupy the most western part of the Bay State. Nestled among their thickly forested ridges are picturesque colonial-era villages, complete with Congregational churches, sugar maple-accented greenery and hundred-year-old general stores; 19th-century industrial villages, now mostly reclaimed for more benign uses; bucolic farmlands and orchards; art and craft galleries; and plenty of gorgeous fall scenery.
But the Berkshires have something else going for them: dozens of art and history museums, literary sites, and grand historic homes — something for itinerant leaf-peepers to do should the weather temporally obscure Mother Nature’s annual command performance.
And commanding it most certainly is. Each fall, the curtain rises on daily performances on the Berkshires’ two main stages: the low, rolling southern Berkshires, with their emphasis on gracious living, and the truly mountainous and more working-class northern Berkshires. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose one or the other — not when only 10 miles and the small city of Pittsfield (population 45,000), the Berkshires’ only “metropolis,” separates them along US Route 7, the Berkshires’ main north-south artery.
In fact, the only real choices that fall foliage fanatics have to make are where to stay and just how they wish to see their colors. You don’t have to choose just one here either, but may select as many as you like from a full sideboard of mobile, pedestrian, and adventurous options.
As essential to getting around in the Berkshires as Route 7 is, committed color seekers will find the road to be unpleasantly congested in October, especially on weekends. The solution: veer off onto any of these equally rewarding, but less-traveled alternatives.
• Massachusetts’ highest peak, 4,391-foot Mount Greylock ( www.mass.gov) affords magnificent 60-90 mile views in all directions, and an especially spectacular panorama during fall foliage season. The free, eight-mile access road can be picked up off Route 7 in Lanesborough or off Route 2 in North Adams. ($3 summit parking fee). Too spectacular to leave? Then spend the night at Bascom Lodge (413-743-1591, www.bascomlodge.net), built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Private rooms $125, family room $150, bunk rooms $36 per person.
• Extending 65 miles eastward from Williamstown to Greenfield in the Connecticut River Valley is State Route 2 — better known as the Mohawk Trail — a former Indian path, now a two-lane highway, that traverses large tracts of pristine state forests en route to Shelburne Falls, home of the renowned Bridge of Flowers (viable until the first frost).
• State Route 43 south from South Williamstown connecting to Corey Road east in Hancock, passing Jiminy Peak ski resort, and back to Route 7 in Lanesborough (25 miles): A refreshingly non-commercialized northern Berkshires drive with uninterrupted mountain panoramas on both sides.