Beauty and the Berkshires

 

Going to the Berkshires

Getting there: The Berkshires are roughly 150 miles north northeast of New York City and 130 miles west of Boston. The closest major airport is Albany, 50 miles to the northwest, followed by Hartford-Springfield, 70 miles to the southeast. No nonstops from South Florida to Albany, but several airlines make the trip with a connecting flight in four to five hours. American flies nonstop from Miami to Hartford, while JetBlue and Southwest fly nonstop from Fort Lauderdale.

Information: Berkshires Visitors Bureau, 413-743-4500, www.berkshires.org.

When to go: The Berkshires are a year-round destination. Colors traditionally begin to turn in late September at the higher elevations in the north and can linger into early November in the Housatonic Valley in the south. The Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 12-14 this year) typically coincides with the arrival of peak colors, but the weekends on either side are often just as spectacular — and a lot less crowded. Also absent will be those pesky two-night minimum hotel stays. Note, however, that most outdoor attractions close for the season after the Columbus Day weekend.

TOWNS

The Berkshires have several towns that leaf-peepers can use as a base, with local activities, dining and shopping opportunities. Typically at this time of year, many hotels are already booked for peak October weekends.

Great Barrington (greatbarrington.org): A surprisingly attractive and vibrant colonial-era market, Great Barrington makes an accommodating base for those wandering the more agrarian — and less crowded — countryside of the southern Berkshires.

Stockbridge (stockbridgechamber.org): A perennial favorite with its Norman Rockwell main street (he painted it several times), unspoiled, upscale and centrally located Stockbridge is home to the Norman Rockwell Museum (413-298-4100; www.nrm.org), Chesterwood, the country home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French (413-298-3579, www.chesterwood.org), and Naumkeag, the Choate family’s 44-room Berkshire “cottage” (413-298-3239, www.thetrustees.org).

Williamstown (williamstownchamber.com): Nestled at the bottom of Mount Greylock in the northern Berkshires, Williamstown is a quintessentially picturesque small New England college town with an active arts scene and a world-class art museum, the Clark (413-458-2303; www.clarkart.edu).


Special to the Miami Herald

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.

SCENIC DRIVES

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.

• State Route 23 east from Great Barrington to West Otis, north on Route 102 through Tyringham, picking up US Route 20 into Lee and on into Lenox (25 miles): Sylvan farming communities give way to colonial-era Lee, famous for its marble quarries and 200-foot-tall wooden steeple, and stupefyingly opulent Gilded Age Lenox.

• State Route 23 west from Great Barrington to South Egremont, north to North Egremont, Alford, and West Stockbridge, then east to Stockbridge on State Route 102 (20 miles): This three-quarters loop in the southwest corner of Massachusetts takes in some of the Berkshires’ lesser traveled roads.

WALKS IN THE WOODS

You can see the forest and the trees by getting your own boots on the ground. Below are five hikes, each less than two hours, that will take you either deep into the autumnal forest or high above it.

• Monument Mountain: William Cullen Bryant, a Berkshire native, immortalized the mountain in a poem; Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville met here for the first time on a rain-interrupted excursion in 1850. The 50-plus-mile view from atop 2,640-foot high Squaw Peak is well worth the rigorous hour-long climb. Route 7 between Great Barrington and Stockbridge, 413-298-3239, ext. 3000, www.thetrustees.org (free).

• October Mountain State Forest: Named by Pittsfield resident Herman Melville for its spectacular fall colors, October Mountain is Massachusetts’ largest state forest and offers miles of hiking, including trails through Schermerhorn Gorge and to the top of Mount Walling (2,220 feet). 256 Woodland Rd., Lee, 413-243-1778, www.mass.gov (free).

• Tyringham Cobble: A two-mile loop circles around to the top of two 400-foot high rock outcroppings overlooking bucolic pastures and farmland. Jerusalem Road, Tyringham, 413-298-3239, ext. 3000, www.thetrustees.org (free).

• Natural Bridge State Park: A half-mile paved road leads you up to a 13,000-year-old, diminutive natural bridge of white marble set on the grounds of an abandoned quarry. McCauley Road (off Route 8), North Adams, 413-663-6392, www.mass.gov ($2 parking fee).

• Wahconah Falls: It’s only a hundred yards from the parking lot to this thunderous, 40-foot cascade that gushes forth from the surrounding woods. Route 9, Dalton, 413-442-8992, www.mass.gov (free).

ALTERNATIVES

No longer must leaf-peepers live by their feet and wheels alone. Today’s devotees have a variety of more exhilarating ways to see the colors, even if only briefly.

• Get a bird’s-eye view of the autumnal splendor from the chairlift at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort (413-738-5500, www.jiminypeak.com) in Hancock. Cost: $11 over 54 inches, $9 under through Oct. 14. If you are traveling with kids, Jiminy Peak’s Mountain Adventure Park (alpine slide, mountain coaster, trampoline bungee, etc.) will be open weekends. Cost: $49 over 54 inches, $29 under.

• Go even higher in a hot air balloon with Worthington Ballooning in Worthington (413-238-5514, www.worthingtonballooning.com; $250 per person for a 75-minute ride) or a scenic flight with Teamflys (413-652-1274, www.teamflys.com) out of Harrison-West Airport in North Adams. Cost: $30-$69 per person depending on number of passengers.

• Lighten up your fall palette with a little class II-III whitewater rafting on the Deerfield River. Three Charlemont-based operators, Crab Apple Whitewater (413-625-2288, www.crabapplewhitewater.com), Moxie Outdoor Adventures (800-866-6943, www.moxierafting.com), and Zoar Outdoor (800-532-7483, www.zoaroutdoor.com) offer 10-mile trips through Zoar Gap through mid-October. (Cost: adults $68-$95, children under 16, $57-$62.)

• See the colors through the trees at 25 mph on an exhilarating three-hour zip line canopy tour. Available at Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoor (see above) throughout October. Cost: adults $85-$94, ages 7-16 $74-$94.

Read more Travel stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
The village of Penmarch, whose name reflects Brittany’s Celtic past; the word Penmarch means head of a horse in the local Breton, a Celtic language brought to this region in the Middle Ages by Britons migrating to the continent.

    France

    Life at the ‘end of the earth’ in western Brittany

    Do you know where the world ends?

  •  
With a rental car, every hilltop town in France is within reach.

    Travelwise

    Renting a car for your European trip

    Even with Europe’s super-efficient public transportation system, there are times when it makes sense to rent a car. Having your own wheels is ideal for getting to more remote or rural places that aren’t covered as well by public transportation: England’s Cotswolds, Norway’s fjord country, Spain’s Picos de Europa mountains, France’s Normandy beaches, Tuscan hill towns.…

  •  
Spicy reindeer dogs are the hands-down crowd favorite at Michael Anderson’s hot dog stand in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.

    Go for the food: Alaska

    Reindeer dogs from Anchorage’s cranky hot dog vendor

    There’s no shortage of hot dog stands hawking that spicy, oh-so-Alaska treat, the reindeer dog, in downtown Anchorage. But only one of them has consistently long lines.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK



  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category