Where We Went : Mountain Meadow Preserve / Williamstown, MA & Pownal, Vermont
When We Went : Last day of August
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10) : 0.5 Boot – 1 Boot
Trail Length : 4.1 miles of trails – Trail surrounding Mountain Meadow less than 1 mile loop
How Long it Took Us : 2 Hours
Overview : 180-acres of fields and reforested woods make up Mountain Meadow Preserve with portions located in both Williamstown, MA and Pownal, Vermont. Now owned and maintained by the
She lived out the rest of her days at the Brattleboro Retreat (a Vermont mental health facility), and her contributions have been widely forgotten.The well-mowed Niles Trail, Grace’s namesake, leads to the 690-foot elevated grassland where one can gaze across diverse wildflower fields. Spend some time soaking in the spectacular views of Mt. Prospect, Mt. Greylock, and the Taconic Range, that surround this massive meadow. Few landscapes can match the fiery patchwork that transforms the horizon during peak fall.
What We Dug : The short walk from the trailhead to the meadow was filled with excitement. Everywhere we turned, we discovered something new. Monarch caterpillars enjoying the milkweed, gnarled vines to swing on, and a hopping toad hurriedly crossing our path. Autumn days were far from our minds as we marched into the wild expanse of goldenrod and asters, banked among crimson sumac. It was fun telling the kids about an old goldenrod superstition. It’s been said that a person who carries goldenrod with them is destined to find treasure, being a symbol of riches and good fortune. This resulted in a scurry of hands and yellow clutchings, and we spent generous portions of this adventure “treasure hunting” and then doggedly trying to define “superstition” to a 6 year old – *face palm* (did I say fun?).
Continuing our slow amble around the field; monster grasshoppers, butterflies, and dragonflies galore surprised us at every turn. Veda, our 2 year old, found herself in flower heaven. Stopping to smell the roses (or in this case, the purple asters), takes no prodding when you’re only knee-high. Mason (6), was more difficult to impress. Throughout the hike, he had mentioned (read: repeated every 3rd step), how MUCH he’d LOVE to see a praying mantis. Neither Dan or myself had ever seen a mantis and not knowing much about them (habitat, lifespan, etc.), we did what any sane parent trying to avoid a massive let-down would do – SNACK TIME! This redirection didn’t last (it never does), and before long we were back to muttering our mantis mantra. And ya know what guys? It worked. I shit you not. Somehow that kid conjured a mantis out of the sky. Flying (they fly!) down in front of us was what looked like a white dragonfly. The creature landed on a large stalk and upon further investigation – there. it. was. MANTIS. We could not believe our eyes! It was quite a while before we abandoned our new friend and got back to the trail. Talk about speaking something into existence!
On this brilliantly blue day, the views of the Hoosac Valley and Mt. Greylock were breathtaking. At the top of the meadow the billowy sea of clouds hung almost motionless over the grand hills. With summer swiftly fleeing, you couldn’t help taking the extra time to drink it all in. We followed the loop back to the parking lot and vowed to return in the fall.
Lapses in parental judgment be damned, Mountain Meadow came through with the real treasures that day. Gold is for fools, nature is the infinite prize.
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
What We Could Do Without : Muddy in spots. If it’s been raining in recent days before your visit, be sure to wear appropriate footwear. Be sure and tuck in your pants and do the pest prevention dance – fields and long grass can be tick-city.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For :
Must Know Before You Go’s : Great Birding Locale, No Facilities, Leashed Dogs OK, Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing and Picnicking Permitted, No Bicycles.
Directions : Williamstown parking area: From the intersection of Rts. 2 and 7 in Williamstown, take Route 7 north for 1.7 miles. Bear right onto Mason Street (steep dirt road uphill), follow to entrance and parking. GPS – 42.7385337,-73.2075694
Alternate Entrance/Pownal, Vt. parking area: From the intersection of routes 2 and 7 in Williamstown, follow Route 7 north 1.7 miles, turn right onto Sand Spring Road, then bear right onto Bridges Road Follow for 0.3 miles, turn left onto White Oaks Road, and follow for 1.1 miles when road becomes dirt. Continue for 0.4 miles, bear left at fork onto Benedict Road, and continue 0.1 mile to entrance and parking (eight cars) on left.
“I pointed to a hill at some distance before us, and asked what it was. ‘That, Sir,’ said he, ‘is a very high hill. It is known by the name of Graylock.’ He seemed to feel that this was a more poetical epithet than Saddleback, which is a more usual name for it.”
–From the American Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne
Overview : To the first settlers in the 18th century, it was called Grand Hoosuck Mountain. Pittsfield viewers dubbed it Saddle Ball or Saddleback, much to the disapproval of Hawthorne’s stagecoach driver in the quote above. Yet it is here we find the 1st written record of the name “Graylock.” The likely assumption is that the name stems from the rolling haze that constantly blankets its peak. As it is with both history and mountains, things get cloudier the farther you go. In David Dudley Fields’ 1829,
But for us romantics in the crowd, consider a popular legend: A forceful chief of the Western Abenaki,
The Greylock Glen has a less notable, more infamous, history of its own. Originally owned by local farmers, during the 1970s, a resort conglomerate by the name of ELCO, attempted to develop the land into a massive condominium complex including a ski resort and golf course. Thought to be the economic savior for a chronically depressed area, after various false starts and attempts at construction, the project was abandoned due to financial issues. The state acquired the land in 1985. These days, plans for the
What We Dug : I’m so excited (and apprehensive) to see this place developed. We fell in love the minute we set foot on the trails. Wide, gravel trails were a bonus for the two miniature sets of legs that always seem to be following us around. We began with a stroll through a lively thicket that surrounds a pond with views of the legendary mountain. The wetland area is home to many migratory birds, and just teeming with diverse plant-life. The sounds of spring peepers were a familiar backing track for such an idyllic walk.
Following the trail into a wooded area, the kids were on high alert for rumored remnants of a ski resort that never was.
Chair lift towers reclaimed by nature couldn’t hide from my two champion seekers. Neither could evidence of busy beaver activity.
Further ambling took us into a magical birch grove and into a meadow. All I can say is: VIEWS. Unbelievably magnificent mountain views in every direction. I was blown away. I still am. I look back at the pictures and want to drop everything and just sit there for hours. I kid you not. It was that good. We happened to visit amidst the sparkling halo of golden hour, a happy coincidence, as Mr. Ross would surely agree. The views of Greylock and the surrounding hills are absolutely breathtaking. Revisiting during autumn months for the seasonal colors is a MUST. The monstrous willow trees are a perfect spot to enjoy an apple, a hot cider, or split the difference and indulge in an apple cider donut (or 2 – we’re hiking here people). I cannot think of a better spot to herald the fall foliage in all of it’s regalia.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir
What We Could Do Without : Litter makes the Earth sad, and makes us mad. Pick up yer stinkin’ garbage, ya cretins!
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: black cherry, red maple, box elder, quaking aspen, gray birch, paper birch, black willow, musclewood, swamp dogwood, honeysuckle, marsh marigold, cattails, sensitive fern, trout lily, staghorn sumac, blue azure butterfly, red-spotted newt, leopard frog, beaver, american kestrel, eastern kingbird, red-winged blackbird, pileated woodpecker, northern cardinal, american goldfinch, golden eagle
Must Know Before You Go’s : Glen Meadow Loop is a packed gravel, multi-use path for non-motorized recreation. Handicapped Accessible. Moser Farm Loop is not. Parking available. Bathroom Facility, Gazebo with picnic table, Leashed Dogs Allowed.
Directions : In Adams, take MA-116 North and stay on Center/Park St for 2.4 miles. Turn left at E Maple St and continue onto Maple St. Take a left onto Notch Rd and continue onto W Rd. Gould Road will be on the right, keep left to arrive at Greylock Glen.
Where We Went : Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary / Lenox, MA
When We Went : End of June
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10) : 1 Boot
Trail Length : 7 miles of trails
(All Persons Trail: 0.3 miles)
How Long it Took Us : 2.5 Hours
Overview : Gee whiz, Wally!
Established in 1929 by the Lenox Garden Club, the sanctuary celebrated it’s 90th (!) year this season. The evolution and development that this property has experienced over the last 9 decades is full of inspiring stories of individual stewardship and organized benevolence. Collaborative efforts of 90 years (crazy, right!?) of hard work created a space where nature preservation and environmental education can walk hand in hand.
Many who think of Pleasant Valley do so because of the beavers. One of the more interesting stories is the re-introduction of these animals and the creation of the habitat that we see when we visit today. In October of 1932, Warden Stuyvesant Morris Pell (
Pell, passing at age 38, would never see the full impact of his role in enriching this area. He requested small hemlock trees to adorn his funeral. If you walk the sensory trail around Pike’s Pond, take a moment of gratitude in the hemlock grove for Warden Pell. For a man who thought his education was lacking; much like a beaver transforms their surroundings, he surely left an indelible mark.
Passing into the hands of Mass Audubon in 1950, Pleasant Valley continues to be a driving force in land preservation, environmental education and ecological innovation.
What We Dug : We visited Pleasant Valley at the end of June, as celebrations for their 90th birthday were underway and the mountain laurel was really putting on a show! Bursts of the fragrant pink & white stars were blossoming everywhere, making our adventure one to remember.
We hiked the
The boardwalks and bridges are abundant, letting the kids get up close and personal with the water and multiflora around it. Every viewing platform was an opportunity to relax and drink in the sunshine, and also feed the insatiable horde we brought along with us. At the end of our trek, Mother Nature graced us with a warm summer rain shower.
Don’t miss the Hummingbird Garden at the beginning of the All Persons Trail or the Nature Play Area at the end of the trail!
What We Could Do Without : Pleasant Valley is a widely popular nature preserve. This is not the hike if you’re looking for low traffic, especially in the summer/fall months.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: BEAVERS, catfish, frogs,
Must Know Before You Go’s : Free for Audubon Members & Lenox Residents, Fee for Non-Members, Facilities include a Nature Center (check website for hours), Restrooms, Universally Accessible Trail, and picnic area – trail materials available in large print, Braille, audio, and tactile formats. Borrow hands-free binoculars, audio players, field guides and walking canes at the main office during open hours.
Directions : From the Mass. Turnpike (Rt I-90): Take exit 2 (Lee) and follow Rt 20 west for 6.6 miles (Rt 20 merges with Rt 7). Turn left onto W Dugway Road and the sanctuary is 1.6 miles ahead on the right. GPS 42.382587, -73.298968
From the North: Take Rt 7 and Rt 20 south from Park Square in the center of Pittsfield for 4.9 miles. Turn right onto West Dugway Road and the sanctuary is 1.6 miles ahead on the right.
Where We Went : Natural Bridge State Park (North Adams, MA)
When We Went : Early June – both times!
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10) : 2 Boots around the Bridges Area – 1 Boot on the Elder Trail (Healthy Heart Trail)
Trail Length : The Natural Bridge “Trail” is a short 0.3 mile – The woodland Elder Trail (Healthy Heart Trail) is about a 0.5 mile loop.
How Long it Took Us : We spent 2 hours exploring on our 1st trip and 4 hours, on the 2nd (including a picnic lunch!)
Overview : Natural Bridge State Park is home to the only naturally occurring, white marble arch in the US. According to geologists, the park’s namesake natural bridge, was created when glacial melt water made its way through a fault in 550 million year-old bedrock marble, carving a 30-foot cleft right through it, over 13,000 years ago. Today, the bridge traverses the gurgling Hudson Brook, whose waters torrent and pool in the many crags and fissures, while falling into a steep 60-foot deep gorge. Said to be one of the best demonstrations of glacial erosion in New England, the park also houses the only white marble dam in North America. From 1810 – 1947, it supplied power to a marble factory that operated until multiple fires ceased operations.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, wholly unknown in 1838, enjoyed solo skinny-dipping sojourns in the deep chasm during his 6-week stay in North Adams.
From 1950 – 1983, the bridge remained a popular roadside tourist attraction off of the scenic Mohawk Trail, and in 1985, it officially became a state park and historical site.
During park hours, stop in the Visitor’s Center for extensive and interactive information about the geology and natural history of the area.
What We Dug : Initially, we decided to take Mason here for a rare trio outing, but returned a week later with Veda and Mimi in tow. On our 1st visit, we spent the majority of our time exploring the nooks, crannies, and stairs that make up the arch, bridge, and dam area. We climbed glacier erratics, investigated factory ruins (you can still see where factory employees etched their names in some of the marble, bring paper and crayons to take a rubbing!), and got our feet good and wet creekside. During our time, we saw some college kids playing frisbee in the field below the quarry and immediately made plans to return to this perfect spot for a picnic.
On our 2nd visit, because we brought along Veda, our 2 year old, we were less keen on spending so much time around bridges and precipitous ledges near the gorge. Since Veda’s been mobile, I now fully understand why parents insist on “harnessing” their children. Quick, gimme the leash! Luckily, there is so much more to explore than just the incredible geologic wonder. First order of business was lunch. Let me just say…picnicking in a gorgeous field, under early summer sun, at the base of an 80-foot tall marble wall was pretty freakin’ spectacular. The expansive green space gave the kids plenty of room to run amok.
After lunch, we took a walk. Around the left side of the Visitor’s Center you will find signs for the Elder Trail, a “Heart Healthy Trail,” named for prior owner and geologist Edward Elder (not indicative of the path’s intended demographic). An easy, flat path, we found many points of interest along the way. About a minute into the woods we discovered play structures built from stray sticks, a large tire suspended between trees, and a stump throne fit for knee-high royalty. The trail winds itself around the back of the Visitor’s Center and back towards the park road. If you cross over the road and climb a short hill, you’ll find a small sculpture park and a few picnic tables. We completed our Natural Bridge redux
with a quick nip to the riverside,
stacking marble stones and cooling our toes.
What We Could Do Without : If you’re anything like me, somewhat adverse to heights and experience anxiety when your kids are nearing edges of things…I know…I’m trying to reign it in – the wide open area of the quarry, the forest trail, and the sculpture garden make it still worth the trip. Just go slowly and use caution – or a leash! I won’t judge you. Promise.
Consider yourself forewarned that you cannot remove any marble from the property, my dreams of ferrying out new marble countertops dashed.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Remnants of marble quarry and factory, glacial erratics, glacial potholes, hemlock, spruce, white cedar, bulbet fern, cattails
*If your visit coincides with the sunset, a sensory point of interest to experience is the
Must Know Before You Go’s : The park gates close at 5pm, but you can still park at the end of the road and walk up. There is a parking fee for both MA/Non-MA residents during open hours. No swimming. Dogs must be leashed. Bathroom facilities during park hours. Carry in/Carry out policy in regards to trash.
Directions : Drive a mile (1.6 km) along MA Route 8 northeast from the center of North Adams MA. Just past the Beaver Mill, turn left (west) across a bridge, then follow the signs 1/2 mile up a narrow, winding road across a one-lane bridge, past the marble quarry (where the marble factory was) to the Visitor Center and parking area.
When it comes to fall foliage, nothing beats the spectrum of colors on display in the Berkshire hills. Leaf peepers rejoice as the forested landscape erupts into shades of copper, cornelian, cranberry, gold, and every hue in between. From late September to October, this prismatic flash in the pan transforms any regular, old weekend hike into a dream-like ramble. Gazing at these fiery hills from an elevated vantage point makes us feel fixed in suspension, floating between halcyon days and the edges of change.
These hikes are grouped in order of difficulty, beginning with the most accessible for any age. None of the hikes are over 3 miles, yet some may be more suitable for older children because of steeper ascents and proximity to a ledge. Trust your gut, you know best what your family can handle. Be mindful that fall brings hunting season to some places and packing a blaze orange vest is a cheap and effective precaution.
Enjoy the fall, ya’ll!
Three Sisters Sanctuary (Goshen) – Technically located in Hampshire County, this creative gem is well worth a side trip over the Berkshire borders. Touted as a “place where nature and art merge,” one man’s sensational vision is 8-acres of sculpture gardens and art installations. More of a walk than a hike, you could spend hours here trying to take it all in. In the fall, the area gets fully decorated and the surrounding woodlands are also bursting with color. The fire-breathing dragon is incredible to behold against a clear blue sky. If you’re looking for an interactive, beautiful, and accessible fall walk for any age – look no further.
Niles Trail at Mountain Meadow Preserve (Williamstown/Vermont) – At the end of August, we adventured to this Trustees property and couldn’t get enough of the views! We are so excited to go back and take in the view of Greylock and the Hoosac Valley during foliage season.
Sacred Way Trail at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary (Pittsfield) – One of six Mass Audubon properties in Berkshire County, Canoe Meadows is wonderful in every season. Take the Sacred Way Trail and enjoy a gentle, flat 1-mile trail winds through the sanctuary’s scenic woods, fields, wetlands, and along the Housatonic River. Open fields offer opportunities to take in fall colors. A great spot to bird watch for migrant species during the changing seasons.
Benedict Pond Loop Trail (Great Barrington) – Located in lush Beartown State Forest, this flat 1.7 mile loop is great for all ages and offers beautiful views of serene Benedict pond. Surrounded by dense woodlands, this backdrop in fall transition, is something to see.
Glen Meadow Loop at Greylock Glen (Adams) – Established in 2017, the newer 1.5 mile Glen Meadow Loop trail takes you around picturesque Greylock Glen. The trail is gravel, making walking a breeze. Have fun hunting for the remnants of an abandoned ski resort. The wide open views of Greylock and surrounding hills are not to be missed.
Diane’s Trail at Gould Farm (Monterey) – Owned by Gould Farm, this 1.5 mile loop trail is located on the property. Grab an interactive booklet at the trailhead. The self-guided tour will take you over bridges, creeks and swamp; alerting you to points of interest along the way. Indulge all your fall senses by paying a visit to the farm’s
Stone Hill Trails (Williamstown) – Part of the Clark Art Museum Complex and owned by Williams College, this is one of the most popular destinations in Williamstown for hiking and enjoying the panoramic views over Williamstown. Check out the trail map for a variety of trails, many short and easy, but all beautiful. It’s hard to pick just one!
Trails at Sheep Hill (Williamstown) – Both the grounds and farmhouse are open year round to the public and a classroom is stocked with binoculars, field guides and other materials to borrow during your visit. There are two trails to choose from – the Rosenburg Ramble which takes you around the perimeter of the property, and the shorter Meadow Walk. Both of these trails offer dramatic views of the valley and surrounding mountains. Rosenburg Ramble is approximately 1- 1.5 miles. The Meadow Walk is a short, easy way to enjoy the views of Sheep Hill, and loops around the pond at the foot of the hillside.
Tyringham Cobble Loop (Tyringham) – Tucked away in tiny Tyringham, this Trustees property includes a 2.1 mile loop trail running through a combination of meadow and forest. Keep an eye out for the aptly named Rabbit Rock! A well-marked trail leads to a spectacular view of the valley at the summit. See if you can spot the quaint Tyringham churchyard from the top!
Warner Hill (Hinsdale/Pittsfield) – Part of the AT, this easyup-and-back hike is 1.4 miles, ideal for families. Head through a dense evergreen forest, crunch through fallen maple and beech leaves along old stone walls, and finally to Warner Hill, where the summit offers a view of Mount Greylock on a clear day.
The trailhead is right off a small the parking shoulder on Blotz Road, in Pittsfield.
Rounds Rock Trail (Cheshire) – Part of Mount Greylock State Reservation, Rounds Rock is a great spot to tackle a less strenuous hike at Greylock. This 0.9 mile trail is a moderately trafficked loop and is good for all skill levels. The remains of a 1948 plane crash and its memorial is a point of interest. The hike reaches its peak with two scenic vistas offering gorgeous autumn views.
North Trail at Field Farm (Williamstown) – Nestled in the valley between the Greylock and Taconic ranges, you’ll find another Trustees property. Field Farm boasts a pond, caves, sculpture garden, and two modernist style homes all located onsite. North Trail is a popular hike, a mile long trail that encircles the central pasture and shows off jaw-dropping mountain views in all directions. Another trail, the Caves Loop, will enchant any imagination, no matter the age.
York Lake Loop Trail in Sandisfield State Forest (Sandisfield) – This loop trail encircles the lake through dense woods and busy wetlands. The trail is 2.2 miles long and can be wet in places depending on the weather. The open beach area is wonderful place for foliage viewing while enjoying a picnic lunch.
Laura’s Tower Trail (Stockbridge) – A 1.5 mile out-and-back hike that begins with a quiet walk through an old pine and hemlock grove. Boulders crop up on the wide trail towards yellowing birch trees. At the top of your climb you will reach a metal observation tower. Take the stairs to take in breathtaking panoramic views of Mt. Greylock, The Catskills, and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
Sunset Rock Trail at Hoosac Range (North Adams) – Part of the Hoosac Range, this short 1.6 mile round-trip hike has a small steep portion, but a big pay off, with views to the west and north, overlooking North Adams. The BNRC parking lot is on the right, immediately after the Wigwam Cabins.
Summit Trail to Pony Mountain at Chapel Brook (Ashfield) – Summit Trail is a steeper 0.5 mile hike that leads around the western side of Pony Mountain to its top, where incredible panoramic views of the foothills of the changing Berkshires can be taken in.
Mahanna Cobble (Lenox/Pittsfield) – The northern summit of Yokun Ridge, this BNRC property extends into Bousquet Ski area. Parking is available at Bousquet (except for winter!). Take the far left slope onto the Drifter Ski Trail (make sure to turn around and check out the view!) and climb upwards to the highest chair lift (so many VIEWS!). Continue past the radio tower to a 1/4 mile trek through the woods. The summit opens up to a stone bench and MORE glorious views.
Basin Pond (Lee) – From the trailhead, the 2.5 mile route takes hikers on an easy ramble alongside boulders and stone stairs. The trail splits but converges again at a short spur that leads to the ruins of a twice-flooded dam. Either trail you choose doesn’t require much exertion. A lookout platform offers a terrific spot to view the ruins, the beaver pond, and all the vibrant colors of autumn.
Drury Trail at Drury Preserve (Sheffield) – Approximately a 3-mile walk, up and back, through lowland forests, and a variety of wet and dry communities. There are boardwalks over the wettest areas, and at the end of the trail, take in a striking view across Schenob Brook of Taconic Range’s Mount Race.
Dry Hill (New Marlborough) – Owned by the Trustees, this is a2-mile out-and-back trail of mostly flat and easy walking.The oak forest that covers the upper ridge is awash with color during the autumn months. The last few minutes to the summit are a bit steep and rocky, but well-worth it for the unmatched fall views.