Being outdoors and in nature is beneficial in so many ways. From healing health benefits, building community connections, education, or just having some fun, the outdoors is a gift. And that gift should be available to everyone. But for many people with disabilities, mobility limitations, and even parents with strollers, outdoor recreation can feel preclusive because the expectations are unknown. The thought of getting outdoors raises worries – What is the trail like? Is it paved or gravel? Is there service in case of an emergency? The Berkshires is home to so many incredible outdoors spaces. But how many of them are accessible to all?
This list is in no way comprehensive. It lacks in covering many pertinent details that we have limited to no insight on. It is intended as a starting point for disabled people, friends and family of disabled people, parents of young children, and elderly people. It is up to us to create inclusivity for all – in nature and beyond. We’d love to hear what we can do better and welcome shared experiences and challenges when getting outdoors. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join us in the Berkshire Family Hikes Community Group.
A wonderful resource is Everyone Outdoors, a community resource blog and recreation connection for people with disabilities and their families, friends, and supporters who enjoy the outdoors, are looking for new recreation possibilities, or want to share their experience and expertise with others.
Ashuwillticook Rail Trail – The only thing intimidating here is the name! Ash-u-will-ti-cook Rail Trail is an old railroad track converted into a 10-foot wide paved trail. The trail runs 12.7 miles through the towns of Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams. Various access points and parking lots make for multiple entrances into the outdoors. Cheshire Reservoir, and the Hoosic River offer outstanding views of the scenery and wildlife. We’ve hiked it in the rain and lucked out seeing a snapping turtle!
Pittsfield State Forest– Located off of Berry Pond Circuit Road, the paved Tranquility Trail is a 0.6 mile loop. It features a peaceful forest setting and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and nature trips.
Old Mill Trail– One of our favorites, this unpaved gravel trail is great for beginning hikers, families with young children, strollers, and some mobility limitaions. The first 0.7 miles is an accessible trail that follows the Housatonic river north. The trail continues for another 0.8 miles but is not considered accessible. There is a bridge crossing in the beginning of the trail.
Greylock Glen– The Glen Meadow Loop at Greylock Glen is a flat, gravel covered 10-foot wide loop which winds its way around the main part of the Glen for 1.6 miles. According to information from EveryoneOutdoors, “this trail is best accessed by driving past the parking lot on Gould Road (from this access point there is a climb to reach the loop trail) and continue driving uphill around a curve, past the small parking lot for Peck’s Falls on the left, to a second parking area for the loop trail on the right. It’s roadside parking on a hill, so it is not considered accessible, but for some it might be worth it because if you can handle the parking angle, it is possible to pass through the roadside boulders (45″ width” passage) to enter the loop trail area.” The views of Mount Greylock and the surrounding hills are unbeatable as well as the huge willow tree.
Mary Flynn Trail – This trail in Stockbridge begins with a 100-foot long boardwalk before continuing on a flat, gravel trail through woodlands of birch, pine, and cottonwood. There are two wooden bridge crossings. At the far end, the trail curves, narrows, and loops back alongside the Housatonic river, crossing two small bridges before rejoining the main gravel trail.
Parson’s Marsh– The first 600-feet of Parson’s Marsh in Lenox is crushed stone. Gentle slopes lead you to an accessible picnic table and bench off a short spur near the pond. According to EveryoneOutdoors, “the last section of the trail is 900-feet of curbed boardwalk, with a 41” passable width and grades not exceeding 7%.” The trail ends at an observation platform with views from the edges of the marsh.
Taconic Farm Estate/Tor Court – Once a mansion home to Warren Salisbury and the site of a manhunt that ended with John D. Rockefeller’s subpoena, this verdant hilltop is now owned by Hillcrest Hospital. Drive around to the back of the hospital where a large parking area gives easy access to a paved path among the trees. The gazebo is not accessible (stairs only) but is a beautiful feature. The paved trail is not very long and you will have to back track in order to return to the parking lot, but the views of Onota Lake and the surrounding woodlands make this a low impact way to get outdoors. 165 Tor Court, Pittsfield, MA 01201
DAR State Forest– This easily navigable trail in Goshen is dirt-packed and shaded, with tranquil views of the water. The trail is 1.1 miles, ending on a paved road. If you are looking to fish, there are three accessible fishing spots along the trail with sturdy metal docks out to Upper Highland Lake. If you will be parking at the DAR State Forest with a wheelchair, don’t use the public beach parking lot (the first lot upon entry). Continue following the driveway until you reach another paved lot on the left, giving you direct access to the trail without a trip around the beach.
Savoy Mountain State Forest– The accessible trail starts from the main parking lot. Pass the closed restrooms you’ll find a paved path through the main area of the park. A left will take you to a picnic area and an accessible path to the beach. A right will take you to the trailhead sign for the accessible woodland North Pond Loop trail. Old stone fireplaces are visible along the trail. At the junction, bear left and loop around back to the paved road, returning to the parking lot via the paved road.
Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary – The All Persons Trail at Pleasant Valley is 1,700 feet in length roundtrip from the main office to Pike’s Pond. It is fully accessible and follows a wide path with a smooth, packed surface before leading to a boardwalk with views over Pike’s Pond. The trail is mostly level with a few moderate slopes. Narrated stops along the way are marked by signs both in print and in Braille. Prior to Covid-19 and the closure of facilities, you could pick up trail information including a guide in printed or Braille format, and a printed or tactile trail map, as well as other adaptive items, including hands-free binoculars (on a tripod), audio players, a large print version of the “Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds,” and a walking cane with a small seat. Currently the offices and other facilities are closed.
Mount Greylock State Forest – Sperry Road to Stony Ledge Trail is a 1.9 mile out and back gravel road. Sperry Road is a well-maintained dirt road that takes you to the scenic lookout point offering beautiful views of Mt. Greylock and other mountains. Facilities and campgrounds at Mount Greylock State Forest are closed due to Covid-19.
John Lambert Nature Trail – Tucked behind the Ralph Hoffmann Environmental Science and Sustainable Energy Center at Berkshire Community College, the John Lambert Nature Trail wanders through open fields. The meadow portion is well-mown but does have some slight grades and curves that make certain types of accessibility more difficult without assistance. The entrance behind the Hoffmann Center is NOT wheelchair accessible. There is a partially paved entry point just across from Melville Hall. This entry has a slope that may effect accessibility. This route will take you to trailhead behind the Hoffmann Center, so it may be necessary to turn around and retrace your route to get back to the parking lot. 1350 West Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201
More Accessible Entrance
As more places continue to open, we all must do our part to follow new rules about how to responsibly return to the trails. Though your chance of getting COVID-19 in the outdoors is low, you still need to bring a mask, take social distancing precautions, and wash or sanitize your hands more frequently. If you are feeling sick, please stay home.
Where We Went: Tory Cave Falls – October Mountain State Forest, Lenoxdale, MA
When We Went: Mid-June 2020
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 2 Boots, (3 Boots to get to the cave)
Trail Length: Just over 0.5 miles roundtrip
How Long it Took Us: 1.5 hours
Overview: According to writer and connoisseur of the Berkshire unusual, Joe Durwin, the use of caves as refuge was in fact, not unusual. “Caves were the original literal criminal underworld. Berkshire County has more active or “live” caves than any area in the Northeast. Tories, counterfeiters, bootleggers, “wild men” and others have all recycled them for their needs.”
And in 1776, no one needed a rocky refuge more than Stockbridge resident, and local tavern owner Gideon Smith. Smith was a Tory, a loyalist to the British crown, and his tavern (located where Wheatleigh stands today), was a popular rendezvous spot for Tory messengers passing through from Albany to Springfield in the 18th century. Then in May of 1776, Smith harbored a British POW, Captain McKay, in his home and the neighboring rebels were out for blood.
So what’s a British loyalist to do? Break for the hills and hunker down in a cave until you’re in the clear. Rumor has it that the Mohican’s brought him food and that his wife would travel nightly four miles by arduous route to parade the children by the cave on a daily basis, just to show him they were well and safe. But clear never comes for Gideon. Foolishly sticking his head out of the cave one day, he was discovered! Caught and captured, he was put to the noose three times. According to “A History of Berkshire County,” “Having fastened a halter around his neck, he was attended with due solemnity to a signpost, pulled up and suffered to remain until nearly defunct.” Told he must renounce his Tory ways, Gideon held on until the third time, saying he would “swing his hat in favor of the Colonial cause.”
The deHeredia’s, former owners of Gilded era mansion Wheatleigh, found the original Smith tavern sign on the property and gifted it to the Stockbridge Historical Library in 1902. In 1782, Gideon left another mark, purchasing a grassy knoll on Mahkeenac Road for the use as a family burial ground. Quietly overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl, it’s curious that he is not among the 22 burials and his final resting place is unknown. Gideon was 98 when he died in 1838.
Another tale, more interesting to me than Gideon’s, is about the Caveman & his sweetheart. In 1932, the cave was used as a trysting spot for two star-crossed lovers, Lenoxdale’s own Bonnie & Clyde. Sixteen-year-old Myra Holmes and eighteen-year-old Albert Felix ran away from their homes one a Friday evening in May and were missing for a week. Extensive searches were held but only glimpses of the fugitives were to be had. One Eagle headline read, “Youthful Caveman Raids Iceboxes to Bring Back Food For Young Sweetheart.” A diary was found inside Tory cave detailing the story of the couple’s escapades, including Felix’s clandestine trips to “Shacktown to get some bread, coffee, sugar, and milk.”
They were eventually found in Albany on June 3rd and returned home to their parents.
But young hearts can’t be broken. And on July 2nd, 1932, the pair ran away again!
This time they took refuge in the partially finished James Brattle Burbank house on Williams Street in Pittsfield. As icebox items started to go missing in the neighborhood, the jig was up. On July 5th, police officers raided the residence where they found Myra and Albert armed with both rifle and revolver. After a short stand-off, both were arrested and charged with various crimes, including Myra’s additional charge of “being an exceptionally stubborn child.”
What We Dug: If there are hiking and history involved, you know I’m thrilled. Tory Cave did not disappoint. The trail to the waterfall and cave was mild and mostly easy walking. Some portions of the trail were washed out from recent rains and there were a few fallen branches to navigate around. As the path starts to go uphill, you will pass a trail for Dewy Hill on your left-hand side. Just after this path on your right, is a footpath that goes down to the stream. Be cautious! Although short, the path down can be fairly steep and unreliable for sure-footing. The cave is not visible from the trail and we found we had passed right by it. Farther up the stream were easier access points where the kids enjoyed wading and rock climbing before we turned around and hit the cave.
Calling it a cave nowadays seems overly generous. In 2013, the rain from Hurricane Irene flooded Roaring Brook and eroded any remaining cave that was left after the landslide. The area is a little tricky to get to but the beauty makes it worth the fumbling footwork. I can almost see Myra and Albert splashing each other at the edge of the pool, wary of snapping twigs coming to interrupt their idyllic getaway. I wonder what happened to those two…if they ever ended up together or were doomed from the start.
What We Could Do Without: It was hot and humid. Add water to the mix and you’ve got mosquitoes. Buzzing, bloodthirsty blaggards, impervious to the densest plumes of repellent. I actually think some of them like it. Skeeters put a damper on shit for sure but we just keep marinating in citronella and hoping for the best.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Walking ferns, hemlock, pine, red efts, wood frogs, mountain wood-sorel, water striders, rainbow and brook trout
Must Know Before You Go’s: Parking and trailhead are just before a small bridge. There is no parking area so use caution when parking on the shoulder. Trailhead heads east upstream along Roaring Brook. No facilities. Leashed dogs okay.
Directions: From Route-7 in Lenox, turn onto, heading east on New Lenox Road for 1.8 miles. At the intersection of East New Lenox Road and New Lenox Road, turn right onto Roaring Brook Road. Head south for 0.4 miles, just before a small bridge. Trailhead is to your left. GPS: N422316.08 -W731416.17
“…the Mount was to give me country cares and joys, long happy rides and drives through the wooded lanes of that loveliest region, the companionship of a few dear friends, and the freedom from the trivial obligations which was necessary if I was to go on with my writing. The Mount was my first real home…”
Oof. I don’t know about you, but this mama is tyyy-eerd. Lately, it feels like I’m endlessly oscillating between humid days spent meeting the needs of uhh…everyone; to sleepless humid nights worrying if I met the needs of uhh…everyone. Most of the time I don’t even remember to check in with myself. Sound familiar to anyone? Cut to Friday last week. The kids were happily playing at a family members, (thank god for pandemic pods!) and I had 4-wheels and 5 hours ahead of me. What was a girl to do? Go grocery shopping??! NAH, let ’em starve! (I jest! But I actually did do that after…’cause mother guilt is like a real medical condition y’all, or at least it should be.)
That Friday afternoon, I channeled my innermost country aristocrat. I shook off the trappings of my most trivial obligations, stepped on the gas through the wooded lanes of Lenox, and pulled into the Mount’s iron gates towards freedom.
The Mount was home to writer Edith Wharton. In 1902, she bought the 130-acres for $40,600 and set to work building her country retreat. The Grounds are currently open daily to the public, dawn to dusk, and free of charge. Self-guided tours of the Main House resume July 16th and advance reservations are required.
I parked in the upper lot and started the 1/4 mile walk to the Main House under the gracious shade trees. (Vehicles with handicapped plates may drive down and park in the designated spaces next to the Main House.)
I took a short detour onto the Ledge Walk, beckoned by the umbrella-like Ganoderms waiting for rain. The Ledge Walk is one of 3 short trails on the Mount grounds, which also includes the Woodland Walk and the Beaver Pond Trail, a 4-mile loop with pond views and frequent bald eagle sightings.
After a rather buggy but tranquil jaunt, I found myself back on the paved path, close by the Main House and sprawling gardens. To my left, perched on a small hill, is Edith’s pet cemetery. Edith loved her dogs and six little headstones dot the mound, a nighttime stop on seasonal ghost tours. Admittedly, I have a somewhat strange and eccentric fascination with cemeteries, particularly old ones and I never pass up an opportunity to explore.
Down the hill is the French Flower Garden, bursting with color. It was Wharton’s niece, Beatrix Jones Farrand, a budding garden designer that contributed so heavily to the design of the Mount’s incredible gardens and the fruits of their collaboration are nothing beyond breathtaking. If you crave the shade, you’ll find the Woodland Walk & Beaver Pond Trail close-by.
The Terrace Café had just re-opened the day I visited. To elevate your day out considerably, grab some lunch (or a white-peach Sangria!) and picnic on the grounds. Or you can just head to the sunken Italian Garden and breathe in the begonias.
Wharton scholars say that it was here in Lenox that she felt she could do her best work and I can fully understand why. The peace of the grounds is unbeatable. The views, the smells, the colors, and the quiet make it a true sensory feast. It’s easy to pull up a small alcove, lean into the lushness, and find inspiration.