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
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.