Autumn is the best time to hike. The biting bugs are subdued. Heat and humidity have dissipated. Usually Berkshire enjoys a stretch of dry weather. Oh, and did I mention that the lovely leaves are good for gawking? And gawking is so much better on foot.
Park the car. Following are my top five North County hikes -- note, hikes, not walks. We might as well exert, since sweating will be minimal.
Technically speaking, most of number one isn't in Berkshire County, as a bit of Franklin County intrudes above Florida. To get to the upper end of Dunbar Brook, turn north at the fire station in Florida. Eventually you will cross the brook. To get to the lower end, continue on Route 2 to the next left beyond Whitcomb Summit, then the next right, on Whitcomb Hill Road. Take a left on River Road at the Deerfield River. Pass the eastern end of the Hoosac Tunnel. The parking area is on the left, three-quarters mile beyond the Bear Swamp Visitors Center.
This is a gorgeous hike along a friendly brook, 2.5-miles one-way, near some of the oldest forest in the commonwealth. Irene made off with the bridge, so prepare for wet feet. You can make it an out-and-back, from either end; or a two-car hike. Or, for the adventurous, a nine-mile hike incorporating Spruce Hill -- or, a couple miles longer, Raycroft Lookout.
Number two is Berkshire Natural Resource Council's new Hoosac Range Trail, three miles one way, from a parking area at the Western Summit of Route 2, to another Spruce Hill, one with a fine view of North Adams and along the North Branch of the Hoosic River. The trail is beautifully laid out. Spruce Hill is the best local spot to watch broad-winged hawks migrate. A possible two-car hike incorporates the Busby Trail down to the junction of Old Florida Road and Central Shaft Road in Florida, just beyond Savoy Mountain State Forest Headquarters.
Mount Greylock is Berkshire's hiking Mecca, with innumerable fine trails. My favorites to the summit include, for history, the Hopper Trail; for literature, Thoreau's Bellows Pipe Trail; for society, the Cheshire Harbor Trail on Columbus Day. But it isn't always necessary to summit.
The combination of the Prospect and Money Brook trails offers a round trip clambering up some rocky cliffs and an extraordinary lookout over south Williamstown, followed by a lovely, long descent in deep woods.
Seven miles round trip. Same trailhead as the Hopper Trail, at the end of Hopper Road.
Number four would be two miles to the summit of Berlin Mountain, the Class of ‘33 Trail, especially when paired with the old Berlin Road descending from Berlin Pass. The trailhead is 400 feet before the parking area on Berlin Road. The attraction is a clear summit with 270-degree views, including downtown Albany.
Number five: the Pine Cobble Trail to the East Mountain Trail to the Appalachian Trail to the ‘98 Trail back to the Pine Cobble Trail, 3.7 miles round trip. The once-burned area on East Mountain is covered with boulders, blueberries and pitch pine. Trailhead is in the Pine Cobble development off North Hoosac Road in Williamstown.
For more excursions in all parts of the county, see my "Hikes & Walks in the Berkshires," available in fine book and sporting good stores everywhere. At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.