Lauren R. Stevens: Go holiday walking in the Berkshires


WILLIAMSTOWN >> My town recently held its annual pre-Christmas Holiday Walk, an opportunity to stroll downtown, with reindogs, wagon rides, caroling and mulled cider attracting people to buy locally for holiday gifting. A worthwhile goal, but I want to suggest a different kind of holiday walk, which is likely to involve getting into the woods, with the goals of exercise and contemplation.

The precedent is set. I counted 13 cars just in the Hopper trailhead on the Mt. Greylock Reservation on the balmy morning of Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving. New Year's hikes are trending, as they say.

Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, is a Saturday. Massachusetts shotgun deer season is over. Let's head out.

Where and how are somewhat weather-dependent, of course. Maybe who-dependent, too. Is this to be a family outing (recommended) or for a couple of adults? Part of the fun is planning the adventure around the givens.

Berkshire residents are fortunate at the opportunities. Surely there are few regions where so many wooded trails beckon so near at hand. Any county map that shows land protected and open to the public gives testimony. I researched a hiking guide last spring and summer, finding intriguing paths in South Sandisfield and Clarksburg; Hancock and Peru — and points in between.

While the county provides nearly everyone near-at-hand venues, often within walking distance of home, here's a pitch to consider a site elsewhere, as well. I have near at hand trails as comfortable as my old boots, but I learn by pushing myself to unfamiliar spots, with riches and comforts of their own.

Here are scattered family-friendly possibilities, on foot or snowshoe.

* Jug End in Egremont. Besides the pleasure that comes from realizing the name is a corruption of the German word for youth, the site of a former ski area includes open meadow and woods. A not overly demanding hike can extend three miles, with a strong potential for wildlife sighting.

* Tyringham Cobble, Tyringham. A moderate 2-mile hike rises 450 feet, including a portion on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, to an intimate view of the village.

* Keystone Arches, Chester, just over the Hampden County line. A 1.5 mile walk provides views of the stone bridges that brought the railroad over the scenic Westfield River and up into Becket.

* Old Mill Trail, Dalton. A 1.5-mile, wonderfully made trail along the Housatonic, through a former industrial site. The first portion is wheelchair accessible.

* Stevens Glen, Richmond. A two-mile hike for views of a lovely cascade. Not advisable if conditions are icy.

* Bradley Farm Trail, from the Mt. Greylock Visitors Center, Lanesborough. A well-thought-out nature trail, guide available in the V.C. — spectacular views of the Pittsfield lakes.

* Stone Hill, Williamstown. From the Clark Art Institute parking let, access the trailhead through the building, where guides are available. A relatively easy, two-mile walk includes a hilltop view of the Clark, Williams College and the town.

* Hoosac Range, North Adams. A three- or a six-mile hike, all but 700 feet of the climbing left to the automobile, with spectacular views of the Hoosac Valley. Weather can be a bit extreme.

Enjoyable. At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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